Page 1: Biography
Collier, Jane Annie
Teacher of the blind, church worker
This biography, written by Penelope Hansen, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Jane Annie Collier was born on 28 September 1869 at Springston, Canterbury, New Zealand, the daughter of Mary Ann Nankervis and her husband, Titus Close Collier, a clerk. From 1875 Jane was educated at a small private school run by two sisters in Cranmer Square, Christchurch. In 1888 she enrolled for teacher training at the Christchurch Normal School.
Before she completed her training, Jane Collier was offered a teaching position at the Jubilee Institute for the Blind, the only school for the blind in New Zealand, founded in mid 1890 in Auckland. The first principal was John W. Tighe, who had been teaching the blind in New Zealand for several years. Jane had grown up with her blind aunt, Miss Lawrey, who was about 10 years older. According to one account, Miss Lawrey was an early resident of the institute, and it was she who suggested her niece from Canterbury as a teacher.
Jane Collier was appointed in August 1891 and travelled to Auckland to take up her post. Equipment in her classroom consisted of a dining table, chairs, Braille frames, an abacus, and a few school books – some embossed in Moon lettering, others in Braille. She taught herself Braille, keeping one step ahead of her students. She made relief maps, and borrowed stuffed birds and other specimens from the Auckland Institute and Museum for use as teaching aids. Jane Collier taught herself, and her class, to read music in Braille. She encouraged her students to value their independence and discouraged helplessness; she always talked to them as if they could see.
Although Jane Collier devised many of her own teaching methods, the school itself was modelled on British institutes for the blind. Children were given a primary level education at the institute and were then directed into industrial training, or, in some cases, further academic work. Jane Collier encouraged her brightest pupil, Ernest Chitty, to pursue his studies and taught him to type so that he could sit examinations. Later he attended Auckland University College, graduating MA, and studied for the ministry at St John's College.
Jane Collier became engaged to the Reverend Henry Lawrence Blamires, a Wesleyan minister, and on 12 March 1900 they married at Auckland. The couple shifted to Hamilton shortly afterwards, and subsequently moved to Wanganui and Nelson before settling in Christchurch. Jane Blamires, as she became, had three children: Herbert Arthur, who died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, Rosa Gwendoline Colborne and Mabel Henley.
During these years the church became the other focus of her life. She had been a Sunday school superintendent in Christchurch before her appointment as teacher to the blind, and once again she used her considerable ability and energy as a Bible class teacher and a supporter of mission work. She was New Zealand president of the Methodist Young Women's Bible Class Union in 1907 and 1908. During the First World War, when Lawrence Blamires was chaplain to the Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment, Jane organised local women to make clothing to send to Belgium.
Jane Blamires died in Christchurch on 13 October 1955. She was survived by her husband and two daughters. Her greatest achievement was to lay the foundations for educational attainment among blind people in New Zealand. She did this at a time when many assumed that the blind were incapable of leading productive lives. It was a revelation that blind students could sit and pass the most advanced academic examinations in the land.