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Story: Mulgan, Edward Ker

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Mulgan, Edward Ker


Farmer, newspaper editor, teacher, school inspector

This biography, written by Howard F. Lee, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Edward Ker Mulgan was born at Ballynahinch, County Down, Ireland, probably in 1857 or 1858, the son of Arabella Maria Stringer and her husband, the Reverend William Edward Mulgan, later rector of Dunaghy, County Antrim. Edward was educated at Portora Royal School and Armagh Grammar School. In 1875 the family embarked on the Carisbrooke Castle to travel to New Zealand, where they were to take up land at George Vesey Stewart's Katikati Special Settlement.

On arrival Edward Mulgan established a dairy farm on his father's property at Katikati. Although he was an energetic farmer, Edward was unable to make a decent living because of the economic recession. More financial pressure followed his marriage to Frances Maria Johnston at Tauranga, on 4 January 1881; their first son, Alan Edward, was born on 18 May. Faced with the increasing likelihood of ruin, about 1884 they shifted to Tauranga where Edward worked first in a store and later as the editor of the Bay of Plenty Times. A second son, Geoffrey William Douglas, was born in 1888.

In 1886 Edward Mulgan was accepted as a probationer teacher for the Auckland Education Board. This abrupt career change may have been prompted by his father, whose own interest in education was revived when he was elected a member of the Katikati District School Committee in 1876; in 1879–80 he served on the royal commission on the relationship between university and secondary education in New Zealand.

Whatever his reason for becoming a teacher, Edward Mulgan proved to be successful and ambitious. In 1887 he became first assistant at Otahuhu School and from 1888 to 1890 he was head teacher at Katikati School, thereby satisfying the three-year country service requirement for probationary teachers. In 1890 the family shifted back to Auckland and for the next four years Mulgan was first assistant master at Parnell School.

During his time at Parnell, Mulgan enrolled at Auckland University College. He graduated BA in 1894, and in 1896 gained an MA with first-class honours in natural science (geology). As assistant master at Newton West School from 1895 to 1898 Mulgan earned £170 a year, but he and his family were not well off. They had few possessions, only the scantiest of furniture, and were forced to shift from Parnell to Newmarket in order to reduce rental payments.

In 1898, a mere 12 years after becoming a teacher, Mulgan was appointed assistant inspector of schools for the Auckland Education Board. Two years later he was promoted to inspector, a position he held for the next six years. From 1907 to 1909 he was inspector for the North Canterbury Education Board and returned to Auckland in 1910 as chief inspector of schools.

Mulgan's duties as inspector involved visiting all of the primary and district high schools in his region. The travel schedule was especially demanding since all schools, including the most remote, had to be visited at least once a year for inspection and examination purposes. Like his colleagues, Mulgan kept a horse and spent much time riding from school to school.

Mulgan sought to break down the traditional idea of inspectors as sitting in judgement on teachers. Described by his son as a man of great integrity and kindness with a strong sense of justice, Mulgan tried to become a friend and mentor of teachers, and in his spare time wrote to them when they sought advice. Although a Protestant, he was extremely popular among teachers in the Catholic schools that he inspected. While at Christchurch he obtained permission for nuns to attend science classes at Canterbury College.

Mulgan's desire to assist teachers was demonstrated in his advocacy from 1910 onwards of a national grading system for teaching staff to ensure that promotions and appointments were made on the grounds of merit. His supportive approach was also evident in his writing of textbooks for use in schools. The first, published in 1905, was entitled The New Zealand nature-study book. In 1914 his second book, The New Zealand citizen, was released. Co-authored with his son, Alan Mulgan, this early civics text was used to teach topics later included under the general heading of social studies. In keeping with his liberal views on education, Mulgan was an enthusiastic supporter of kindergarten training and was said to have been one of the founders of the Auckland Kindergarten Association in 1908.

Following a visit to Great Britain in 1915 with his wife, Mulgan wrote a report on English and Scottish post-primary education which was well received back in New Zealand. He noted with approval that Scotland had introduced intermediate schools on an experimental basis; this system was not introduced in New Zealand until some years later. In 1915 he was offered the post of assistant director of education but had to decline it because of failing health. Edward Mulgan died at Auckland on 14 November 1920 from heart failure; he was survived by his wife and sons. As an educationalist he is best remembered for championing the needs and aspirations of New Zealand teachers.

How to cite this page:

Howard F. Lee. 'Mulgan, Edward Ker', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3m64/mulgan-edward-ker (accessed 19 April 2024)