Story: Ngā tāone nui – Māori and the city

Page 3. The city and education

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In the 19th century, by the time towns turned into cities, Māori had shifted off what, in many cases, had been their traditional lands. Up until the early 20th century it was relatively unusual for Māori to travel to, or live in, the city. In 1900 more than 95% of Māori lived in rural communities. Often Māori living in the city were those with some European blood known as ‘hawhe kaihe’ (half-castes).

In the North Island, Māori lived in separate regions in rural kāinga with a hapū base. In the South Island Māori lived in kāika or ‘kaiks’ (villages) on the margins of European settlements. By the 1930s, 90% of Māori still lived rurally. Up until then education and government were often the only things that brought Māori to the city.


Education of Māori in the city was often church-based and catered to both girls and boys. Theological training for Māori men was also an important component. From the late 19th century a vanguard of Māori began training at universities, although few schools prepared Māori students for academic study.

Māori boys’ schools

St Stephen’s began as a Māori girls’ primary school in Parnell, Auckland but changed to a boys’ school in 1860. Boys went on to Te Aute College until the 1920s, when St Stephen’s developed its own secondary schooling. At this time the school came under pressure from the Auckland Education Board, Auckland City Council and local residents to give up its site for a state primary school. In 1931 it moved to Bombay, south of Auckland. It closed in 2000.

Hato Petera College was founded by the Mill Hill Fathers. It opened as St Peter’s Catechist School with 13 students in 1928. Marist Brothers took over the school in 1946, when it was registered as a secondary school. It was renamed Hato Petera (St Peter in Māori).

Māori girls’ schools

Queen Victoria School in Parnell, Auckland, was opened by the Duke of York (later King George V) in 1901. One reason behind the establishment of the school was the education of Māori women to marry educated Māori men who had attended the Māori boys’ schools.

Te Wai Pounamu College was founded at Tuahiwi, Canterbury, and then moved into Christchurch. It was the only Māori girls’ college in the South Island.

Māori and universities

Some of the pioneering Māori professionals came into the cities for education. Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa) and Tūtere Wī Repa studied medicine at the University of Otago. Apirana Ngata was the first Māori lawyer, and graduated from Canterbury University College in 1895. Edward Ellison trained to be a doctor at the University of Otago in the early 1900s. His brother Tom Ellison became a lawyer.

Theological training

Māori were trained for the ministry in the city. Two important theological colleges were St John’s College and Wesley College in Auckland. Wesley College originally opened to train Māori in theology in 1848. It closed during the New Zealand wars and reopened in 1876.

Māori nurses

Some of the first Māori nurses also made their way into the city for training. Ākenehi Hei of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Te Whakatōhea was the first nurse to graduate. Mabel Mangākahia went to Auckland Girls’ Grammar School and then Queen Victoria School, where she gained a nursing bursary. She trained at Auckland Hospital, completing her training in 1923.

Government and MPs

Politics and the legal system often drew Māori to Wellington. The Māori members of Parliament in the lower house and the Legislative Council had to live and work in Wellington. Māori also travelled to Wellington to support petitions, attend meetings of the  Native Affairs select committee, and support or oppose bills going through Parliament. A number of Māori politicians started their careers as interpreters at Parliament or in the Native Department. Carvers were employed by the Dominion Museum in Wellington in the early 1900s.

How to cite this page:

Aroha Harris, 'Ngā tāone nui – Māori and the city - The city and education', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 3 December 2023)

Story by Aroha Harris, published 11 Mar 2010