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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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SHELLEY, Sir James, K.B.E.


Educationalist, university professor, Director of Broadcasting.

A new biography of Shelley, James appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Sir James was born at Coventry on 3 September 1884, the son of James Shelley and Ellen, née Walton. He was educated at Bablake School, Coventry, and at Christ's College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. (1907) and M.A. (1913). He was assistant master at Heanor Technical College (1907–08), assistant lecturer in education at Chester Training College (1908–10), and similarly at Manchester University (1910–13). Appointed Professor of Education at Southhampton University College (1913–20), he served in the Royal Field Artillery (1917–18), attaining the rank of major. From 1918 to 1920 he was Chief Instructor at the Army School of Education, which he reorganised on novel lines. From 1920 to 1936 he held the Chair of Education at Canterbury University College and, by the brilliance of his lectures and wide scholarship, did much to raise the academic status of his subject. Shelley was also founder of the Canterbury Repertory Society and the Country Library Service. On the abolition of the New Zealand Broadcasting Board in 1936, he became first Director of the National Broadcasting Service, which post he occupied until 1949. On his retirement he was created K.B.E. for his services to education and broadcasting.

Shelley retired to England, where he was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (1950), and was appointed Adviser to Overseas Students at London University (1952). He also represented New Zealand at the UNESCO Conference on Radio, and sat on the UNESCO Experts' Committee on Art in Education.

On 28 December 1910, Shelley married Mabel Winifred (died 1948), daughter of Richard Booth, of Coventry, by whom he had one son; and, secondly, on 5 April 1952, Mary, daughter of Ernest Willmott, of Great Missenden, Bucks. He died at his home, 3 Brays Close, Amersham, Buckinghamshire, on the night of 18 March 1961.

Shelley was a man whose impressive personality and voice reflected something of his life-long interest in the theatre. He had a wide knowledge of art and was a sound critic within somewhat narrow limits. In Christchurch he took a prominent part in cultural affairs and was a highly popular lecturer on many topics. As a public administrator he was less successful and his influence on the development of broadcasting in New Zealand was not strongly marked. Today his reputation rests on his pioneering work in the field of modern education.

by Alexander Hare McLintock, C.B.E., M.A., DIP.ED. (N.Z.), PH.D.(LOND.), Parliamentary Historian, Wellington.

  • New Zealand Listener, 7 Apr 1961 (Obit).


Alexander Hare McLintock, C.B.E., M.A., DIP.ED. (N.Z.), PH.D.(LOND.), Parliamentary Historian, Wellington.