Address: 18 Arthur Street
Architect: John Somerville
Builder: William Duncan
Gary Blackman’s beautiful Kodachrome image of the janitor’s house at Otago Boys’ High School in 1964 has inspired me to look at the history of the building, demolished over fifty years ago.
The school used the title of janitor for its caretaker until about 1980. The janitor’s tasks included maintaining the playing areas and other grounds, managing lost property, recording absenteeism, first aid, and supervising the ‘fatigues’ issued as punishments.
The janitor’s residence was immediately to the left of the main school entrance on Arthur Street. It was built fairly quickly in the early months of 1885, just as the school was moving from its original site where Otago Girls’ High School is now. The main stone building, designed by R.A. Lawson, had taken two years to build and was formally opened in February 1885.
John Somerville, not Lawson, designed the janitor’s house. Somerville’s main salaried employment was as the Otago Education Board architect. He also worked for the Otago High Schools Board of Governors, the body responsible for the management of Dunedin’s two public high schools.
William Duncan won the contract to build the house, for the modest sum of £228. This was approximately a year’s wages for a senior clerk or teacher. The contract price for the main building had been nearly £15,000. The house was built largely of Baltic pine, with some kauri, in a carpenter gothic style with a distinctive steeply-pitched roof and carved bargeboards.
The janitors who lived in this house, and their dates of occupation, were:
John Wallace 1885-1902
Edward Carter 1903-1934
David McEwen Hall Hanlin 1934-1960
William James Hammond 1960-1966
William Kirkland 1966-c.1969 (continuing as janitor to 1975)
The first, John Wallace, was one of 86 applicants for the position. He lived in the house with his wife Maggie and their five children, staying in the job for seventeen years. One of the children, also named Maggie, died at the house in 1896, aged 20. I have not found out much more about the family. John was born in Innerleithen, in the Scottish Borders, and also worked as a carpenter. He appealed against cuts made to his salary when the school went through a period of straightened finances. He later lived in Dundas Street and died in Auckland in 1923, aged about eighty (sources vary). Maggie died in 1930.
The longest-serving janitor was Edward Carter, better known as Nick, who took up the position in 1903. Born in Dunedin in 1869, he had worked as a gardener and married Martha Murdoch in 1895. Martha and Nick moved into the janitor’s house with four children under the age of thirteen, and another two would be born after the move. The youngest, John, died at the age of just two weeks. Martha died in 1915, aged 45.
Nick was described by one former Otago Boys’ pupil as ‘small and nondescript’, someone who would have made a good spy! ‘Many of us can still see him as he toddled from room to room with the absence book or up to the dais in the hall to ring the handbell at the end of a spell’. He was a skilled gardener and produced beautiful displays of spring flowers. He built a rock garden next to the house, beside the front entrance. Nick remarried, to Florence Evans, in 1926. The couple were presented with a suitcase, a pair of vases, and an enthusiastic haka by the schoolboys. After more than thirty years in the job, Nick Carter retired in 1934. He died in 1942, and Florence in 1949.
I have found no informative sources about what life was like for the janitor’s wife, living on the school grounds. Perhaps this post might elicit something.
David and Louisa Hanlin came to the house with their two children in 1934, during the later part of the Great Depression. Davie, as he was known, was selected from 171 applicants. Born in Glasgow in 1895, he came to Otago in 1912 and worked with his father in a cartage and contracting business in Mosgiel. He served in France in the First World War, in the Machine-Gun Section of the 23rd Reinforcements, Specialist Company. He would be part of National Reserve in the Second World War, and afterwards had a long association with the RSA. An accomplished association football player, he had played for the Southern and Mosgiel clubs. He was highly regarded as a coach, including of the High School Old Boys’ Team, and was a soccer writer for both the Otago Daily Times and the Evening Star. He was given the title of assistant rector because one of his duties was to ring the bell that called the school to order. He was also known to have Scotch broth for lunch every day of the year, no matter what the weather! Davie Hanlin retired in 1960 and died in 1985, aged 90. Louisa, who was born in Middlemarch, died in 1986 at the age of 92.
Bill Hammond was janitor from 1960 to 1966. It seems he later worked as a swimming pool manager in Timaru, and as a security officer in Auckland.
William Kirkland took over in 1966 and was the last janitor to live in the old house, with his wife May. They moved out about 1969, when the building became vacant. William described it as ‘still quite serviceable’. Nevertheless, it came down in the first weeks of January 1971.
The Otago Daily Times reported: ‘There will be many who will regret the demise of this charming house and who will wonder whether its end was absolutely necessary’. The reason given for the demolition was the re-landscaping of the area, with a larger entrance to the school. One regular passerby, who was asked for comment by the reporter, thought it a great pity. She said something could have been done to save the building, possibly by moving it. Two years later, even the main stone building faced demolition. It was saved only after lobbying and objections, and a change of heart from the school governors and ministry officials. For those interested, Rory Sweetman’s superbly researched and very readable history of the school, Above the City, gives more information about this.
Happily, the main building survives and has been strengthened, but the long-gone janitor’s house fades further from memory. If you have memories of it, please do share them in the comments.
New Zealand Herald 26 January 1923 p.2 (death of John Wallace).
Otago Daily Times, 8 January 1971 p.9 (‘Early Dunedin building is being demolished), 18 December 1985, p.3 (‘Fond memories of caretaker’, David Hanlin), 27 April 2015 p.3 (‘Veteran to lay poppy for Dad’).
Griffiths, G.J. and E.J. McCoy. Otago Boys’ High School and its Historic Neighbourhood. Dunedin: Otago Heritage Books, 1983.
Sweetman, Rory. ‘Above the City’: A History of Otago Boys’ High School. Dunedin: Otago Boys’ High School Foundation, 2013.
Magazine, Otago Boys’ High School (including staff lists).
Otago Boys’ High School Old Boys Register. Dunedin: Otago High School Old Boys’ Society, 1963.
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Minute book, AG-266/002, from Otago High Schools Board records, Hocken Collections Uare Taoka o Hākena.
Voucher book, AG-266/067, from Otago High Schools Board records
Ancestry.com genealogical resources