12 February, 2020
Family ties to the fore at Devonport Primary’s birthday celebration
A Devonport Primary School pupil whose ancestor’s brother was instrumental in purchasing the land for the school, helped cut a cake celebrating its 150th birthday.
Eight-year-old Florence Beauchamp descends from James Mays, brother of Oliver Mays, who chaired the committee that founded the school.
On 7 February, the school held a special assembly to celebrate the ‘birthday’ and play games from 150 years ago, such as sack and egg-and-spoon races, pin the tail on the donkey and a treasure hunt.
A school first opened at the Holy Trinity Church site, where Oliver Mays became head teacher in 1861 with 21 pupils. He was later appointed to a school in Northland, which burnt down before he could take up the job.
Mays instead stayed on in Devonport and became an important founding businessman, politician, public servant and postmaster. As chairman of the Flagstaff Highways Board, he was asked to consider a new school.
Mays held a public meeting and 21 people agreed to donate to establish a “common school for boys”. A school committee was formed, with Mays as chair.
The site on the hill was for sale, as a Wesleyan chapel on the land had run out of money. Mays approached a photographer who had made money gold-mining, who agreed to donate £200 towards the purchase.
The school initially ran out of the former chapel. In October 1869, some local families promised to pay a teacher £150 a year. Pierce Philips was appointed in November and the school opened on 17 January 1870, initially as a boys school.
• Further 150-year celebrations are planned later this year.
This article originally appeared in the 14 February edition of the Devonport Flagstaff. Download PDF.