The School's first Headmaster is David Blair (1852–1925), an examiner for art at South Kensington. Blair left England for New Zealand in July 1881 and began his tenure in 1882. He held an Art Master's Certificate from South Kensington (later the Royal College of Art); he had taught at Birkenhead School of Art and St. Thomas Charterhouse School of Art; and had been Assistant Professor of Drawing at the Royal Naval School, Islington District School of Art. Blair's young assistant was George Herbert Elliot (1860–1940), who also arrived in Christchurch in 1881. Previously Art Master at South Kensington, he had been a gold medallist 1880 in its national competition. (A Concise History, pp.24-25).


Canterbury College School of Art opens (as New Zealand's second art school) on 1 March 1882 in the former Girls' High School, cnr. Rolleston Avenue and Hereford Street.

Headmaster David Blair prepares a prospectus modelled on that of the South Kensington School in London. The establishing charter states: 'The work carried on in the school has for its object the systematic study of practical Art and the knowledge of its scientific principles, with a view to developing the application of Art to the common uses of life, and to the requirements of Trade and Manufactures.'

Its prospectus states that to receive their Teachers' Elementary Drawing Certificate – the equivalent of a second grade South Kensington certificate – students were required to pass in freehand drawing from flat examples, practical geometry, linear perspective, model drawing and blackboard drawing from memory. Instruction included the following subjects: Freehand, Geometry, and Perspective. Light and Shade. Painting on Oil and Water-colours. Botany and Anatomy as applied to Art. Design. Modelling. Building Construction. Machine Construction. Drawing on wood. Lithography.

'Stages of Instruction' are as follows in 1882:

Stage I – Elementary linear drawing, by the aid of instruments.
Stage II – Advanced linear drawing, by the aid of instruments.
Stage III – Models, freehand drawing and shading.
Stage IV – Ornaments, freehand drawing and shading.
Stage V – Botanical drawing. Flower painting.
Stage VI – landscape. Still life, etc.
Stage VII – the human figure.
Stage VIII – Drawing and painting animal forms.
Stage IX – Modelling, ornament, flowers etc.
Stage X – Modelling. The human figure and animals.
Stage XI – Design.
Stage XII – Machine construction and drawing.
Stage XIII – Building construction and drawing – architecture.
Stage XIV – Drawing on wood (wood engraving).
Stage XV – Drawing on stone (lithography).

Before students are confirmed in courses of study, they are required to take classes in elementary drawing or show evidence that they have already done so. The art students are required to provide all their own drawing materials and 'instruments'.

The School's rules include the following exhortations: "Students are required to conduct themselves with order, quietness, and regularity, and to sit down immediately in their proper places on coming into the school. No talking or unnecessary moving about is permitted."

'Each student before leaving the school will be required to remove the copy and drawing-board to the place assigned to them. No student to handle or misplace any of the casts, or other examples; and any student who in any way injures the property of the school, to be held responsible, and to pay for the damage.'

The day following the School's official opening, the Press reports that 'after six months of quiet and thorough preparation [by Blair] the former Girls' High School has been transformed into a miniature South Kensington School of Art.'

28 day and 63 evening students enrol at the new school. 'In the first term 28 students (mostly 'ladies') attended the morning classes, and 63 students (mostly artisans) attended the evening classes. Of the latter, 23 came from 'mechanical occupations', 28 from the building trades, and 3 were lithographers. The new school 'sought to make beauty a prerequisite in the design and manufacture of the common objects of everyday life'. (Ann Calhoun, Simplicity and Splendour, p.14)

A public exhibition is held at the end of the first year. The Lyttelton Times describes as noteworthy Margaret Stoddart's 'study of ivy leaves drawn in sepia from the cast.' (27 December 1882).


1884 Works from the Canterbury College School of Art are included in the annual exhibition of the Auckland Society of Arts, where the first class prize and certificate are awarded to Margaret. Stoddart. Of the CCSA exhibits the Auckland Herald states: 'There is not a drawing in the whole collection that descends to the level of mediocrity. Our school of art is literally as well as metaphorically thrown into the shade by this fine collection of drawings which we commend to the earnest attention of teachers and students. The collection from Wellington, like Auckland, must yield the palm to Canterbury, in respect of the work of the local School of Art.'

In the first term, 39 morning students and 51 evening students are enrolled. Course enrolments are as follows: 'Architecture and building construction, 11; machine construction and drawing, 9; lithographic drawing, 1; drawing from living model, 9; the remainder general art work. Number of boys from the high school, last terms, 48; students from the normal school, last term, 37; teachers of district schools (Saturday), last term, 90.' (Reported in the Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1884.)


1885 David Blair resigns as Headmaster. In response to growing student numbers, two additional teaching assistants are appointed – W.E. Chapman and E. Louise Bradbury.

The prospectus for 1885 states the Canterbury College School of Art is 'similar to that of Art Schools under the Art Department of the committee of council of Education, South Kensington, London.' Lectures this year include Practical Plane and Solid Geometry; Elementary Perspective; Advanced Perspective; Light and Shade, Colour; Model Drawing, Drawing from the Cast, Composition of Line; Plant form; Design and Historic Ornament. Classes are held in life drawing; design; modelling; lithographic drawing (on stone) and drawing on wood (for engraving); and building and machine drawing.


George Herbert Elliot is appointed Headmaster (1886–1905), and under his direction, the Canterbury College School of Art follows the South Kensington prescription for drawing and design instruction.


The School's Headmaster George Herbert Elliot reports in the Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives that: 'The "nude" life class was commenced early in 1887, and for the present is held twice a week – on Tuesday evening and Saturday afternoon. This has been of the greatest benefit to the students, as there is nothing equal to it for teaching drawing and proportion.' However, life drawing classes (working from both draped and undraped nude) are available only for male students.

Alfred Wilson Walsh is appointed to the position of Second Master at the CCSA.


The School's Headmaster reports in the Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives that: 'A class for the lady students for the study of the full figure was established last year, and so far the attendance has justified it, though it is difficult to get satisfactory models.' George Elliot also commented: 'By the kindness of the Director of the Museum, I was enabled to send a class one morning a week to study from the antique in the statuary gallery. Much better practice and good results were obtained by this measure.'

1882 Examination Register

The first page of the Canterbury College School of Art's annual Examination Register, held in the archives of the School of Fine Arts, is dated 1882 and titled 'Results of Annual 2nd Grade Examinations'. Each year of the Register is divided into results for 'Morning Students' and 'Evening Students'. 'Votes for women' campaigner Kate Sheppard, and artists Rosa Budden (later Sawtell), Margaret Stoddart and her sister Frances are marked in attendance among the first 'Morning' group of 1882, while Edith Munnings attended evening classes.

View the full 1882 book image here.