Early 1900s photo of Strowan House.

Our Heritage

Taonga Tuku Iho

St Andrew’s College was founded in 1917 in the Scottish Presbyterian tradition of the Christian faith. The values of our forefathers held dear remain strong and true today. We celebrate our faith, traditions, achievements and individual strengths which bind us together as a caring community, and connect us to our past, our present and our future.

Our Heritage

We take great pride in our long history, firstly as a prestigious independent boys’ school, then since the early 1990s, as the only independent co-educational school in the South Island offering a world class education from Pre-school through to Year 13. During the 1980s girls entered St Andrew’s in the Preparatory School, and in 1991, a decision was made by visionary Rector, Dr John Rentoul, and the Board of Governors to allow girls to enrol in the Secondary School. Today it is both the ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ of St Andrew’s who bring life and a special spirit to the College campus.

Students in the quad from the 1990s.

Our Founder

The College’s founder was Rev. Alexander Thompson, an exceptional orator, scholar, fundraiser and visionary, who served the British and Foreign Bible Society in New Zealand and Australia for 20 years and was instrumental in setting up the Flying Doctor Service. His driving ambition was to ‘educate the sons of the Presbyterian and Scottish community of Canterbury’, and – due to his determination – St Andrew’s College opened its doors in Christchurch in 1917, with 19 boys and four teachers.

In late 1917, the fledgling St Andrew’s College Board purchased ‘Strowan’, the magnificent property which is still home to the College today. Its centrepiece, the gracious and fully restored Strowan House has overseen all the comings and goings at St Andrew’s over its long history and is a well-loved and highly recognisable landmark on the College campus.

Our Traditions

Scottish Presbyterian traditions remain at the heart of St Andrew’s, with the skirl of the pipes, twirl of the Highland dancers, the Ferguson tartan, St Andrew’s cross and Scottish thistle intrinsically woven into the fabric of College life. We celebrate our early visionaries at our annual Founders’ Day celebrations, hosting our own version of the Highland Games.

The College song was written in 1925 by T A Stuart-Menteath, a member of staff. It tells the legend of the monk Regulus bringing the relics (bones) of the disciple Andrew from Greece to Scotland, and of how the stories of Saint Andrew and the faith of the Scots who honoured him have inspired Christians through the ages.

The College tartan is the Fergusson tartan, as the Pipe Band got its first kilts in 1924 when General Sir Charles Fergusson was the Governor-General. Prefects dress formally in kilts, cutaway jackets and sporrans for Friday assemblies.

The links and shared values and traditions of St Andrew’s College and St Andrews in Scotland will be forever celebrated in the magical Antependium designed and developed for the Centennial Chapel by Professor Malcolm Lochhead of Glasgow.

The iconic Strowan House

Strowan House is a striking and familiar landmark shared by every single student who has passed through the St Andrew’s College gates. During its long history, the gracious homestead has borne witness to nearly all of the comings and goings at the College and has fulfilled many purposes.

Before it became the jewel of the crown at St Andrew’s, Strowan House started life as a simple weatherboard farmhouse, built in the mid-19th century. Among its owners were a Victorian baronet, Scottish lawyer, and prominent Edwardian businessman, George Stead, who purchased Strowan in 1890, and transformed it into a grand gentleman’s residence, befitting his growing status in the Canterbury community.

It was thanks to a series of fortunate events, along with the determination of College founder, Rev. A T Thompson, that the St Andrew’s College Board was able to secure the purchase of the Strowan property from Stead in 1917. Rev. Thompson and his friend, Charles McCrostie, had been ‘wooing’ parishioners and gathering small donations. A generous £5000 bequeath from North Canterbury runholder, Duncan Rutherford, coincided with the Stead family putting their property ‘Strowan Park’ on the market. St Andrew’s College found its home.

The first major task for Rev. Thompson and the Board was to turn the palatial residence into an operable school, ready for the start of Term 1, 1918. A small army of tradespeople completed considerable works over the Christmas holidays, with Strowan’s 20 rooms transformed for use as staff and boarders’ accommodation and classrooms.  

The highly decorative billiard room (currently the staffroom) became the Assembly Hall, and a room next door became the first classroom. The former drawing room (now the Rector’s Study) and another small room were also converted into classrooms. The boarders slept in dormitories which had been created upstairs and had their meals in the downstairs dining room. The first Rector, Sydney Dickinson, and his family lived behind the kitchen area, with the domestic staff overhead. The stables were transformed into the College’s first Science laboratory.

There were tough times throughout the College’s first year at Strowan, with World War I still raging in Europe, a rapidly growing roll putting pressure on classroom facilities, rudimentary dormitories for boarders providing barely adequate accommodation during a freezing winter, and the outbreak of Spanish flu.

The 1919 school year began with enrolments of 112 – six times more than St Andrew’s had started with in 1917. The accommodation crisis was solved by the construction of an additional classroom, and Dorm 6, an upstairs open-air boarders’ dormitory, which stretched along the west side of the building. A canvas blind was let down at night, providing scant protection from wind and rain. A further eight new rooms were added to house the Headmaster’s family and domestic staff.

During the early decades of the College’s history, many boarders completed their schooling while living in Strowan House. It was their home, as well as their place of learning, alongside the day boys. By 1930, when many more buildings, including classrooms and boarding facilities had been established on campus, only the senior boarders remained living in Strowan House, many in the infamous Dorm 6.

Over time, additions to the house slowly changed its facade. Bits were added on, rooms were altered, walls removed, and internal corridors meandered through the spaces.

The Rectors and their families lived onsite in Strowan House until the late 1950s, when the College purchased a Rector’s residence in College Avenue. At this time many of the rooms in Strowan House were converted from classrooms back to reception rooms, meeting rooms, and offices.

Rector Christine Leighton has often reflected on the history of her office, the magnificent Rector’s Study, which was a drawing room when Strowan was a private residence, and has also served as a classroom, Library, and Boardroom at St Andrew’s College.

St Andrew’s College without Strowan House is an unimaginable thought, however, there was a risk she could have been lost forever during the Canterbury earthquakes. The building was extensively damaged in the September 2010 earthquake, which worsened during the major aftershocks of 2011. As a result, the building underwent a significant 18-month restoration to bring it up to today’s engineering and safety standards. It was a very complex process, given the 25-room building was in fact in five separate structures, each built in different periods and requiring specific structural solutions. Included in the works was the removal of the original lath and plaster walls, which were replaced with braced plywood, and the painstaking restoration of Strowan’s ornate plasterwork and stained-glass panels.

Following the restoration, Strowan House is once again a busy hub for the Rector, Senior Management, teachers, various administrative and support teams, and of course the boarders. They are well catered for in the character-filled dining room, which also remains the venue for many events and traditional celebrations at the College.

The ‘grand lady’ is back to her brilliant best and continues to play a hugely important role at St Andrew’s College. Within her walls is contained incredible history, memories of staff and students from across the generations, and likely a great many secrets. And with her stronger and brighter than ever, Strowan House is poised to remain the College’s most significant building for another 100 years.

Strowan House in Papanui, Christchurch, circa 1920s

Our Museum

We believe that understanding our past helps us to appreciate our present and shape our future. Our Museum is home to the College’s history and traditions, as well as being a place to engage with College culture, and a source of pride for the College community.

Our Earthquake Story

The earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 changed the face of Canterbury and its people forever. St Andrew's College did not escape the trauma of this experience, but alongside the distress and the pain, we also grew stronger.

  • Strowan House

    Our heritage homestead is still standing tall, symbolising the hope we feel for our future and the strength we find in our past.

    Strowan House is the core of our campus. It is our oldest and best-known building, symbolising the College for generations of students and their families.

    The earthquake spelt the end for many of Christchurch's historic buildings, but we were able to save Strowan. Thanks to the expertise and love of many people, Strowan House will stand for another century at the core of a reinvigorated St Andrew's College.

    The earliest parts of Strowan date back to 1856, when it was built as a private residence for lawyer, Thomas Duncan. It has been occupied by the College since 1918, just a year after our founding.

    Despite all those decades of staff and students thundering through Strowan's halls, the building held up well to the first of the Canterbury earthquakes. However, February 2011 was a different story, and Strowan had to be evacuated for major ground-up repair and restoration.

    Many people feared they would never set foot in Strowan again, but after an 18-month recovery programme, we were able to reclaim the College's heritage icon for future generations, and the success of our restoration was recognised by two major building awards.

    Learn more

  • The Memorial Chapel

    St Andrew's College has always promoted strong relationships with the community. Our chapel is where we celebrate that lifelong association.

    St Andrew's College is not just about school years. It is about being part of a community for life, and our Chapel is a place where we celebrate that lifelong association.

    The Memorial Chapel was built in 1955 to honour the staff and Old Boys of the College who served in World War II. It was beautiful brick building, but brick is an earthquake-prone construction method.

    Much thought went into assessing the damage suffered by the Chapel in 2011. Eventually, with a heavy heart, but an eye to a bright future, the Board announced that the Memorial Chapel would be taken down.

    It would be replaced by a Centennial Chapel, part of the celebrations marking the College's first 100 years. The whole St Andrew's community, from Old Collegians to the youngest students and their families, were invited to contribute their visions for the new Chapel.  These ideas were part of the brief supplied to the three architectural firms who competed for the final design.

    When the Memorial Chapel was decommissioned in October 2013, it was with a design agreed for a new Chapel that would encapsulate the shared values of the St Andrew's community. The Centennial Chapel would also literally incorporate our traditions, with elements of the former Chapel carefully saved for inclusion in the new building.

    The past, the future, and our diverse community will all come together in this new spiritual heart for our College.

    Learn more

  • The Boarding Houses

    Our boarders had to live off site for two long years before returning to a brand-new boarding complex in 2013.

    Boarding has always been a huge part of life at St Andrew's College. When the earthquakes closed all three of our accommodation blocks, some quick thinking was required, and the answer surprised many of us – motels.

    For two years, most of our boarders lived in motels on Papanui Road and Bealey Avenue, with the junior girls relocating to Selwyn House School. The motels provided a warm and safe place to sleep, but they couldn't cater for the communal aspect of boarding – eating, working and socialising together.

    So, all boarders' meals were cooked and served on campus, in a big marquee, summer and winter. Supervised evening study sessions were also held at the College. This made for long days, with the boarders typically leaving their motels around 7.00am and not returning until well after 8.00pm. However, it also meant that the students continued to enjoy the benefits and friendships of boarding life in the time-honoured StAC tradition.

    Meanwhile, MacGibbon and Thompson Houses were demolished, and Rutherford House was repaired and renamed MacGibbon. In March 2013, the new houses were formally opened by the Right Honourable John Key, the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the St Andrew's boarding spirit returned to campus full-time and stronger than ever.

    Learn more

  • The Band Room

    Bagpipes are heard every day at the College. Their familiar sound instils school pride and celebrates tradition. New Zealand is a long way from Scotland, but we take our traditions seriously. One of the strongest traditions to endure from the St Andrew's College founders is our Pipe Band.

    The Richard Askin Memorial Pipe Band Room was home to the College's Pipe Band from 1969 until February 2011. The Band Room was built with the assistance of a donation from the Askin family, in memory of Richard Askin who was Pipe Major in 1964 but was tragically killed in a car accident in his early 20s.  It housed many fine bands over the years, but ironically, it was after the Pipe Band lost its home to the earthquakes that we really took the world by storm. The 2011 earthquakes damaged the Askin Band Room beyond repair, which led to the new facility being built and being officially opened on 24 March 2016.  The plaque from the original Band Room now takes pride of place on the walls of the Askin Pipe Band Centre.

    In 2013, the St Andrew's College Pipe Band attended the World Championships in Glasgow for the third time – and won! Our band was named world champions, the first New Zealand pipe band ever to achieve this outstanding honour. But the story definitely doesn't end there. The College's new Pipe Band and Outdoor Education building was completed in 2014 – a fitting venue to train future piping and drumming champions, and proof that our College will continue to honour the spirit of our founders for many years to come.

    Learn more

  • The Preparatory School

    Unimaginable disruption was the key theme of 2011, but our staff and students still had an exceptional year.

    The first classes in the College's $11 million new Preparatory School building were eagerly welcomed in 2011. Construction sights and sounds throughout 2010 had dominated the site and everyone was delighted to teach and learn in its stunning modern spaces.

    When the February 2011 earthquake struck, students and staff throughout the College were eating and readying themselves for their usual lunchtime activities. After that first devastating shock, students were evacuated to three open spaces on the campus. The Secondary School assembled on the front field, while the Preparatory School students assembled in two areas – the Junior School playground and the tennis courts near Erwin House. Over the afternoon and early evening, students were cared for and comforted by staff until their parents and friends came to collect them. The school was then closed while engineers made their reports.

    As building assessments progressed, the news for the Preparatory School was good. The deep piling and the seismic joint in the main Preparatory School building performed exactly as planned, allowing a quick return to teaching and learning. Teachers taught two 2-hour blocks each day for a week before the rest of the College returned to classes.

    Learn more

  • The Arts Block

    The loss of 18 classrooms caused huge problems for the Secondary School, but it reminded us that we can succeed under difficult circumstances.

    It may not be our most beautiful building, but the Arts Block is the teaching hub of the Secondary School. With 18 classrooms, it is mission control for our NCEA scholars.

    Imagine the shock, then, when the entire building had to close for repair and strengthening during the 2011 academic year. Finding 18 more teaching spaces on an already compromised campus seemed virtually impossible. But continuing our secondary programme, and ensuring the success of that year's students, was absolutely vital.

    For three months, Secondary School classes were held all around the campus; in the Preparatory School, in temporary 'Portacoms', and just about anywhere a teacher and a group of students could successfully get together.

    The Arts Block re-opened in October 2011, and NCEA examinations were held there as usual in November. It is testament to the strength and determination of our staff and students that St Andrew's College candidates earned some of the best NCEA results in nearly a decade that year, including 25 New Zealand Scholarships.

    The Arts Block problem truly taught us that we can achieve more than we realise, even in the most difficult circumstances.

    Learn more

  • Earthquake Exhibition

    The Earthquake Exhibition is located upstairs in Strowan House and records the direct effect of the earthquakes on St Andrew’s College and how it responded and rebuilt.  Most importantly it highlights how the spirit of the StAC community shone through during these tough times.

    When one looks at the images of students shoveling liquefaction off the front field, and boarders dining in a marquee, or reads the words of community members responding to those dramatic days, one is confronted with the stark reality of those times, which is etched in familiar faces and echoed in their voices. 

The Memorial Chapel after the February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake.

Celebrating 100 Years

During 2017, St Andrew’s celebrated its Centenary with a wonderful year of celebrations and events which captured the special spirit and culture of the College. The Spirit of St Andrew’s, a beautiful coffee table book, was written for our Centenary year.

A timeline exhibition showcasing 100 years of StAC history was unveiled as part of the Centenary Launch in 2016. The StAC100 timeline is installed in the Rentoul Senior College atrium and provides a fascinating visual representation of the history of St Andrew’s College alongside major national and international milestones and events that have shaped the course of the last 100 years.

Old Collegians and students viewing the StAC100 timeline

Centenary Film
– Spirit of St Andrew's

Premiered on Saturday 18 March 2017 during our Centenary Gala Weekend, the Centenary film Spirit of St Andrew's was produced by Old Collegian Rick Harvie from Belmont Productions and is a visual time capsule that showcases 100 years of St Andrew's College history.

Helping to tell the story of the College are interviews with a variety of Old Collegians, current staff members and members of the wider St Andrew's College community. While there is a strong focus on the contemporary College, it is important to look back and explore the College's roots, and the men and women who secured the College's legacy.

Spirit of St Andrew's video thumbnail of a purple thistle

Centenary Vintage Newsreel

Voiced by then student, Nic Cain, this newsreel takes a look at some of the special moments in the College’s 100-year history, without taking itself too seriously. It was originally shown at the Centenary launch on 16 September 2016.

Vintage reel thumbnail horses ploughing fields in early 1900s

100 Years of Community Group Support

The Events Committee, Ladies' Circle, Old Collegians Association and PTA are key community groups who have generously supported the College throughout our first 100 years—and continue to do so.

  • Events Committee

    Originally known as the Ladies' Committee, the Events Committee was convened by Mrs S L Wright in 1939. Over the Jubilee weekend in 1966 they dispensed an impressive 11,000 meals. Throughout the years this dedicated group has repaired kilts, made woodwork aprons, provided a stage curtain for the assembly hall and assisted with the interior decoration of Recreation Hall.

    In 2000 their name changed to the Events Committee and today the Events Committee are an integral part in ensuring the smooth running of events such as the leavers’ and boarders’ dinners and Ceilidh.

  • Ladies' Circle

    Founded in 1959 by Dorothy Stewart, the Ladies' Circle originally started as a gardening circle. Long-term member Val Wells has provided stunning flower displays since 1975 for both chapel services and the annual prizegiving. An elder stand in the Memorial Chapel, donated by the Ladies' Circle, still stands today and will remain a feature of the Chapel landscape.

    The purpose of the Ladies' Circle is to provide contact for the women of our College community once their children have left school. Their popular monthly programme includes special guest speakers, outings and lunch. Any woman connected to the College is encouraged to become a member.

  • Old Collegians Association (OCA)

    Founded in 1920 with the first reunion held that year – a match with the First XV and dinner in the dining hall – Old Collegians still enjoy their reunion dinners in Strowan House dining room echoing this early tradition.

    Fundraising to help the College has been an important theme throughout the history of the OCA with Old Boys in 1923 deciding they would contribute to the build of a swimming bath. OCA has helped to re-equip the Gymnasium, donated towards new Pipe Band uniforms and provided for scholarships and bursaries for students to attend the College.

    In the early 1990s the Old Boys Association changed its name to the Old Collegians Association to reflect the now co-educational nature of the College. Past President Nick Letham says, “All our current students automatically become members of the Old Collegians Association once they leave StAC. There are no ongoing subscription fees and it is lifetime membership. It’s been heartening in recent years to see the level of engagement and participation by our younger members at OCA events.”

  • Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

    The PTA have a long history of joining forces with other community groups to support the College. In 1943 the PTA supported the Old Boys Association in the build of a Memorial Chapel. They were also involved with the build of the boarders’ recreational hall (1950), the Pipe Band room (1957) and Jubilee Hall (1966).

    The PTA have donated playground equipment, resources for the TV studio and generously supported the Chapel fund. Today the PTA continues to fundraise for the College’s needs and this year alone have donated $5,000 towards robotics for the Preparatory School and $17,500 towards new gym equipment.

Community groups at a Centenary event.

Centenary Sports Wall

The Centenary Sports Wall is located in the spectator gallery of Gym 2.

Created in 2017, the wall is covered with hundreds of team photos from 1917–2017 and students, Old Collegians, and current or former permanent members of staff who were either top level national title holders or represented an open grade/ultimate team; were an athlete or part of the official team at the Commonwealth Games, Open Grade World Championships or Olympic Games; or represented another nation at sport.

Based on the theme ‘from the ordinary comes the extraordinary’ the wall is designed to be ongoing and will be updated as more people qualify for inclusion, or those already named, add to their achievements. The Centenary Sports Wall is complemented by a slideshow expanding on each person’s sporting record.

Of the talented sportspeople to appear on the Centenary Sports Wall in 2017, 66 are Old Collegians, four are current students and 19 are ex or current staff. St Andrew’s is very proud of its 15 Olympians, including three gold medal winners: Athol Earl for rowing, Peter Mander for yachting, and Barry Maister for hockey. Five people on the Centenary Sports Wall have received honours from the Queen for Services to Sport.

Old Collegians and preparatory school student looking at sports wall display

Pipe Band Centenary

The Pipe Band celebrated its Centenary during Founders' Day weekend on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 March 2019. Due to the tragic Christchurch mosque shootings on the Friday, the planned events were revised accordingly.

Ben Murray (OC 2013), former Pipe Major of the St Andrew’s College Pipe Band, delivered the Founders' Day address at assembly. His message of his experience of what the worldwide Pipe Band community had given him, and the importance and opportunity of 'community' to our own well-being, became even more relevant within a few hours of his speech.

Over 500 people gathered in the Centennial Chapel on Saturday morning, and after a time of reflection about the previous day’s events, the history of the band was presented by the Board Chair Bryan Pearson, Rector Christine Leighton, and Pipe Band Director Richard Hawke. Preparatory School Art teacher and College Archivist, Pip Dinsenbacher, compiled an excellent account of the prominent people and events that have highlighted the band over its 100-year history. This has also been compiled into a Pipe Band history book, The Road to Success.

Also honoured at this event were former band members from the 2013 World Championships winning band. Seventeen of the 32 band members were present to receive a gift from former Band Master, Barry Shaw. Iona Taylor (OC 2019 – a bass drummer in the Pipe Band) sung The Skye Boat Song, Solo piper, Campbell Wilson (OC 2020) played a tribute to GAM Hilson. Hilson's son Euan Hilson (Pipe Major 1953–54) and Pipe Major, Noah Clarke (OC 2019), cut the Centenary cake. The St Andrew's College March was played accompanied by Michael Lawrence on organ to conclude this very special occasion. After photos, a Mass Band in the Quad concluded the morning events.

The Centenary celebrations concluded on the Saturday evening with an excellent concert, featuring current and former band members, and highland dancers, and a Ceilidh (traditional Scottish dance).

You may be interested in the following articles ...

Pipe Band celebrates 100 year milestone

Pipe Band Centenary – A time for reflection and commemoration

Centenary Concert and Ceilidh conclude celebrations

Pipe Band’s rich history

Overhead shot of attendees and the current Pipe Band at the Pipe Band centenary.