As the oldest state secondary school in Hawke’s Bay it seems appropriate that its exact age should be a matter of some controversy. In 1870 the Provincial Council of Hawkes Bay passed the Napier school act which set aside land for the future school, an arrangement confirmed by a decree of the Supreme Court in 1872. It is this later date that was chosen for the centenary celebrations.
Building on the hill site began in 1873, the same year that Rev John Campbell was appointed Headmaster but it wasn’t until 1874 that the new buildings came into use. The site on the hill and the rather grant timber buildings soon proved inadequate as the roll grew and with it the need for sports grounds. The boarders, who had resided with the Headmaster, moved into their own premises in 1884.
Negotiations for a site began about 1920 but the new school and hostel were not opened until 1926. Napier Boys’ High now occupied a large flat site on the southern limits of the town, bordered by a swampy area known as the Serpentine and the Tutaekuri River, with the sea not far away on the eastern side. Water would be a problem with a flood in 1927 isolating the hostel for several days. Perhaps it was ironic that the boarding establishment had provided continuity by taking the name of Scinde House after its former hill site which in turn had been known as Scinde Island in earlier days.
A worse disaster overtook the school. Hawke’s Bay was devastated by an earthquake on February 3, 1931, the first day of the new school year. While the city was destroyed by quake and fire with a large loss of life, Napier Boys’ High School escaped relatively lightly. The school was outside at the time and while thrown wildly about by the ‘waves’ rippling across the grounds, there were no casualties. The buildings were not so fortunate. The brand new assembly hall collapsed and the grand hostel building was so badly damaged that it had to be demolished. While some pupils were dispersed to other school, classes soon reopened, under canvas, in an area in the nearby primary school and relocatable classrooms from Girls’ High (which occupied the abandoned hill site).
Boarders moved back into the Headmaster’s residence or bedded down in the dining hall. These two impressive wooden buildings are now all that remains of the pre-earthquake school. As the nearby Tutaekuri River had changed its course, because of the uplift in land, drainage was improved and the school was able to add a farm to its amenities from the reclaimed land. The school has been strong in agriculture ever since. In the city the Napier Technical College had been destroyed with loss of life and a decision was taken to amalgamate it with existing schools. Napier Boys’ added workshops and that side too has remained an integral part of the school’s life.
As the world was set ablaze by the war in 1939 Napier Boys’ High School also had the first of the major fires that were to be beacons in its development, losing it’s new workshops. In 1944 a fire caused by quake damaged chimneys destroyed the hostel kitchens. Food was prepared in the rebuild workshops but long suffering boarders, because of war time economics, were served fire tainted food for weeks after.
In the 1970’s the school was also to lose a cafeteria/recreation block, originally built by and for school based apprentices and a temporary classroom, long past its useful life and set alight by a gas heater left burning after an illicit toast making session by boarders. The hidden benefit of the former was the completion of the fine sports pavilion, a centenary project, using insurance money. Fire struck again in a spectacular fashion on the night of October 6, 1991, when the two storeys Polson Block, containing three science laboratories, two commerce classrooms the computer room and seventh form study, lit up the Napier skies. In early 1993 the Minister of Education opened its replacement, the office extensions and a new music suite, giving back to the school an architectural identity reflecting the Art Deco style of Napier rebuilt in the 1930’s that had been lost with the demolition of the original brick block in the mid 1970’s.
Having played such an important part in the province’s life it is to be expected that its contribution to the nation’s history is also noteworthy. Its old boys have achieved prominence in the armed forces, the church, public service, the arts and academics, the legal profession, business and sports. The current edition of the ‘New Zealand Who’s Who’ lists forty prominent living New Zealanders who were educated at Napier Boys’ High School, including three High Court Judges and a leading United National diplomat.
The school is rightly proud of Capt. PV Storkey who won the Victoria Cross while serving with the Australian Imperial Army in France in 1918. On his death Judge Storkey left his Victoria Cross to his old school and this is commemorated by the Storkey Trust which twice a year makes cash awards to young achievers amongst the present school population.