Skip to main content

The School’s History

Auckland Grammar School was originally endowed by the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, in 1850. Grey made a series of land grants to set up and maintain a grammar school in Auckland that was to be “for the education of all New Zealanders”.

In 1869, the School was officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in Howe Street with 78 boys on the roll. During the Depression of the 1880s, girls from the Girls’ High School joined the Auckland College and Grammar School as it was then known, mainly out of economic necessity.

In 1899, the School once again became known as Auckland Grammar School, but girls remained on the roll until 1909.

Having made several moves throughout its first four decades, the School’s current Mountain Road site was acquired between 1911 and 1913.

During the intervening years of World War I, Grammar embarked upon an ambitious and far-sighted building programme, which included the Spanish Mission style main building that is today listed with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

The School’s War Memorial was built to pay tribute to those who served and lost their lives while serving in World War I.

As the School’s roll grew, a number of specialist facilities were built later that century and into this century.


Poignant events


Governor Sir George Grey made a series of land grants with the objective of setting up and maintaining a ‘College and Grammar School’. The Trust Board then waited more than 14 years to be in a position where income from the land could support a school.


By act of the Auckland Provincial Government, a Grammar School was founded and given the old Immigration Barracks in Howe Street and three acres of land.


Auckland Grammar School was officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh. 78 boys whose parents were willing and able to pay their tuition were enrolled.


A Cadet Corps was mustered and trained as part of Auckland’s defences.


The growing school moved across to the Albert Barracks on the corner of Princes and O’Rorke Streets. F. Macrae succeeded Dr R. B. Kidd as Headmaster and the School became known as Auckland College and Grammar School.


The school moved from Albert Barracks to the District Court building in Eden Street. This was not large enough and the School was divided into three sections, housed in the District Court, an old Maori Chapel in Parliament Street (which burnt down shortly before 1897), and in St Andrew’s School (later known as Mr Giles’ School) in Symonds Street.


A new permanent building for the School was opened by Sir George Grey in Symonds Street. For 35 years, Auckland College and Grammar School remained on Symonds Street, on a few acres now occupied by the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture.


C. F. Bourne was appointed Headmaster in 1881 and took up his position in 1882. Despite the Depression years and lack of funds, academic standards were raised and the number of free places for boys increased.


With the Depression and withdrawal of Parliament’s annual grant to the Girls’ High School, girls were accepted into Auckland College and Grammar School. The sexes were kept strictly separate: “co-existence, not co-education”.


J. W. Tibbs replaced C. F. Bourne as Headmaster. The 30 years during which Tibbs was Headmaster proved a great period in the School’s history, which included the completion of the monumental Californian Mission-style main building on Mountain Road.


Although still including girls, the School’s name was changed back to Auckland Grammar School. By this time, it was the largest and most important school in New Zealand.


Miss A. W. Whitelaw was appointed Headmistress of the girls at Auckland Grammar School in Symonds Street.


The long-awaited Auckland Girls’ Grammar School was opened on the old Howe Street site and Auckland Grammar School reverted to being an all-boys school.


Grammar acquired its present site on Mountain Road from the Crown. 15 acres of surplus prison land made up of a vast rocky, brush-covered wasteland overlooking Mt Eden Prison and including a rifle range.


Following a keenly-contested architectural competition and later completion of plans, the foundation stone was laid on 1 December.


Despite the changes in fortune and shortages brought about by the Great War, construction on the new site proceeded and the new building was officially opened on 26 April 1916, by the Governor-General, the Earl of Liverpool. The total cost was £31,450 with little furniture.

Messurs Arnold and Abbott, the winning architects, had toured Southern California and been most impressed by the Spanish-Californian Mission style architecture. This had been popularised and modified in the early 1900s but was in fact based on the mission churches built along the Californian coast in the 1770s. The plans for the new school represented an ‘H’, with two storeys of classrooms opening onto a large arched assembly hall.

From the inside of the rectangle, at the four corners, rose four square towers each capped with a Moorish dome. Arches and pillared colonnades, together with heavy overhanging eaves and a Marseilles tile roof, also mirrored the Californian origin of the design while the roughcast stone exterior imitated the thick adobe walls of the missions seen at Santa Barbara and San Fernando.

Highly visible from many parts of the city, Auckland Grammar School’s new Californian Mission style architecture is one of the few examples of this style to be found in Australasia.

In December, the centre panel of the Honours Board in the Great Hall, funded by the Old Boys, was unveiled by Professor Thomas, Chair of the Board of Governors.


Work on the War Memorial in front of the main building began and the octagonal column, topped by a bronze figure of a youth personifying the Soul of Man ever straining upwards, was unveiled.

Headmaster, J. W. Tibbs, announced his retirement and J. Drummond was appointed the new Headmaster. J. Drummond was the first New Zealand born and Old Boy Headmaster. He was a University Entrance Scholar in 1890.

The upper sports ground area was levelled, earthed and grassed and bordered by a fine wall of boulders from the site.


J. Drummond commenced as Headmaster.


The first gymnasium was completed in late 1926 and opened in 1927.


There was continuing success in both academic and sporting records, expansion to the School Sports scheme, and the first playing of the annual rugby match against King’s College on Grammar’s own grounds.

The first Inter Secondary Athletics Meeting was held, and soccer was introduced.

H. J. D. Mahon was appointed Headmaster.


The year of the School’s 60th Jubilee celebrations.


The Library, primarily a 60th Jubilee gift from the Old Boys, was opened.


H. J. D. Mahon retired and C. M. Littlejohn was appointed Headmaster. He had previously been Headmaster of Takapuna Grammar School for eight years.

In the midst of the Depression, the School struggled to maintain standards and equipment. There were shortages of most books, lab materials and sports equipment, and building maintenance and travel were curtailed.


World War II erupted in Europe and thousands of New Zealand men and youths, including senior schoolboys, masters and Old Boys, went off for training and eventually to battle, for King George VI and Empire, in all theatres of the War. A Cadet Corps was formed, with virtually every boy in it. Slit trenches were dug around the building.


The School’s 75th Jubilee celebrations took place, including a cadet battalion parade.

The Old Boys’ Association pledged a Sports Pavilion to the School.


Fire destroyed the old Auckland Grammar School in Symonds Street. At the time of the fire, the building was being used by the Adult Education Centre and the Elam School of Fine Arts.


Extensions to the War Memorial were completed and unveiled by the Governor-General, Sir Willoughby Norrie. The names of those Grammar Old Boys who had lost their lives were listed on the walls of the Memorial.


C.M. Littlejohn retired in 1954 and W. H. Cooper became the new Headmaster. The Science Block was opened by the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon G. S. Holland.

The original Sports Pavilion was built as a gift from the Old Boys’ Association and members of the Grammar community

The small top ground was cleared of boulders and levelled and grassed for Football.


A boarding hostel was opened and named in honour of former Headmaster J. W. Tibbs. Tibbs House is located in Mountain Road, opposite the top ground and accommodates 120 boys.


The construction of the Southern Motorway alongside the School removed the lower sports ground and at the same time exposed the deep lava flow on which Grammar stands. This cliff with the School and War Memorial in front is still one of the most impressive landmarks to be seen along the motorway.


The Specialist Block opened, including Physics and Language labs, Music and Geography rooms.


Centennial celebrations began on 29 May, and the Centennial Theatre, with seating for 360, the major library extension, and the swimming pool, were opened on 31 May by the Governor-General, Sir Arthur Porritt. The total project was strongly supported and funded by the Old Boys’ Association.


W. H. Cooper retired and D. J. Graham was appointed the new Headmaster, to commence in 1973.


To replace the lower ground lost to the motorway and meet the needs of the expanded roll, new grounds were opened in the old prison quarry and also in the old Mt Eden quarry.


The new gymnasium was opened by the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon Robert Muldoon. The facility was jointly funded by the Old Boys Association, parents, students and the Government.

The six new Tennis courts on the lower grounds (old prison quarry) were opened.


A new Sports Pavilion, also a combined gift, came into use for the lower grounds (old prison quarry), which also included expanded sports fields.


The first annual travelling scholarship for a Grammar master was awarded.

Computing introduced to the School for student use, with the installation of 16 computers.

The new Music Suite, beside the Centennial Theatre, was opened.


The new Art and Technical Block was opened.


Relocatable classrooms were moved to their new location on the top field.


The Science Block extension, containing six new laboratories, was opened by the Mayor of Auckland, Dame Cath Tizard.

The artificial sand-based Hockey turf was opened on the Normanby Road playing field (the old Mt Eden quarry).

The Careers Department was relocated to what was the ‘Senior Common Room’ adjacent to the swimming pool.


A new specialised English Block was opened adjacent to the Library and Art and Technology Block, by the Honourable Dr Lockwood Smith, Minister of Education.


The new Hockey pavilion was opened, beside the artificial turf field on Normanby Road (the old Mt Eden quarry).

The School’s Outdoor Education Lodge in Ohakune, Venturelodge, was purchased by the School for the use of Form 4 camps and senior leadership camps, as well as for senior subjects study such as Geography and Biology.

Auckland Grammar School won the Secondary Schools’ Rowing cup, the Maadi Cup, for the first time.


Sir D. J. Graham CBE retired after 21 years as Headmaster. J. Morris became Headmaster after being Principal of Takapuna Grammar School for almost four years.


The historic Main Block was re-strengthened as part of a Ministry of Education project at a cost of $6.5 million. The Main Block remained out of commission for over a year, with assemblies being held on the upper field on fine days.


The Main Block was re-opened by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable J. B. Bolger.

The School extended its involvement in the digital age with the appointment of a Director of Information Services and the creation of a computer network and suite of computers.


The extension and refurbishment of the School Library began, the swimming pool heated and approval was gained to build the Hostel masters’ accommodation on the Tibbs House site.

A Business Manager was appointed to oversee the non-teaching aspects of the School, which reflects the impact of the self-managing Schools policy on the secondary sector.


The English Block was refurbished and the Headmaster’s residence was created at 8 Clive Road, adjacent to Tibbs House.

New practice rooms were built in the Music Suite and an extension to the Specialist Block was built, including classrooms, resource areas, office space, and a multimedia theatre.


The wider Grammar community was saddened by the sudden death of I. D. Mackinlay, Associate Headmaster.

The Health Centre was opened and the Tuck Shop was extended and upgraded.

New changing rooms were built beside the heated swimming pool.

A new weight training room was created under the Specialist Block extension.

The Library extension was completed.

The No. 3 rugby field was converted to a sand carpet field.

The Development Office and Foundation Trust was set up to help raise additional money for the School, focusing on the Academic Endowment Fund to help recruit, retain and reward our best teachers, the new Sports Complex and the Annual Giving Programme.


Auckland Grammar School introduced international examinations to New Zealand in addition to NCEA. The University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) were trialled for the first time in New Zealand.


The School’s new Technology Block was completed and the Learning Support Department moved into the refurbished area of the Art Building that was previously home to the Technology Department.

Two new classrooms were built on the ‘D’ floor of the Main Block, which were originally the tractor sheds.

The lower Football fields were refurbished into sand carpet fields.


The new Technology Block was opened by the Education Minister, the Honourable Trevor Mallard. The ground floor of this Block was converted into two Computer labs plus office and resource space, and the building won a national architectural award.

Foundations were laid for a new three-level extension to the Specialist Block.


The new Specialist Block extension was completed, housing the History, Geography and Languages Departments. It was opened by Alan Dickinson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Property Committee, from 1998 until 2004.

The original Caretaker’s Cottage was renovated and designated as Augusta House, the new base for the Development Office and the Old Boys’ Association.

The Augusta Fellowship, the School’s bequest society, was established.

Old Boy Hamish Carter ’85 won Grammar’s first Olympic gold medal in the Triathlon in Athens.


The School’s roll reached 2,500, as a result of government enrolment legislation that guaranteed enrolment for all boys living in the ‘Grammar Zone’.

An all-weather sports practice turf was created on the upper field.

The original Specialist Block was re-strengthened as part of a Ministry of Education programme.

A full suite of Cambridge International Exams was offered for the first time (IGCSE, AS and A Level) and Auckland Grammar School students gain exceptional results.

The UK Friends of Auckland Grammar School was established.


Issues with the Ministry of Education over zone requirements continue.

The new Sports Centre was opened by the Minister of Education, the Honourable Trevor Mallard. It incorporates a double gym space, three classrooms, a staffroom and resource area and four changing rooms.

The original gym (built in 1926/27) was converted into a Study Centre for senior students.


The upper field was converted to a sand carpet base.

The Old Boys’ Pavilion and Squash Courts were opened by Old Boy, Sir Wilson Whineray ’48, replacing the original pavilion.

Over 50 schools throughout New Zealand were now involved in CIE exams.

The Old Boy of the Year Award was replaced by the annual Augusta Awards.


Grammar’s most famous Old Boy, Sir Edmund Hillary ’31, passed away.


Dr R. D. Kirkpatrick ’64 retired from the Chairmanship of the Board of Trustees after a tenure of 12 years.


A. J. Blackburn ’67 became Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

The School’s Heritage Hall Forms fundraising initiative was launched.

The Pavilion Changing Rooms were opened by the Headmaster, J. Morris.

A legislative change allowed sons of Old Boys to attend the family School from out of zone.


The School secured its second Maadi Cup in Rowing.

Sir John Graham CBE, Grammar’s ninth Headmaster, was awarded a KNZM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) was made available to all Form 5 students.

The refurbishment of the World War I War Memorial took place.


Tibbs House celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Headmaster J. Morris retired at the end of Term 3 and T. O’Connor became the School’s 11th Headmaster.


The construction of the New Classroom Block, to be connected to the B floor of the Main block, started in May.

Auckland Grammar School and King’s College celebrated the 200th game of 1st XV rugby with a lavish dinner at Vector Arena with over 1,300 people from both schools in attendance.

The first full School assembly (the Colours Assembly) was livestreamed.


The 2015 Form 3 cohort started their journey at Auckland Grammar School and will be the Form 7 leaders when the 150th celebrations take place in 2019.

On 8 May, the new Classroom Block was officially opened by His Excellency, Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae GNZM QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand. In the basement, at the Main Block end of the new Block, the fourth generation and current Tuck Shop is located.

The pre-fab ‘O Zone’ buildings were removed and the field adjacent to Clive Road was re-established in September 2015.


The School introduced Te Reo Maori as a subject for all Form 3 students and hires N. Lobb, the first Te Reo staff member for the School.

The School’s Main Block reached its centenary with a grand event in April.

The inaugural Grammar Art House Tour took place in November over a weekend. It began with a Launch event on the Friday night featuring over 30 pieces of student art and a live auction. The highlight was the ability over the weekend to visit 10 beautiful houses within the Grammar zone, with four art galleries exhibiting a number of their artists.


The field behind the all-weather Hockey Field started its life as a natural grass surface, but was converted to an artificial, all-weather surface suitable for both rugby and football.

The 2017 Form 5 cohort were the first year group to have an 8-period day, studying six subjects, giving them more flexibility when it comes to choosing options in Forms 6 and 7.

Auckland Grammar celebrated the life of the School’s ninth Headmaster, Sir John Graham KNZM CBE ED, who passed away in August. For the first time in the School’s history, the 2017 cohort performed a full School haka at the conclusion of Sir John’s funeral at St Mary’s Cathedral in Parnell.


The WW1 Memorial plaques were updated to record the names of 24 newly discovered Old Boys whose sacrifices had never been recognised by the School. The number of Auckland Grammar men who died in World War I now totals 309.

The Auckland Grammar School Old Boys’ Association celebrated its quasquicentenary (125 years).

The 150th website went live in May, 12 months out from the 150th celebrations.

13 regional and international events were held in the lead-up to the School’s 150th celebrations, including five in New Zealand, plus Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and for the first time, a gathering in Singapore.

The book of two volumes, REMEMBRANCE – Auckland Grammar School Great War Roll of Honour, was published.


Auckland Grammar School celebrated its sesquicentenary in May with 27 events across nine days. For just the second time in the School’s history, the 2019 student body performed the full School haka before the annual Grammar vs King’s College 1st XV fixture. Click here to view the photos, videos and publications from the celebrations.

The School introduced Pre-Q for Form 5 students, replacing Cambridge IGCSE. The majority of Form 5 students will study Pre-Q subject courses.


School closed at stages during the year because of National and Auckland COVID lockdowns, but was set up to be able to switch to online learning at all levels, thus minimising the effects on the students.

For the first time in recent history, the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings forced the cancellation of the School’s annual ANZAC Day service in the Great Hall. Instead, a virtual commemoration video was made – click here to view.


Auckland Grammar School and King’s College celebrated 125 years of games with the 211th match being played on Saturday 26 June. This is the oldest surviving rivalry between two Auckland secondary schools, which dates back to the foundation of the Auckland 1st XV competition in 1896. Grammar hosted King’s and came away with a 24-21 victory.

The School closed at stages during the year because of National and Auckland COVID lockdowns. The longest period was from the middle of August through to the end of November. The School switched immediately to online learning to maintain teaching continuity for students acorss all year levels.

The book, Auckland Grammar School Second World War Roll of Honour, was published.