RUTHERFORD HOUSE LIVES ON: Former Nelson College students Barry Knight and Iain Graham at the newly-revamped Rutherford Boarding House. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Historic boarding house lives on


The historic Rutherford Boarding House at Nelson College has reopened its doors.

Rutherford House ceased to exist as a boarding house in 2014, but thanks to extensive renovations it will once again be home to Nelson College students.

Headmaster Gary O’Shea says boarding is part of what makes Nelson College so special.

“Boarding is central to the culture, it’s not just a day school, it’s a massive community and gives us that special character that we want to take into the future.”

Six years ago, the college’s boarding numbers were around 180, which meant three boarding houses wasn’t feasible.

The board conducted an extensive review which brought forward several options including selling, bulldozing and walking away. “The decision was made to modernise the two heritage buildings in a multimillion-dollar project.”

The house was officially reopened on Wednesday afternoon at 2pm.

Former boarder Iain Graham lived at Rutherford House from 1969-73.

Despite the caning, the fagging and bitterly cold nights, he says he has only fond memories of his time at Rutherford.

“I loved it, coming from a small rural primary school to be surrounded by hundreds of boys and sport was overwhelming, but so exciting.”

Iain says there was a hierarchy that existed in the house, known as ‘fagging’, third formers would be required to clean the boots of seniors.

Young ones who played up would be strung up by their pants on the boiler pipes.

Certain masters would not be messed with due to their abilities with the cane.

During winter months, he says, you couldn’t possibly bury yourself in enough blankets to keep warm.

“It was rough and tough but such a unique experience, you would probably call it bullying these days, but for us it was normal.”

He says the boys always managed to have fun whether it was inter-house competitions, using their church hats as projectiles or sneaking out to meet girls. “There was never a dull moment.”

He says he grew very close with fellow boarders and remains friends with them to this day.

“There were 21 of us who started and 20 of us went right through, so we were a pretty tight group.”

Barry Knight is a former Nelson College head boy and boarded at Rutherford from 1951-56.
He says military training was still an important aspect of school life during this time.

“I remember they took us up to Trentham and we learnt how to shoot an SLR semi-automatic.

Windows were a luxury that boarders in the ‘50s had to live without as only canvas curtains separated them and the sub-zero temperatures outside.

However, he says they were built tough. “A lot of the boys were farmers and would have some pretty rough trips just to get to the school.”

Built in 1931, Rutherford House is named after one of the college’s most distinguished Old Boys, Ernest Rutherford.

Gary says the refurbishments should hopefully ensure the 80-year-old buildings will sustain boarding at the school well into the next century.