Canterbury College students out for sport on Capping Day

The Canterbury College Students’ procession as part of the capping festival took place on the morning of 13 June 1915, and despite the enormous crowd of spectators that crammed every inch of Cathedral Square to witness the event, was reported as smaller than usual. Also distinguishing it from previous processions was the distribution of envelopes with lucky numbers amongst the crowd of spectators, the fortunate holders receiving the sum of one sovereign each.

Just a portion of the ‘immense crowd’ that gathered in Cathedral Square on Friday June 13, 1913 to view the capping procession of Canterbury College Students. The Weekly Press, June 18, 1913,

The feature of the procession was a steam lorry converted into a representation of a battle-cruiser, on the deck of which a prince occupied a prominent position. The huge crowd in Cathedral Square listened to an address by the student’s King – subsequently the undergraduates held an anti-militarist demonstration at the Clock Tower, which was a famous rallying-place of passive registers until the City Council ordered their removal.

Sir Robert Stout’s most heinous offence
Sir Robert Stout
Sir Robert Stout, Chancellor, pictured when Chief Justice of New Zealand, circa 1904. Source: La Nouvelle-Zélande. Image: New Zealand Electronic Text Centre.

Rumour swept through the town that the undergrads of Canterbury College would decline to hear Sir Robert Stout, who in his capacity of Chancellor of the New Zealand University, had been invited to present to the graduates their diplomas at the College hall in the afternoon. The last time he attended a capping ceremony here the disorder and interruption were so pronounced that the Chancellor had threatened never to return.

Sir Robert Stout’s most heinous offence, in the eyes, of the students seems to be that he had voted against Canterbury College candidates for Rhodes scholarship honours, or at least that is the allegation which was said to be at the bottom of the demonstration which took place yesterday afternoon.

By a custom which is more or less time-honoured, it has been the practice to make these ceremonial functions the occasion of much student wit and buffoonery. This year’s celebration witnessed an attempt to destroy the dignity of the occasion, but owing to a firm stand taken by the Chancellor, it was merely an attempt.

The graduates arrived in good time for the capping ceremony. Entering the door with a great rush they sat together as usual, occupying about 15 rows of chairs midway up the hall on the right hand side. As soon as the Chancellor rose to deliver his address the undergrads rose also. The Chancellor surveyed them gravely, and waited to see what they would do. The students thereupon chanted a long ditty to the tune of.. “Oh, dear what can the matter be” the burden of which was “Robbie is coming to town.”

The song set forth the fact that the students had waited for seven years for “Robbie,” and. proceeded to indict the Chancellor on a number of counts.

Diploma Day parade 1904
Diploma day parade at Canterbury College, 1904. Source: The Weekly Press, 6 July 1904, p.44. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 18, IMG0027
“What about the price of sugar?”

This chant of defiance having been delivered, Sir Robert proceeded serenely with his address. He was frequently interrupted, asked to “speak up,” favoured with entirely irrelevant “hear, hears,” and asked questions about “the price of sugar.” After a while the Chancellor wearied of the baiting, and announced with his customary calm, judicial air, that if there were any further interruptions he would “adjourn” and refuse to give the diplomas.

Peace reigned for a while, and then a chorus of snores broke upon the Chancellor’s measured utterances, followed by imitations of cock-crows, cries of “Wowser,” and other interruptions.

Dr C. J. Chilton, chairman of the professorial board, then rose and addressed the undergrads very briefly. “Remember,” he said,“that, you are students of Canterbury College, and that we have a considerable number of our guests in this hall.” These included the Mayor, the Speaker of the Legislative Council and many other notabilities.

Canterbury College, circa 1900
Canterbury College, circa 1900. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0028. Source: 527: Photographs of early New Zealand, p. 66.
Students Leave the Hall

Peace reigned again for about two minutes, and then the undergrads started to “count out” the speaker. “One, two, three, four; five, six, seven, eight, nine out!” was chanted dolorously, and the Chancellor ceased speaking.

The undergrads then rose again, and a majority of them left the hall. They sang “We’ll hang old Robbie on a sour apple tree,” and then adjourned to the quadrangle, where an indignation meeting was held. Proposals to burn down the college were negatived as impracticable, and it was finally decided to storm the gallery of the hall. This project was frustrated by one of the college officials, who was ensconced behind the gallery door. In attempting to open the door some slight injury was inflicted on this official by the students.

In the Quad

Assembling in the quadrangle, the students raised lusty choruses of “Wowser!” and other elegant names, and held the Chancellor up tp opprobrium. The feeling towards the professors was good, and an attempt was made to get into the building again with the expressed intention of behaving decorously during the speeches of the other college dignitaries, in order to make a contrast between the feeling towards the latter and their feeling toward Sir Robert Stout. This failed however, all the doors being barred and an attempt to mount into the gallery was foiled by the janitor. An appeal by Professor Gabbatt for silence was kindly but firmly refused.

Diploma day at Canterbury College, 1905
Diploma day at Canterbury College, 1905. Source: The Weekly Press, 5 July 1905, p. 46. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0083
Burnt in Effigy

Then a bedraggled-looking concern of sacks and old clothes, supposed to represent the Chancellor, was produced. It was plentifully annotated with kerosene and set fire to, and the students joined hands in a wide ring, and danced around with frenzied glee as it burned, singing “We’ll burn Bobbie Stout in the quad-quadrangle,” to the tune of “John Brown’s body.” When half consumed the effigy was seized and borne through the hall on to the lawn in front of the college hall, where another ring was formed, and the undergraduates sprinkled dust on the dying embers, and solemnly chanted the “Dead March.”

Amid a lull, a muscular student climbed up to a high window of the hall, and through a hole in a pane made derisive remarks to the half dozen or so of undergraduates who had remained in the building. In surprised voice he asked of the Chancellor, “Are you still there?”

Water and Afternoon Tea

Foiled in their attempts to obtain an entrance into the gallery, the students advanced to the entrance, Worcester street, and howled “Without.” The guardian of the portal had had strict instructions that the door was not to be opened, even if anyone wanted to leave, so long as there was a danger of the student entering. There was a brief silence, and then those within the hall were horrified to see water flooding in under the doorway. It flowed over the floor, and under the seats. Laughter among the girl students followed, and the Chancellor’s speech terminated just as the rush of water caused a general exodus from the back seats near the door. The students then formed in a solid body, amid singing “We’ll hang Bob Stout on the sour apple tree,” they marched to Cathedral Square, and went noisily to afternoon tea, voicing their complaint, and announcing loudly their opinions of the Chancellor.

Press, Volume XLIX, Issue 14692, 14 June 1913, Page 7
Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXXIII, Issue 8585, 13 June 1913, Page 4
Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XXXX, Issue 13101, 14 June 1913, Page 6
Press, Volume XLIX, Issue 14691, 13 June 1913, Page 6


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