The University of Canterbury’s foundation in 1873 owes much to the graduates of Oxford University’s cathedral/college Christ Church and the UC graduation ceremonies reflect that tradition through to the modern day.
The University’s mace provides a tangible link with Christ Church, Oxford, where it was designed and made. The shaft of the mace is made of oak from a beam removed from Big Tom Tower when the bell was rehung in 1953. Even in 1680, when the beam was installed in the Sir Christopher Wren-designed tower, the timber was described as ‘well-seasoned oak’. The mace has been used for every UC graduation ceremony since 1957.
UC celebrates its foundation in 1873, but the inspiration for a college of higher education in Christchurch dates back to 1848 in the aims of the Canterbury Association. Of the 53 Association members, 30 were Oxford graduates, including 17 “Christ Church men”.
Most prominent of these was Christ Church graduate John Robert Godley, a key figure in the establishment of an Anglican settlement on New Zealand’s South Island, who was responsible for naming the city at the heart of the new settlement ‘Christchurch’. From Godley’s day until the 1940s the universities of Oxford and Canterbury remained closely linked. Maintaining the close connection today the Wakefield Scholarship allows UC PhD students to spend a year studying at Godley’s old college.
The Association saw a university as a necessary part of the social cement that would bind together their newly planned colony. As early as 1850 the Association published a paper on a Scheme for the Establishment of Christ-Church College. The scheme laid out plans for a college with two departments that would cater for public school boys and young men over 17 years of age. Young men in the upper department would be required to study theology, classics, mathematics, civil engineering and agriculture, all dressed appropriately in academic cap and gown.
These grand plans were further elaborated upon in the Plan of College which described a new college built firmly on the traditions of Oxford and Cambridge. The Association was determined that “Our settlement will be provided with a good college, good schools, churches, a bishop, clergy, all those moral necessities…”
The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, visited Ōtautahi Christchurch this month to meet with city leaders from the city’s civic, iwi and educational institutions, to strengthen historic ties between Christ Church and Ōtautahi Christchurch.
During several days in Ōtautahi Christchurch, the Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy, accompanied by his wife, the Revd. Dr Emma Percy, Chaplain and Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford met with Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews as well as senior representatives from Ngai Tahu, UC and Christ’s College.
At the civic reception he was presented with a certificate recognising him as an Honorary Citizen of Christchurch, the first to be awarded following a CCC policy resolution earlier in the week.
UC hosted a visit from Professor Percy that included a series of events and seminars with UC students and staff. On 11 August, Professor Percy met with UC staff, students and members of the community to discuss Christianity and contemporary culture.
UC is keen to strengthen the relationship between Christ Church, Oxford, and Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand, according to UC Chancellor | Tumu Kaunihera Dr John Wood, himself an Oxford graduate.
“There are important on-going connections between Christ Church, Oxford, and Christchurch, New Zealand, especially at the University of Canterbury. These ties date back to the earliest origins of the university and continue to this day in the UC mace and the Wakefield Scholarship,” Dr Wood says.
“The history of both the University and our city, and the ties that underpin that history, are crucial to our sense of identity. Both the mace, made from ancient oak from the Big Tom Tower, and the Wakefield Scholarship are wonderful symbols of our very significant relationship with Christ Church, Oxford.”
Established after the Canterbury earthquakes in 2011, the Edward Gibbon Wakefield Doctoral Scholarship supports a PhD candidate studying humanities or creative arts at UC to undertake funded research at Christ Church, Oxford, for a year.
Immediately after the quakes, Oxford University generously offered places for dozens of UC senior scholars from the humanities and law to spend a term studying at Oxford. Thirty-six students travelled to the United Kingdom, with travel funded by UC, were admitted to a college at Oxford and provided with free accommodation and tuition for the Trinity term (April-June).
UC will return the hospitality, when a group of Oxford studetns arrives at UC next month.