Post the Wairau Affray in June 1843, there was a high level of anxiety amongst the settlers, in particular the women and children. Edward Baigent suggested to his wife Marianne that she operate a junior school from their cob house which was situated near where the present Wakefield Tennis Courts are now. Marianne already had 6 young children of her own but she took up the role as Wakefield’s first teacher and was commended by the Anglican Minister Rev Reay, who served Wakefield at the time. He was able to financially assist her with a sum of 2 pence per head. The school was very popular and after three months it
became obvious that they required larger premises.
Another Wakefield settler by the name of Jacob Watson had constructed a cob building about 7 and a half metres by four and a half metres for James Wilkinson, on a piece of unsurveyed land where the present Anglican Church Worship Centre carpark is currently situated. Mr Wilkinson had intended to operate a store from it but Edward Baigent persuaded him to let the building be used as the second school and James Wilkinson became the teacher there until late 1845 when he moved to Nelson. The building was then purchased by the Anglican Church for about 30 pounds and the land it was built on was donated by the New Zealand Company. The school went into temporary recession so it could be extended and a large school room with upstairs accommodation was built onto it.
James Thomas Smith, a qualified Solicitor, who had come out with Arthur Wakefield aboard the ‘Whitby’, became the next teacher after his position as Store Keeper at the New Zealand Company Headquarters in Nelson ended when the New Zealand Company experienced a business ending financial crisis.
James Thomas had been a popular figure on his journey out to New Zealand on board the Whitby, where he taught reading and writing skills, as well as in Nelson, and several Nelson families opted to send their sons as boarders to the new Wakefield School in order to be taught by him. James taught at the school until 1854 though during that time he had returned to England after the death of his mother. Mr H Boddington took over his position until he returned.
In 1855 John Squire became the sole teacher and later that year the Provincial Government built a new school next door and instated Mr John Squire as the first
Government Appointed School Principal in Wakefield. He remained at the school until 1865.
The Wakefield School has remained on the same site and has continued to thrive and serve the local community and its outlying districts well. On the 23rd of June 2022 an open invitation was sent out to the community to attend the dawn opening and dedication of a new Waharoa (gateway) followed by a breakfast in the school hall. Master Carver Mark Davis incorporated Marianne Baigent on one side panel and Rakaihautu, a legendary figure who played an important role in local Maori history on the other. This is a magnificent and fitting tribute to the history of the Wakefield School and District.
This information was shared on a historical walk (in October 2022) along Edwards Street, researched by Evan Baigent and presented by Yo Tye, from the Waimea South Historical Society (Inc 2022).