On 12 February 1918, 21 boys answered the first calling of the roll for the newly opened John McGlashan College.
In April 1917 Margaret and Agnes McGlashan, the unmarried daughters of Scottish settler John McGlashan, had donated three acres of land and buildings in Dunedin’s Maori Hill to the Presbyterian Church to establish a boarding school in their father’s name. The solicitor, educationist and local authority leader had died after falling from a horse in November 1864, but his daughters saw the gifting of land and buildings, including the family home, for a boys’ school as fulfilling his passion for education and Christianity. Following alterations, the college opened for the 1918 school year with a roll of 10 boarders and 11 day boys aged seven to 18.
John McGlashan bought the Maori Hill land, on which the college now sits, in 1855 naming it Balmacewen, a blend of his wife’s Christian name, Isabella, and her maiden name McEwen. He was passionate about the Presbyterian Church and education, lobbying for the construction of a noble church for Dunedin and in 1856 he was elected to the Otago Education Board to further his belief that children should be given a sound and liberal education, a philosophy that the college still adheres to today.
Nearly 100 years later the college has taught more than 6000 boys who have experienced the college’s special character of teaching boys from rural and urban backgrounds in a Christian-influenced environment.
Boarding facilities have been a central feature of the college’s special character and in the early days church ministers throughout Otago and Southland were requested to encourage farmers to send their sons to the newly opened boarding school. Today boarders make up about a quarter of the 500 enrolled pupils.
It was not always plain sailing. Originally a private school, for the first 70 years its fortunes were dictated by the size of its roll. That uncertainty and the need to upgrade facilities came to a head in the 1980s and in 1990 John McGlashan College became state-integrated, meaning the college owned the facilities for which it charged families of students an attendance due fee, but staff and running costs were funded by the Government.
The original McGlashan homestead was demolished in the late 1950s for the memorial hall and dining room, which opened in 1960, and the original teaching block was replaced in the early 1990s. But several original buildings remain. The original dining room built in 1918 remains, having served as a school hall, gymnasium, library and classroom, and the Balmacewen boarding house, opened a year later and now as the Edgar Learning Centre it also remains, housing the library, teaching and meeting rooms.