Between 1876 and 1974, the Arts Centre site was occupied by Canterbury College, later the University of Canterbury. Many notable personalities contributed to the College, including some illustrious graduates.
Ernest, Lord Rutherford
Nobel prize-winning scientist Ernest, Lord Rutherford, known world-wide as "The Father of the Atom", completed his undergraduate degree at Canterbury College. While a student, he carried out much of his own research into the high frequency magnetization of iron in a basement den in the Clock Tower Building. In 1895, he was accepted to Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory where he turned to the study of radioactivity and named the two distinct rays emitted from radioactive materials - alpha and beta particles. In 1900, he returned to Christchurch to marry his fiance Mary Newton and together they travelled to Canada where Rutherford worked at McGill University in Montreal. It was here that he undertook the research that would win him the Nobel Prize in 1908.
Today, Rutherford’s Den at the Arts Centre has been restored as a multimedia interactive museum, providing a vivid depiction of his life and research. It can be visited seven days a week in the Clock Tower building on Worcester Boulevard. It is open 10.00am to 5.00pm, and entry is by donation.
Canterbury College was the first university in Australasia to accept women for degree courses on an equal basis with men, and its most celebrated female graduate was Helen Connon. In 1880, Connon became the first Canterbury woman to graduate with a BA and she went on to become the first female honours graduate in the British Empire (1881). She later married Professor Macmillan Brown and became Lady Principal of the college’s prestigious school for girls.
Sir Apirana Ngata
In 1894, New Zealand’s first Maori graduate, Sir Apirana Ngata, graduated from Canterbury College with a BA. His completion of two further degrees (MA and LLB) made him one of the most highly qualified graduates in New Zealand at the time. Ngata served as a member of parliament for 38 years, was the founder of the Maori Battalion and is renowned for his tireless work for Maori people. He lifted them spiritually and economically in the development of land, culture, education and sport, and contributed strongly to the preservation of Maori language and customs.
Dame Ngaio Marsh
Acclaimed mystery writer Dame Ngaio Marsh first studied at the College’s School of Art while still a school girl and in 1919 she graduated with an arts degree. She then joined a touring theatre company and travelled to England to pursue her theatrical studies. Marsh returned to Christchurch when her mother became terminally ill and by the end of the 1930s she had published seven more novels (her first was written in England) and had become an international celebrity. Marsh’s association with the University continued in her later years as drama lecturer and producer for the Drama Society’s Little Theatre. The theatre seated just over 200 people. It not only taught skills to student actors who looked to a future on the stage, it was also an important social centre and its use of up-to-date technology was exciting for early audiences. In 1967, the University of Canterbury named the theatre at its new Ilam campus after her.
Rutherford Family at Havelock. Sir E. Marsden Papers, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
The First Solvay Conference (on Physics), Brussels October 30th - November 3rd 1911. Seated L to R: Nernst, Brillouin, Solvay, Lorentz*, Warburg, Perrin*, Wien*, Marie Curie*, Poincare. Standing L to R: Goldschmidt, Planck*, Rubins, Sommerfield, Lindemann, de Brolgie*, Knudsen, Hasenorhl, Hostelet, Herzen, Jeans, Rutherford*, Kamerlingh-Onnes*, Einstein*, Langevin. *Nobel Prize Winner. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Portrait of Sir Ernest Rutherford 5 May 1929. Sir E Marsden Papers, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Ernest walking out with Mary. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.