Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

HOGBEN, George,

C.M.G. (1853–1920).


A new biography of Hogben, George appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

George Hogben was born in London on 14 July 1853. His father, the Rev. George Hogben, was a Congregational minister, descended from a Kentish family whose origin went back to the Netherlands. Hogben was educated at a school for the sons of ministers at Lewisham, and at the University School, Nottingham. In 1873, after working for 18 months as a junior auditor in the Government service, he entered St. Catherine's College at Cambridge where he graduated among the wranglers. For two years Hogben taught at Aldenham School, Elstree, until in 1881 he obtained the appointment of second master at the Christchurch Boys' High School. With the headmaster, Thomas Miller, he arrived in New Zealand in March 1881. The two men helped to establish the new school where Hogben taught mathematics, science, English, and French. From the time of his arrival, Hogben played a prominent part in the intellectual life of Christchurch as a member of the Dialectical Society, Philosophical Institute, and Educational Institute. In 1885 he married Emily Frances, the youngest daughter of Edward Dobson.

In January 1887 Hogben left the high school to become inspector of schools under the North Canterbury Education Board. He held this position until May 1889, when he was appointed rector of the Timaru Boys' High School. Here, at last, Hogben had an opportunity to put his advanced ideas on education into practice. He introduced what he called the “natural” method of teaching, putting the emphasis on experiments, models, and practical measurements in the study of mathematics and science, and on actual speaking rather than on grammar in the teaching of languages. Education, he insisted, must be related to the pupils' environment. He also increased the attendance at the high school by the generous provision of free places. In Timaru, Hogben's mathematical interests led him to take up the study of seismology. He delivered papers on earthquakes at the congresses of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science and quickly became the leading New Zealand authority in this field.

Hogben's educational methods were favourably commented on by the Government's inspectors. When the head of the Education Department, the Rev. W. J. Habens died in 1899, Hogben seemed a very suitable choice to succeed him in his twin offices of Inspector-General of Schools and Secretary for Education.

The reforming zeal of the Liberal Government had not so far touched the Education Department. The times were ripe for major changes in this field, and as the Government was willing to provide the necessary money, Hogben lost no time in setting the stage for the many reforms he had in mind. Late in 1899 he issued regulations for the Inspection and Examination of Schools which gave more freedom to headmasters in the classification of pupils. The following year a Manual and Technical Instruction Act was passed which offered grants for the establishment of technical classes. Uniformity of teachers' salaries was achieved in 1901 following the report of a Royal Commission on the subject. A superannuation scheme for teachers was added soon afterwards. In 1902 Hogben issued regulations offering grants for free places in secondary schools. There was much resistance on the part of the more exclusive schools, but eventually free secondary schooling became an accepted feature of the New Zealand education system. District high schools brought post-primary schooling within reach of country children while bursaries and scholarships facilitated access to the university. In 1904 Hogben crowned his achievements by issuing a new primary school syllabus written almost exclusively by himself. It revolutionised the primary school system, and ranks as the most important measure of his administration.

Not only were these reforms in line with progressive educational thought overseas, but the manner of their introduction also showed Hogben's exceptional skill as an administrator. He worked through a special Parliamentary Committee on Education (first set up in 1903); he submitted his proposals to conferences of inspectors and education boards, and discussed them with representatives of the Educational Institute which spoke for the teachers. By these means he was generally able to gain a very wide measure of approval for even his most advanced ideas. With the death of Seddon in 1906, the spectacular period in New Zealand education came to an end. The remaining years of Hogben's tenure were devoted mainly to the consolidation of his achievements. In 1907, following a serious breakdown in his health, he spent 10 months travelling overseas, through Britain, Western Europe, the United States, and Canada. On his return he submitted a detailed report on his experiences.

University reform, the establishment of technical high schools, and medical inspection of school children were some of the problems which attracted Hogben's attention during the next years. His main concern had always been the content of teaching, but the rapid growth of the education system called for some measure of administrative consolidation. It was Hogben's misfortune that, by the time he tackled this problem, the outbreak of the First World War and the slender majority of the new Reform Government made fundamental changes impossible to achieve. For these reasons the Education Act of 1914 fell short of Hogben's expectations. On 1 January 1915 Hogben was appointed New Zealand's first Director of Education. In the New Year Honours he was created C.M.G. A month later he retired from the Government service.

From the time of his arrival in Wellington, Hogben had acted as honorary Government Seismologist and, after his retirement, he devoted himself mainly to his scientific and mathematical hobbies. He acted as assistant returning officer in April 1917, when the Christchurch City Council for the first time conducted the municipal elections by a system of proportional representation. His report on this election was submitted to Parliament, as was a report on the Organisation of Scientific and Industrial Research which foreshadowed the later establishment of that Department. In November 1919 Hogben was chosen as one of the 20 original fellows of the New Zealand Institute, now the Royal Society of New Zealand. Six months later, on 26 April 1920, he died at his home in Khandallah, Wellington. He was survived by his wife and two of his six sons. Two sons died in childhood and two lost their lives in the war.

Fully aware of the social implications of his work, Hogben was at all times interested less in routines than in initiating changes and reforms. A deeply religious man, he was a firm believer in progress. Almost single handed he prodded teachers, inspectors, and education boards to reconsider the part which school and child were to play in the modern State. Admittedly some of his reforms were ill conceived or premature. He had his failures and he made mistakes. But slowly and surely he was able to bring New Zealand's education system into line with the most advanced educational theory and practice of his time.

by Herbert Otto Roth, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Deputy Librarian, University of Auckland.

  • George Hogben, Roth, H. (1952).

The Story




This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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