Here you can read a brief history of the two clubs prior to amalgamation, and about the club as you find it today – Old Boys University.
The early days of the Wellington College Old Boys Rugby Club as recorded by club historian, Dai Hayward.
How it all Began It all began one summer afternoon later in 1897. Rugby was finished for the season.
A group of Wellington College boys, leaving that year, were sitting on a grassy bank reminiscing about their time at school. All had been in the First Fifteen or other teams. They agreed they would miss the fun, the excitement, and the camaraderie of rugby.
One, whose name is now lost in the mists of time, but possibly Joe Palethorpe, pointed out that this need not be.
‘Why don’t we start an old boys team?’ he suggested.
The idea was immediately taken up with enthusiasm. Particularly supportive were W. G. Hutchinson, L. McKenzie and A. E. Wilson.
A deputation went to the Headmaster, Mr. J. P. Firth, known affectionately as ‘The Boss’. A keen rugby enthusiast, ‘The Boss’ taught the boys of Wellington College to play rugby. He and rugby players, using picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, manually dug out a clay bank to form the No 3 ground, still in use as a Club pre-season training ground. Without hesitation Mr. Firth supported the idea of an Old Boys team.
A meeting in 1897 decided to form both a rugby and cricket club. And so, Old Boys Football Club was born.
There was a lot to do. Former students were contacted, informal meetings held and discussions on rules, playing colours, officials and myriad of other details necessary to form a club, decided. Inevitably there were differences of opinion.
But on two matters there was complete agreement.
The club’s name would be Wellington College Old Boys Football Club. The other unanimous agreement was on the person they wanted to lead the club in its first difficult days.
Joseph P. Firth
Joseph P. Firth (pictured) was a prominent figure in Wellington and deserves to be honoured and remembered, not only for his work for Old Boys, but also for his contribution to the development of rugby in Wellington as a whole.
J. P. was a big man – a fraction under two metres tall. At age twenty-one he weighed ninety-six kilos. With his tidy short hairstyle, high forehead, direct penetrating gaze and flowing moustache, with curled ends extending beyond a neatly trimmed short, grey beard, he was a figure of authority.
He grew up in Greymouth during the gold rush and was introduced to rugby at Nelson College. He later represented Wellington at fullback. When ‘The Boss’ agreed to be the club’s first President, it ensured a firm foundation for the new venture.
The inaugural meeting was not held until March 1898. J. P. Firth was elected President by acclamation and continued unopposed in the job for thirty-three years – surely a record seldom matched by any rugby administrator. His help and guidance were to prove invaluable to the club over the next three decades. It is worth noting the manes of his fellow officers.
They were: Vice Presidents, M. C Barnett and Dr. W. Young; Hon Sec-Treasurer, J. L. Palethorpe; Management Committee, W. E. Bethune, W. G. Hutchinson, E. D. Hales, L. McKenzie, and W. L. Gothenburg; Delegates to the WRFU, W. G. Hutchinson and E. D. Hales; Match Committee, L. McKenzie, E. D. Hales and J. L. Palethorpe.
Forty members joined the club at that first meeting and the start of the new rugby season was eagerly anticipated.
Because the founders intended the club to be an ‘Old Boys’ club, membership was restricted, under a rule adopted at that first meeting in 1888, to old boys or maters of Wellington College. Despite suggestions from time to time to allow old boys from other colleges to join, this exclusive rule applied for almost fifty years.
Recruiting players and administrators from only one source, all sharing a similar background, allowed early school friendships to carry on into adulthood and be cemented on the rugby field. It also produced a definite club philosophy and approach to playing the game of rugby which, over the years, helped enhance the club’s reputation among rugby administrators. Although winning was, and is, important, great emphasis has always also been placed on enjoyment. However, the policy did limit the number of new players coming into the club.
The original proposal for a playing uniform was to be the same black jersey as the College. This was refused by the Rugby Union because black was also the playing jersey of the Wellington Representative team. So a white jersey with the college monogram on the left breast, and white shorts became the WCOB playing colours.
Knickers became a hot topic in 1905. At the annual meeting a move to change the white shorts or ‘knickers’ as they were known, to black was thrown out – but only after prolonged and heated debate. Following this meeting sixteen members called for a special meeting to be held on 7 April 1905, giving notice Mr Blacklock would move, ‘White knickers be deleted from Rule 2 and black knickers be inserted in lieu thereof.’
There was considerable argument. One founding member, Mr W. E. Bethune, sent a letter apologising for his absence and emphatically resisting any change to the colour of the playing knickers. However, the motion was carried, but only by the narrowest possible majority 16 votes to 15.
So as the club’s Golden Jubilee booklet pointed out, our modern pants hung on just one vote. It may have been different if Mr Bethune has attended that special meeting. Mr Bethune, who was elected a life member in 1904, accepted the change with good grace and continued to work hard for the club for several decades.
The change to black gave rise to a widely held but erroneous belief in later years, that Old Boys’ strip was deliberately chosen to be the reverse of the College black jersey and white shorts, but this was not so.
Taking the Field
The first match in 1898 was eagerly awaited.
The forty members enrolled at the inaugural meeting, many of them first year college leavers, enabled the club to field two teams, Junior and Third Grade.
Then an untimely blow. The club was informed by the Union that Len McKenzie, regarded as a top player, was graded a senior (pictured below – middle row, fourth from left). He could not play for Old Boys Third Grade team – our top team that year – when the white jerseys took the field for the first time.
The first captain in the first rugby match played by a Wellington College Old Boys team was Joe Palethorpe (pictured right – front row, far right).
And we won that first game. The Juniors provided the club’s first victory by defeating Melrose. The score is not recorded but it was the first of many victories over the next 100 years celebrated by WCOB players and supporters.
That first season the Junior team played seven matched, won three, drew one and lost three. A commendable result for a new team with many young players. Playing in that first match, whose names have come down to us from a century ago were:
Fullback: E. Watkins. The Quarters: B. (Pat) Hansen, B. Cleland, P. Bartholomew. Five Eight: W. Cleland. Halfback: H. Denton. Wing Forwards: H. Knox Gilmer, H. (Boney) Cross. Forwards: E. H. (Ernie) Dodd, C. Blundell, W. J. Gaudin, J. L. Palethorpe (Captain), R. Wedde, A. J. Kellow and H. Gale.
Later that season, several of the previous year’s College First Fifteen joined the team, including E. D. Hales, Frank Johnson and H. D. (Mona) Thomson. Mona Thomson, later a member of the 1905 All Blacks, played with credit in WCOB teams for several years before transferring to Wanganui.
The Third Grade team did not do so well. It went down to Wellington in the first game and failed to win a match all season. Captain was A. E. (Bulli) Wilson. Other players were H. Desborogh, R. Wiggins, R (Dick) Seddon, N. Wakelin, R. Simpson, Von Schon and C. Kember.
The R. J. Seddon, known as Dick, was the eldest son of one of New Zealand’s most famous Prime Ministers, ‘King Dick’ Seddon. Dick Junior left to go to the Boer War and was later killed in the Great War.
Old Boys won its way into Senior rugby in its third season, 1900. Achieving this new status in the first year of the new century, was taken by members to be a good omen. Captain of our Senior team was Len McKenzie. Another player of note was Frank Johnston. He was known throughout the North Island as a ‘bumper’ because he used his hip and arm with devastating effect to bump off opponents.
Old Boys has some tough battles and, despite the relatively young age of most of the players, gave a good account of themselves. In the club’s first ever senior game we beat Athletic 13-10. This close finish was to be repeated during the season. Losing only four games, winning three and drawing three we finished fifth in the competition.
Reviewing the season, one sports writer commented: ‘The Old Boys were a source of surprise to many, the members of the team all being considered rather young for Senior Championship honours but playing with an immense amount of dash they were never beaten until the final whistle sounded no matter who they were playing. In some instances, notably against Petone, they surprised even their most ardent supporters by the scoring abilities they displayed.’
The Early Years of Victoria University Rugby Football Club
The formative years of the Victoria University Rugby Football Club as told by club historian, John Anderson.
In the winter of 1902 a group of students at Victoria University College gathered to consider the playing of rugby football as part of the sporting and social life of the new university college. The first college team ever assembled had already defeated an ‘Old Boys’ side 19-12 at Athletic Park that year.
That first somewhat unorthodox-looking team is listed in the very first issue of the Victoria University College review, Spike, of June 1902 as follows: Backs – Bogle, Stuckey, Fall, Sellar, Logan. Forwards – Wills, Kitching, Matheson, Johnston, Gawaith, Beere, de la Mare, Seddon, Ostler (Captain). A further incentive to the formation of a club was provided by Sydney University which had already opened discussions on an interchange of visits with New Zealand university teams, an arrangement which was later to prove a popular part of the season.
The 17 students present at the meeting carried the motion of H. H. Ostler ‘That in the opinion of this meeting the time has come when a football club should be formed.’ With some disagreement they went on to resolve by 11 votes to 4, with two abstentions, ‘That a Victoria College Football Club be formed.’
The meeting elected a committee of nine, all of whom were to become well known in the world outside the College – G. V. Bogle, W. Gillanders, A. H. Johnstone, F. A. de la Mare, R. Mitchell, H. H. Ostler, A. G. Quarterly, R. G. M. Park and A. Tudthorpe. They called the first Annual General Meeting for 2 April the same year. Sixteen members attended. ‘Some were cripples’, says the report, ‘but all were enthusiasts.’
Professor Von Zedlitz occupied the chair and became the first president. Other officers were elected were: Patron: Professor Easterfield; Club Captain: H. H. Ostler; Vice Captain: F. A. de la Mare; Secretary: G. V. Bogle; Treasurer: A. H. Johnstone; Committee: A. G. Quarterly, A. Tudhope, W. Gillanders; Delegates to the Wellington Rugby Football Union: Ostler and Johnstone.
The new club quickly obtained affiliation with the Wellington Rugby Union and entered two teams in the Union’s competitions, one in the junior and one in the third class. The Club’s registered colours were a light blue jersey with maroon fringe.
The first two rugby teams ever to represent Victoria University College in open competition were drawn from the following squads (there is some duplication of names and no doubt the players moved from one squad to the other):
Junior Grade: H. Banks, G. V. Bogle, F. A. de la Mare, G. H. Fell, E. J. Fitzgibbon, C. Freyberg, W. Gillanders, J. H. Goulding, J. Hardy, J. J. Hay, J. S. Hay, P. C. Hay, G. M. Hogben, A. H. Johnstone, P. W. Jackson, H. W. King, B. W. Miller, B. Mitchell, H. H. Ostler (captain), R. G. M. Park, A. G. Quarterly, G. G. Smith, C. H. Taylor, A. Tudthorpe, A. Wedde, A. J. Willis.
Third Class: F. A. de la Mare (captain), F. C. Douglas, E. C. Feltham, C. Freyberg, J. H. Goulding, G. M. Hogben, A. H. Johnstone, S. Johnstone, H. W. King, A. J. Luke, K. McKenzie, B. Mitchell, G. Moir, H. Newbury, G. G. Smith, K. Smyth, M. W. C. Sprott, J. F. Strang, A. Wedde, W. Wilson.
In this historic year of 1903, the College as we know it now did not exist. It had no buildings of its own; the four original professors were still delivering their lectures to a mere 191 students in the old Girls’ High School and the ‘Old Clay Patch’ of later fame had not yet felt the impact of pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. Indeed the College was only six years old, the South African war was still fresh in people’s thoughts, George Bernard Shaw was strutting the English stage, Edith Searle Grossman was writing about the intellectual Englander – an exile in primitive society – and William Satchell was searching the North Auckland goldfields for material for a novel. Writers were singing the praises of social advancement and the alert left was appearing. A liberal Prime Minister Richard John Seddon, ‘King Dick’, held centre stage. Victorianism was waning. The College, established in 1897, had gained the name Victoria by the skin of her teeth for by then the old Queen had only a short time to live.
Despite its youth, or perhaps because of it, there was tremendous enthusiasm for all College activities from debating and the arts to sport. By 1903, tennis (1900) and hockey (1901) had already been officially recognised. Rugby arrived in 1903 to be followed by athletics in 1904. Surprisingly cricket did not appear officially until 1906.
On the rugby field success was slow to show her golden wings. The First XV lost all its nine games and the Seconds left it late in the season to record Victoria’s first wins in open competition – they beat Poneke 8-3 and Melrose 16-8. Their record for the first season was played 10, won 2, lost 8. Spike said the First XV were beaten but not disgraced and blamed lack of training for the poor results, Of the second team they said: ‘They were baffled to fight better’.
The first annual report mentioned the difficulties under which the young club had laboured and added: ‘After all, perhaps the highest object of any club is the promotion of good fellowship, and in this respect the club has been a great success.’
The 1904 season was an important one for the club. They added to their ranks Thomas A. Hunter, newly appointed lecturer in mental and moral philosophy, a man who was to have a great impact not only on the club but on the College. A five-eighth, his playing and coaching are credited with the improvement in the team’s performance.
They won the College’s first victories in the junior grade, playing 10 games for 4 wins and 6 losses. The third class team, captained by J. B. Reid, played 12, won 1 and lost 11.
Thomas Hunter was not only enthusiastic and ambitious, but optimistic. When and Annual General Meeting came round on 8 September 1904, he moved, and H. H. Ostler seconded, ‘That in 1905 the College should enter a senior team in the Wellington Union’s competition’ thus demonstrating the perpetual and still prevalent philosophy of the campus ‘Hope springs eternal’. Hunter said ‘rugby is more than a partial impact of blind atoms. It is a game of brains … the principal difference … between junior and senior football is that junior is slightly rougher.’
Looking back, Spike of 1934 says the motion was carried despite many misgivings. In view of the top team’s miserable record in the junior grade who can wonder at that, even though the student role has risen to 254. Reporting the Annual General Meeting, Spike says: ‘No one was bold enough to predict that we would win any matches in the senior grade, but of course that was not our object. We must justify our position this year in order to improve our standing for next year.’
About this time the green of the trees and the gold of the blooming gorse were the favoured colours of the university and the club adopted the now familiar green and gold for its uniform. Spike said ‘We may be considered the greenest team in the competition. We certainly look much prettier than formerly.’ As well as the seniors a third class team was entered. The optimistic Tommy Hunter was promptly declared Captain of the senior team amid praise for his enthusiasm, his generalship and his football ability. Professor Von Zedlitz was elected Patron; Professor Kirk, President; H. H. Ostler, Club Captain; F. A. de la Mare, Deputy Captain and G. V. Bogle, Secretary.
Other new clubs admitted to the Wellington Rugby Union that year were Institute Old Boys, St Davids, United and Star Boating, but they have all faded away. Altogether in 1905 the Union organised competitions for 58 teams from 20 clubs.
The green and golds did not fare too badly in their first senior season. They played 9 games, won 2 (over Poneke 9-5 and Wellington 3-0), lost 6 and drew 1. The third class team played 10, won 5, lost 4 and drew 1.
In the same year the club played its first inter-college games, losing to Otago 0-13 and beating Canterbury 8-6. No more games were played against Otago but the Canterbury fixture continued for many years.
In these more materialistic times it is interesting to note that two idealistic players turned down the chance to be the College’s first Wellington representatives so they could play for the College against Otago University. They were captain T. A. Hunter and F. A. de la Mare. Instead the honour went in the following year, 1906, to G. V. Bogle, a fine defensive back and foundation committee member. He captained Wellington B against Horowhenua and shortly afterwards played for Wellington A against Otago.
The Spike of October 1905 concluded its review of the season with a reference to the decision to play in the senior grade. ‘We feel our position has been justified’. Ironically, or perhaps a glimpse of events then nearly fifty years ahead, the rugby review was immediately preceded by a story on ‘The Decadence of Rugby Football’.
The Amalgamation of WCOB and VU RFC
The Old Boys – University Rugby Club was established following the amalgamation of two of Wellington’s proudest clubs – the Wellington College Old Boys Rugby Football Club and the Victoria University Rugby Football Club at the end of the 1991 season.
With over two-hundred seasons behind it, the club has a proud rugby heritage and strong sense of tradition.Over the years, the clubs combined have produced twenty-nine All Blacks, including two All Black captains – George Gothard Aitken in 1921 and Stuart Sinclair Wilson in 1983. The club’s most recent All Blacks have been half-back, Jon Preston, midfielder Paul Steinmetz and centre Conrad Smith.
The Old Boys- University Club is one of Wellington and New Zealand’s largest clubs, competing in all divisions from Premier club rugby, through to Colts (or under-21), under 85 kilogram weight restricted grades and Women’s rugby. A number of thriving social or non-training teams add colour and vibrancy to the club. One team, the ‘Teddybears’, is the oldest surviving social team in New Zealand – in existence now for near 40 years. Others such as the ‘Pink Ginners’ and ‘Sixty Niners’ have been in existence for well over a quarter of a century and still going strong.
The club is renowned for its style of play and its spirit. A commitment to free-flowing, fifteen man rugby denotes our game, while the club’s hospitality and sense of fun is legendary. Brains as well as brawn, with a dash of elan thrown in for good measure sums up Old Boys-University rugby. As Professor Tommy Hunter, a founding member of the Victoria University Rugby Club once famously said: ‘Rugby is more than a partial impact of blind atoms. It is a game of brains’. Quite.
A high standard of coaching and first class facilities are another feature of the club. Coaches benefit from the strong network of former players and coaches. The all weather training field and associated gymnasium, situated on campus at Boyd Wilson Field, ensure that training is possible in wet or dry conditions. Boyd Wilson Field is accessible from Wai-te-ata Road, off Salamanca Road in Kelburn. The club works closely with the Wellington Rugby Football Union to maintain its high coaching standards.
The club’s home ground is currently Hawkins Basin Reserve – better known as an international cricket ground. However, its smooth surface and wide-open spaces suit the club’s free running game.
An amateur club in all aspects, we are fortunate to be the club of choice of a number of professional players. Super Rugby players such as Shannon Paku, Lima Sopoaga, Ross Kennedy, Jimmy Gopperth, Jon Preston, Paul Steinmetz and Conrad Smith have brought a wealth of experience to the club since professional rugby began and the assistance they have provided younger players is testament to their status as good club men.
The Old Boys – University Rugby club is not only about Premier team rugby. The Jackie Ruru Shield, contested by the club’s social teams on a challenge basis akin to the Ranfurly Shield, is an important part of our club rugby programme. The Shield, or simply ‘The Ruru’, as it is known, memorialised Jack Ruru, a young player of prominence who met his end whilst playing the game in 1934. Shield challenges are played with tremendous spirit and the Shield is held with great pride.
While our commitment to on-field excellence never wavers, Old Boys – University rugby is ultimately about fun, enjoyment and friendship. It is the club of gentleman, athletes and scholars and all that that implies.
Wellington College Old Boys won the Jubilee Cup in 1927 and 1933 as well as the Hardham Cup in 1939, 1946 (shared with Wellington), 1966, 1979 and 1982 (shared with Victoria University. Meanwhile, Victoria University won the Jubilee Cup in 1928, 1929, 1946, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1958, 1964 (shared with Marist) and 1966, also winning the Hardham Cup in 1960, 1980, and 1982 (shared with Wellington College Old Boys). The combined club, playing as Harlequins, lifted the Hardham Cup in 1999 and 2001. Old Boys-University were Jubilee Cup finalists in 2002. And one for the trivia buffs – Victoria University was the first club to win the Jubilee Cup, contested for the first time in 1929, while Wellington College Old Boys were similarly the first club to win the Hardham Cup which was first contested in 1939.