Paul Paton

Auckland Grammar School’s history and memorabilia that has been preserved can be credited to the passion and perseverance of former School Master Paul Paton. He recently retired as archivist at the School and looks back on what he achieved over nearly 30 years of dedication in unearthing some of the School’s treasurers and photos and putting them on display.

Paul started as a Master at Auckland Grammar in 1988 and retired in 2008 but carried on as archivist to this year.

“I appointed myself honorary archivist because I could see that there was an awful lot of stuff lying in cupboards and attics and under stairs and in classrooms and things so I made it my business to round it all up,” he explained.

“I volunteered early on as I could see no one else was doing it and I wanted to make sure the ephemera and memorabilia was saved,” he added.

Paul accumulated the material in his prefab in the O zone as it was called back then.

“I kept it there until 1996 when they gave me the long room above C1 and C2 and I shifted all the stuff that I’d stored in the basement in my classroom and around the School up there and that’s where I worked from.”

Touring the School with Paul it was evident that he has put a lot of time and effort into uncovering the material and having it professionally displayed at various locations throughout the School.

The display cabinets in the Library were discarded and on their way to the tip, Paul rescued them cleaned them up put new locks on them and commenced displaying the material that he had accumulated.

His prized piece of memorabilia is displayed in the Library, that of two photos of Captain John Dinneen a former pupil and teacher at the School who left New Zealand in February 1915 to volunteer for service in the military wing of the Royal Flying Corps. He had eye problems was grounded and died from wounds received while fighting in France.

“I found the photos just chucked in a box right up in the roof of the attic of the library. I took them away and had them framed,” said Paul.

“He was one of our first war birds so I had the photos copied and I sent them down to the Air Force Museum at Wigram Christchurch which they appreciated receiving.”

The cabinets also display a range of caps from the early days through to when caps were dispensed with, various books donated by old boys, ‘Streak’ Nicholls Athletics Auckland representative blazer and programmes and menus from the annual dinners.

“When ‘Streak’ Nicholls died I went out and filled my station wagon with his stuff,” said Paul.

The walls of the old gymnasium are testament to Paul’s careful preservation of team photos.

“I received a $5000 lottery grant and proceeded to have the second and third grade team photos over the years framed and hung. Also photos of other sporting teams and national scholarship winners are on display.

“I thought rather than have them stuck in a cupboard we’ll get them framed and put up here.”

When the old pavilion was demolished Paul went up there with a crow bar, screw driver and vice-grip to see if there was anything he could retrieve but was told there was nothing.

However a jumbo bin was put out for the rubbish from the demolition and Paul got people to keep an eye out for anything worth saving.

He got a call to say two of the old honours boards of New Zealand Rugby Reps and New Zealand Cricket Reps were in the bin ready to be dumped. Paul rushed up there and grabbed them and they are now on display on the end wall in the old gymnasium.

“If I hadn’t done this they would have gone.”

Another prized piece of memorabilia that Paul had hung in the old gym is a framed tribute to Jonathan Church (1977) that the family offered to Paul for the School. Medic Trooper Jonathan Church was a member of the Special Air Services. In 1994 he was sent to Rwanda to provide medical assistance to the sick and the injured in the war. In June 1996 he was one of the 18 soldiers who died during a training exercise in Townsville where two black hawk helicopters collided ending in a very tragic accident.

“I’ve hung it here where the boys can see it and be inspired at the beginning of their time at Grammar when they come in here for the first time for a look around the buildings.”

In the science block Paul has put together an interesting display of antique items used in the teaching of science. They are housed in large glass display cabinets that Paul acquired from the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

“For some reason they decided that they didn’t want them and they were going to dump them. I paid $100 for them and it cost $500 to get them here. They’re bronze edged and plate glass perfect for this display,” said Paul.

Items from Dr Harold Coop (1947), who was awarded an Augusta Award for his service to ophthalmology and the arts are on display in these cabinets.

The display Kauri cabinet in the Great Hall is another that Paul takes pride in.

“It is from 1880 and I saw it up in C1 a total ruin, smashed up, all the locks broken and windows broken. I saw John Graham obtained funding, $3000, to have it restored. After having it restored and after measuring it numerous times I just hoped that it fitted between the two columns and it did just,” said Paul.

In this cabinet are further examples of what Paul has gathered up over the years.

“There are two 1931 caps that came in from two families and memorabilia from the boy who wrote the school hymn,” said Paul pointing out a number of the interesting items.

On the stairs up to the staff room Paul added to a number of historic photos of the School in its early years. There is a 1916 photo of the School in Mountain Road that Paul saved, took home washed it in sugar soap, waxed it and has it displayed on a work bench from 1880, another relic that Paul saved and restored in 1994.

Paul has an amazing knowledge of the school furniture and old desks as to the year they were manufactured and first used at the school.

His most notable moment at a school assembly was when John Graham announced that there would be no more canning at the School from that day on and everyone stood up clapped and cheered.

One regret that Paul has is that while clearing out a cubbyhole, in which the School gold key was found, he came upon a paper mache of Mount Everest which would have been used when Sir Edmund Hillary gave a talk to the School. Paul did not retrieve it at the time and when he went back it was gone.

Paul has left a great legacy at the School, and a job that will now be carried on by Peter Stanes.

By Murray McKinnon QSM (1959).