A National Library Gallery Exhibition Supported by Rhodes House, Oxford

Allan Thomson Arthur Espie Porritt
James Dankin Jack Lovelock
Geoffrey Cox Norman Davis
Dan Davin Max Neutze
Chris Laidlaw Louise N
Helen L Christine French
David Kirk Sally Mckechnie
'A Civilising Mission'
Print version (PDF 264 KB)


New Zealanders & the Rhodes Scholarship 1904 - 2004

This online exhibition profiles some of University of Otago Rhodes Scholarship recipients. It largely draws upon information and images from the National Library travelling exhibition "'A Civilising Mission' : New Zealanders and the Rhodes Scholarship 1904-2004"

‘A Civilising Mission’ introduces a representative group of New Zealand Rhodes scholars chosen from each of the decades since the Scholarship’s inauguration. Founded on the vision and benefaction of Cecil Rhodes, the scholarship provides for 87 scholars each year selected from 14 countries to attend Oxford University. Three of these places are allocated to New Zealand.

This exhibition marks the centenary of the Rhodes scholarship in New Zealand, and makes the point that although grand utopian visions are seldom realised, investment in education will always pay off. New Zealand Rhodes scholars have made their contribution in many and various ways and in the process conferred real worth and advantage on New Zealand.

The exhibition title comes from an essay written by James Bertram, a 1932 Rhodes scholar. He wrote of New Zealand Rhodes scholars: ‘wherever they have worked, from Moscow to Ibadan, they have carried something of New Zealand and of Oxford with them; and this should, in the end, have been a civilising mission’.

Cecil Rhodes and his scholarship

The founder of the Rhodes scholarship, Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902). (Rhodes Trust collection)




Cecil Rhodes was a man of many parts – a parson’s son, diamond miner, hugely successful financier, crude imperialist and none-too-scrupulous political leader. In high Victorian style he impressed himself, not always positively, on the history of Africa and the British Empire.

An extraordinary legacy endures in the international higher education programme he founded with a major bequest in his will – the Rhodes scholarships at Oxford. The idea is said to have come from a question he posed shortly before his early death in 1902 – ‘Are we getting the right men for the world’s fight?’ This sort of ideal - redolent with the over-confidence of the times – then set the tone for the concept of the Rhodes scholarship programme inaugurated in 1903. The designated countries from which scholars were to be chosen were South Africa, the United States, Germany, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.The first Rhodes scholars took up residence in Oxford in 1903, and the first New Zealand Rhodes scholar arrived a year later. The will has since been altered to provide for scholarships from the other countries of the Commonwealth and to ensure that women are eligible.


Most recently, the Rhodes Trust in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation has established the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. Launched in Cape Town in 2002, the Foundation aims to address racial and educational inequalities by funding scholarships and other development programmes in Africa.


Since 1904, Rhodes scholarships have been awarded to 187 New Zealanders who have made their mark in a multiplicity of ways at home and abroad - in politics, sport, the media, business, literature, medicine, the law, diplomacy and the public service, engineering and in the academic world.


Rhodes scholarship selection committee, 1908

Sir Robert Stout (1884-1930), Chancellor of the University of New Zealand 1903-1923, is seated second from left, front row.

Photographer: Sydney Charles Smith (1888 1972)
chromogenic (colour) photograph, 2004
SC Smith Collection
Photographic Archive, Ref: 1/1-019889-G
Alexander Turnbull Library


Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee Minute book 1915-1959. New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee collection, Archives New Zealand.

Enlarged view »



Special Collections
De Beer Gallery

1st Floor, Central Library, University of Otago
Hours: 8:30am - 5:00pm, Monday to Friday

20 September - 10 December 2004

A Cicilising Mission University of Otago <