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Charles John Monro

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

Birth to Britain

New Zealand, consists of two main islands and a number of smaller outlying islands so scattered that they range from the tropical to the antarctic. New Zealand's two main components are the North Island and the South Island, separated by Cook Strait.

Rumors of French plans for the colonisation of the South Island help hasten British action to annexe, and then colonise New Zealand. A number of Māori chiefs sign a Treaty with the British on 6th February 1840, to be known as the Treaty of Waitangi. The subsequent influx of European settlers leads to the turbulent period of the New Zealand Wars, also known as the Land Wars, which last for over twenty years.

Charles John Monro was born in Nelson on April 5th, 1851. His parents, David (a Doctor from Edinburgh, Scotland) and Dinah were early settlers. His father had borrowed money to buy four allotments of land in Nelson which totalled 804 acres. They had both arrived on different ships in 1842 and married on May 7th, 1845. They had seven children, three of which died young.

Charles Monro

After studying at Nelson College Charles was sent to study in Britain and boarded a ship to Wellington on his 16th birthday, April 5, 1867, with his father. Then on April 8th he boarded the ship to Britain. Once in England he was sent to Christ's College, Finchley near London where he played his first Rugby. The college had three teams and he played in the seconds. Studying and playing rugby there for 2 years he left the college in July 1869. After visiting family all over the British isles he arrived back in New Zealand on Jan 27th, 1870.

Nothin' to blow about

A football club had been formed in Nelsonin 1868 while Charles was away and they were playing football according to Association and Victorian rules. Charles told the players about the virtues and "great superiority" of Rugby football and they decided to give it a try. They liked it and then approached the headmaster of Nelson college to see if the college would do the same. Since the headmaster was former pupil of Rugby school he readily agreed and coached his team under Monro's guidance.

On 14 May 1870 Nelson College played Nelson Rugby Football Club in the first inter club rugby union football match to be played in New Zealand.

Site of the first game of Rugby in New Zealand.

Later in his life he put the whole sequence of events down to "mere coincidence" and said that it was "nothing to blow about". But Charles Monro had planted a seed that would grow and grow very rapidly with a new Rugby club a fortnight, so that by 1886, Rugby had become New Zealand's national sport.

monro memorial
Original Monro memorial - Palmerston North

Charles Monro's grandchildren John Monro, Jane Kettles, Piera McArthur, Paul Monro (sitting), David Monro, Georgina Mellows and Neil Monro at the unveiling of the revamped memorial on the Manawatu campus. Sept 2011
Credit: Massey University

Charles John Monro sculpture which stands at the entrance to the NZ Rugby Museum in Palmerston North. Credit: The Governor-General


1. Monro - the life and times of the man who gave New Zealand Rugby. Clive Akers. ISBN: 978-0-473-14334-3

2. NZ Rugby museum Article.

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