The Story of Dilworth

Our history starts with James Dilworth himself – the founder of Dilworth Trust Board and School, a farmer, an investor and a philanthropist. 

Born in 1815 in Northern Ireland, James was educated at the Royal School Dungannon. He was profoundly influenced by his education, an opportunity given to him by his great-aunt, Anne Dilworth. After completing school, he worked in the Northland Bank in Dungannon and it was here that James began developing the astute business acumen that would be fundamental to his prosperous career.

James was one of many migrants who left Ireland for Australia and New Zealand in the late 1830s, in search of better prospects. He arrived in Sydney in 1839, and shortly afterwards, ventured to New Zealand, arriving in Auckland in July 1841, aboard the schooner Planter.

Seeking to establish himself in the business community, James worked under Governor Hobson, as Clerk to the Governor’s Council, but quickly returned to his original profession as a banker with the New Zealand Banking Company in Auckland.

James made the first of his many land purchases in 1842, when he acquired six acres in Parnell. Further purchases resulted in his becoming a significant farmer and landowner in Auckland and beyond. Central to his landholdings was the home farm of some 300 acres in Epsom and present-day Remuera which he started acquiring in 1849.

An influential life

The Dilworth estate prospered over the next few decades, with the growing Auckland population increasing the value of his properties – estimated to be worth £81,044 in 1882. He also received a generous compensation payment when the Government decided to run the trunk railway through his property.

During the late 1840s, James became a founding Trustee of the Auckland Savings Bank and the Auckland Agricultural and Pastoral Society. He was elected to the Auckland Provincial Council and served on the council’s educational sub-committee.

James married Isabella Hall, from Otahuhu, in 1853. Together, they became pillars of St Mark’s Church in Remuera, contributing greatly to its upkeep and expansion. James also supported other public causes, such as the kindergarten movement and the YMCA. In later years, he was a member of the Auckland University College Council.

His outlook on philanthropy and education was influenced by his involvement in these organisations as well as by his own upbringing in Northern Ireland and by Auckland’s severe economic depression in the 1830s.

James Dilworth died in 1894, aged 79, without children of his own. He left most of his considerable estate to establish a school, the Dilworth Ulster Institute.

A lasting legacy

As stated in James’ will, Dilworth Ulster Institute was to provide for “orphans, the sons of widows and the sons of persons of good character, of any race, and in straitened circumstances with such maintenance, education and training as to enable them to become good and useful members of society.”

The boys-only boarding school opened on 12 March 1906 in the old Dilworth homestead, with just eight boys and one teacher.

Now known as Dilworth School, it has grown to be the largest boarding-only school in Australasia. The endowment that funds the school has grown substantially and the Dilworth Trust Board is a significant owner of commercial and industrial property in Auckland.

Today, the school continues to provide a wrap-around environment of 24-hour care that supports and enables boys to achieve things they might not have thought possible. Academic results are above the national average, and comparable to some of the best schools in New Zealand. Many students also excel in music, art, sport and cultural activities.

Since 1906, more than 5,000 young men have received a first-class education as James Dilworth intended, thanks to his remarkable legacy.