Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Grey Institute – The Tumultuous First Three Decades

In tracing the arc of the development of the schooling system in Port Elizabeth, one rapidly focuses on the first school of significance: The Grey Institute on the Hill. Ultimately the precursor for the more spacious Grey High School situated in Mill Park, the Grey Institute laid the foundation for this venerable institution.

In order to fully operationalise their vision of having a central “campus” with outlying feeder schools, would take twenty tumultuous years. Finally, by placing the organisation of the school under the microscope, it reveals an educational system diametrically opposed in many ways to the present method of operation and its attendant rules and regulations.

Main picture: An early photograph of the Grey Institute in Belmont Terrace before the clock tower was added in 1875

Its Precursors

It has been a long time coming but the Grey Institute was not the first school in Port Elizabeth. Its precursors were the English Free School, a prefabricated structure, the Government Free School in Chapel Street and the short-lived Rev. McCleland’s Private School and Mrs. Harriet Joanna Eedes’ School for Young Ladies in Algoa House, Western Road. By the early 1850s, the need for a proper senior school with its feeder elementary school had become critical.

Into the breach stepped the two progressive advocates, the Governor, Sir George Grey and John Paterson.

Painting of Sir George Grey by Daniel Louis Mundy in the 1860s

Into the Breach

By the 1840s, the once tiny insignificant hamlet of Port Elizabeth had grown exponentially. In a frenzy of activity, the town was bursting over the brow of the hill with dwellings springing up along Donkin Street. Sir George Grey might have envisioned the establishment of the Grey Institute in Port Elizabeth and the Grey College in Bloemfontein and provided the grants of land for both, but it was another visionary, John Paterson and others, who would bring the Grey Institute to fruition.

Key to the establishment of this school in Port Elizabeth was an enabling Governor in the form of Sir George Grey who was governor from 1854 to 1861. On the 4th June 1856, Grey gave assent to the Act of Parliament which established the Grey Institute and its feeder schools. In recognition of his assent and assistance, the school was named after him. The assistance which Grey provided took the form of liberal grants of land for their endowment. The setup of this school would highlight some idiosyncrasies both in its main school and feeder school aspect and as regards the division of the school into junior, elementary and high school.

Grey Institute announcement regarding new school

It was left to John Paterson to provide flesh and bones to the skeleton of their ideas. In this endeavour, Paterson was ideally suited to be involved in the practical details. Being the master at the Free Government School in Chapel Street adjacent to the Union Chapel, Paterson at least had some practical knowledge in running a school. Assisted by an “usher” earning £15 per annum, Paterson taught 159 pupils. Paterson’s remuneration constituted of a salary at £150 per annum plus £40 as rent for his house in Chapel Street. In 1845 an extra master, the Rev F McCleland was employed, being paid £15 per annum, presumably because he was only part time. Two years McCleland was replaced by Mr. J. Kemsley at £30 per annum.

Setup of the new school

The initial staffing arrangement was determined to be three teachers – classical and mathematics – appointed at £150 and a rector at £200 per annum. Furthermore, their salary would be supplemented by the school fees which were set at £3 per annum for the Rector’s class and £2 per annum for the classical & mathematics teachers. In addition, there would be two elementary schools for children under eight.

On the 12th September 1855 the Board called for designs for the Port Elizabeth Grammar School in which they specified that the school would comprise two classrooms to accommodate 100 pupils each and a main hall to accommodate 300 pupils. While it is not explicitly stated that the hall would be used as a classroom, clearly that must have been their intention as the specification provided for too few classrooms. The proposal stipulated that the cost was not to exceed £2,500. Disagreement about the name: Port Elizabeth Grammar School versus The Grey Institute. It was felt by many that the word Institute implicitly connoted a higher standard than the word Grammar. Possibly reinforcing this notion was the fact that a block away on the corner of Western Road and Belmont terrace was a school run by St. Mary’s Church known as the Diocesan Grammar School.   

In spite of the foundation stone being laid by Captain Hill on Thursday 17th January 1856, it was only in September 1856 that Mr. Archibald was appointed to draw up plans and specifications of the buildings. Finally, a tender from Messrs. Murrell and Campbell was accepted. The contract was for £2870 of which £1283 had been realised by the sale of land. In order to fund that shortfall, the Board created a committee to solicit donations and subscriptions. Mr. Slater stepped forward making a generous offer to superintend the erection of the buildings free of charge. This was gratefully accepted as it reduced the shortfall. Construction took an inordinately long time of two years as much of the material was imported from England. Slow shipping times and slow speed of communication with travel times for a round trip being of the order of five months were compounded by modifications made to the design.  

In 1858 grants of land in North End as a site for an elementary school which would serve as a feeder school for the Grey Institute were made. Fifty additional lots were sold to free the Institute of debt of between £800 & £900. The average selling price of lots was £3 and the annual quit rent on the land amounted to £636. Towards the end of 1858, as the construction of the school was nearing completion, the Town Clerk, Mr. Hutchinson invited applications from teachers at a salary of not less than £300 per annum. In January 1859 building was complete and ready for occupation just in time for the commencement of the academic year.

The Board selected Mr. JR Macleish MA as the first headmaster and appointed him at a salary of £300 pa. Macleish’s exact age at this date is unknown but was approximately 25 or 26. As will become evident later, this was not a match made in heaven. Macleish’s inexperience and an interfering overlarge Board, bedevilled the settling down process. School fees were fixed at five guineas per annum payable in advance (1 guinea = 21 shillings in pre-decimal currency) and on Tuesday 1st Feb 1859, school opened with one teacher, Mr. Webb, plus 56 pupils. Mr. Webb was appointed at a salary of £150 per annum plus a fee of £1 per pupil. Mr. Macleish must have been of more liberal disposition as he opposed the use of corporal punishment, came by means of the mail cart from Swellendam where he had taught previously. The subjects taught at the school were reading, writing, spelling, elocution, grammar, Latin and Greek, arithmetic, mathematics, geography, natural history and physical science. The former Market Bell which had stood for years on the Market Square where it was used to announce the morning market and the outbreak of fires, was placed at the disposal of the school. It was hung in a belfry built at the south-east corner of the grounds. By June the number of pupils had so increased that Mr. Blewitt was appointed as assistant to Mr. Macleish at a salary of £125 for the first year and £150 pa thereafter.

In line with their objective of operating feeder schools for the main school in Belmont Terrace, they were extremely grateful when the Wesleyans offered the use of the Bethel or Seaman’s Chapel in Jetty Street as an elementary school for children of the working class. The “Little Bethel”, designated as an Industrial or Elementary School, opened its doors on Monday 3rd October 1859. A principal, Mr. Lowden, employed at a salary £150 per annum, was assisted by Mrs Carr. Fees were set at 6d per week payable in advance. Shortly thereafter 40 boys and 30 girls were already attending Little Bethel. As the Grey Institute was a boys’ only school, that implies that the girls attending the Little Bethel would be precluded from attending High School at the Grey Institute. This conclusion is buttressed by the reason for setting up the Collegiate Girls School was to cater for the needs to female pupils. This fact leads one to wonder what education they would have received if the Bethel had not opened as a school. For some unjustified reason, the school which was providing an essential service to the community was closed down on 30th September 1863. After a storm of protests, it was kept open until the early 1870s, but it had to be relocated due to the construction of the railway station

1875 The Grey Institute after the completion of the clock tower

Yearend examinations, known as Public Examinations, were held for the first time on Wednesday 21st December 1859. The examinations, being oral work in the main, lasted for 4 hours and were held in the hall.

The school eventually opened in 1860. By then the number of pupils had swollen compelling the Board to appoint another teacher, Mr. Stride, at £100 per annum. Financial problems which were to beset the school for another decade or more forcefully raised its head. In the main, this arose due to defaulters in respect of purchase price and quit rent on the plots sold. On his birthday on 5th August 1860, the school was visited by Prince Alfred. As it was classified as a red-letter day in the annuals of the Institute, it would henceforth be celebrated by the school as a public holiday. In fact, the whole town viewed it in the same way and also treated it as a public holiday for many years afterwards.

Feeder school in North End

In line with the school’s Act of Incorporation, steps taken to establish in 1861 to establish a branch or feeder school in North End. An Elementary School was opened under Mrs Kerr in a house lent by Mr. Joshua Cawood. Unintended consequences raised their heads raising a chorus of concerns when Mr. Webb accused high school boys of damage to classrooms. Concurrently he also passed disparaging remarks about Macleish’s competence as a headmaster citing his lack of discipline.

As a result, Macleish was summoned by the Board of Managers to appear before them. In his defence, Macleish denied all allegations. Instead, he laid the blame on the “rabble” when the Band of Volunteers practiced in the school hall. In turn, he commented on the questionable conduct of some of the teachers and remarked on his vague position as headmaster and not being a rector. Furthermore, he requested that the Board of Managers draw up a set of rules and regulations for both schools and define his duties as headmaster. His request that the headmaster be given a seat on the Board was acceded to.

Representing the board, Mr. Pearson announced that a Rector was to be appointed – an English Protestant clergyman, educated at Cambridge, with a salary of £400 per annum with a house or £500 per annum without a house. How the role of a rector differed from that of a headmaster is unclear. In the case of the Grey Institute, the roles were often one and the same.

For the first time, the Annual Examination held at the close of the academic year comprised written papers whereas previously they were always oral. Once again, the results revealed an unsatisfactory state of affairs as regards educational knowledge and understanding.

At year end, the branch schools were reported to be in a satisfactory state with the Jetty Street School being the largest with 70 pupils under Mr. Lowden. According to JJ Redgrave half of the pupils were coloured. Multiracial settings were not unknown in the period with the Union Church in Chapel Street holding mixed church services and classes. The North End School under Mrs Kerr catered for 15 pupils, ranging from 4 to 6 years old. Their highest attainment was set as being words of two syllables.

Changes galore

The Board now introduced a whole raft of new rules and regulations

  • At the start of the day, classes would commence with the reading of a portion of Scripture without comment
  • The school hours to be from 9am to 12 am and then 2 to 5pm in summer and to 4pm in winter
  • All textbooks would be supplied by the Board at cost price
  • Two written examinations would be written per annum in June and December respectively
  • Two “Visitors” to be appointed by the Board of Managers. Their task was to randomly visit the schools on a weekly basis and report on the state of the establishments. On completion, they would fill in the visitors’ book and make appropriate comments
  • No age to be affixed to attendance at the high school
  • Pupils must pass an entrance examination
  • Admission to the Elementary School was fixed at 6 years of age
  • Split of the schools would be: Junior, Elementary and High

Macleish as Headmaster

In September 1861, the Board acceded to Macleish’s request and granted him a seat at the Board but without voting rights While still on year end leave, Macleish unexpectedly died on 11 January 1862 at the age of 29 after a brief illness. Having no suitable immediate replacement, the Board took the decision to keep the school closed until a replacement could be employed. Upon advertising the vacancy, applicants applied of whom Mr. John Samuel of the Grammar School at Swellendam was selected and appointed. Being a practical Scotsman, he requested answers to the following questions in writing: salary, rent, his position vis-à-vis the Rectorship then advertised, travelling expenses for him and his wife. An embarrassing misunderstanding occurred when the Board offered the position temporarily to Rev. Mr. Smith – in effect offering the position to two men. As Smith had not applied for the position, one can imagine his surprise when his appointment was made. On receipt of the confirmation, Smith replied in a fit of pique that he would not accept the job whatever the salary offered. Smith’s refusal to accept the position was met with obvious relief by an embarrassed Board.

The delayed arrival of the replacement headmaster, Mr. Samuels, did not affect the reopening of Mr. Webb’s elementary department which opened as usual in January. The effect on the High School was more severe as Samuels first had to travel from Swellendam to Cape Town from which he sailed aboard the Waldensian to Port Elizabeth. As the High School only re-opened on 28th April, the decision was taken to continue classes through the June holidays. The turnover of staff must have been distracting as first shortly afterwards, Mr. Blewitt resigned to take up Holy Orders and Mr. Nicols also resigned. Moreover, Mr. Stride was transferred to the Junior School and the Board appointed Mr. J. Chase to replace him.

Most of the management issues were regularly raised in the Eastern Province Herald much to the chagrin of the board. One issue raised was whether the Grey Institute was in unfair competition with the Government School in Chapel Street under Mr. Joseph Reid.

The Board still had another burning issue to address viz that it had to appoint a competent and qualified Head to fulfil its mandate. To this end, the Board advertised in the London newspapers for a rector. The applicants had to be graduates of a university and they had to be married or not less than 30 years old. Clearly this requirement was inserted due to their experience with Macleish. The salary that was offered was £500 per annum plus £100 for passage money. Their testimonials had to be sent to the Secretary. The Committee established in England received 58 applications but only eight made the short list. Ultimately Rev. H.I. Johnson was appointed.

The Christmas examinations would be measure of Samuel’s management of the school. There was a marked improvement both in the progress by the pupils but also the management of the school. Mr. Samuel had proved himself being profusely complimented the parents.

The rector, the Rev. Henry Isaac Johnson arrived in Port Elizabeth in January 1863 and took up residence in a house in Prospect Hill. At a subsequent Board Meeting, it proposed the fusion of the Hill school with the feeder schools under his supervision as Rector. They also proposed many other changes including the raising of the fees. Also raised was the unequal division of space between High and Elementary School. Johnson proposal that they be run as one under the superintendence of the Rector viz himself which was accepted by the Board. The next issue was intransigent and perhaps even insolvable and related to the state of the finances. The school was saddled with a debt of £1,000 and an estimated deficiency of £600. To cover the deficit, they proposed a dual strategy namely the sale of more land and simultaneously raising the fees in accordance with the pupil’s age with the highest rate being nine guineas for a boy above fourteen. There was an immediate negative response. This was not totally unexpected but ten senior boys transferred to the North End Grey under Dr. Chase whose fees had remained the same. In response the newly appointed Rector, Johnson, urged Dr. Chase to raise the fees at North End Grey to be the same amount as the Hill school but he stood firm and rejected Johnson’s proposal. It had been pure wishful thinking on the Board’s part that all the parents would accept such fee increases without compliant or dissension.

After the first half year of the Rector’s office, matters had reached an impasse. A Committee was appointed to investigate how the original prospectus could best be applied to the schools and to draft a new scheme of education for the different schools. In terms of this scheme, the schools would be classified as follows:

  • North End Elementary
  • The Hill Elementary
  • Hill Collegiate consisting of Classical, Mathematical and the Rector’s classes

Moreover, the Board proposed a rearrangement of the fees and the closure of the Bethel School in Jetty Street. These proposals were adopted by the Board. Forthwith, the fees were raised again, the second time in 3 months. The fees increase was not accepted with equanimity. Objections were raised and discontent brewed. The effect of “washing their dirty linen” in public meant that the affairs of the school were always in the public eye. The Board also had to field criticism for their decision to abolition of the Jetty Street School. The issue here was that the residents felt that the quit rents should be applied without distinction for creed, class or colour. In view of the opposition raised to its closure, the Board passed an amendment cancelling the resolution to close the Jetty Street School. They also came to the realisation that the changes in management had had a detrimental effect upon the results achieved. At the close of that year, 1863, the financial position of the school was no better having an overdraft of £1,281. The sources of income for that year were quit rents of £800, sale of lands £385 and fees amounting to £496. The long, tiring year drew to an unsatisfactory close with the issue of financial viability weighing heavily on the Board’s mind.

1864 started on a positive note when the Governor, Sir Philip Wodehouse visited the school during January 1864. The Governor seemed well pleased with what he saw as he made the usual positive platitudes. In March 1864, Mr. Millson was appointed classical master while in June 1864, the new buildings in North End were opened. Millson established Saturday classes for German and Drawing at an additional cost of 10s 6d. In July competitive examinations were held by the Board of Examiners of the Cape University. The Grey Institute sent three scholars, but none passed. Even the smaller towns produced better results with at least one scholar passing. This appalling result set the cat amongst the chickens in which feathers were bound to fly. Which they duly did. In defence of the poor scholastic performance, the Rector claimed that the “intellectual status of the boys in Port Elizabeth was low.” Moreover, he thought that “The questions were too difficult, but they proved the backwardness of the Grey boys whose weakest points were in subjects which required thought, attention and patience.”

Casting aspersions in all likelihood did not endear Johnson to the Board or to townsfolk who caught wind of his aspersions.  

Rev HI Johnson – First Rector of Grey Institute – from 1863 – 1873

Hardly had the ruckus with Johnson subsided when the Board was once again distracted by the financial difficulties which were becoming increasingly urgent with expenses exceeding income by £300.

In June 1865, a committee was appointed to draft a report on the general state of the schools to be submitted to the Director-General of Education requesting his advice. Dr. Dale’s exhaustive memorandum stated that

  • With only 50 boys aged 13 to 15, only 2 masters were required and not 3
    • The standard of the boys was at least one year behind that of the SA Colleague
    • The fees had to be increased
    • The masters must be given a pecuniary interest in the prosperity of the school by receiving part of their salary in the form of capitation fees

After time in which to cogitate this report, the following resolutions were adopted by the Board

  • From 1st January 1866, the duties of the High School to be performed by the Rector and Mr. John Samuel under the title of sub-Rector
  • Fees in the High School to be 8 guineas
  • Latin to be taught in the elementary schools
  • Sub-committee to examine & report on the efficiency of the teachers of the elementary department & Mr Millson.   

Furthermore, the Board resolved to dispense with the services of Webb & Millson and to cease providing support to the Bethel School. In turn, the Education Department consented to take over the Bethel School as well as to close the Government School in Chapel Street the following year. At the competition of schools, two pupils from the Grey Institute received honourable mention for mathematics.

In 1866, the school’s financial woes continued to multiply as the debt reached £1,593. In a pique of wishful thinking, the Board proposed to restrict salaries to a fixed amounts of the endowment fund only and to meet the salary shortfall, make the staff entitled to all the school fees. Probably due to fearing the ramifications, neither proposal was implemented. A litany of woes plagued the school with resignations being accepted from Mr. Cumberland, Mr. Elliot and Mr. Samuel, the Sub-Rector. With only 21 pupils, the North End Grey faced the axe, being closed in October 1866.

1867 was no better. With the amount due now £1,763 drastic maybe even radical action was necessary. At this juncture, the Rector, Johnson, stuck up his hand and made a bold proposal. In terms of this submission, he would accept personal financial liability for the Grey Institute on the following basis:

  • He would take over the financial and internal management of the schools for 5 years
    • Pay off £200 per annum on the debt
    • Pay 10% interest on the balance
    • Pay the masters salaries as agreed with them

The Board, appointed a committee of six to consider this far-reaching proposal, came to the unanimous conclusion that the chief cause of failure arose as they did not secure the services of a properly qualified person, both financially and educationally, to take control of the schools. Furthermore, there was an excessive number of persons on the Board each with divergent opinions. Hence the Board was not maintaining a united course of action. The Board accepted Johnson’s recommendation in toto.

The change in modus operandi swiftly resulted in substantial improvements and ultimately success. Instead of micro-managing the operation of the school, the Board only monitored the school management by meeting only once per annum for the period 1868 to 1872. Instead of the Grey Institute being at the forefront of the news, the Grey Institute operated under the radar. The Board had placed their trust in Johnson and Johnson had made the school a success, both financially and educationally, in terms of the Board’s requirement. At the expiration of the five-year agreement on 31 March 1872,

  • there were 120 pupils
  • debt had been reduced by £1,000
  • Rector’s income had only fallen by £73 below the £500 granted over the whole period

Without hesitation, the Board renewed the agreement with Johnson until the end of December 1875.

When at the end of 1872, Mr Johnson applied for six months’ home leave, it was granted with alacrity. Johnson had displayed undeniable skill and diligence that any employer could hope for. They could not have wished for a better employee as he left for England aboard the RMS Syria. There had been scant evidence that Johnson was dissatisfied or disaffected with his position at Grey Institute. So when the Board received a letter in April 1873 tendering his resignation, it came like a bolt from the blue. Incredulity abounded. It felt like the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. To add salt to their collective wounds, Johnson claimed a sum of £188 as half pay for the six months. Apparently Johnson had already accepted a position in the mastership of Cheltenham College. Ill-feelings ensued. How could the Board have misread Johnson so completely? Ultimately the parties settled on an amount of £26 which mollified the Board.

Chiding themselves for their naiveite when negotiating with Johnson, they now drafted a more strict and comprehensive Employment Agreement to be used for his replacement.  The Board laid down the following new conditions for his position

  • The new Rector should hold his appointment subject to the instructions of the Board in all matters   
    • Appointment for not less than one year
    • Subject to six month’s cancellation by either party
    • Devote his whole time to the school
    • May not other professional engagements and services

The North End school was re-opened on 11 August 1873 under Mr JT Eaton who was employed at a salary of £180 per annum and school fees at 5s per month payable in advance

New Rector appointed

J Thurlow Rector from 1873 to 1884

John Thurlow appointed as the replacement rector, arrived at the end of December 1873. In discussions with the Board, claimed “full powers” over the scheme of instruction and the right to appoint and dismiss his assistant masters. The Board objected but conceded that his recommendations would in most circumstance be acceded to. After his first month on the job, he reported that the Hill School was in an elementary state, attributing this to understaffing as there were only three masters for 130 boys.

To raise the tone of the school Thurlow proposed a raft of measures which included the following:

  • Adoption of a ribbon and a badge
  • Improvement of the buildings by enclosing the premises with a dwarf wall and iron railings at a cost of £300
  • Establish a boarding department
  • Issue of half-yearly reports on conduct and progress
  • Creation of a system of monitors or prefects
  • Raising fees as this would attract a better class of pupil

Apart from the above, Thurlow was involved in many other initiatives

  • A rectory, designed by G. Pell, was costed at £1,550  
  • He collected £400 for the erection of a bell tower and an illuminated clock but another £200 still needed to be raised before he could proceed
  • In September another two teachers were requested, one as a replacement for Mr. Stride and another as an additional teacher in the higher department
  • A new school opened [presumably in North End] in temporary premises under Mr. Chase
  • The Rector’s residence was completed in May at a total cost of £2,100. The iron railings were ordered by Mr J. Paterson without the authority of the Board at a cost of £1,370. They were lying in Glasgow at the builder’s site [Mr. Cook]. He offered the railings at £400 FOB. The dwarf wall cost an additional £220.
  • The tower and clock were completed by private contributions of £600, collected by Mr Thurlow supplemented by £100 paid by the Board
  • It was also proposed to raise the two wings by adding another storey so as to create additional classrooms

The number of pupils on the books at the end of the year were 165 on the Hill, 175 at North End and 13 at South End. From the beginning of 1874, the fees had increased from £800 to nearly £1,300 – an increase of 47%. Income for year was £3,149 and expenditure £4.463

Since the appointment of Johnson in 1863, the Rector held an ex officio seat on the Board. In line with this precedent, in 1876 Thurlow elected to the Board but as a full member. After a challenge by a fellow Board member, Thurlow resigned as a board member.


Dr Dale of the Education Department proposed to the Board that the Institute be divided into two departments, a College and a Public School. The government agreed to pay £400 and £425 respectively towards the salaries provided that a similar amount was paid by the Board.

When Thurlow applied for six months’ leave of absence in 1877 it did not raise the hackles in the Board despite their previous negative experience with Thurlow’s predecessor. Not so with the press as they adopted a negative stance with a critic bemoaning the fact that he had called a pupil a “young scamp.” Instead of these petty objections, one reader raised a valid criticism of his tenure thus far which related to his non-compliance with the requirement to take in Boarders.


1878 was chiefly remarkable for the building of the South End School based upon Mr. Bisset’s designs at a cost of £2,700. Thereafter it was proposed to build a separate school for Malays at which English, Dutch and Arabic would be taught, and which Malays would have to contribute 50% towards the building cost. Of the total estimated cost of £500 Malays would have to contribute £200. The suggested location on which this classroom would be built was adjacent or close to the Malay Cemetery. Whilst appreciative of the efforts to build this school, the Malay community insisted that it be used exclusively by Malay children otherwise the children would not receive a proper education. After several inconclusive meetings between the Committee and the imams, the project fell through, and it came to nought.

Higher Education Act of 1874

One of the objectives of this Act was to establish educational centres in all areas where students would be prepared to become alumni of the Cape University. In this endeavour, the Government undertook to contribute £200 annually towards the support of each “professional chair”. For their part, an equal sum had to be raised from local sources. As most pupils at the Grey Institute did not proceed past the age of 16, the experiment with the College Department was a failure. In practice this meant the bifurcation of the Institute’s efforts. Having accepted responsibility for public education of the whole town would dilute their efforts to promote the advantages of higher education.

To meet their stated goals, the Board recognised that the Hill School would have to be totally reorganised in the following manner:

  • College department
    • Senior division consisting of undergraduates reading for university degrees
    • Junior reading for matriculation

  • The Public School
    • The Elementary Department teaching the elements of an English  
    • Infants as a feeder to the Elementary Class

Financial crisis

The total liabilities now stood at £7,000 of which £2,216 for the rectory & enclosing the grounds, £2,785 for erecting South End Schools and the balance related to the annual deficiency on the working expenses. To assist them, the Grey Institute applied to the Government for £2,000 in reimbursement of the South End School

In order to address this situation, the Board placed the ball squarely in Thurlow’s court by requesting that he make suggestions on how to increase their income while simultaneously lessening the expenditure. They then drove home the point by stating the obvious viz that they could no longer afford his salary of £600 per annum and a residence valued at £200 and that they regarded his remuneration as exorbitant. Thurlow must have been taken aback by the forthright manner in which they brought to his attention their dissatisfaction with his level of emoluments. To ameliorate this situation Thurlow agreed to pay £85 a year towards the interest on the Rectory debt as well as advancing a sum of £2,000 to the Board at 6% upon the security of the building.

Clearly Thurlow was in a financial squeeze. To alleviate his situation, he let out portion of the Rectory to a private family without consulting the Board. On discovering this act, the Board re-emphasised the school policy that the rectory could only be used by the Rectory, his family and boarders. To indicate their total displeasure at the course of events, the board raised a resolution giving the Rector six months’ notice but ultimately out of order. Thurlow had escaped drastic censure but for how long?

Quality & outcomes

The managers’ annual reports to the Governors continued to bear testimony to the general efficiency of the teachers and general management of the schools. This was borne out by the results of the annual examination as well as the reports of the school inspectors.

Without question, there was an issue which had remained unresolved and that was the limited attendance in the College Department and the very low extent that students at the Grey Institute availed themselves of University education as show by the fact that only one candidate attended at the Matriculation examination. Dr Dale of the Education Department drew their attention to the fact that the department was receiving an inadequate return on the £400 subsidy for two lecturers, failing which it would be withdrawn.

As if Dr. Dale’s misgivings were insufficient, two further negative reports would have raised the Board’s concerns. First off, the mark Mr. Ross suggested that changes needed to be made in the curriculum to satisfy the commercial community whereas Mr Samuel intimated that the pupils of the Public School and the Elementary departments were being “pushed” through in order to attend the College departments.    

Thurlow vigorously defended his teachers but due to ill-health, possibly as a result of stress, he requested nine months leave of absence. In his 1884 report – his last – he pointed out that attendance had increased y 43% from 1879 to 1884 and the satisfactory results obtained by the pupils at the university examinations.

Even though 1885 witnessed 14 pupils preparing for matriculation, Dr. Dale considered that the subsidy was £400 was wasted. Accordingly, it was scrapped. After completion of his leave, Mr. Thurlow resigned, whereupon he took Holy Orders. After taking over as Rector, Mr. Noaks drew up a scheme of reorganisation based upon the English Public School model. Mr. Noaks occupied that position until 1892 when he died while on extended leave in England in 1892.

The first 33 years had been a roller-coaster but by now the school had settled down and there was renewed hope that the future would remain bright and undimmed.


‘Neath the Tower by J.J. Redgrave, A.M. Pollock & James Hattle (1956, Howard B. Timmins, Cape Town)

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