Grahamstown at a glance

Grahamstown - (Afrikaans: Grahamstad) is a city in the Eastern Cape Province of the Republic of South Africa and is the seat of the Makana municipality. The population of greater Grahamstown, as of 2003, was 124,758. The population of the surrounding areas, including the actual city was 41,799 of which 77.4% were black, 11.8% Coloured, 10% white, and 0.7% Asian. Since 1994, there has been a considerable influx of Black people from the former CiskeiXhosa homeland, which lies just to the east. The city proper has an overwhelming white majority, while the neighboring townships (geographically separate, but tied together politically) have growing Black or Coloured majorities.

Located some 130 km from Port Elizabeth and 180 km from East London, Grahamstown is also the seat of Rhodes University, a diocese of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and home to the College of the Transfiguration—the only residential provincial college of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa—and a High Court. However it does not form part of the South African Cities Network.


Grahamstown was founded in 1812 as a military outpost by Lieutenant-Colonel John Graham as part of the effort to secure the eastern frontier of British influence in the then Cape Colony against the Xhosa, whose lands lay just to the east.

Egazini, Battle of Grahamstown

On 22 April 1819 a large number of Xhosa warriors, under the leadership of Nxele (or Makana), launched an attack against the British colonial forces. The Xhosas warned Colonel Willshire, the commanding officer, beforehand of their planned attack on Grahamstown, brought about by the continued harassment of Xhosas within their own territory by the British authorities. The Xhosas came close to taking the town, but were repulsed by the heavy artillery and gunfire of the British, suffering heavy losses. Nxele surrendered, was taken captive and imprisoned on Robben Island. On Christmas Day, 1819 he tried to escape, and drowned.


Grahamstown grew during the 1820s as many 1820 Settlers and their families left farming to establish themselves in more secure trades. In 1833 Grahamstown was described as having "two or three English merchants of considerable wealth, but scarcely any society in the ordinary sense of the word. The Public Library is a wretched affair." In a few decades it became the Cape Colony's largest city after Cape Town. It became a bishopric in 1852. It was traditionally the capital and cultural centre of the Albany area, a former traditionally English-speaking district with a distinctive local culture.

In 1904 Rhodes University College was established in Grahamstown through a grant from the Rhodes Trust. In 1951 it became a fully-fledged University, Rhodes University. Today it provides world-class tertiary education in a wide range of disciplines to over 6,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students.

With the establishment of the Union of South Africa the Grahamstown High Court became a Local Division of the newly formed Supreme Court of South Africa (under Cape Town). On 28th June, 1957, the Eastern Districts Court, under the name Eastern Cape Division, became a provincial division. In certain other areas of provincial government Grahamstown similarly served as a centre for the Eastern Cape.

In 1994 Grahamstown became part of the newly established Eastern Cape Province, while Bhisho was chosen as the provincial capital.

During the FIFA World Cup in 2010, Grahamstown was an accommodation point for all matches played in Port Elizabeth.

Name changes

The provincial government has recently announced that it plans to rename Grahamstown along with several other towns and monuments, with more "Black African"-sounding names. One possible official name for Grahamstown would be Rhini, which is the current Xhosa name for the city. This, however, has been met with opposition by the Grahamstown community and is widely seen as an expensive distraction aimed at drawing attention away from the ANC municipalities' inability to improve on basic service delivery.

Religion - 'The City of Saints'

St Michael and St George Cathedral is the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Grahamstown. Grahamstown also has Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Ethiopian Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Pinkster Protestante, Dutch Reformed (NederduitsGereformeerdeKerk), Charismatic, Apostolic and Pentecostal churches. There are also meeting places for Hindus, Scientologists, Quakers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Muslims.

For historic reasons, particularly the vibrancy of evangelism during Grahamstown's heyday, the City is home to more than forty religious buildings, and the nickname the "City of Saints" has become attached to Grahamstown. However, there is another story which may be the source of this nickname.

It is said that, in about 1846, there were Royal Engineers stationed in Grahamstown who were in need of building tools. They sent a message to Cape Town requesting a vice to be forwarded to them from the Ordnance Stores. A reply came back, 'Buy vice locally'. The response was, 'No vice in Grahamstown'.

Education, Arts and Culture

Grahamstown is home to many schools as well as Rhodes University. It is also home to several institutes, most importantly the South African National Library for the Blind, the National English Literary Museum, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (formerly the JLB Smith Institute), the International Library of African Music (ILAM), and the Institute for the Study of English in Africa.

The effects of Apartheid still affect the provision of secondary education in this former frontier town, where significant discrepancies in matric pass rates and general quality of education exist. Addressing this problem is one of the city's greatest challenges.

The Observatory Museum

In 1859, Henry Carter Galpin bought a simple double-storey establishment in Bathurst Street for £300. During the next 23 years he made extensive changes. The front was elegantly decorated, and a basement and three floors added to the back. Rooftop developments included an observatory, from which the building took its name, and what was for many years the only Camera Obscura in the Southern Hemisphere.

Born in 1820 in Dorset, England, Galpin trained as an architect, surveyor and civil engineer, as well as a chronometer, clock and watchmaker. These skills, together with his keen interest in optics and astronomy, are reflected throughout The Observatory- the most unusual Victorian home and business premises in South Africa.

Galpin's thriving watchmaker and jeweller's shop was run by three of his seven sons after his death in 1886, including Ernest Edward Galpin. They sold to Messrs Leader and Krummeck in 1939. Several businesses occupied the ground floor while the basement and upper floors were divided into flats and lodgings.

By the end of the 1970s the structure was dilapidated and unsound. The historic link with the identification of the Eureka diamond led to the purchase and restoration of the Observatory by De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited.

The building was subsequently proclaimed a National Monument and presented to the Albany Museum to form part of its History Division. Exhibits were arranged, and The Observatory Museum was opened by Mr. Harry F. Oppenheimer, the then Chairman of De Beers, on February 2, 1983.


Two large festivals take place annually in Grahamstown: the National Arts Festival in June/July and SciFest Africa in the first term of the year - sometimes April but it will be in March in 2009 and will attract some 50,000 people. The National Arts Festival is the largest Arts festival in Africa and sees some of the leading talent on the South African and international art scene arriving in Grahamstown for a celebration of culture and artistic expression.


Grahamstown is the only city in South Africa whose primary commerce sector is that of education. Whilst this statistic is surely abetted by the high cost of the private schools and the relatively small population, it has a remarkable number of schools per capita. Of these, some of the more privileged schools are listed below:

Private Schools
•  St Andrew's College: Founded in 1855, Anglican - English 8 - 12    Single sex male school(integrated classes with D.S.G. from Gr.10 onwards)    
•  Diocesan School for Girls (D.S.G): Founded in 1874, Anglican - English    4 - 12    Single sex female school
•  St Aidan's College: Founded in 1876 (closed 1973), Jesuit - English ? - 12    Single sex male school
•  St Andrew's Preparatory School: Founded in 1885, Anglican - English    0 - 7    Single sex male school (Co-ed. until Gr.4)
•  Kingswood College: Founded in 1894, Methodist - English    0 - 12    Co-educational school

Public Schools
•  Graeme College (known variously before 1939 as Victoria Boys' High School and the Grahamstown Public School): Founded in 1873, Non-denominational     English    1 - 12    Single sex male    school
•  Victoria Girls' High School: Founded in    1897, Non-denominational    English    8 - 12    Single sex female school.
•  Victoria Girls' Primary: Founded in 1945, Non-denominational English    1 - 7    Single sex female school.
•  Oatlands Preparatory: Founded in 1949, Non-denominational English    0 - 3    Co-educational school.
•  P.J. Olivier: Founded in 1956, Non-denominational Afrikaans 0 - 12    Co-educational school


Grahamstown is home to the oldest surviving independent newspaper in South Africa. Named the Grocott's Mail, it was founded in 1870 by the Grocott family, and bought out a pre-existing newspaper called the Grahamstown Journal, dating from 1831. It is presently a local newspaper operated by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, and still retains its name. Grocott's Mail's main competitor is an independent free weekly community magazine called Makana Moon, which is owned by Grahamstown journalist Mike Loewe. As a major centre for journalism training, Grahamstown also hosts two student newspapers, Activate, established in 1947, and The Oppidan Press, a student initiative launched in 2007 that caters mainly to the student population living off-campus.


Grahamstown forms part of the Makana Local Municipality in the Cacadu District. Grahamstown is a seat of the Eastern Cape High Court, as well as the Magistrate's Court for the Albany District. As a result of the presence of a High Court, several other related organs of state such as a Masters Office and a Director of Public Prosecutions are present in the city. A few other Government (mostly provincial) departments maintain branches or other offices in Grahamstown.

Social Movements

The South African Unemployed Peoples' Movement has a strong presence in Grahamstown.

Famous people:

•  H. K. Ayliff - British theatre director
•  John 'Jack' BiddulphDold - Union rugby player and international cricketer
•  Kinglsey Ogilvie Fairbridge - Founder Fairbridge Schools
•  Nigel Harris - British actor
•  Ernest Edward Galpin - Botanist and banker
•  James Henry Greathead - Engineer renowned for his work on the London Underground railway
•  Robert Jeremy Mansfield - Radio host, television presenter and comedian
•  Patrick Moran - Catholic Bishop
•  Norman Ogilvie Norton - Cricketer (Allrounder)
•  Alfred Renfrew Richards - Cricketer and rugby union player
•  George Rowe (cricketer)
•  Elize du Toit - British actress
•  Sebastian Ingrosso - DJ and producer


•  Grahamstown was the only settlement outside Cape Town to host a sitting of the Cape Colony legislature (a move to defuse a call for the creation of a separate colony).
•  Grahamstown was the location of the testing of the first diamond find by Henry Galpin.
•  Grahamstown has the "tallest toilet in the world" (housed in an abandoned chimney).
•  Grahamstown has 52 churches of numerous denominations, gaining it the name the City of Saints

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