FIRST FIFTY YEARS
Founded in 1855 by Bishop John Armstrong, St Andrew’s College was designed with a threefold purpose: “to provide a sound Christian education for the youth of the Eastern Province; to furnish means of training men for holy orders; and to form a centre from which missionary operations may be more effectively carried on.” The early pupils were the sons of colonial soldiers, clergy, civil servants, professionals, businessmen and farmers. Many were descended from the early English settlers. Their names echo down the roll and they continue to give College their distinctive qualities of humour, resilience and unpretentious grit.
Founded in a frontier town, the school initially experienced a precarious existence, with the vagaries of war, drought and economic depression taking their toll. It was not unusual for an early Andrean to leave school to serve in the frontier forces or to run a family farm before returning to complete an interrupted education. Headmasters came and went and numbers dropped perilously low – so low that in 1881 the school was in imminent danger of closing.
Canon John Espin began his term as headmaster in 1882 with a roll of just 17, but this number would reach a healthy 290 before he retired two decades later. The Diocesan School for Girls and St Andrew’s Preparatory School would also be well established by then. At Espin’s side was the remarkable Arthur Matthews, who was in charge of the “university’ classes at College, until he and three St Andrew’s colleagues became founding professors of Rhodes University in 1904.
War and conflict on a national and international scale deeply affected St Andrew’s at different time in its history. During the South African War (1899-1902) Andreans fought for both British and Boer. The College cadets were called out to stop the advancing commandos of Smuts and Kritzinger, and though they saw no action they earned their pay, and voted unanimously to put it towards the building of the well-known Drill Hall. On the declaration of peace Lord Milner arranged, as an act of reconciliation, for a number of the sons of high-ranking Boer leaders to finish their education at College.
The Rhodes Scholarships were instituted in 1903, giving St Andrew’s the privilege, along with three other South African schools, of sending a student to Oxford each year. Uniquely, the selfless generosity of the cricket professional Douglas Smith, who spent 40 years on the College staff, would later bequeath the similar Douglas Smith Scholarship to Cambridge.
SECOND FIFTY YEARS
In the second fifty years of the school’s history, two inspiring figures dominate the scene. It was Canon Percy Kettlewell (1909-1933) who saw, with deep foreboding, a whole generation of Andreans off to the Great War; and it was he who ensured their fitting commemoration in the iconic buildings of the school – the chapel in 1913 and the clock tower in 1923. During his tenure St Andrew’s was consolidated and grew considerably in fabric, numbers and reputation to a position of pre-eminence among church schools.
Ronald Currey was the first Old Andrean and the first layman to become headmaster. A pupil of Canon Kettlewell, he had been a star of the classroom and the athletics track, the Rhodes scholar of 1912, a decorated soldier and a former teacher at the school before his appointment in1939. The integrity with which he guided the school remains the lodestar of College’s ethos today. He brought College through the difficult years of the Second World War and the grief of the loss of further old boys in battle. Under his curatorship the school grew from 250 to 430 boys and the buildings grew in abundance. Currey served until the end of the centenary year in 1955, and wrote the first history of St Andrew’s College.
THIRD FIFTY YEARS
College’s 11th headmaster, Freddy Spencer Chapman, introduced a range of societies and placed great emphasis on outward-bound activities. The annual long walk and the multitude of weekend activities are vibrant reninders of his contribution to the school curriculum. He would be enormously proud of the newest tradition at College, the Fish River Journey, inaugurated in 2004. For almost three weeks the Grade 10s of College and DSG walk, cycle and canoe the 600 kilometres from source to sea, exploring not only the landscape and environment but also the historical crucible of this region, and the country’s cultural history. This is a new frontier that challenges each individual physically, spiritually and emotionally, and reconnects him with a past in which his school has played a fascinating role.
Great developments in the academic, cultural and sporting curricula took place over the third fifty-year period, under the leadership of seven headmasters, four of whom were Andreans. The sixties saw College enjoying unprecedented prosperity and success. Under the headmastership of Canon John Aubrey the school reached its highest enrolment ever, at 507. A highly significant change was the introduction in 1974 of academic collaboration with DSG from Grade 10 upwards. In 1977 the Cawse Library and Norton Block were built and named after the twelfth and fourteenth headmasters respectively.
A blossoming of cultural and extra-mural activity under Arthur Cotton in the 1980s saw the building, with the DSG, of a joint music school, the introduction of information technology via a sophisticated network combining the two schools, and the building of the magnificent Arthur Cotton Design and Technology Centre. The course that College took through the apartheid century was, like that of other South African institutions, shaped by racial division and discrimination. The educational vision of its founder was not a non-racial one, but nor was it racially exclusive. His mission to “the youth of the Eastern Province” included Christians of both settler and indigenous origins. Headmasters like Currey and Spencer Chapman took brave stands on racial inclusiveness in the face of opposition, and the voice of the Anglican Church led the private schools at crucial times. In 1979, in the wake of educational upheaval in the country and a full decade before the lifting of racial restrictions on enrolment, College began to admit black boys. As a full boarding school it was able to attract boys from across southern Africa and beyond, many of whom have enhanced the reputation of the school and spread its influence beyond the confines of town, region and country.
Antony Clark’s priority in the 1990s was to ensure academic standards at a time of national reconstruction and educational uncertainty. A College headboy and Douglas Smith scholar of the mid-1970s, he appointed an energetic and youthful team of housemasters who have led the school with enthusiasm and drive into the 21st century. David Wylde OA, 17th headmaster of College, brought international perspective and a wealth of experience to the task. Under his leadership, College embraced new frontiers.
To the outsider, College remains extraordinary in the loyalty that it engenders in most of its old boys. This commitment is not easy to define. Perhaps it resides in the particular sense of belonging to an intimate, unpretentious, and deeply historic school.