Armoria academica

LAWSON BROWN HIGH SCHOOL, Millard Grange, Port Elizabeth.

Afrikaanse blasoen

Lawson Brown High School

The arms have been in use for a few decades. An application was made in May 2002 to register them with the Bureau of Heraldry. They may be blazoned:

Gules, tierced per pall inverted between the arms of a pall inverted sable, fimbriated or: 1. The Donkin Reserve pyramid or; 2. A cross patriarchal or; 3. An open book or, inscribed with the motto Per ardua ad astra; the whole within a border or.

About the arms:
The central charge is an inverted pall or pairle (in black and fimbriated [outlined] in gold or yellow), which serves to divide the field (which is red) into three areas:


1. In the upper dexter (the right-hand side as seen from behind the shield) section, the charge (coloured gold or yellow) is the pyramid seen on the Donkin Reserve, a large open space in the heart of Port Elizabeth.

The pyramid was erected in 1820-21 by members of the Royal Corps of Engineers on orders from the Acting Governor of the Cape, Sir Rufane Donkin, in memory of his wife, née Elizabeth Markham, who had died of a tropical fever in Meerut (now Merath) in India, close to the capital, Delhi.

The style of the pyramid is unlike the pyramids of Egypt, in that it has a much sharper angle, but instead follows a trend that was to be seen across Europe in the same period, of erecting memorial pyramids in this fashion.

The pyramid appears in the school arms as a reminder that the village of Port Elizabeth (as it then was) was founded by Sir Rufane and named for his late wife – a romantic touch.

Another representation of this same pyramid can be found in the arms of Livingstone Hospital and Pearson High School, both in silver.


2. In the upper sinister (the left-hand side as seen from behind the shield) section, the charge is a patriarchal cross in gold or yellow.

The cross recalls that when Bartolomeu Dias undertook his journey around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, he travelled as far east as Kwaaihoek (a promontory lying just east of the eastern edge of Algoa Bay), where he planted a padrão – a stone cross bearing a tablet charged with the arms of the King of Portugal (King João II). Turning westwards – having been threatened by his men with mutiny if he continued towards the east – he called at Algoa Bay, where he watered in the lagoon of the Kabega River (today called the Baakens River, thanks to the beacon erected there in 1777 by Governor Joachim von Plettenberg) and also planted a wooden cross on an island in the bay which he named Ilha de Santa Cruz (Holy Cross Island).

The island appeared on French charts as St Croix, and has become known by this name (pronounced as “Saint Croy”) in Port Elizabeth. During the Dias 500th anniversary celebrations in 1988 it was officially renamed Santa Cruz, but this name has not proved popular among Port Elizabethans.

The island can be seen clearly from the high ground on which the school stands in Millard Grange, and even more clearly from the grassed-over reservoir which lies just above it.

It is not known what Dias’s wooden cross looked like – the original cross had disappeared by the time Algoa Bay was settled by people who had boats – but the school has included a cross in its arms since the school badge was first devised (it is unclear when this took place) which most closely resembles a patriarchal cross.

The patriarchal cross, for many centuries an established variation on the standard upright or Latin cross, has a second, shorter crossmember above the main one. Perhaps the most familiar forms of the patriarchal cross are the cross of Lorraine (a simplified version of which was used as the symbol of the Free French during the Second World War) and the red patriarchal cross (with pointed ends) used as a symbol for the struggle against tuberculosis.


3. In the base of the shield is an open book in gold/yellow, inscribed with the motto Per ardua ad astra, which translates as: “Through hardship to the stars.” A more detailed translation provided in the school prospectus reads: “Through effort/hard work/commitment towards the stars.”

The motto’s wording is reflected in the school’s highest accolade, awarded to a pupil for all-round excellence, which is called the Astra Award.

The motto is also that of the South African Air Force. Heraldry does not pay too much attention to mottos, and the duplication of a given motto from one institution or individual to another is of little importance.

A book (open or closed) often appears in the arms of academic institutions as a symbol of learning, and an open book is frequently inscribed with a motto. Rhodes University also has a book so inscribed.


The whole is enclosed in a border or bordure of gold or yellow, which rounds out the design.

About the school:
Lawson Brown is an English-medium co-educational high school (Grades 8 to 12 or, according to the old Cape system, Std 6 to 10) and, while offering a general academic curriculum, is especially focused on art as a subject.

The school as it exists today results from the splitting of the dual-medium Lawson Brown High School which stood in Sidwell, and which was founded in 1938.

The Sidwell school’s foundation stone was laid by city councillor W Lawson Brown, a prominent lawyer and chairman of the Port Elizabeth School Board, after whom this school was named.

At the foundation stone-laying ceremony, Port Elizabeth Mayor W C Adcock said: “The salvation of this country lies in education, for it is in that way that the higher ideals are brought out and the smaller and objectionable matters left out of our lives. It behoves us all to do everything we can for the children of South Africa, and bring about the happiest relations between everyone.”

(The suburb of Adcockvale was named for the mayor, and briefly gave its name to an Afrikaans-medium high school, now the Hoërskool Andrew Rabie.)

In 1953 the Sidwell school was divided, the English-speaking component moving to the Mount Road area (now called Millard Grange) and initially being named Mount Road High School. The Afrikaans-speaking part of the school remained on the original site and became known as Hoërskool Cillié.

At Mount Road High – or Lawson Brown High, as it soon was named – principal J A Campbell began teaching 109 Std 7 pupils in a cluster of pre-fabricated classrooms. The new building was completed in 1955, by which time the enrolment had grown to 320.

Afrikaans blazon:
Die wapen mag so geblasoeneer word:

In rooi, gaffelsgewys omgekeerd tussen die arms van ’n omgekeerde swart gaffel, goud omlyn, in drieë gedeel: 1. Die piramide van die Donkin-Reserwe in goud; 2. ’n Patriargale kruis van goud; 3. ’n Oop boek van goud, waarop die leuse Per ardua ad astra geskryf staan; die geheel binne ’n skildsoom van goud.

Die leuse vertaal as: “Deur swaarkry na die sterre.”


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  • Sources: Information provided by the school, as well as other historical sources and personal knowledge.

  • Illustration supplied by the school. Colours adjusted using MS Picture It!

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    Remarks, inquiries: Mike Oettle