Armoria academica


giraffe supporter/badge / motto / Public School / Model C / Afrikaanse blasoen

Victoria Girls’ High/Primary

The schools’ coat of arms may be blazoned:

Arms: Quarterly between the arms of a fillet cross vert: I and IV: Argent, three piles vert; upon a chief vert three escallops argent; II and III: Argent, three annulets vert, 2 and 1.

Crest: Upon a wreath argent and vert, an ostrich running, vert and argent.

Supporters: Dexter a leopard rampant, sinister a giraffe statant, both argent, spotted vert.

Motto: Virtute et Opera.

About the arms:
These are the original arms of the Grahamstown Municipality (adopted in 1862), differenced by altering the colours to argent (silver or white) and vert (green).

The colours were adopted in 1928 when the girls’ school became a high school; previously the school had used the same (quarterly) arms as its brother school, now known as Graeme College.

The first and fourth quarters show the arms of Graham of Fintry. However, while the council’s 1862 arms have the chief couped (falling short of the top and sides of the shield), in the schools’ arms the chief fills the top of the frame.

The second and third quarters are the arms of Van Riebeeck (altered by the municipal council from gold on red to gold on blue).

The shield of the arms on its own (plus the motto on a scroll) forms the badge worn by most members of the school.

The full achievement is worn by prefects in the high school, while the school also makes use of the giraffe supporter on its own as an honours badge; it is normally in green and white, but as a mark of special honour it is occasionally awarded as a blazer badge worked in gold wire.

This usage parallels the use of the leopard supporter (in navy and orange) as an honours badge and as the badge worn on sporting uniforms by Graeme College.

A free translation of the motto used at the girls’ school reads: “We are known by our strength of character and by our good works.”

As of May 2000 the arms had not been registered with the Bureau of Heraldry, but the school was looking into the possibility.

About the schools:
Both Victoria Girls’ High (popularly known as VG) and Victoria Primary are now exclusively girls’ schools, but both schools have a long history of collaboration with their brother school, known since 1939 as Graeme College, and only in the 1990s did boys altogether cease attending the (girls’) primary school.

The girls’ schools also had a long association with the Grahamstown Training College.

The two schools trace their history to a single-teacher school – one of many 19th-century dame schools that sprang up in Grahamstown and similar towns, most of which flourished for a while before closing. This one, founded by Miss Bertha Mingay has, however, continued to thrive.

Miss Mingay opened her eight-pupil school in 1892 in a cottage in Cross Street, and named the Acorn School. By the start of ’93 there were 20 pupils, so she hired the Oddfellows Hall in Hill Street, and called her institution the Hopewell School. The hall still stands, and is used as a church hall by the Grahamstown congregation of the Verenigende Gereformeerde Kerk (previously the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk).

The growth in pupil numbers led to Miss Mingay’s appointing her sister as a junior assistant early in ’93, and by ’94 there were 91 girls. One of the senior girls was now appointed, as was common practice at the time, to be a “pupil-teacher” – continuing as a pupil, but also teaching and being trained as a teacher.

A modern echo of this practice is the annual spell during which Rhodes University Education Faculty students spend some weeks at the school “prac” teaching. Rhodes students also help (as residents) with supervision in the school hostels.

In 1895 six pupils wrote their first public examinations. The history examiner reported that he “had never gone over a better set of papers”, and the principal of the Grahamstown Boys’ Public Undenominational School stated that Hopewell “had actually become a school and was not like most private adventure schools, a mere collection of children”.

The following year the board of the boys’ school invited Miss Mingay to place her staff and her school of 95 girls under the Cape Colony’s Education Department. A single school committee would control both the boys’ and girls’ schools. Miss Mingay was called “headmistress” – but she was clearly considered junior to the boys’ school head, who had the title of “principal”.

The boys’ school was housed in the old Drostdy (now part of the Rhodes University campus). Until this time the little boys (Sub A, Sub B, Std 1 and Std 2) had had their classes there, too. But now they joined the girls at Hopewell, under the tutelage of a new arrival from Edinburgh, Miss Margaret Glennie.

Space was now at a premium at Oddfellows Hall, with 140 pupils, and the decision was taken to build on a site alongside the Kowie Ditch, a stream running between (and parallel with) Beaufort and Huntly streets. The foundation stone of the new school building was laid on 23 June 1897.

The ceremony was also the occasion on which the boys’ and girls’ schools were named after Queen Victoria, in honour of her diamond jubilee.

However, the girls had to wait to occupy their new school: the Drostdy buildings were required to house troops, and the boys’ school occupied the new girls’ school building until the new boys’ school buildings in Beaufort Street were completed in 1898.

In 1899 the 200 pupils of the girls’ school finally occupied their new building. But at the end of the year Miss Mingay left to get married.1

Miss Glennie was appointed headmistress over a school which, by April 1901, numbered 292 pupils. On 22 January 1902 the Governor of the Cape laid the foundation stone of what was to be the girls’ high school in Beaufort Street, a few paces east of the boys’ school.

The 1897 girls’ school building now became the kindergarten department. Today the building is known as Vicky’s, and is a centre where girls and parents can meet.

The girls’ school was by no means a secondary school at this stage. Girls who wanted to continue beyond Std 7 went across to the boys’ school and attended classes there. This continued until 1930.

The Grahamstown Training College was founded by Mother Cecile (Cecile Isherwood) of the Community of the Resurrection of Our Lord. Its buildings still stand at the corner of Beaufort and Somerset streets, but are now part of the Rhodes campus. Initially known as St Peter’s Training School, the college had seven pupil-teachers in 1894. The nuns of the community also ran a day school for girls. This meant that the nuns – only a couple of hundred metres from VG – were duplicating the school’s work.

At the beginning of 1904 this situation was rationalised, with the girls’ school sending its pupil-teachers to St Peter’s, and the nuns sending their pupils to VG. The pupil-teachers nonetheless continued teaching at VG.

The school acquired its first hostel – a rented house – in 1912. The first hostel owned by the school came in 1913, in the form of a house formerly occupied by Dr Guybon Atherstone. After several name changes it became, in 1914, Victoria House. It was demolished in 1939 to make way for the school’s own hall.

The oldest of the current boarding houses is Eleanor Brown Hostel, the first built specifically as a girls’ hostel and opened in 1958.

In 1914 a new hall, Templeton Hall, was completed for the use of the boys’ and girls’ schools (although primarily as a gymnasium for the boys). It was used by VG until 1933, and in the 1980s became the girls’ school gymnasium.

In 1920 the girls’ school was officially named Victoria Girls’ Secondary School.

Also in 1920 the Cape Provincial Administration gave schools the choice of offering free education. A 67% majority of parents at the boys’ and girls’ schools voted against having a free school, and VG and its brother school became fee-paying institutions.

Until 1924 the two schools were effectively co-educational at both junior primary and high school levels. The parents were asked whether co-education should be introduced in all standards, but chose instead to retain separate boys’ and girls’ schools. So from 1925 the girls’ school offered teaching in Standards 7, 8 and 9, and was from this point onwards officially Victoria Girls’ High School. (At this time Std 6 was a primary school class; it was more than a decade later that Std 6 was elevated to high school status.)

From 1928 commercial classes, too, were offered from Std 7 at the girls’ school – even after the separation of the senior boys and girls, girls wanting to take commercial subjects had had to do these courses at the boys’ school.

The school colours were also changed: the girls had previously worn the old gold and navy of the boys’ school. The blazer colour remained navy blue, but beige and green were adopted instead of old gold. Beige was also used on the school badge, but this has since faded to white.

Also in 1928, Grahamstown’s Methodist school for girls, Wesleyan High School, closed and 36 girls went over to VG.

In September 1931 the status of VG High was officially raised to A-grade – considerable progress, since six years before it had not been a secondary school at all.

In 1930 School House – originally built in 1850 as a residence for Robert Godlonton – was vacated by the boys’ school, following the completion of Grant House.2 Renovations were carried out in 1930 and ’31 before the hostel, now called Beaufort House, could be occupied by VG.

A new block of classrooms was completed in 1932 for the use of the girls’ high school. In 1934 the house on the corner of Beaufort and Somerset streets, previously the home of a headmaster of the boys’ school, was rented as a hostel called Renfrew House. In ’37 it became the property of VG.

Growing numbers had led by 1939 to proposals to split the school, but no action could be taken until after the Second World War. The first move, in 1945, was to establish the junior primary section as a separate school, Victoria Preparatory School.

Next, because of concerns for the safety of small children from north of High Street crossing the town’s main thoroughfare, a new co-educational junior primary school, Oatlands Preparatory, was opened in African Street in May 1949.

Three months later the Std 2 boys at Victoria Preparatory were transferred to Graeme College.

And in January 1950 the girls’ school was split into Victoria Girls’ High and Victoria Primary (incorporating Victoria Preparatory), each with its own headmistress and school committee.

Boys (in Graeme College uniform) continued to be part of the junior primary school until 1973, when Graeme College opened its first junior primary department. Even after this, boys in Graeme uniform continued to attend special education classes at Victoria Primary until the early 1990s, when special classes were discontinued by the Cape Education Department.

In 1975 Miss Mary (Kitty) Richardson, fifth successor to Miss Glennie, retired as head of the high school. Her replacement was, for the first time in VG’s history, a man. Mr Trevor Long, BSc, an Old Graemian, was also the first principal of VG who had been principal of another school before taking over in Beaufort Street, and the first Grahamstonian-born principal. He was also the first non-arts graduate to head the school.

Mr Long presided over many changes in his 21-year tenure, but the most significant was at last the provision of adequate premises for the school. The accommodation problem was to have been solved first with the establishment of Oatlands Preparatory School in 1949, then the split between the girls’ high and the primary schools, then the establishment in 1956 of the Hoërskool P J Olivier (which removed the Afrikaans-speaking girls), and then in 1972 the move of Graeme to its new campus on the northern side of Grahamstown.

But for four years the old buildings stood empty while a debate raged over its future. The Graeme school committee had for years argued that a new school was needed because “the whole structure is unsuitable for educational purposes”.

But on the eve of their departure, the Graeme committee had put in a special request for the old buildings to be preserved – not surprisingly, this aroused the ire of the two Victoria principals.

For a second time the parents of the two schools were asked whether to opt for co-education, and again a majority preferred to keep the boys and girls apart.

Mr Long, VG school committee chairman Prof John Daniel and his successor Bryan Roe eventually succeeded in persuading the Education Department to fund the refurbishment of the old Graeme buildings, at a cost to the State of R5 million.

The old buildings were renovated, an adequate school hall was erected in the quadrangle, and two new classroom wings were added to the west of the old building – all in the same architectural style as the original structure. The hall was named the M G Richardson Hall, after “Kitty”, who had died a few months before.

The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 19 October 1984, and the premises were handed over on 21 April 1986. Three weeks later, on 12 May, the whole school followed Mr Long in a “great trek” into the renovated premises.

Following the closure of the Assumption Convent school on the corner of Hill and Beaufort streets, Victoria Primary acquired these premises in 1983. The junior school boarders now took over the convent buildings. Between the convent buildings and the junior primary block stood the old high school. Rhodes University’s Centre for Social Development had the idea of establishing a Gadra3 Matric School in the vacated high school buildings. Its purpose was to help pupils from Xhosa-speaking schools improve the standard of their school work.

The most radical change in the school’s composition resulted from the government’s creation of “Model B” and “Model C” categories for schools which wanted to set their own admission criteria. As at many other schools, the parents of VG voted to adopt Model C, which would open the school to pupils of all races – a dramatic overturning of the National Party’s “mother tongue” education system, which had not only made much more rigid the separation of races, but enforced the separation of English-speaking from Afrikaner pupils.

Many schools chose the more restrictive Model B, but before either choice could be implemented, the government classified all schools choosing the new models as “Model C”, which later led to invidious accusations that schools like VG had chosen a “racist” option.

An immediate result of the school’s decision was that girls of various races became part of the hostel population. Hacksley writes: “After a few days of initial apprehension, everyone realised that girls were girls, irrespective of their skin colour.”

The school also began attracting larger numbers of pupils from countries north of South Africa.

After 1994, Model C was abandoned, and all the school properties that had been handed over to governing bodies were repossessed by the State, but it had served its purpose. There was no return to racial schooling.

The school’s centenary was marked in 1997 with a whole programme of festivities. A history of the school, titled True Valour, was also published privately by the school. Its title was taken from the school hymn The Pilgrim’s Song, by John Bunyan (1628-88). The school sings three verses; the first verse reads:

Who would true valour see

Let him come hither;

One here will constant be,

Come wind, come weather.

There’s no discouragement

Will make him once relent

His first avowed intent

To be a pilgrim.

Mr Long’s retirement in 1997 was followed by the appointment of Angus Barnard as his successor. Like Mr Long he is an Old Graemian, and his daughter Judy was the first VG principal’s daughter to have spent her entire school career at Victoria Primary and VG High (1977-88). He had been deputy principal of VG before becoming principal.

The school has its own website here.

Afrikaanse blasoen:
Die wapen mag in Afrikaans so geblasoeneer word:

Wapen: Tussen die arms van ’n groen streepkruis gevierendeel: I en IV: In silwer, drie omgekeerde punte van groen; op ’n groen skildhoof, drie mantelskulpe van silwer; II en III: In silwer, drie ringe van groen, 2 en 1.

Helmteken: Op ’n wrong van silwer en groen, ’n lopende volstruis in groen en silwer.

Skildhouers: Regs ’n klimmende luiperd, links ’n staande kameelperd, altwee in silwer met groen stippels.

Leuse: Virtute et Opera.

Die leuse vertaal as: “Deugsaamheid en arbeid.”

[1] Hacksley notes that Bertha Mingay’s children and grandchildren were a noted family of educationists, including a professor of physics at the University of Cape Town. He does not, however, state the name of her husband.

[2] Now part of the Johan Carinus Art Centre.

[3] Gadra stands for Grahamstown Areas Distress Relief Association. VG had long been associated with Gadra, notably in starting its school feeding scheme in the 1950s.


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  • Sources: True Valour, the story of Victoria Girls’ High School, Grahamstown, 1897-1997, by Malcolm Hacksley (published by the school, 1998); and Angus Barnard’s 1992 Templeton Memorial Lecture, delivered at Graeme College.

  • Illustration from the cover of True Valour.

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    Remarks, inquiries: Mike Oettle