The city of Grahamstown has been given many picturesque names: the 'City of Saints', because there are more than 40 places of worship here, 'Sleepy Hollow', because it lies in a warm hollow in the hills, 'City of schools', because of the large concentration of schools and the Rhodes University and 'Settler City', because its history is so much part of the settler story.
Grahamstown became a city with the establishment in 1853 of an Anglican bishop and the Cathedral of St Michael and St George. This Cathedral, with a handsome spire 45,75 m high, dominates the centre of Grahamstown. The town square in which it stands contains many shops whose facades have not changed since Victorian days. Of Grahamstown's other surviving churches, the Baptist Chapel, the first in South Africa, was built in 1823; the Wesleyans built their chapel in 1832; the convent, also the first in South Africa, was founded in 1849; and St Patrick's Catholic Church was built in 1836.
The Albany Museum has a collection of items of settler history, natural history and African tribes. Here are many paintings of scenes of frontier life and wars and the people of the period.
In the Institute of Ichthyology is a specimen of a coelacanth, the prehistoric fish thought to have become extinct 70 million years ago until a live specimen was found in 1938. Grahamstown's coelacanth was the second to be found. It was caught in 1952 off the Comores Islands.
The Central Library for the Blind in Grahamstown supplies braille books, discs, tapes and cassettes to blind members all over South Africa.
The 1820 Settlers' Memorial Museum is a cultural history museum.
The Grahamstown Botanical Garden was founded in the 1850s. Covering 60 hectares it is maintained by the Cape provincial administration as a wild flower reserve as well as a general botanical garden. It has an old English garden of the type found in Britain at the time of the departure of the settlers. The gardens have a romantic ghost. The wife of the dashing colonel, Harry Smith, later knighted and made governor of the Cape, was a renowned Spanish beauty, the Lady Juana. She is said to still wander through this lovely garden, leaving behind her in the warm night air, a trace of a Spanish perfume.
On Gunfire Hill, overlooking the city, stands the imposing 1820 Settlers' National Monument and Fort Selwyn.
The Thomas Baines Nature Reserve covers 1000 hectares and provides a protected home for wild animals indigenous to the area, including white rhinoceros, buffalo, zebra, eland, gnu and various other antelope and smaller creatures. This reserve is at Howison's Poort, 13 km along the trunk road to Port Elizabeth.
The Mountain Drive should not be missed. There is also a kudu reserve, a sanctuary for the magnificently horned kudu - one of the largest of the antelopes of Africa. Among smaller animals in the area are porcupines, antbears, various wild cats, large monitor lizards and numerous birds, including hoopoes and hahdidahs.
Grahamstown was created out of anguish. In 1806, when the British occupied the Cape for the second time, they were immediately confronted by disturbances on the eastern frontier. Cattle rustling, murders, kidnappings, raids and counter-raids hampered the country's developement, there were even threats of a major invasion by the great martial tribe of the Xhosas.
The British tried to persuade the warrior groups to respect the Great Fish River as their southern boundry. The principle British negotiater was murdered, and the raids increased. Full-scale war broke out in 1811 and the goverment had to drive more than 20 000 warriors back across the Great Fish River.
To stop further invasion, the governor, Sir John Cradock, decided to create a line of forts along the Great Fish River Valley, with two central strong-points as military headquarters. Colonel John Graham was given the task of selecting the sites for these military points. In a setting of hills where the Kowie ('rushing') River has its headwaters, Graham found a deserted farmhouse. It had been looted and partly destroyed. The farmhouse was patched up and became the officers' mess for the garrison. Tents and primitive houses were erected and the place was named Grahamstown, after the colonel.Every effort was made to establish the outpost before further serious trouble developed.
Grahamstown's first great trial came on 22 April 1819 when about 9000 Xhosa warriors, led by a renowned witchdoctor named Makana, came down like a thunderstorm on the little town. The garrison's 350 soldiers held fast. The Xhosas withdrew, leaving about 1000 corpses behind and the name, Makana's Kop on the hill where they mustered for attack.
Grahamstown again was re-inforced. In the following year the 1820 Settlers were hastily lured to the frontier area to provide a settled population and manpower for defence and Grahamstown became their centre. Within 5 years it grew into a town as well as a military stronghold and a colourful scene it must have been, its trading stores and streets bustling with red-coated soldiers, hunters, settlers looking very sunburned and a wild-looking crowd of tribespeople visiting Grahamstown to trade, suspiciously eyeing its people and fortifications.
One of the trading stores of the period, Piet Retief's Trading Store, open in 1819 has been restored. The builder-owner was destined to become one of the great leaders of the Voortrekkers.
The town market place was a busy trading centre. Ivory and skins, ostrich feathers, aromatic gums and cattle were all bartered for beads, blankets, copper and European produce. It was the one place where warriors and soldiers encountered each other without reaching for weapons. As many as 2000 wagons lumbered into the town on market days. Many of the settlers, disillusioned by their land allocations in poor farming situations, moved to the town and resumed their original trades as millers, wheelwrights, wagon-makers, gunsmiths and mechanics.
Grahamstown at this time was the second largest town in Southern Africa. Wandering through its streets today reveals to the visitor many buildings surviving from the city's earliest days. Among these are the old goal, the drostdy (residence of the magistrate) built by Piet Retief, the gateway of the drostdy - now the entrance to Rhodes University, the Provost House built by the Royal Engineers, and several little cottages, houses and shops.
The first school was opened in 1814. The children of the garrison and their master sat in the shade of the wall of the barracks. Today Grahamstown's schools are among the biggest and best of South Africa. School and university life in the town so dominates modern Grahamstown that during the vacation periods the streets are often empty and the stillness of the air is disturbed only, it is said, by the subdued weeping of commercial travellers.
The growth of Grahamstown suffered a severe setback in 1834 when the Xhosas launched a new invasion of the frontier area. 7000 refugees fled into the town. The streets were barricaded and every window bristled with guns on the slightest sound or rumour of attack. On hearing of the invasion Colonel (later Sir) Harry Smith, the British military commander, rode on horseback from Cape Town to Grahamstown across more than 900 km of rugged country, mountains, bush and rivers, all in 6 days of real hell- for-leather riding.
On reaching Grahamstown the colonel took command. St George's Church became the central shelter for women and children and a depot for the distribution of arms. The men were rallied, patrols and attacks launched and by September of 1835 the Xhosa chief Hintza was dead, other leaders were captured and the frontier fires stamped down for a few more years. It was during these disturbances that Fort Selwyn was built and the Provost House became a military prison.
In contrast to this resolution and bustle, the war was followed by political confusion with the British government 7000 km away so befuddled by conflicting advice that the frontier people felt themselves betrayed. Dutch settlers abandoned the area. This was the start of the Great Trek into the interior of Southern Africa.
The English, though demoralized, remained. They had been persuaded to emigrate to this wild part of the world by being offered fine farms and the lasting support of their government. Now they were being accused of land-grabbing, oppresion and even taking arms against unprovoked attack.
Nevertheless, Grahamstown remained as the principal garrison of the frontier. It was in 1842 that Dick King made his famous 1000 km ride to Grahamstown from Port Natal in 10 days on one horse. He forded some 122 rivers to bring news of the siege of the British garrison at Durban.
The year 1842 saw another vicious clash with the Xhosas. Grahamstown was jammed with refugees while the warriors looted the countryside. Once again the fires were stamped out, but once again in 1859 war broke out, the largest and most brutal of all the frontier disturbances. At its end the British government was forced to annex the area as far north as the Kei River.
The Settler Country was no longer the battle-torn frontier of the Cape and peace came to the farmlands, Grahamstown and its chain of out-posts and forts. More schools were built, the botanical garden laid out, the Albany Museum founded, the Eastern Districts' Supreme Court established and in 1864 a full parliamentary session was held in Grahamstown instead of Cape Town. There was talk of making Grahamstown the capital of the Cape Colony because of its central position.
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