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Grahamstown

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A BRIEF HISTORY

Grahamstown was established by Colonel Graham in 1812, at the behest of the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir John Cradock.Guided by Ensign Stockenstrom, later the Landrost of Graff-Reinet, Graham and other members of his regiment surveyed the frontier for positions for a series of forts along the Fish River, the newly proclaimed border with Xhosa territories. A monument near the Cathedral marks the spot where Graham and Stockenstrom rested under a mimosa tree and decided on the location for the military headquarters. The site was the abandoned farm ‘Rietfontein,’ originally belonging to Lucas Meyer. The looted, burnt-out farm house, where the Cathedral now stands, was restored and turned into the regimental officers’ mess. A small village slowly emerged around the military camp. In 1814 the Governor proclaimed the region a separate magisterial district named Albany.
  In 1819 the village and garrison were almost destroyed by the armies of the Xhosa prophet and chief, Makana (also called Lynx or Nxele). Superior firepower and disciplined resistance by British and Khoi troops under Colonel Willshire held off the attack. But it was the chance arrival of a hundred and thirty Khoi buffalo hunters led by their chieftain, a Christian convert called Jan Boesak, that saved the settlement from destruction. Hundreds of Xhosa warriors died in the Battle of Grahamstown, which changed the course of South African history. To this day the Xhosa name for the hillside near Fort England Hospital is eGazini, ‘the place of blood.’
  The five thousand or so British settlers who landed in Algoa Bay the following year became aware of these events only after their arrival. Within a year or two, after struggling on their allotments to make a living growing the wheat which the colonial officials expected of them, many gave up farming and moved into Grahamstown to take up their former trades as artisans and crafters. This accounts for the British influence in much of the city’s architecture, in particular the Settler cottages around Artificers’ Square. Grahamstown is said to be one of the best preserved Victorian towns outside of England.
  By the 1830s Grahamstown had grown to be the largest centre in the Cape Colony outside of Cape Town. It kept this position until the end of the century. In 1836 it became the administrative capital of the Eastern Cape Colony. By the 1860s, however, the pace of development had slowed with the rush to the interior following the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley and then gold on the Witwatersrand. The military moved on to Natal and the Transvaal, and the rail link between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg bypassed the city.
  With the establishment of several schools in the late 1800s and Rhodes University in the early 1900s, Grahamstown became an important educational centre for the country as a whole. It has also remained an important religious centre with many churches, and a commercial centre for the local farming community. Although religion and commerce still play an important role in the life of the city, Grahamstown is essentially an education centre. Rhodes University with its associated research institutes, is the main educational institution. Excluding farm schools there are over a hundred schools and other educational centres listed in this Handbook.
  Grahamstown is also an important legal centre, with a Magistrate’s Court, the Supreme Court, and Rhodes University Law School. The city has been the seat of the Eastern Cape Division of the Supreme Court since 1864, when the Eastern District Court was founded. This accounts for the city’s large legal fraternity.
  Grahamstown is also the seat of the Council of the Municipality of Makana, established in December 2000, which incorporates Grahamstown, and surrounding towns such as Alicedale, Carlisle Bridge, Fort Brown, Riebeek East, Salem, Seven Fountains and Sidbury. The forty thousand voters in the area are represented by an executive mayor who works closely with a twenty four member council under a municipal manager.


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