Our History


Graeme College houses

  • Our School

    Graeme College, founded in 1873, caters for just over 650 boys from Grade 00 to Grade 12, and also offers an Enrichment Year. Graeme College offers its students the rare opportunity of beginning and completing their entire school career in the same setting. Because of the single structure, there is a unique atmosphere at the school.

    Graeme College is a traditional boys-only school with a rich heritage. Emphasis is laid on commitment, hard work, involvement, sportsmanship and the positive development of all who pass through the school’s doors. The College’s motto “Virtute et Opera” (through courage and hard work) is the underpinning value encouraged for all activities.

    At Graeme we attempt to foster an atmosphere where respect for the rights of all people are paramount, while encouraging individual boys to appreciate that they have certain duties and obligations to the society of which they are part.

    Our learners are very important to us and we are privileged to see them grow from small pre-school learners into strapping young men ready to take their place in society.  There are so many opportunities given at this amazing school and, ultimately, it is the wish of all staff to see the men of Graeme College striving to make the best of these in their quest to reach their full potential.

  • History & Tradition


    Education in Grahamstown in the second half of the 19th century tended to divide the population along denominational and economic lines and, with few exceptions, was not altogether of a satisfactory standard. At a public meeting held in 1872 a resolution was moved to the effect that: “It is highly desirable to establish a high class non-denominational school in Grahamstown, with a view to providing an education which is not furnished by any of the present schools.”



    So in April 1873, with an enrolment of 25 boarders and 45 day scholars, under the headmastership of the Rev. Robert Templeton, the Grahamstown Public School opened its doors in the Drostdy Barracks and the Drostdy House, newly vacated by the Colonial military authorities. Both these buildings have since been swallowed up in the Rhodes University campus.



    The new school grew rapidly and within 10 years the enrolment had reached 200. The first candidate for the matriculation examination was entered in 1874 and the school began preparing candidates for the examinations of the University of the Cape of Good Hope.



    The political troubles at the end of the nineteenth century saw the British Army wanting their buildings back and the school moved to new premises in Beaufort Street in 1898.



    Over the years the name of the school has undergone several changes. During the period in which it offered matriculation classes to young ladies it was known as Victoria High School and finally in 1938 it adopted the name, Graeme College.



    The school occupied this site in Beaufort Street until moving to its present campus in Somerset Heights in 1974. (The site in Beaufort Street has since been renovated and taken over by Victoria Girls’ High School.)

  • Origin & Meaning

    Why Graeme College instead of Graham College of Grahamstown? With eight headmasters educated in Scotland, there was probably little alternative but for the College to be historically correct. Colonel John Graham, after whom the city was named, was a descendent of the Graeme clan. Variations in spelling amongst the various family branches began to crystallise in the 17th century. When a new name for the school was adopted in 1938, it was decided to revert to the ancient clan spelling rather that adopt the modern format.

    The College shares more than its name with the Graeme clan. In common with the city, the College's coat-of-arms contain the Graeme clan's coat-of-arms in the dexter (left) half. While the three escallops (shells) and three triangles of the dexter are of Scottish ancestry, the three annulets (rings) on the sinister (right) half are most certainly not. These represent the coat-of-arms of Van Riebeeck, which were incorporated into the arms of the Cape of Good Hope. The annulets were incorporated into the Grahamstown coat-of-arms which was adopted in 1862. The school used the city's arms until 1938, when it was modified to facilitate its official registration as a school badge. This explains the present difference between the City and College's coat-of-arms. Both, however, share the same motto Virtute et Opera; 'Courage and Toil'. The leopard, giraffe and ostrich complete the crest as an indigenous contribution to the coat-of-arms of very mixed ancestry. The leopard has in time come to symbolize the College and is displayed proudly on the colours awards. While the term Graeme may be historically correct, there might be some opposition to the idea of a Graeme's Town. Unless, of course, you are a Graemian. But that is another story.

    (125 Years Special Supplement - Grocott's Mail)

  • School Badge

    The School used the Grahamstown coat-of-arms from 1886 until 1938.

    The navy and blue and gold colours for the Public School as Graeme was then known were first used by Sir George Cory in place of black and red used in the city’s arms.

    In 1938 the school decided to register its badge in terms of Act 23 of 1935 to prevent unauthorised people using the school’s caps and blazers, but obviously could not attempt registration of the badge as it was the one used by the city. Changes had to be made.

    The Graham and Van Riebeek arms were therefore impaled (placed side by side) instead of quartered, thus preserving the link with the past and the badge was registered in that form. This new form had the advantage of being more convenient for manufacturing purposes.

    Registration was effected on 11 November 1938 with the Secretary for the Interior in terms of Section 5 of the Protection of Names, Uniforms and Badges Act (Act No 23 of 1935) and by this registration Victoria Boys’ High School in Grahamstown obtained the sole and exclusive right to the use of the badge in the Union of South Africa. When the name of the school was changed with effect from 1 April 1939 to Graeme College, the badge registered for Victoria Boys’ High School continued to be used.

  • Motto

    The motto “Virtute et Opera” which may be translated as “Courage and Toil” appeared in the original badge used by Victoria Boys’ High School, as well as on the coat-of-arms used by the city of Grahamstown.

  • Coat of Arms

    The Grahamstown coat-of-arms was designed by a sub-committee of the first Town Council. The mayor Mr. George Samuel Wood had declared this to be necessary.

    Messrs Ogilvie, Birkenruth and Hoole were appointed to consider the matter. Mr Ogilvie suggested the inclusion of Colonel Graham’s coat-of-arms in the shield, but the committee must share the responsibility of combining them with Van Riebeek’s coat-of-arms, changing the red field of Van Riebeek’s arms to blue in the process. This committee was also responsible for adopting the Earl of Fife’s motto “Virtute et opera” and the adding of the leopard and giraffe as supporters and the ostrich as crest.

    This design was adopted by the council in September 1862, but it was never granted by the English College of Arms in London, nor would the College grant it unless first redesigned to comply better with the principles of heraldry. The motto would have needed no modification, as it aptly sums up the lessons taught by the Settlers and City’s early heroes Sir Harry Smith and Dick King, namely “Courage and toil”. In English heraldry, there is no copyright on mottos.

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