Amersfoort Legacy: A history through pictures

This online gallery is based on the Amersfoort Legacy exhibition panels produced for the slave lodge in Cape Town. The exhibition was open to the public from 17 April 2008-mid August 2008.


First white settlers arrive at the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck is among the Dutch settlers as they encounter a number of different groups of black people who are occupying the land. Picture right: Extract from April 17th 1658 entry of Jan van Riebeeck’s diary. National Archives, Cape Town. Click on the image to view detail.

28 March, 170 slaves arrive at the Cape in the Dutch ship The Amersfoort. They are the first shipment of slaves in the colony.
17 April The first formal school in South Africa is opened by the Dutch East India Company. It is specifi cally intended for the slaves from The Amersfoort. Pieter van der Stael teaches the class. Picture right: ‘fish market’ drawing – early Cape Pencil drawing by Charles D’Oyley, 4th May 1833. William Fehr Collection.
1663 - 1676

1663 A second school opens for children of the colonists. The class comprises 12 white colonist children, 4 young slaves and 1 Khoikhoi child. A church clerk named Ernestus Back teaches them. 1676 The church suggests separate schooling for slaves. Picture: Interior of church at Genadendal showing Hottentot congregation.Drawing by Lady Anne Barnard. Collection: National Archives.

The church suggests separate schooling for slaves. Picture: Interior of church at Genadendal showing Hottentot congregation.Drawing by Lady Anne Barnard. Collection: National Archives.

A VOC decree makes it compulsory for all slave children under 12 to attend school. Older slave children have to attend school twice a week. Both settlers and slaves ignore this and some slaves even hide in mountain caves on one occasion to avoid going to school. Picture right: Malay school: boys learning to read the Koran. Painting by G.F. Angas. Library of Parliament, Cape Town.


A separate school starts, exclusively for slave children under 12. The boys’ teacher is Jan Pasqual and a freed slave, Margaret, teaches the girls. Some slaves are selected to learn skilled trades. The 1663 school continues but is reserved for non-slave children and offspring of colonists. Picture right: Plan of the Slave Lodge at the end of the 18th century, I. N. Wildt, c. 1798. William Fehr Collection. Click on the image to view detail.

Governor de Chavonnes at the Cape issues the first educational ordinance: the Ordonnantie van de School Ordenning. The decree makes it illegal for a person to be employed as a teacher without the approval of the governor and the Council of Policy. Importantly, the Committee of Scholarchs is established. Three church ministers and one civil servant make up the committee and control education at the Cape. The duties of teachers are spelled out and regulations regarding school organization are laid down. These measures represent the fi rst steps towards formalising education as a system at the Cape.

Major wars of dispossession begin against the indigenous people groups of southern Africa as colonists want to claim land for themselves. Picture right: Malay school: boys learning to read the Koran. Painting by G.F. Angas. Library of Parliament, Cape Town.


Joseph Lancaster starts his method of education (monitorial system) for working class children in England. This system will later be used in South Africa. The first school specifically for Africans opens near what is now King William’s Town. Previous to this only a handful of Khoi and black South Africans received formal education. Picture left: The first two indigenous male teachers of Berlin Missionary Society; indigenous teacher and his pupils, Mayeakgogo School of Berlin Missionary Society. National Archives, Cape Town.


Christian missionaries establish schools for Africans, mainly on the fringes of settler occupation. The School Ordinance is passed in 1804. This is a milestone in the history of education because it withdrew the control of public education from the church and introduced the idea that the organisation of public schooling is a responsibility of the state.

Picture right: Sotho Bible translators of the Berlin Missionary Society showing from left to right: Gustav TrÁ¼mpelmann, senior, Gustav Eiselen, Abraham Serote and Carl Kadach. Collection: National Archives.
1815 The British take over the Cape colony from the Dutch.
1822-1824 Government Free Schools (also known as English Free Schools) are established throughout the Cape Colony. A school is established at Wynberg and is the forerunner of the Wynberg Boys’ Schools. Based on Lancaster’s monitorial system, the schools are mostly aimed at the poor. Instruction is exclusively in English and at no charge to the parents. Free schools are originally intended to be multiracial, but soon they begin to provide for white children only. Church Schools become almost exclusivley coloured to complement the Free Schools.

Crowd of indigenous pupis outside school of Berlin Missionary Society, Pniel, near Kimberley. National Archives, Cape Town

1854 Sir George Grey is appointed as Governor of the Cape. He subsidises mission schools as part of his ‘border pacification’ policy.

1855 A total number of 145 black students attend school in Natal, almost all these schools are run by church missions.
1858 Education Act No. 14 is passed. It provides for the creation of Educational Boards in villages and towns. This means that more schools can be established, but the funding of these remains a problem. The Board of Public Examiners is established to examine candidates from tertiary institutions, though it has no power to confer degrees.
The pupil-teacher system (advanced pupils teaching junior classes) is formalised and, for the first time, girls are allowed to teach. Pupils have to be 13 years of age and have to be trained for 5 years and write an annual examination. After completion of the training, one year must to be spent at a recognised training institute. Higher education is offered by the South African College, the Diocesan College in Rondebosch, the Theological Seminary at Stellenbosch, St Andrew’s in Grahamstown, and the Grey Institute in Port Elizabeth.
1869 Inanda Seminary for girls is established.
1873 The University of the Cape of Good Hope is established to replace the Board of Examiners. It determines standards and syllabuses, conducts the School Elementary Examination, the School Higher Examination and the Matriculation Examination, and confers degrees.
1874 The South African Teachers’ Association is established and Langham Dale is chairman. Picture below: Women students at Lovedale College, undated. Robben Island Museum.

Women students at Lovedale College, undated. Robben Island Museum.

1887 A number of wars of dispossession fought on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony end. More mission stations and mission schools open because of the ceasefire. The Council of Education is established.

1882 Marianhill Mission station and Catholic school opens. Proclamation No. 113 of 1882 promises grants for the erection of school buildings with the state making a contribution on a pound-for-pound basis. Furniture, books and stationery will also be supplied on a pound-for-pound basis. However, the depression reduces the amount of government money available for buildings. Teachers and parents voice their outrage because the Education Department has again failed to deliver on its promises.
1884 Black schooling becomes a separate responsibility within the Council of Education.
1894 The Council of Education is abolished and a sub-department of ‘Native Education’ is established under the 1905 The South African Native Affairs Commission reports a growing desire amongst Africans for education.