In 1865 a number of Mfengu clans were resettled in the area around Nqamakwe. As refugees from the Mfacane wars further north, they had relatively few links to their former rural tribal economy and, at a relatively early stage, came under the guidance of European missionaries. Realising the need for an education in the colonial economy they were now attempting to enter, they began, on their own initiative, to collect funds and to lay down the groundwork for the establishment of a technical training institute.
The village of Nqamakwe was established in 1876 as the seat of the new Government Agent to the amaMfengu, and the College was opened in 1877 on a site located a short distance outside Nqamakwe. It was named Blythswood in honour of Capt MT Blyth, the Government Agent to Fingoland.
The 1904 census indicated that Nqamakwe had a population of 90. Mfengu, also called Fingo, people living in Eastern Cape province of South Africa and traditionally speaking a Xhosa language (one of the Bantu languages). The Mfengu are descendants of refugees from the Mfecane (massive migrations of Nguni peoples) in Natal, largely of Hlubi, Bhele, and Zizi origin, who made their way to the Eastern Cape, where they were succoured by local chiefs. In the wars of 1835, 1846, and 1851–53, the Mfengu fought on the British side and were granted lands in the frontier districts of the Transkei and Ciskei, at Xhosa expense and in order to act as a buffer against further Xhosa invasions of the colony. With their social organization shattered during the Mfecane, the Mfengu were receptive from an early date to Christianity and Western education, and in the 19th century many became wealthy peasant-farmers, providing some of the first Western-type political leaders among Cape Africans. In the 20th century many Mfengu demanded their own Bantustan, or black state, in the lands granted them by the British in the 19th century, which were incorporated in the Cape Colony in 1879.