Graeme College of Grahamstown in the City of Saints and Scholars was founded in 1873 to provide for scholars but not quite as denominationally saintly as the other schools.
Grahamstown, a frontier town named after a military man, had St Andrew's (Anglican), St Aidan's (Catholic) and Kingswood (Methodist) to look after boys with similar sister schools. They were all fee-paying schools.
In 1872 the good burghers of Grahamstown wanted to establish a school funded by the government and not so tied to a denomination.
And so it came to pass in 1873 that Grahamstown Public School was founded, also called the Public Undenominational School and the Drostdy School, situated in the Drostdy Barracks and House. It did not abandon sanctity entirely as the first principal was the Rev Robert Templeton. The school grew with the town.
It moved to Beaufort Street and then, in 1975, to its present site in Somerset Heights, named for Lord Charles Somerset. It changed its name, becoming Victoria High School and then, jettisoning the girls, Victoria Boys' High in 1910 and then, from 1 April 1939, Graeme College.
There is a close relationship between Graham and Graeme. Grahamstown was named after Colonel John Graham. When firs school magazine was published, in 1891, it was called the Graemian, a Scottish form of the name, in fact one of many forms of the name which meant grey home. The man who coined the name was the headmaster at the time, William Meredith.
The Scottish leanings are reflected in the school's motto, Virtute et Opera (by goodness and effort), which was the motto of the Earl of Fife and then the motto of Grahamstown.
The change in the Thirties came about because the school wanted something distinct and connected to Grahamstown and its founding colonel.
The change of name in 1939 was in part occasioned by a desire to name the school after the town’s founder, Colonel John Graham of Fintry, and the spelling chosen reflected what was widely believed to be the original spelling of the name Graham. After all top schools in the Eastern Cape were all colleges – Dale, Queen's, Selborne, St Andrew's, Kingswood, Muir and Gill, St Aidan's. It had a distinguished air about it.
The school is typical of the older Eastern Cape Schools in that it runs from start to finish – Grade 1 to Grade 12.
The School song
Composed in 1932
Our Fathers passed thro' the Drostdy Gate
To the tiny school of a bygone day,
But the lesson they learned was of changeless date,
We learn it yet in the selfsame way;
And hither the sons of our sons shall throng
To learn their creed from the Graemians' song.
O "Courage and Toil" was the watchword then
'Tis the watchword now, and for days to come;
For courage and toil are the mark of men
On the fastest pitch, in the fiercest scrum,
At the hardest task when all goes wrong –
And this is the creed of the Graemians' song
We may wander away on the wings of hope
To distant scenes in the far off years,
But our hearts will return to the terraced slope
The gabled roofs and the winding stairs,
For time and distance but make more strong
The spirit caught from the Graemians' song.
Words : C.C. Wiles
Tune : S.J. Newns
Name: Graeme College
Pupils: 600+ boys (from Grade 1 to Grade 12)
Boarders: Roughly 130
Motto: Virtute et Opera (By virtue and effort)
Rugby jersey: blue and gold with a leopard badge, which was introduced in 1962.
Main Field: Somerset Field
Rugby at Graeme
Rugby was played at the school right from the start, it seems. One of its early players was Western Province Schreiner, later the prime minister of the Cape, the President of the South African Rugby Board and, at the time of his sudden death in Wales, the South African High Commissioner in London. It is believed that he was the captain in 1873.
The first recorded match was against St Andrew's in 1886, reported in Grocotts Penny Mail on 10 September 1886. In those days before scoring, St Andrew's won by one goal, four tries and eight rougues (touch downs in defence) to nil.
Two Springboks are Old Boys of the school – scrumhalf Dirk de Vos and flyhalf/centre Hennie le Roux, now well known as a television presenter. Tony Markow was a Sevens Springbok. Other prominent rugby Old Boys are the Mills brothers, Trevor and Billy, and the Watson brothers, Valence and Cheeky, who was the first player from Graeme ro captain Eastern Province at Craven Week in a year when six other players from the school were in the Eastern Province side. He went on to become a Junior Springbok and then went to play in SARU's competitions. Watson played for Eastern Province at four Craven Weeks, Mike Ryan, who also played for Eastern Province, at three.
The present headmaster, Peter Reed, was a provincial scrumhalf in his playing days.