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UPDATED: 23/06/2023

23 June 1891, South African Teachers Association meets in Kimberley.

Visiting teachers royally entertained

It was at a Cape Town conference in 1887 that the South African Teacher’s Association was formally constituted, having been a Cape Colony orientated association prior to the meeting.

Then there were conferences at Grahamstown (1888), Cape Town (1889), and Port Elizabeth (1890) before the Association met in Kimberley for the first time in June 1891 – this in the Public Undenominational Schools building. The building (pictured) had opened as a school in 1888, although founded in 1887.


Undenominational Schools Building

Those travelling to Kimberley by train – most of the delegates – arrived at the Kimberley station on Tuesday 23 June 1891 and were met by the Mayor of Kimberley Evan Hopkin Jones, together with several city councillors. In the spacious dining room at the station, more than 150 ladies and gentlemen were welcomed by Mayor Jones, who mentioned that they wished to show the visitors something of what Kimberley’s hospitality meant. (He added that Kimberley had not much to show them in the way of scenery)!

The visiting teachers were certainly royally entertained.

On the one evening by the teachers of Beaconsfield and Kimberley at the Public Schools at a “Conversazione”, with “…creamy trifles, cakes, chocolates, jellies, a flute trio, songs, and that recitation ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’”.

The following evening at a similar “Conversazione” at the Town Hall in New Main Street hosted by Mayor Evans and his council, some 500 people were present and the dancing lasted until 1.30 in the morning.

De Beers invited the teachers to visit the mines on Saturday 27 June followed by a luncheon at the Kenilworth Club.

This final event, before the teachers caught the train later that evening, saw the teachers gather at the De Beers mine and then taken by De Beers’ own internal tramway system to the Washing Plant, the Pulsator, and the Sorting House before heading on to lunch at Kenilworth.

UPDATED: 23/06/2017

23 June 1891, South African Teachers Association meets in Kimberley.


The Catholic missionaries in Kimberley set up temporary churches of canvas, and later of wood and iron and started rudimentary schools for the children. There was little planning because no one believed that the diamonds or the population would continue for long. Bishop Jolivet organized the vicariate and was able to report to the Congregation of Propaganda that “this Orange River and diamond fields area, the Republic and Griqualand West which was annexed to Cape Colony, had more Catholics and Catholic-oeuvres than Natal and the Transvaal combined.” Many of the Catholic population were of Irish origin and Bishop Jolivet urged again and again that a new vicariate should be erected in this district and placed under an Irish vicar apostolic.

The discoveries of gold at Barberton and De Kaap in 1884 brought a new flood of immigrants from Kimberley and later from overseas and there was every likelihood that they would be able to support Catholic schools and churches. On this advice the Congregation of Propaganda took action and a papal bull of 4 June 1886 created both the vicariate of the Orange Free State to include that Republic and Basutoland and the Kimberley district, and the prefecture of the Transvaal, to include the lands of the South African Republic. The vicariate was entrusted to Bishop Anthony Gaughren, an Irishman.

In the account which Rev. Father Porte O.M.I. wrote to Bishop A. Gaughren of his visit to Bechuanaland in 1894 urges the necessity of a Convent School for girls at Mahikeng. He says many, non-Catholics as well as Catholics, were not only willing but desirous to have such a school for their children, and would give it their whole-hearted support. Mafikeng was a small military and trading station to which the railway from Cape Town was completed in 1894. The Bishop had a Church built there in 1896 and set about looking for Sisters for the project. He approached the Holy Family Sisters in Kimberley for help. They were not able to give Sisters, as they had made many foundations in the previous decade, but the Superior, Mother Xavier Garland, suggested the Convent of Mercy in Strabane, where she had been to school.

When Bishop Gaughren visited Ireland in 1897, one of his first visits was to the Bishop of Derry, and then to Strabane Convent after the Bishop’s sanction was obtained. He pleaded his cause so eloquently that many volunteers came forward. Five were chosen: Mother Teresa Cowley (former Superior of Strabane, who was to be the Superior of the group), Mother Magdalen Dunne (Bursar, in Strabane), Mother Stanislaus Gallagher (Novice Mistress in Strabane), Sr. M. Evangelist McGlynn (the Community Nurse), and Sr M. Gonzaga McDonagh, the youngest of the group, who was a gifted linguist and musician. The young superioress of Strabane, Mother M. Joseph, is recorded as reproaching the Bishop, with the words, “My Lord, you are taking the best of the Community”. His Lordship, with disarming amiability declared he wanted only the best, and spoke so convincingly of the work to be done in some neglected part of his large Vicariate that all opposition was overcome. As he was leaving, his Lordship, standing on one of the terraces allowed his gaze to rest on the valley whose cornfields, orchards and meadows were then beautiful with the promise of a rich harvest. (It was July 1897).

The contrast between this scene and that of the desert-like spaces of Bechuanaland must have been vividly before him; but when someone asked if the scenery of South Africa compared with that spread out before their eyes he answered promptly, in what has become a time-honoured phrase “More extensive, but not varied!”. It must have brought many a wry smile to the first arrivals. The Bishop would not be able to return to South Africa for several months, perhaps a year. (Besides Ireland, he was going to Europe and to the USA). It was decided that the Sisters should leave as soon as possible though work would not be begun in Mafikeng until the beginning of 1898.

The approaching departure of the Sisters to a country very little known at the time was freely discussed by the pupils and three girls from the Boarding School, each without the knowledge of the others, applied to the Mother Superior for leave to go home to consult her parents about accompanying the Sisters to South Africa. Though all the relatives at first opposed the idea, because of the distance and unknown country, all eventually came round and gave their blessing. The three Postulants were Margaret Coffey (Mother Magdalen’s niece), (later Mother M. Joseph); Helen Byrne (later Mother M. Patricia, Novice Mistress), and Brigid McGlinchey (Mother Evangelist’s niece), (later Mother M. Columba). There was a fourth girl, who was to be a lay Sister – Sarah. She did not stay very long and returned to Ireland. The parents of these girls gave generous gifts towards the expenses of the new mission. A crowded six weeks followed, outfits had to be made, farewell visits to be paid. Finally came the day of parting.

(Pictured is the pioneering group of Sisters of Mercy who stayed in Kimberley prior to departure for Mahikeng.)


Sisters of Mercy Group

The Sisters travelled via Dublin, Holyhead to London. Here, they were the guests of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Hamerton Convent. The Superioress, Mother Angelina, was a past pupil of Strabane Convent. Sr M. Laurence of the same community was a cousin of Mother Teresa. A record kept by one of the travellers says that the hospitality and friendliness of these Sisters was beyond belief. A number of Sisters were sent to take the travellers round London and show them places of interest. On the morning of their departure, the 24th September 1897 – feast of Our Lady of Mercy – they had Mass at 6h30, followed by Benediction, and the hymn “Mother of Mercy” sung specially for those leaving. They sailed on the “Arundel Castle”.

The Captain was a Cork man who was very friendly to them and on board they met a South African priest, Fr. Quirke, returning after a holiday. He was of Irish descent, but born in South Africa. He proved a most entertaining travelling companion and gave much information about the country to which the Sisters were going. The voyage was pleasant but uneventful. The Captain and officers were most courteous, and the health of the party excellent – with one exception. Sr M. Gonzaga, who had been in poor health before the voyage, contrary to expectations, did not improve. In fact, she was worse on October 17, when the “Arundel Castle” arrived in Cape Town. It was Sunday morning. Rev. Fr. McCarthy, D.D. came to meet the Sisters on board, and took them to the cathedral for Mass at 11.00a.m. Dr Kolbe was the preacher. Afterwards they enjoyed the hospitality of the Dominican Sisters at St. Mary’s Convent, Bouquet Street.

The following evening they began the journey to Kimberley. In Kimberley they reached the end of their travels for the time being. Fr. Lenoir, O.M.I. and Rev Brother Mullen, Superior of the Christian Brothers, met them. They were taken to the Holy Family convent in Currey Street, and Rev Mother Xavier and her Community welcomed them with the most affectionate kindness. It would be impossible to give an idea of the pains the Holy Family Sisters took and what inconvenience they put up with for the sake of their guests during the weeks the Sisters of Mercy spent at the Convent waiting for a suitable house near the Church. The Sisters said that the hospitality of the Holy Family Sisters towards them should never be forgotten by those who came after them.

Sr. M. Gonzaga’s health grew steadily worse and then it was proposed that the Sisters should go to Taungs where they would find ample accommodation, Mother Xavier and her Sisters pleaded so eloquently to be allowed to keep them a little longer for the sake of the sick Sister that they remained. A house was rented in Currey Street, and here, in spite of the most devoted attention of Dr Ashe, and all his medical skill, given unstintingly and without remuneration – he resolutely refused all payment – Sr M. Gonzaga died on 2nd January 1898.

(From: The Story of the Sisters of Mercy, South Africa. www.sistersofmercy.ie)

23 June 1891, South African Teachers Association meets in Kimberley.


The St Matthews Church (Anglican) on Barkly Road has its origins in early Kimberley in that a Richard Miles started holding services in a ramshackle shelter. The info states 1870 but this is more likely to be 1871. The first building, some 60’ by 20’, was erected by Canon Bevan in 1877, and in 1883 a new site adjacent to the church building was acquired. In 1888 the foundation stone was laid and on 2 June 1889 the church was dedicated.

In 1895 Father Lawson took charge and built the schoolroom.

The two wings were added in 1915.

Two of the memorial plaques in St Matthews Church are for men who were killed in the battle of Tweebosch on 7 March 1902, where Lord Methuen’s force was defeated by General JH de la Rey and Methuen was captured. While Moore is on the battle roll of honour as being in Ashburner’s Horse, Abrahams is not on the roll. Abrahams is quite probably one of approximately 100 men who served in the very irregular unit known as the Cape Special Police, a unit made up of Africans and Coloureds. This unit was also nicknamed Tilney’s Gang as well as the Kimberley Killers, and had a fine reputation. Those Special Police who surrendered at Tweebosch were executed and buried in a mass grave that remains undiscovered.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

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