The Milner Schools

Potchefstroom College, as the school was called when Hope established it, was one of what became known as the “Milner Schools”. In the aftermath of the Anglo-Boer War, Lord Milner, the former British High Commissioner for Southern Africa, was appointed as the first Governor of the Transvaal and Orange River Colonies. In his efforts to anglicise the defeated Transvaal, he allocated funds for the establishment of English language schools in the major centres of the former Boer republic. These centres were Pretoria, Johannesburg and Potchefstroom. Hope was destined to play a founding role in three of the schools, one in each of the three centres.

It was intended that these “Milner Schools” be modelled on British public school lines, principally to educate boys who would hopefully go on to attend Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England and return to become the future officials to serve the Crown Colony of the Transvaal. Milner wanted the schools modelled along the lines of Eton, Harrow, Winchester and Charterhouse, believing that this would promote his aim of blotting out the Boer character of the Transvaal and replacing it with a British social, political and economic landscape dominated by British subjects, South Africans of British descent and AngloAfricans. Like the British schools they were imitating, it was intended that these South African schools would build a tradition of feeding the public service with young men who had received an excellent education, were well-rounded sportsmen and who had been imbued with a sense of duty, responsibility and loyalty to the crown.

The eight schools that stemmed from Milner’s ideal are:

  • Pretoria Boys’ High School (Initially known as the Pretoria College)
  • Pretoria High School for Girls
  • King Edward VII School (Initially known as Johannesburg High School for Boys, then the Johannesburg College)
  • Johannesburg Girls’ High School (Barnato Park)
  • Jeppe High School for Boys
  • Jeppe High School for Girls
  • The High School for Boys, Potchefstroom (initially known as the Potchefstroom College)
  • The High School for Girls, Potchefstroom

The Legacy of Charles Douglas Hope, MA (Oxon)

Charles Hope was born in 1867 into a prominent Scottish family.

When the war ended, Milner’s education department, under the directorship of E.B. Sargant, moved quickly to set up the high schools that were to pioneer the policy of Anglicisation in the Transvaal. They were staffed largely with Oxford and Cambridge graduates who were brought out to South Africa to help enforce the policy. Charles Hope was to play a crucial role in this scheme, but fortunately for the three schools that he founded he was not a chauvinistic political animal in the mould of Milner. In fact, during the war he had made a point of learning Dutch and stablishing friendly relationships with the Boers in Pretoria.

In the capital city Hope’s wartime English-language school was divided, in 1902, into what became Pretoria Boys’ High and Pretoria Girls’ High. But Hope himself, after only 15 months in Pretoria, was then moved on to Johannesburg where he was tasked to reopen Jeppe town High, which had been closed during the war. Here he became the first headmaster of Jeppe High School (which later split into the Jeppe Boys’ and Girls’ High Schools). But in 1904, this great educationist was offered the opportunity to establish a boys’ high school in Potchefstroom, the historical town and first capital of the old republic. He was anxious to give his own children the privilege of growing up in the country rather than in a rapidly expanding city like Johannesburg, so this move was, for him, quite fortuitous.

He therefore happily embarked on establishing his third great school and with his young family moved to Potch, where he brought into being the Potchefstroom College. Charles Hope can thus, amazingly, be regarded as the founder of Pretoria Boys’ High, Pretoria Girls’ High, Jeppe Boys’ High, Jeppe Girls’ High and Potch Boys’ High; all schools destined to make an indelible mark on South African secondary education.

The philosophy that Hope propagated as an educationist was that examination results were not the paramount concern in education, stressing instead the importance of character-building, inspiration of ideals, the development of a boy’s personality and the inculcation of habits of industry. But he recognised that academic success was a necessary preliminary to prowess in many fields beyond school. He therefore gave his pupils the following advice:

“Do not be babes – who pretend to be childish in every moment of leisure, and who profess to be bored by anything that makes them think. Do not be chauffeurs – who have no ideas outside the bonnet of a motor car. Do not be ants – who sacrifice their personality and their soul by falling into line with every fashion and whim of the day. ‘But how can we help becoming ants?’ some of you may say, ‘Are not school-masters drilling us to pass routine examinations and to follow a routine syllabus? Are they not trying to turn us into ants?’ It is true that the rule of examinations does diminish a boy’s freedom. The point is, if a person is weak enough to have his whole nature changed by order, then surely his nature was never really strong at first.”

Hope himself remained as Headmaster of College for 22 years, still the longest period that any Headmaster has served the school. He left a permanent print on the school he had founded. A man of boundless energy, he produced a textbook on South African history (“Our Place in History” published in both English and Dutch) in 1909 and followed it up with another (“Our Place in the World”). This prompted the University of Cape Town to offer him a professorship in 1912. He turned the offer down, choosing instead to remain at College until his retirement in 1926. During this time, he built a foundation of excellence in education that the school stands strong on to this day.

When he retired in 1926 at the age of 59, Charles and Alice Hope moved to their farm, “Granton” on the Mooi River in Natal. They remained there until the end of 1935, when they moved to a cottage called “The Bunker” at East Cliff, Hermanus, where he died on 16 January 1947 at the age of 80 years. His heartbroken wife Alice died four months later.

Speaking at Hope’s memorial service in the school hall, the Rev Dr J.B. Webb (OM), who became President of the Conference of the Methodist Church in South Africa, had this to say:

“For him, teaching was a vocation, his prime concern the gradual unfolding character of the boys committed to his charge; education in its proper sense, the means of that unfolding and its deepest inspiration, that of personal example.”

Given the opportunities that he had to pursue his career elsewhere, the school was indeed fortunate that this remarkable man dedicated his life to College – the third school he founded, but the one he stayed with and the one he loved most. It says something about Potchefstroom, about College and about C. D. Hope himself.

The Founding of the Potchefstroom College

During the years 1902-1903 the English-speaking inhabitants of Potchefstroom had been appealing to the new British authorities to provide them with educational facilities equal to those that had just been established in Pretoria and Johannesburg. This was a direct reference to Pretoria Boys’ High and Jeppe High. Some sources indicate that there was a Central School for boys and girls in existence in Potchefstroom before the advent of the Anglo-Boer War, while others state that no English-language schools at all were permitted during the last years of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, and that there were only Dutch schools. Whatever the case, all schools were closed during the war and formal education came to a standstill. In the aftermath of the war, it was felt by the  Potchefstroom inhabitants of British stock that, as the oldest town in the Transvaal and as representing the Western Districts of the former Boer Republic, Potch should be granted proper schools for the English-speaking youth.

The new government was quick to grant their request, because it was in line with Milner’s policy, and in 1903 the Central School was opened (re-opened, according to some sources). But the English-speaking Protestants were not the only ones concerned about education in the little town on the banks of the Mooi River. Milner’s policy alarmed many in the Afrikaans community of Potch, so in June that same year the Hoërskool Gimnasium was established as a private school. Then, in September 1903, the foundation stones of the main building of the Convent of the Sacred Heart were laid. Both these schools therefore preceded the Boys’ High and the Girls’ High Schools – the schools that most of the English-speaking community were clamouring for. When the request for an English language boys’ high school was finally granted, the Director of Education approached C.D. Hope at Jeppe and asked him to submit his name, along with several others, to the Potchefstroom Committee of the Central School, for consideration as Headmaster.

Fortunately, this suited Hope, and equally fortunately, the Committee selected him from amongst the candidates. Prospective parents immediately began holding cake sales on street corners and local farmers auctioned sheep to raise funds to help with the foundation of the new school.

The Potchefstroom College had a distinct advantage over the Milner Schools of Pretoria and Johannesburg. All the other schools had to make do with existing and often quite unsuitable buildings to start with. In some cases, there were several moves to interim premises while waiting for ground to be made available and their proper school buildings to be constructed. This wait was sometimes one of several years. In Potch the situation was somewhat different, as there was no suitable temporary accommodation for such an institution in the town and the English-speaking residents had already persuaded the town itself to agree to making a property available for the construction of the school. So, the colonial government had to immediately set aside the considerable sum of ₤8,000 for building purposes, and the buildings had to be constructed before the school could come into being.

The town of Potchefstroom granted the site of the old show grounds of the Agricultural Society to the education authorities. This site had been used to accommodate a concentration camp for Boer women and children during the war. It was a 40-acre (16.1874 hectares) rectangle of open veld, close to the railway line and right on the edge of the town. In February 1904 Charles Hope, together with the Chief Architect of the Public Works Department, a Mr Bevan, visited Potch to examine the site and make other arrangements. Bevan submitted a design for the school buildings which was subsequently altered in two respects, both with a view to economising. Firstly, the proposed corridors linking the eight classrooms were replaced by an open stoep. This proved a good decision, as it gave the quadrangle a more spacious appearance and made it easier to move between classrooms. But the second alteration of the original plan was more unfortunate. The new school’s building, Flemish in character, was designed to have five linear, ornate Cape-Dutch gables and ten prominent chimneys.

But as often happens with a building project, the available funds had to be used for the practical reality of constructing enough classrooms rather than for enhancing the aesthetic characteristics of the edifice. So, the ornamental Palladium mouldings of the four front gables were abandoned and the school had to settle for the plain gables which grace the buildings to this day. But the anomaly was that, although it was one of the last two of the Milner Schools to be established, College had a brand new and custom-built school to start off in, fully three years before any of its contemporary but older Milner Schools in Pretoria, Johannesburg or Jeppestown could move into their new buildings!

Hope named his new school the Potchefstroom College, keeping it in line with the Johannesburg College (which later became KES). The reason for this choice of name was that it was originally intended for the school to eventually cater for education beyond the matriculation level.

It seems that an English-medium private school called Potchefstroom College had been established as early as 24 March 1874 by Mr Reid Crow, a former headmaster of Natal’s Hilton College. But it appears to have been closed with the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, or possibly even before then. Other than its name, it had no connection with C.D. Hope’s school, which had to be started from scratch. Early in January 1905 Charles Hope and his family moved into a house on the school grounds. It came to be known as “Naboth’s Vineyard”, but it would in later years be called Calder House.

Hope’s College was formally opened on Tuesday 31 January 1905 (some sources give the date as Wednesday 01 February). Officiating at the opening ceremony was Sir Richard Solomon, KCMG, Lieutenant-Governor of the Transvaal. It is significant that this prominent Jewish former Attorney-General of both the Cape Colony and the Transvaal Crown Colony and later SA High Commissioner to London declared the school open, as College was to become the alma mater of many boys from the Jewish communities in the small towns of the Western Transvaal and many leading Jews in Potch were to serve on its Governing Body over the years. The Jewish boys of College were to play a distinguished role in the school on the playing fields, in their academic and cultural achievements and in leadership as prefects and even head boys.

At the opening ceremony the band of the Border Regiment played, Sir Richard congratulated the people of Potchefstroom for achieving success in their strenuous efforts to get the school established and Charles Hope predicted that the school would turn out to be one of the chief colleges in South Africa.

The new school had an initial enrolment of five staff members and 75 schoolboys. It was clear, though, that greater numbers were envisaged, as the hall was built to accommodate 400 people. Only a little more than a month after College’s opening, its sister school, the High School for Girls, later to be irreverently dubbed “Hags High” by the boys of College, was established.

Both high schools stemmed from a common source. That source, the Central School which had been established in 1903 ceased to exist in January 1905. In its place there were now two schools, viz the Potchefstroom College for boys under Charles Hope and the Potchefstroom Girls’ Secondary School under Miss Burton. Both these schools had a Preparatory section which catered for children of primary school age. On 07 March 1905 the High School for Girls, Potchefstroom officially came into being, replacing the Girls’ Secondary School. In April 1924 the Central School was again opened, and the preparatory departments of the two high schools ceased to exist.

When Potchefstroom College was opened in 1905, Charles Hope described his intentions as follows:

“College aims to produce well rounded individuals who can take their place in South African society. Men, who are responsible, self-disciplined, independent in their thinking, tolerant and well-mannered”.


Alexander, McGill: Historical Perspective of College 1905-2008, Potchefstroom College Old Boys’ Society, Johannesburg, 2008.

Mrs Rina Ferreira, School Librarian and Curator of the Museum at the High School for Boys, Potchefstroom, is gratefully acknowledged for her assistance in the research for this historical overview of Potch College. She consulted sources in the Main Library of the Potchefstroom Museum as well as checking research in the School’s own sources.