Grahamstown Our little eclectic town is filled with history and is known by many as the “Settler City”, or the “City of Saints” with its many churches. It is a town of about 70,000 people in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. It is situated about 110 kilometres northeast of Port Elizabeth and 130 kilometres southwest of East London. Grahamstown is the largest town in the Makana Local Municipality. It also hosts Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court, and a diocese of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and 6 South African Infantry Battalion.
Grahamstown is known for the oldest surviving independent newspaper in South Africa, the Grocott’s Mail. It was founded in 1870 by the Grocott family, they bought out a newspaper called the Grahamstown Journal, which was founded in 1831. Grocott’s is now a local newspaper operated by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, and still retains its name.
With its Victorian charm, beautiful unspoiled countryside, a University, schools and festivals, Grahamstown has a great deal to offer visitors and well-worth the visit. Home to Rhodes University, one of South Africa’s top universities, Grahamstown buzzes with youthful energy. There are many Game reserves in the area where visitors can get up close and personal with their favourite member of the Big 5!
Grahamstown has the first botanical gardens established by the British in the Cape Colony in 1853. “Bots” is the second oldest botanical gardens in South Africa (after Kirstenbosch).
A one-hour walk through the gardens can produce a list of 30 different species of birds. The intriguing beauty of the Botanical gardens with its serene atmosphere does not only hold residence to numerous rare bird species, it is also a quiet and remote haven where different members of Grahamstown retreat to get closer to nature.
From students enjoying a picnic during weekend to locals in search of peace, the botanical gardens are a perfect refuge away from the madding crowd. Come in the mornings or at sunset you are sure to spot nature loving elders walking their dogs on the green slopes of the century old gardens.
Every Saturday morning at 8:00am the Botanical Gardens are filled with an enthusiastic crowd of young, old and their fury friends. The Grahamstown Park Run is a FREE weekly 5km event for runners of all standards.It offers an opportunity for all the local community, male or female, young or old, to come together on a regular basis to enjoy this beautiful park and get physically active.
After your run/ walk you can grab a post parkrun coffee in Provost
Elizabeth Salt Monument
The Elizabeth Salt Monument or the Settlers Women’s Monument was built in memory of the pioneer woman in the Battle of Grahamstown. The battle took place in 1819 when Xhosa’s attacked the settlement with about 6 000 men. Many of the warriors died during the battle but only two British
According to folklore Elizabeth Salt, wife to one of the Colonial Soldiers, disguised much needed weapons and a keg of gunpowder as an infant she was cradling through the Xhosa warriors to the men by wrapping it in a baby blanket. This story is shown on the plaque on the monument.
The City’s rich and eventful history is brought to life through its age-old buildings and monuments
Oldest Post Box
When was the last time you posted a letter or sent a postcard? A fun stop in Grahamstown is the Oldest Official Letter Box in South Africa. The first postboxes were erected in the Cape on 8 June 1860. To this day, one of these postboxes can be used in Worcester Street. This postbox was one of five such boxes brought to Cape Town in 1860, four of which were installed in Cape Town and the fifth in Grahamstown. It can be found where the Northwest end of Worcester Street intersects with Somerset Street. The pillar-box became a National Monument on 17 March 1989.
This box is painted in the traditional post office red and manufacture dates back to between 1857 and 1859. It no longer displays the letters “V.R” denoting the monarch, Queen Victoria, as this was stolen many years ago. There is no exact date of when this was brought to South Africa and erected in Grahamstown but it is assumed to be between 1859 and 1860.
When posting mail from this box in the past it used to get a special frank, but this has stopped.
The Old Provost is a military prison finished in early 1838 by the order of Sir Benjamin D’Urban. The name is derived from his relationship with the Provost Marshall. The Provost Marshall was the officer who was responsible not only for maintaining order, but also for the punishment and custody of military offenders, such as deserters, in 19th century military camps.
Built to a design adapted from Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison. This design is unique in the British Cape Colony. Designed to allow for constant surveillance of the prisoners. The prison is shaped as a quarter circle with eight cells, roughly 2m by 3m each, running along the curved arc of wall with the exercise area’s for each cell radiating out from the double story watch tower, which has portals looking into each exercise area.
In 1937 the Old Provost was declared a heritage site. In 1982 and 1983 the Old Provost underwent restoration and was put under control of the Albany Museum. During the restoration the remains of some of the exercise area walls were discovered and restored.It is situated on Lucas Avenue between the Old Military Hospital, which is now part of the Rhodes University Botany Department, and the Grahamstown Botanical Gardens.
The Provost is now used as a coffee shop (The Provost Café) situated next to the Rhodes University Botany Department. They serve high quality coffee, tea, light meals, and snacks.
For those that prefer to hike to the Toposcopoe in the comfort of their car, this is an ideal sunset drive and what better way to watch the sun go down over Grahamstown – your picnic basket packed, your favourite drink in hand and some snacks.
The Toposcope is an old military communications point. From the Toposcope on top of Signal Hill, one has a extraordinary panoramic view of Grahamstown and the surrounding valleys.
To get there by foot you can either walk from town through the Botanical Gardens, or park at Grey Dam. From the dam, cross the Mountain Drive jeep track, following the signs to Mayor’s Seat and the toposcope. It is an enjoyable walk to the toposcope.
Once there, you will find a fire pit and lapa for picnics
Enjoy the view and tranquility of nature !
The line was built in 1883, tracing a wide curve across the farms of lower Albany, the train ran from Port Alfred station every day, the 11.10 to Grahamstown, 68km away. Blaauwkrantz is the destination of this journey, although it is not at the end of the track. Surveying the possible route for the railway line in the early 1880s, the railway engineer George Pauling wrote: “A very bad piece of country had to be crossed and it took some time before it was decided to cross the worst spot on the route called Blaauwkrantz, about 21km from Grahamstown, by a high level bridge.” Designed and constructed in England, the material for the bridge was transported from Britain by sea. It was assembled in 1883 and, when completed, was only 6mm out of specification.
In the early 1900s the train used to steam up through the valleys towards Bathurst and Grahamstown taking farmers, farm workers, holidaymakers and commercial travellers.
The Blaauwkrantz Bridge Train Disaster of 22 April 1911 was the biggest tragedy in peacetime South Africa. The 11.10am train from Port Alfred to Grahamstown tipped over the bridge with a 200-foot [60-metre] drop. Thirty people were killed and 27 were hospitalised.
Mr. Robinson, driver of the 11.10 on Saturday April 22 1911, was aware of potential passengers as he steamed along. By the time he reached Martindale, he had 52 on board.
On April 22 1911, the train left on time. Behind the engine was a coal tender followed by five trucks of stone, from Bathurst, for the completion of the Grahamstown cathedral. Four passenger coaches and a guard’s van were coupled behind this, the black passengers crammed together in the last coach, en route to stock-fair day in Grahamstown. Two-thirds of the way across there was a sudden lifting and lightening of the load. The fourth truck had uncoupled and had fallen on its side. The passenger carriages and guard’s van plummeted into space, the roof of one detaching, the last coach in which the black passengers were travelling, somersaulting once before it hit the rocks more than 60m below.
It was not the bridge that had failed. The weight of the stone had not broken it. Some engineering experts said it was the age of the dog spikes and the repair of the rails, rotten sleepers, the vintage rolling stock too heavily laden.
Altogether, 29 passengers died. Twenty-three were injured. At the time, the Blaauwkrantz Bridge disaster was the worst accident South Africa ever witnessed.
Bev Young is a prolific researcher and writer on Eastern Cape history. She has explored thousands of significant spaces and forgotten places across the province. Her archive of material is a priceless resource.
The new bridge, built in 1928, sends its shadow out across their lands.
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