Tue, 11 May 2004 00:00
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We profile St John's College of Johannesburg.

School profile

We profile St John's College of Johannesburg.

The inhabitants of Johannesburg are used to a certain instability as the mines settle and the earth trembles. But that is not the only instability the great city has experienced in its 118 years of existence.

It started as a mining camp, a rumbustious place where fortunes were made in an instant and lost in another instant. It was a place where powerful men came to the fore and were called Randlords. It was a place which British imperialists coveted from the time that gold was discovered in 1886 and the camp got its name and started rapid growth.

Who was Johannes? It’s uncertain but a common belief is the Johannes was Johannes Petrus Meyer, a veldkornet.

Johannesburg was an unsettled place when St John’s College was founded.  The town was 12 years old. There was much Uitlander dissatisfaction at being kept disenfranchised. The Boers had won the first South African War and established their republics’ autonomy. In 1895 the Jameson Raid, ostensibly to secure Uitlander rights, flopped. In 1899 the second South African War started, after which Johannesburg was British, a part of Transvaal.

When St John’s was founded it was probably still possible to have a farm in Eloff Street, or at least stables. The rector of St Mary's Anglican Church in Eloff Street founded an Anglican school in 1898, St John’s. The Rev. John Darragh is regarded as founder. He persuaded his parish council to open Anglican school for boys. His curate Rev. JL Hodgson became first Head.

On 1 August 1898 opened in porch of St Mary's with 11 boys (6-14) sons of congregation. A few weeks later to large house 32 Plein Street. It had no lasting stay for it closed at end of 1899 owing to outbreak of war.  Re-opened in 1902, Hodgson came back with staff of 8 and 130 boys.

Still it had no lasting place. It outgrew Plein St and moved to Union Ground between Joubert Park and old Wanderers (now Johannesburg’s main railway station).

In July 1904 became diocesan school, but Community of the Resurrection took over in 1906 for 30 years when in 1934 they withdrew and the school fell again under Johannesburg diocese.

In 1906 the school bought eight acres bought in Houghton, which had grown to 29 acres by 1917, thanks to gifts to buy it from Sir Thomas Cullinan (£5000) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (2000). Herbert Baker became the architect. By 1907 there were the staff and 90 boys on new site.

In 1995 Deane Yates became the first lay headmaster.

The school remains one of South Africa’s foremost private schools with its stone buildings. The most dramatic view of the school is from the rugby field, up the steep koppie to the stone buildings and red roofs above.

From its lofty perch, St John’s looks down over the Wilds to Lower Houghton and the posh suburbs beyond, an area of elegant homes and many, many trees. Johannesburg has over six million trees.

School Information

Name: St John’s College
Date of Foundation: 1898
Motto: Lux, Vita, Carias (Light, Life, Love)
Pupils: 1200 (Nursery school to 6th Form)
Boarders: 105
Rugby teams: 20

Rugby at St John’s

As was the case with many Johannesburg schools, grass meant the introduction of rugby. Before that they played soccer but Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria had much to do with the introduction of kikuyu grass onto playing fields and when St John’s got its grass field in 1932 the boys skipped joyfully away from the restricted game to the joyous adventure of rugby football.

That was in 1932.

In 1996 the A Field was named the Willem Burger Field, after Maxie Burger, a legendary coach at St John’s for 31 years.

The school has toured overseas many times, most recently to South America.

Since 1996 the school has held an outstanding Easter Festival with the matches shown live on national television.


St Stithians, KES, their Houghton neighbours, Parktown, Pretoria Boys’ High, St Alban’s and St Andrew’s of Bloemfontein.

Old Boys in rugby

Although St John’s has contributed to many prominent aspects of South African life, including its sporting life, Owen Nkumane is the only Old Johannian Springbok rugby player. He toured the UK and Ireland with the 1998 Springboks. He does much commentating on rugby on national television.