Robin Lamplough takes a closer look at the school’s history and its succession of headmasters.
The renowned school started a hundred years ago at Kearsney, inland of KwaDukuza, the old Stanger, on the Natal north coast. There Liege Hulett had built a palatial home that, by 1920, was empty. Hullet, by that time Sir Liege and a widower, had moved to the Manor House – overlooking Durban’s Mitchell Park.
Liege Hulett was a faithful Methodist, and back then there was no Methodist school closer than Kingswood in the Eastern Cape. To run the new school, Hulett chose D. Pyne Mercier. In 1923, Pyne Mercier was succeeded by Robert Matterson, formerly a teacher at Kingswood. Almost all the pupils at Kearsney in those days were descendants of Liege Hulett, who died in 1928.
The Great Depression of the early 1930s made it unlikely that the school would survive. Members of the school staff addressed an appeal to South African Methodists and, as a result, the school was able to move in 1939, to a piece of land in Botha’s Hill, between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. With six classrooms, two boarding houses and a dining hall which doubled on special occasions as a place of assembly, the school began its second chapter in a new location.
Before the end of the year, the Second World War had begun. By its end, twenty-three Kearsney Old Boys had died in service, a loss keenly felt by the small community. After the war, Old Boys built a memorial cricket pavilion, a project which started a very active Old Boys’ club.
In 1946 Robert Matterson retired, to be succeeded by Stanley Osler, a Kingswood Old Boy and brother of the famous Springbok Benny Osler. Osler saw potential for significant growth. He commissioned the building of the Kearsney chapel, with space for twice as many congregants as there were boys in the school.
Osler was succeeded by James Hopkins, a long-standing member of staff and direct descendant of Sir Liege Hulett. He presided over the golden jubilee celebrations in 1971 and the opening of the Kearsney library. The glass windows that decorate the entrance to the library are artefacts taken from Kearsney Manor, where the school began and which had been the home of Hopkins’s great-grandfather.
Jimmy Hopkins was succeeded by Colin Silcock. He is reputed to have commented that Kearsney boys were good at being gracious in defeat, and he wanted to make sure that they had more opportunities to be just as gracious in victory. The indoor sports centre that he opened during his tenure contributed to Kearsney’s sporting competitiveness.
During the Silcock term, Kearsney joined the small group of private schools admitting black pupils. In the same year, the Kearsney Board of Governors ended its historical association with the board of Epworth, the Methodist girls’ school in Pietermaritzburg.
In 1991, Silcock was succeeded by Owen Roberts. His first year in office saw the opening of the Kearsney cultural centre. One of the hallmarks of his tenure was the growth, both in size and in prominence, of the Kearsney choir. Roberts also aimed for an improvement in academic results. He introduced the practice of boys writing tests every Saturday morning, before their sports commitments.
Roberts was succeeded in 2001 by the present headmaster, Elwyn van den Aardweg, from Pretoria. His solid emphasis on academics, particularly mathematics and science excellence, has seen Kearsney post outstanding results, with distinction rates double those of the Independent Examination Board in these subjects for 10 consecutive years. He introduced Mandarin as a matric subject, and the building of a new academic block, designed in line with international best practices for collaborative and modern learning and research. The Kearsney Easter Rugby Festival and development of the SportZone, which provides facilities to complement the school’s High Performance programme, have taken place during Elwyn’s tenure and contributed to Kearsney becoming a premier independent boys’ school in South Africa.
Without doubt, however, one of the greatest challenges to any headmaster in the school’s history has been presented by the demands of carrying on in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Headmaster, all staff and boys are to be congratulated on the creative ways they have adapted to these unique circumstances. *
Last year this initiative raised R362 000 to assist Kearsney College families whose income was seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of this was driven by California-based old boy Michael Hall. It assisted some families to keep their sons at Kearsney and enabled boys without access to laptops and data to receive these, to ensure their online learning was not impacted.
How did Kearsney help shape their future?
Michael Oakley Hall matriculated in 1953 and went on to study biochemistry. After obtaining his PhD at the University of California Los Angeles, he took a position at the University of Natal before returning to California a couple of years later – where he worked as a researcher and teacher in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA, until retiring at the age 70. “My brother always said that our success (he was a professor at Kings College, London) in life was due to the values and discipline that we had instilled in us at Kearsney, and that we should give back to our school by supporting it in any way that we could,” says Michael. “It took me a number of years to absorb this wisdom, but after meeting the current headmaster I was convinced that I could best fulfil my brother’s admonition and help my old school by raising funds to support deserving students who would not otherwise benefit from a Kearsney education.” With the help of the Kearsney Foundation Office, Michael established the KCOBC USA and Canada Centenary Bursary Fund, which has to date raised almost R4.5 million in scholarship money for the school.
Jonathan Pons matriculated in 1980 and went on to the University of Cape Town to get his medical degree. An ophthalmologist based in Swaziland, he is involved in rural eye health care throughout southern Africa – passionate about solving blindness in rural Africa. “Growing up through six years at Kearsney brought lifelong friends and enduring values of excellence and integrity. The world-class academic journey was for me matched by a spiritual journey, and at a boy’s bible study came the certainty of my Christian faith. One lazy Saturday came the first key directive of my career: serve the underserved. This became the fuel for my future in African Rural Medicine.”
Andile Mazwai matriculated in 1989 and is a successful Johannesburg businessman. A chartered stockbroker and founder-CEO of iKhala Property Fund, he is also a non-executive director of Bidvest Bank, Alexander Forbes and the deputy chairman of St Mary’s School Waverley. “My passion is to liberate people from the binds of pernicious debt. I have created VUNA to do this – a financial technology mobile application that facilitates lending between a stokvel and its members, providing good credit for good savers,” explains Andile. “Kearsney afforded me a quality education at a time when black people were subjugated to Bantu Education.”
Jabulani Nyathi matriculated in 2015, obtained a Bsc Engineering Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town, and is currently on scholarship studying for his MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development (ESD) at Cambridge University. “I was part of the KC choir, and I am currently a part of my college choir at Cambridge and still sing often,” says Jabulani. “The education I received at Kearsney was of a high standard, and this continues to be reflected in my academic career. I would not be the same individual without having had the opportunity to do my best in sport, be academically stimulated, be able to do music and drama and even get to travel for this sake. Kearsney is a special place as it opens opportunities that would otherwise not be easily attainable. I have also walked away with incredible friends which I consider my brothers.”
THEN AND NOW GALLERY
KEARSNEY COLLEGE CENTENARY EVENTS
- 7 to 9 April: Kearsney Tennis Festival
- 2 to 5 June: Founders Week
- 2 June: Squash Old Boys v Kearsney boys; Old Boys concert
- 3 June: Old Boys Golf Day; Hockey Old Boys vs 1st X1
- 4 June: Survivors’ Assembly and Lunch; Founders black tie dinner
- 5 June: Chapel Service, KCOB AGM; Rugby and Hockey vs Maritzburg College
- 17 July: Centenary Ball
- 4 August: Centenary Epic and Garden Party
- 5 to 8 August: Kearsney Hockey 5s
- 20 September: 24-Hour Challenge (inter-house)
- 24 to 27 September: Independent Schools Stayers Basketball Tournament
- 30 September to 2 October: Charl van Rooyen Cricket Festival