When the University of Stellenbosch (today Stellenbosch University) was granted university status by an act of parliament on 2 April 1918, it was not a newly established institution. Over the preceding 60 years, it had gradually evolved through various stages, becoming a college and then a university.
It all started in the 1850s. The ministers of the Cape Dutch Reformed Church wanted training to take place locally, not in the Netherlands, so the Theological Seminary (known as the Kweekskool) was established in 1859.
What was also needed was a high school for theology students, offering Latin and Greek, as in the Netherlands.
For this purpose, the Stellenbosche Gymnasium (now the Paul Roos Gymnasium) was established in 1866 with teachers from Scotland. After an act by the then Cape parliament in 1874, the gymnasium became a type of tertiary institution – it had an Arts Department with sections for Arts and Philosophy and Mathematics and Natural Sciences.
In 1880, this institution became the Stellenbosch College and Public School. The town’s residents donated a stately building (now the Old Main Building) to the college in 1886.
When it was inaugurated, a decision was taken to name the college after Queen Victoria, who would mark 50 years on the British throne in 1887. From London, the palace let it be known that she was “graciously pleased”.
For 30 years, until 1917, the Viktoria Kollege, as it was called in Dutch, was known countrywide as an academic institution of quality. But gaining recognition as a university was going to be a challenge – fortunately, a £100 000 bequest after the death of Mr Jannie Marais of the farm Coetzenburg in 1915 provided the necessary financial viability.
In 1916, three acts of parliament in one day determined that the University of Stellenbosch, along with the University of South Africa (now known as Unisa) and the University of Cape Town, would have university status from 2 April 1918.
The stone-laying of the Ou Hoofgebou (Old Main Building) on 22 December 1880. The main building of the then Stellenbosch College was inaugurated on 6 November 1886.
A commemorative plaque in the inner court of the Ou Hoofgebou for two students who died of fever in 1899.
On 6 November 1986 the centenary of the Ou Hoofgebou was celebrated in its inner court.