1888 - 1897

The school opens in what is now central Johannesburg, with seven pupils. Miss Mary Ross is appointed Lady Principal.


Miss Kathleen Holmes-Orr becomes Lady Principal. She arrives from England armed with two years of tertiary education from Cambridge University and some teaching experience. (Cambridge records her name as Katharine while her Irish birth certificate records her as Catherine.)

She brings stability to the lives of many young boarders and establishes a firm Christian foundation for the school.


The school has 58 pupils. It faces its second near-calamity; the first was a fire. This time it is bankruptcy. But efforts to save it, supported by a committee of gentlemen from Jeppestown, are successful.


Continued financial woes lead to the committee buying the school. Then Miss Homes-Orr buys it. She maintains a strict Anglican routine – fish on Fridays, days of prayer and silence, and plenty of chapel – but the Church is no longer the arbiter of school affairs.

For the pupils, there are lessons in the arts and sciences, and gym, baton drill, art, music and drama.

One girl wins a place at Cambridge University. The school flourishes.


Despite ongoing animosity towards uitlanders (foreigners), who enjoy no political rights, Miss Holmes-Orr encourages loyalty to the Transvaal Republic. Pupils learn to sing the republic’s volkslied (anthem), and have a holiday on President Paul Kruger’s birthday, 10 October.

Decade 1

In 1890, two years after its establishment, St Mary’s has 58 pupils