St John's Church, Donkin Street, Bathurst






Post date: 07/08/2012
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History: This fine church was built by 1820 settlers. The foundation stone was laid in 1832. It repeatedly served as a place of refuge and fortification during times of war.

This is indeed the heart of the area where the 1820 Settlers established themselves; the town and the surrounding countryside abound in places that are associated with those early pioneers. Outstanding amongst such buildings is St. John’s Church. The British Settlers were allocated to the Suurveld, south of Grahamstown, between the Bushman’s and the Fish Rivers. The nearest town, Grahamstown, was kilometres away, so Sir Rufane Donkin established the village of Bathurst right in the middle of the settlement for the convenience of the Settlers and appointed Captain Trappes as the provisional magistrate there.
As was to be expected, Bathurst became the centre of the religious life of the Settlers. The Chaplain of the Church of England, the Rev. William Boardman, first held his services in a large tent and later in the drostdy. In 1829 a committee was formed to collect money to build a church, but little progress was made until the Rev. George Porter arrived in 1830. Sir Lowry Cole visited Bathurst in October of that year and granted an excellent site for a church and cemetery. Andries Stockenstrom, the Commissioner General of the Eastern Districts, gave authority for the sale of shares to raise funds and Major Charles C. Michell R.E., who later became the first Surveyor- General of the Cape Colony, drew the plans. In December, 1831, Samuel Bradshaw’s tender of R780 for building the walls and spire was accepted.
In March, 1832, the first sod was turned and in May the foundation stone was laid. Bradshaw used stone from the Freestone Quarries and worked so well that the shell of the building was completed by the middle of 1833. In October, 1834, tenders were invited for the roof, but in the mean while the Rev. James Barrow succeeded the Rev. George Porter. The outbreak of the Sixth Xhosa War in December, 1834, stopped all work on the church. The Settlers on the outlying farms were instructed to go to Bathurst. The safest place there was the uncompleted church, so the women and children took refuge in it while the men mounted guard round it. Repeated attacks on the church by the Xhosa were beaten off until the inmates could be evacuated to Grahamstown by means of a convoy of ox wagons.
In January, 1835, the British military forces reoccupied Bathurst. The church, fortified by means of earthworks round it, became the centre of the military post and had to withstand several attacks by the Xhosa. After the war, work on the church was resumed and the building was opened on New Year’s Day, 1838.
in April, 1846, peace was again disturbed by the out break of the War of the Axe. Once again the Church became a refuge. The windows were blocked with sand bags and about 300 people lived in the church until the end of the war in January, 1847.
Bathurst now became a parish of the new diocese of Cape Town. The building loan was redeemed by the share holders transferring their shares to the Bishop in October, 1848, and in the same month the Bishop consecrated the church.
In December, 1850, the Xhosa once again invaded the eastern districts and for the third time the church had to serve as a place of refuge for the inhabitants. Fortunately the peace that was concluded in March, 1853, brought the turbulent period in the history of the church to an end.
Shortly after the establishment of the Diocese of Grahamstown in November 1853, the church was dedicated to St. John.
Visual Description: Bathurst is situated some 16 kilometres from Port Alfred, on the road to Grahamstown.
Site Features:
Construction Date: 1832
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