"> '); Prevailing Intercessory Prayer : Brief History of Huguenot Seminary

Brief History of the Huguenot Seminary: The Light at the Cape of Good Hope

Arthur Tappan Pierson

“If you want most to serve your race,
go where no one else will go,
and do what no one else will do.”—Mary Lyon

We propose to draw in profile the outline of one of the most wonderful and fascinating stories of modern missions-the narrative of the founding of the Huguenot Seminary at Wellington, Cape Colony.

Wellington, about forty miles from Cape Town, is a gem set in a ring of mountains- the Drakenstein and Paarl ranges. It is now more than two centuries since some three hundred Huguenots, who had fled from France to Holland after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, accepted the invitation of the Dutch East India Company, and settled at the Cape. What the Puritans were to America, these devoted refugees became to the Dark Continent.

By law Dutch was the language of the colony, and so, in a few generations, the French ceased to be their language, and almost the nationality of these refugees was lost. Early in this century the colony passed into the hands of Great Britain, and the Dutch Reformed churches, already established, became largely supplied with Scotch Presbyterian pastors.

One of these was Rev. Andrew Murray, who was settled over the congregation at Graaff Reinet. He married a German Huguenot lady, and five of their sons now preach in the colony, while four of their daughters are wives of ministers. The second son, also called Andrew, is the pastor of the church at Wellington, and is the now famous author of the most precious devotional books, which perhaps during the past half-century, have been issued from the English press.

This man of God, Andrew Murray, nearly twenty years ago, buried two young children at his African home; and, as Mrs. Murray expressed it, “their hands seemed emptied, and ready for some work with which the Lord was waiting to fill them.” The bereaved husband and wife went in December, 1872, to the seaside to rest, and there they read together the marvelous life of Mary Lyon. So thrilled were they by that story of heroism that they sought to obtain everything that could further inform them of the subsequent history of the Holyoke Seminary and its pupils, and eagerly devoured the story of Fidelia Fiske, the Mary Lyon of Persia.

Just at this time the descendants of those Huguenot refugees living at Wellington were proposing to build some monument or memorial to their ancestors; and Mr. Murray was strangely and strongly impressed that the best memorial they could rear was just such a school for their daughters. The schools scattered through South Africa were neither such as the mind nor morals of the girls needed; few of them were fitted to train souls for service here or glory hereafter. Every indication of human need and Divine Providence seemed to point to this as the time and place for a new Holyoke. And, after much thought, consultation, and prayer, letters were written to the Massachusetts Holyoke, asking for a graduate to found a similar school at the Cape of Good Hope.

These letters awakened unusual interest at the parent seminary, and were put into the hands of Miss Abbie P. Ferguson, a graduate of the class of 1856, who was at that time conducting a very successful work in New Haven, Conn. Her mind was so deeply impressed that God was calling her to Africa, that she could not rest until she had laid herself at the Lord’s feet, to go wherever He might lead. She breathed a prayer that, if He was indeed calling her to Wellington, another might be found to share the work; and just then Miss Anna E. Bliss, of the class of 1862, offered herself as a companion in labor. Just at this time, across the Atlantic, special prayer was arising that Jehovah Jireh would provide a teacher, and so once more prayer and its answer joined in a blessed harmony man’s performance and God’s purpose. Before the letters reached Wellington, telling of the decision of these teachers, Mr. Murray, with characteristic faith, had sent passage money to America; and when the news of the decision of Miss Ferguson and Miss Bliss reached the colonists, the open letters were bedewed with tears of thanksgiving. They had asked one teacher, and God had given two.

Mr. Murray rehearsed the whole story of this marked leading of God, commended the proposed work to the Lord in prayer, and pledges were given on the spot to insure the support of the new school. Though not a rich people, in a few weeks $6,000 had been given by the Wellingtonians alone, one widow giving one-sixteenth of the whole amount- all her little patrimony.

Miss Ferguson and her companion sailed for Africa in September, 1873, and arrived at Cape Town in about eight weeks. They found that a large building with grounds had been bought for the school, the life of Mary Lyon had been translated into Dutch, and many young people were ready to enter as pupils into the new Huguenot Seminary, or as teachers, to seek higher fitness for their calling. The seminary was formally opened, January 19, 1874, and the large assemblies which that day prayerfully committed the work to the Lord will never be forgotten. During the first term there were forty students from fifteen to forty years of age; and the Bible and prayer were from the first the characteristic features of the school life, the first hour of each day being given to instruction in the Holy Word, and a half hour in the day being reserved for the quiet of personal communication with God.

The devout and earnest purpose of these teachers was to educate Christian character. God honors those who honor Him. One morning the Scripture lesson was on the new birth, and before that day had gone thirteen had taken their place on the Lord’s side. Even those whom candor compelled to confess that they were unsaved, could not rest content without salvation; and, when another meeting was called, for those who felt that they were Christ’s, every one in the school came. And after all these years have put the confession to the test, nearly every one has remained faithful, and not a few have been filling positions of singular usefulness.

Our space will not permit more than an outline of a history now covering nearly a score of years. But, as might be expected, the saved became saviours. Children were gathered from the street, and a Sunday-school was formed; through the children access was obtained to their parents; cottage meetings-as many as fourteen at one time, conducted by young ladies; the navvies and their families were reached by the same consecrated workers, and Wellington Seminary became a fountain of living waters.

The seminary building became too strait for the growth of the institution, and a new building became a necessity; its cornerstone was laid November 19, 1874, the two buildings together costing $40,000. Two more teachers were sent for, and Miss Wells and Miss Bailey came from America, November, 1874, and soon after Miss Spijker, from Holland, to teach Dutch and French.

In July, 1875, the new building was ready for use; the pupils increased from forty to ninety, and the school was divided into two departments-one preparatory. In December, 1875, Miss Landfear came from New Haven to share the growing burden of work, and still later Miss Brewer, of Stockbridge, Mass.; in 1877, Miss Cummings and Miss Knapp were added to the corps of instructors, and the standard of the school kept rising higher and higher, both intellectually and spiritually.

During 1878, stimulated by the reports of the ten years’ work of the Womans’ Board of Missions in America, the Huguenot Missionary Society was organized, and became speedily the parent of many mission circles. Missionary offerings had been the habit at the weekly devotional meetings, and had been sent to Mrs. Schauffler, in Austria, to Dr. Bernardo and Miss Annie Macpherson in London, to the Basuto, Natal, and Indian missions. But now the work took organized form, and before the year closed a member of the school offered herself as a missionary, and subsequently went as their representative to the heathen in the Transvaal.

That same year-1878-the first graduating class left the Huguenot Seminary. To trace the after-careers of these four graduates may give some hint of the streams which flow from this fountain. One of the four (Miss Malherbe) was next year a teacher in her Alma Mater, and then took the principalship of Prospect Seminary in Praetoria in the Transvaal; Miss De Leeuw and Miss Mader started a boarding-school at Bethlehem, in the Orange Free State, similar to the Wellington Seminary; and during the first year had five more pupils than Wellington at the corresponding period of its history; Miss Wilson went to teach in the Rockland Seminary at Cradock. In December, 1879, seven more young ladies received diplomas, and all became teachers. Meanwhile God continued to bestow His grace, and again in 1879 nearly all the inmates of the school became disciples of Christ. These nearly twenty years have been marked by a constant growth. In 1882 there was opened a model school, and a normal department was organized. Books, and chemical and philosophical apparatus, a Williston observatory and telescope, etc., were furnished by generous friends; and far and wide the “daughters” of Miss Ferguson and her fellow-teachers scattered to diffuse new blessings.

In April, 1880, Miss Ferguson left for rest and change, and visited her native land, returning the next year. And in 1882 another building was erected, to accommodate about forty more pupils-boarders; and during the same year, as already intimated, another building was opened for a model school for the training of the younger children of the village; and the pupils of the normal class have practice in the art of teaching, and can learn the most approved methods-kindergarten, etc.

The pressure of pupils and too little room made it necessary again to enlarge, and a cottage adjoining the school grounds was purchased. In 1885 Miss Cummings, of Strafford, Vt., one of the teachers, came home for a year’s visit, and secured from Mr. Goodnow, of Worcester, a building costing some 3,000. The upper story, to be used as a chapel, will seat five hundred, and the lower floor is devoted to art-room and scientific classrooms.

Last year the applications were so many it was again necessary to provide more room; and, while hesitating whether to build or rent rooms near the seminary, the principal of a girls’ school at the Paarl, a village some eight miles distant, applied to the trustees to purchase his building, failing health making it necessary that he and his wife should give up the work. Some of the village people were very anxious the school should come under the influence of the Huguenot Seminary, and after much thought and prayer the purchase was made. This school takes the younger pupils, making it a preparatory department, and one of the American teachers superintends it. This gives more room at Wellington for advanced pupils. The schools are called Huguenot Seminary, Paarl, and Huguenot Seminary, Wellington. There are now in the two schools over four hundred pupils. They have the same board of trustees, and are under the same principal.

The expense of buildings and grounds has outrun their income, and they have felt keenly the pressure of debt. But the friends of Christian education in the colony have responded nobly to the call for aid, and at different times Parliament has granted them appropriations amounting to 2,000, so that during the last year they had much rejoicing in Wellington over the accomplishment of the long-desired freedom from debt. There is some indebtedness on the Paarl school yet; but Dr. Dale, or Sir Langham Dale, the Superintendent of Education, for the colony, gives them encouragement to hope that Government will give them help by and by.

In 1888 Mrs. H. B. Allen, of Meriden, Conn., a sister of Miss Ferguson, sent a circular letter to her sister’s classmates asking for help to reduce their indebtedness, it being her sister’s “jubilee year,” and the two hundredth anniversary of the settling of the Huguenots in South Africa. They were to make a special

effort to “go free” that year. Mrs. Allen secured about $200 in money, but interest and prayer which were, perhaps, worth more. And then faith was rewarded, for early in 1889 the grant from Government came.

The writer does not know just the number of missionaries who have gone out from the school, but there have been hundreds of teachers.

Miss Ferguson made a famous journey in 1887-88. In October, 1887, she left the seminary for her year’s vacation. The first three months of it she spent in visiting the missionary stations in the Midland and Eastern provinces of the colony, where some of the pupils are located as missionaries and teachers. She returned to Wellington in December, and met two of her pupils from Basutoland, who had just graduated, and returned with them to their home. They are the daughters of French missionaries who are in charge of the Protestant mission of Basutoland. They went by train from Wellington to Kimberley (where the diamond mines are), and spent several days with school daughters there. A bullock wagon, drawn by fourteen oxen belonging to the missionaries, was sent from Moujah to meet them. Leaving Kimberley on the 28th of December, they reached Moujah on the 10th of January, outspanning [unhooking the oxen and resting] in the heat of the day, and traveling often by moonlight. Two Christian natives, who had long been in the mission family, had charge of the party-Eleazer and Nkloroso.

I have before me the plan of the journey as Miss Ferguson sent it from Moujah. Here are extracts from her journal:

“February 5th, at Hermon (Basutoland); February 12th, at Mofukas for the baptism of a sister of the old chief Mosesh, over eighty years old, and others. February 19th, Leribe, Mr. Colliard’s old station. February 27th, Bethlehem, Orange Free State, with Mrs. Theron, one of our Huguenot teachers. March 3d, Heilbron, Orange Free State, where four of my Huguenot daughters live. March 8th, Free port, Orange Free State, the minister and wife from Wellington. March 12th, Potchefstroom, Transvaal, where I have several daughters. Here Mrs. Gonin, wife of the missionary at Saul’s Poort, meets me with her bullock wagon, and we go on to Rustenberg, where one of my daughters is in the school. Her father is the principal. March 19th to April 20th, Saul’s Poort, Mabie’s Kraal and Mochuli; in all these places we have girls who are missionaries. The last of April, I go to Pretoria (Transvaal), where we have girls teaching; then on to Wakkustroom and Utrecht with Mr. Murray’s sister. The last of May to Rorke’s Drift, where my friend, the Baroness Rossi has a little mission work of her own. June and July I expect to spend in Natal with the American missionaries.

Miss Ferguson was detained by rains and full rivers, so that she did not leave Mochuli until May. (Mochuli is half-way between the parallel 240 S. and the Tropic of Capricorn, and half-way between meridian 260 and 27* E. just north of the Natwane River, almost in the torrid zone. It is not on the map.) Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the Transvaal, was the only place where she spent a night at a hotel. She arrived Saturday night, and her letter to friends had not been received; but she was found and carried away to the home of Christian friends.

Early in August she sailed from Durban to Port Elizabeth, went to King William’s Town, and on up to Graaf Reinet; then to Kimberley again in the interest of the mission work so near her heart, which has resulted in the Mission House, cared for by three of the Huguenot daughters; and back to Wellington the last of September.

Every letter speaks of the marvelous kindness everywhere received, and the wonderful openings for work. We have not spoken of the “Chautauqua circles” that have been formed all through South Africa. Miss Landfear, one of the Huguenot teachers, is the secretary for South Africa, and is introducing a class of reading that is educating and elevating those who have left school. A circle has been formed among the native boys at Moujah.

If any of our readers will, on the map, follow this remarkable journey of Miss Ferguson through Southern Africa, they will see how many hundreds of miles she went; and let it be remembered that only one night in all that journey was spent at a hotel; in every other case she was the guest of “her daughters”-the young ladies who had graduated from Wellington and gone into all that dark land to become teachers, missionaries, wives of godly men and ministers of the Gospel, and who are thus turning many a “Valley of Desolation” and barren waste of Paganism into the Lord’s garden! Are we not right in calling Wellington’s Huguenot Seminary “the Light at the Cape”? To-day Miss Ferguson has under her care four hundred pupils.

We must add a word as to the progress of education in other parts of the land, which is largely due to the influence of Wellington.

In 1874, the year when the Huguenot Seminary began its work, Rev. J. Neethling, of Stellenbosch, asked for a teacher from America, on behalf of the school committee, and Miss Gilson came in response to the call in November of the same year. Before the year 1875 closed, a boarding department was opened; and the large and flourishing seminary now does for the Lord most excellent and efficient work both in training intellects and educating Christian hearts for the service of the Kingdom.

During 1875 a request for two teachers was sent from Worcester by Rev. William Murray, the minister there, to America. And, as at Wellington, the spirit of faith and prayer anticipated the arrival of the teachers in preparing for the school and sending forward the passage-money. The Misses Smith (two sisters), of Sunderland, Mass., responded. In April, 1876, the seminary building at Worcester was completed. At the opening, Rev. Andrew Murray spoke on the great need of multiplying such Christian schools in Africa, and it was determined to ask for six more teachers from over the seas.

At the same time Miss Helen Murray began work at Graaf Reinet, taking charge of the Midland Seminary, with twenty-five boarders and as many day scholars, until Miss Thayer and Miss Ayers arrived, six months later. A revival during the first term put the significant seal of God’s approval on the work at its very inception, and nearly all the pupils rejoiced in Jesus. In 1876 Miss Lester left Woodstock, Conn., for the Bloemhof Seminary at Stellenbosch, and in April, four years after, was transferred to a similar work in Standerton, in the Transvaal.

During 1877 Messrs. Andrew and Charles Murray visited America, and in answer to their appeal for teachers, thirteen more went to Africa that year, one of whom went eventually to Swellendam. And when, in September, 1877, the Messrs. Murray returned, Rev. George R. Ferguson, brother to the founder of the Huguenot Seminary at Wellington, came with them to take in charge a new school or institute for training of young men as evangelists and missionaries, and has since been engaged in that work at Wellington.

When this noble band of workers arrived, in 1877, to reinforce the educational mission work in Africa, a feast of rejoicing and thanksgiving filled an “eight days” like the feasts of ancient Israel. The windows were illumined, the flowers hung in festoons or bloomed in bouquets “like as” on an Easter morning, and the Lord was magnified in the praises of his own. One day twenty-seven Americans dined together in the building where, four years before, two teachers began their pioneer work. The teachers at Graaf Reinet, too far away to participate in person, flashed greetings over the electric wires.

After a few days the new teachers began to disperse to Worcester, Graaf Reinet, Stellenbosch, Beaufort West, Swellendam, etc. Miss Clary chose Praetoria, because the work there was most difficult and discouraging; and Miss Ruggles undertook with her the journey to this field fifteen hundred miles beyond Cape Town.

We can follow no further this fascinating story. In 1880 eleven schools had already been established in South Africa under the care of these American teachers-eight in Cape Colony, two in the Transvaal, and one in the Orange Free State. Thirty-eight ladies had, previous to 1881, gone out from America to take charge of this work of education; and the devoted man of God, Rev. Andrew Murray, has generally had the privilege of applying for teachers, while Mrs. H. B. Allen, of Meriden, Conn., (sister of Miss Ferguson), has cooperated in the selection of those who should go.

No words can express the blessing, which has come through this period of almost twenty years to the whole of Africa through these grand Christian schools. They are building light houses, not at the Cape only, but all through the Southern half of the Dark Continent. We doubt whether any work ever done for God has had, from the inception, more signal tokens of His approbation and blessing.

Those who have visited Graaf Reinet have remarked that it stands close by the “Valley of Desolation,” so called from its absolute barrenness and the absence of life. In fact, Graaf Reinet is itself simply a section of that barren waste reclaimed by culture and irrigation. How completely the whole aspect of this part of the valley has been transfigured may be inferred from the fact that in the garden of Rev. Charles Murray eighty different species or varieties of roses may be found in bloom. May this not be a precious symbol and type of what the Huguenot Seminary and its companion schools are doing for the wild wastes of the Dark Continent, flashing out rays to illumine the midnight, and sending forth streams to irrigate the barrenness, until where darkness and dearth abounded there shall be a radiance as of a morning without clouds, and a fertility as of an earthly Eden!

“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the garden of the Lord.”

Taken from Miracles of Missions; or, The Modern Marvels in the History of Missions, Volume 1, by Arthur Tappan Pierson