School badge
Quis ut Deus
Balgowan, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Type Private, Boarding
Established 1896
Locale Rural
Rector Guy Pearson
Exam board IEB
Grades Blocks E - A (grades 8-12)
Number of students 550 boys
School Color(s) Red and white
Fees R158 240 p.a.

Michaelhouse is a full boarding senior school for boys founded in 1896. It is located in the Balgowan valley in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.



St. Michael's Diocesan College was founded in Pietermaritzburg in 1896 by James Cameron Todd, an Anglican canon. The school was established as a private venture with fifteen boys in two small houses in Loop Street

James Cameron Todd had a clear idea of what he wanted the school to be. He wrote: "A man's tone, moral and spiritual, as well as intellectual, is largely determined for life by his school."

Within a few years, Michaelhouse became the Diocesan College of Natal, governed by a permanent trust deed and administered by a board of governors.

In 1901 the school relocated to Balgowan, when some 77 boys took up residence in the buildings which remain the core to the school to this day. Its name was later changed to Michaelhouse. The school adopted the 9th century chorale Stars of the Morning as its official school hymn.


The Latin school motto, Quis ut Deus translates to 'Who like God?', or, less literally, 'Who is like God?'. This motto is derived from the name of the school whose origin stems from the Hebrew Mikha'el which translates to the same.[1] The school hymn, Stars of the Morning, reflects this with the line "Who like the Lord?" thunders Michael, the Chief.


  • Canon James Cameron Todd (1896–1903)
  • Canon Edward Bertram Hugh Jones (1903–1910)
  • Antony William Scudamore Brown (1910–1916)
  • Eldred Pascoe (1917–1926)
  • Warin Foster Bushell (1927–1930)
  • Ronald Fairbridge Currey (1930–1938)
  • Frederick Rowlandson Snell (1939–1952)
  • Clem Morgan (1953–1960)
  • Mr Robert Thomas Stanley Norwood(1960–1968)
  • Rex Frampton Pennington (1969–1977)
  • Neil Jardine (1978–1986)
  • John Hay Pluke (1987–1996)
  • Reginald Dudley Forde (1997–2001)
  • Guy Norman Pearson (2002–present)

Relationship with Hilton College

Hilton College and Michaelhouse have much in common in that they are the only two full boarding schools left in South Africa and are both located near one another in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

A friendly rivalry on the sports field has developed since 1896, the high point being the biannual Hilton-Michaelhouse Day. This event, held alternately between the two schools, sees them play one another in sport, primarily rugby and hockey. The culmination of the day is the main rugby match between the two schools' 1st XVs.


The years of study are referred to as blocks E to A. "A block" is the equivalent of grade 12 or year 12 and has boys aged 17 or 18 and "E block" is the equivalent of grade 8 or year 8 and has boys aged 13 or 14.

Michaelhouse educates boys and has an academic staff of about sixty with a male teaching quotient of approximately 70%; the master/pupil ratio is 1:10 .[2]

Michaelhouse school-leavers write the Independent Examinations Board exams and consistently achieve top results.

IEB Results 2004 2005 2006 2007
Number of candidates 106 109 90 108
Number of failures 0 0 0 0
University endorsement (%) 87.2 95.5 94.4
A aggregates (%) 20 22 27 21
A-B-C aggregates (%) 94 83 91
Subject distinctions 125 126 137 139
Number in top 50 0 0 1 0

The school has produced over 30 Rhodes scholars to study at the University of Oxford and 10 Elsie Ballot scholars to study at the University of Cambridge.[3]

In recent years, one Michaelhouse graduate was accepted directly to the University of Oxford and four to the University of Pennsylvania, of whom three were accepted to Wharton Business School.

The school hosted the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships in 2002.

The estate and facilities

The chapel rose window depicts the head of Christ surrounded by the birds of Natal Province

Pietermaritzburg Foundation (1896 to 1902)

The school was founded in a building in Loop Street, Pietermaritzburg. It had capacity for about 30 boys in total, but it was not long before that became inadequate.

Balgowan Estate (from 1902)

Around the turn of the century, Rector James Cameron Todd was donated approximately 60 acres (0.24 km2) of land in the picturesque Balgowan valley, approximately 45 minutes north of Pietermaritzburg. The buildings were started in 1900 and the school took occupation in 1901. The first buildings to be completed were the existing administration block, vestry and gallery of the now extended chapel, and Founders House.

The Oribi Reserve

The hill overlooking Michaelhouse is one of the rarer biomes in the country (Midlands mistbelt grassland) and is the preferred habitat for an indigenous antelope, the Oribi. In 2005, a herd of Nguni cattle was generously brought onto the reserve by Anthony Ardington to use as a tool to help rehabilitate the struggling grassland to a sustainable level. The reserve is run holistically, keeping burning to a minimum. Staff members have their own cows that have become part of the herd. The Oribi reserve can boast a herd of four blesbok and thirteen Oribi amongst many other species of wild animals.

The buildings

The original school buildings are made of traditional Pietermaritzburg red brick. The entire school is built in a lattice of quadrangles. It is in fact possible to move from one end of the school buildings to the other without ever having to get wet on a rainy day.

Boarding houses

There are eight boarding houses. The house system was put in place by Rector Warin Bushell in 1928. Initially four houses were established but as the school grew the number of houses increased. These are, in order of age, with foundation date in brackets:

  • Founders (1928, formerly called "Rector's" and "Foundation North")
  • East (1928, formerly called "Foundation East")
  • West (1928, formerly called "Foundation West")
  • Farfield (1928)
  • Tatham (1935, formerly called "Tathams")
  • Pascoe (1940)
  • Baines (1956)
  • Mackenzie (1995)

Each boarding house houses about 65 boys in dormitories of four to six for the younger boys and in double and single rooms for the senior boys.

The boys share two dining halls (one for senior boys and one for juniors) for their meals and are supplied by a kitchen, with an on-site bakery and butchery.

The chapel

The chapel is an important focal point in the school's architecture and ethos. The chapel was built running from North to South with the apse at the North end.

In the 1940s, however, the chapel was no longer big enough to fit the entire school in for a service. Thus the chapel was extended towards the East. Because of World War II, the chapel was only finished in the 1950s. A memorial to those who died in World War II is outside the entrance to the chapel.

The original chapel now forms the gallery and vestry. The apse of the old chapel is used as a baptism font. The extended chapel can seat nearly 600 people. Beneath the new chapel is a crypt which is used for smaller prayer meetings and services. The crypt can seat 30 people.

The stained glass windows featured in the Sir Herbert Baker designed chapel, include: the Michaelhouse rose window, depicting the head of Christ surrounded by the birds of Natal Province at the rear of the chapel, and windows depicting Jesus Christ, St. Michael and other angels in the sanctuary. The windows were created by Ervin Bossanyi. The pews are made of solid teak.

The chapel has a bell-tower, installed in the 1950s with a carillon of eight bells. It has been a tradition (with unknown origins) that only boys from Tatham House may ring the bells. The bells are rung before each chapel service (there are three services a week, although not all are compulsory).

The Schlesinger Theatre

A 550-seat theatre was built and completed in 1976. It was opened at a ceremony by Elizabeth Sneddon in 1976. The theatre hosts a variety of performances, mainly aimed at the resident population of pupils. However, the theatre is open to the local community. Many performers give a one night performance on their way between runs in Johannesburg and Durban.

The Schlesinger theatre is one of a number of facilities at the school that was funded by an old boy.

The Inglis Indoor Centre

The construction of the Inglis Indoor Centre was finally completed in the month of August 2006. It is named after James Inglis, a past chairman of the Board of Governors. In summer it is used for basketball, and has three courts that can be used simultaneously, whilst during winter it is used for indoor hockey.

The centre also features a cafeteria/restaurant which is available to the pupils as well as the public, and accommodation for visiting teams to stay overnight.

The estate, June 2009

Other features

The library is stocked with over 16,000 books and has an adjoining 50 seat lecture theatre. There are four Science laboratories, three Biology laboratories and three computer centres. The school has a sanatorium and laundry service. The staff reside on the estate.

Sporting facilities

There are 11 playing fields:

  • Willows - named after the Willow trees that stand along its length.
  • Vlei - an Afrikaans name meaning marsh or bog. This is because of the field's affinity for flooding during heavy rains.
  • Meadows - used as the main rugby field.
  • Far Meadows - adjacent to Meadows
  • Holleys
  • Tarpeys - grew millet during World War II to feed the school.
  • Baileys - the former main rugby field. Moved to Meadows when seating the hundreds of fans on its small banks became a problem
  • Aitkens Astroturf - formerly a grass pitch, the astroturf was completed in 2001
  • Punchbowl - a junior cricket oval.
  • Hannahs - a senior cricket oval.
  • Roy Gathorne Oval - the first team's cricket oval.

These include six turf cricket pitches, an artificial astroturf hockey surface, a heated swimming pool (12 lanes by 25 metres), eight tennis courts, a weight training facility, a six court squash complex, a golf driving range, an indoor sports centre (used primarily for basketball and indoor hockey - the facility also houses four artificial surface indoor cricket practice nets) and a dam for canoeing.

Hosting of Paraguay Soccer Team

The nearby Woodridge Estate hosted the Paraguay team for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and Michaelhouse was chosen to be the team's training base for the tournament.

Notable alumni (with year of matriculation)

Michaelhouse today

The ideals of the founder, James Cameron Todd, are maintained. He said "Our aim is to make, not accountants, not clerks, not doctors, not clergymen, but men of understanding, thought and culture".

Michaelhouse is a member of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa and the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

Michaelhouse is also the school in which the novel Spud, by alumnus John van de Ruit, takes place. The movie version was also shot here.

Feeder schools

See also


External links

Coordinates: 29°24′S 30°02′E / 29.4°S 30.033°E / -29.4; 30.033

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