St Matthews Mission is where it all started in 1855, founded by Bishop Armstrong on 600 hectares of land in Keiskamahoek donated to the Anglican Church by Chief Socishe. The Mission was also linked to Castle Eyre a neighbouring Fort named after Lieut-Colonel Eyre of the 73rd Regent. This period was not without trouble as there were constant conflicts amongst the local tribes as well conflicts with the British settlers over land (1850’s).
The first building for the mission school was built in 1855 by the Military Chaplain, Dacre, just before the arrival of the Resident Missionary, the Rev H.B. Smith who arrived in September 1855. Rev Smith arrived with Mr Gray, an agriculturalist, Mr Gawula a school teacher and Mr Finn, an interpreter who was employed by the government.
The first group of scholars enrolled in the school in 1856, a total of 91 scholars. Due to the long distances travelled by the scholars, there were constant requests for boarding accommodation.
One of the buildings was a converted old trading store. The title deed for the mission was issued on the 13th September 1856. The early buildings comprised a dwelling house for the missionary, another for the matron and the boarders, and classroom which also served as a church. These were built from locally available material and well baked bricks with roofs of thatch. Rev Smith left the Mission on the 1st January 1858 to be replaced by Rev W.H.L. Johnson who only stayed a year.
In 1859, Chaplain Dacre was replaced by Rev W. Greenstock, who started on the industrial education centre. Simple trades like carpentry for boys and home crafts, cooking and domestic duties for girls were introduced. In July 1862, Charles Taberer (19) joined the school as one of the teaching staff. Charles was to become instrumental in the development and growth of the industrial training centre. The carpentry section flourished which later graduated to Wagon building; a tin-smith’s shop and a printing press.
In 1880, the first girls boarding department had been established. This was the first boarding establishment for African girls in the whole of the Cape Province. In 1883, the school had 50 boys in residence with Mrs Taberer as the Lady Matron since the beginning of that year. A Native Training School was established in 1895 for the training of Native Teachers.
A hospital and nurses training facility were set up in 1923 and a secondary in 1926. The school was taken over by the Department of Bantu Education in 1955 and in 1970 the state bought most of the St Matthews land. After 114 years of activity in the place, the Anglican Church withdrew its direct involvement with the education programmes at the mission. The hospital was taken over by the Ciskei Government in 1976 and was moved to Keiskammahoek town to become S.S. Gida hospital.
St Matthews has remained an integral part of the wider community throughout its history. Currently, the school undertakes outreach programmes to other local schools. The school’s Annual Career Day grants learners from surrounding schools an opportunity to receive encouragement and guidance in planning for their future goals. This event also includes the participation of the alumni.
The school has recently reached an agreement with Keiskammahoek Child and Youth Centre to provide accommodation for the centre to operate. The centre provides professional counselling, therapeutic treatment as well as life skills training for at-risk youth in the Keiskammahoek community. The centre was originally an initiative of the St Matthews parish and is strongly supported by the Taberer family, descendants of the Reverend Charles Taberer who was a teacher and rector at St Matthews from 1862 until 1914.
The school aims to extend and formalise its efforts in the community under a Community Outreach Programme. This will include a new Teacher Centre to hold workshops, conferences and in-service training. The new Media Centre will incorporate a multi-media library and facilities to extend computer courses to the community at large.