The History of Bishopstowe

John William Colenso consecrated Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Natal in 1853, and two weeks later sailed to South Africa for his tour of inspection of his future home, Natal. He recorded this visit in an informative account ‘Ten Weeks in Natal’ (1854). He and his family lived in Natal from 1855, settling his family and members of the mission in buildings hastily erected at Bishopstowe, the mission station being called Ekukanyeni (Place of Light), some 15 km east of Pietermaritzburg. Here Colenso erected first a simple rectangular thatched wattle and daub cottage to which was added a series of out buildings. The house was extended in the picturesque style. The mission church was a decorative wooden structure. Colenso lived at Bishopstowe until his death in 1883. The house was destroyed by a veldt fire the following year, 1884, the family salvaging what they could and moving to a nearby farm building several hundred yards away. In 1899/1900 a simple brick and iron house was built on the same foundations of the old house by Colenso’s two surviving daughters, Harriette and Agnes, thus retaining Bishop Colenso’s favourite view of Table Mountain which he had called his altar. It remained the family home until 1910, and still survives. The nature of the new Diocese of Natal had been perceived as mission orientated by Bishop Gray of Cape Town and indeed, the Zulus in Natal immediately became Colenso’s prime concern, earning him the nickname ‘Sobantu’ (‘friend of the people’); two further mission stations were erected during Colenso’s time, at Umlazi near Durban, and at KwaMagwaza near Melmoth. Colenso’s views on several aspects of Anglican doctrine were controversial and caused the Natal Anglicans, and eventually the South African Anglicans, to split into two camps, giving rise to the Church of the Province of South Africa (Bishop Gray), and the Church of England (Bishop Colenso). Colenso remained the Anglican Bishop of Natal until his death, and the cathedral church of St Peter’s in Pietermaritzburg remained his official church (he is buried in front of the altar); Bishop Kenneth Macrorie was ordained Bishop of Maritzburg in 1868, a Bishop Gray appointee, alongside Colenso. The two Bishops both lived in and near Pietermaritzburg for some years.

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