Helen Murray

(22 September 1949 –20 Dec 1937)

Helen, less robust than her other brothers and sisters and of a timid disposition, preferred reading to tree climbing. Therefore, at the age of fourteen, she was sent to Cape Town where she lived with her brother Andrew and his wife Emma. There Helen had private lessons with Mrs Wise, attended the at the South African College classes for ladies, a course in astronomy and English literature, and the lectures of Professors Cameron and Noble.

After her father’s death in 1866, Helen returned home to Graaff Reinet to live in the parsonage with her youngest sister, Eliza, Mama, Charles and his wife, Amelia. During this time, Helen took on the instructions of her nieces and nephews and taught a Sunday School class.

In 1873 she accompanied the family to the Cape Town for the DRC Synod. Here she met Miss Ferguson who had just arrived as one of the founders and first teachers of the Huguenot Seminary in Wellington. – who was to become a life-long friend. Enrolling as one of the first students, Helen accompanied her brother Andrew and his wife Emma back to Wellington. During the time spend at Huguenot Seminary, Helen was so deeply influenced by both her brother Andrew and Mrs Ferguson that she decided to become a teacher.

Having completed her training at Huguenot Seminary, she returned to Graaff Reinet to found the Midland Seminary for Girls, opening with between 50-60 girls in 1875. During the first six months, Helen, as acting Principal, was teaching 25 hours a week, handling the administration and took care of the many boarding students. After six months the Principal and an additional teacher arrived from America and Helen could relax a little.

In 1880, on her return after spending a year abroad in Europe and America, Helen was appointed the principalship of the Midland Seminary. This position she retained for thirty (30) years, and the story of the seminary and its spiritual influence, is interwoven in her life. In the later years, the Midlands Seminary played a crucial role in the training of Christian teachers and became one of the most influential educational institutions of its kind. After the death of Rev Charles Murray, the church council approved the use of the old Graaff Reinet parsonage as a home for girls from lower income families, enabling then to become students of the Seminary.

Helen was the last of the Graaff Reinet children to pass away: she died on December 21, 1937 in the Graaff Reinet home she built after her retirement form the Seminary. In her last years, she followed in the footsteps of her brother Andrew, and wrote and published a series of pamphlets – distributed and read in their thousands throughout South Africa. She also shared in her father and brother’s love for missions and, having installed a daily evening prayer session in the early years of the Seminary, conveyed this passion to many of the students. She is described as “someone who fully used the opportunities given to her in life, deserving of God’s full-hearted approval.”[1]


[1] De Kerkbode, 29 Dec 1937, p 21; Unto Children’s Children, p114-116