Mountstephens, William

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Mountstephens, William

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Dates of existence

1859 - 5th April 1943


• Born 1859 in Falmouth, died April 5th1943 in Johannesburg at the age of 84.
• Educated at Falmouth government school.
• Apprenticed for 5 years in the building trade for which his parents had to pay a premium.
• Part of his apprenticeship was a training course in architecture. During this training, he met Collins.
• Over and above the many donations made during his lifetime to the Methodist Church, to the support of the Epworth Children’s Homes (for the orphaned children of soldiers), to the rand Aid Association for the care of the elderly, to the building of a clinic in Alexandra township and to the founding of a hospital in Falmouth, he left a bequest of £146,800 to charities both in South Africa and in Britain. (This is the equivalent of over £6 million or R125.3 million today.)
• Mountstephens bequeathed £50,000 to the establishment of the College. (This is the equivalent of over £2 million or R49.2 million today.)

Collins and Mountstephens had much in common: apart from being tradesmen and of similar age, they were both Methodists, non-smokers and teetotallers. Having completed their apprenticeships, they realised that Britain had few opportunities to offer them. In the second half of the 19thC, a period of devastating hardship in Britain, eight million people emigrated of which 146,600 of them were from Cornwall.

Collins and Mountstephens were originally headed for the USA, but fate dealt the two impatient and impulsive young men a significant hand. The ship on which they were destined to sail to the USA was delayed a few days. Instead, they boarded the SS Teuton to South Africa. They landed in Cape Town on 19th September 1880. Although offered positions in Cape Town, they went to Port Elizabeth where there was an even greater demand for their skills.

Attracted by what the discovery of diamonds offered, they set off in June 1881 for Kimberley. Here, they secured building contracts and were eventually able to establish their own building company. By 1886 they were ready for a new challenge and headed for Johannesburg where they established Mountstephens and Collins (Pty) Ltd at Oriental Chambers, 36B Pritchard Street and also invested in mining shares. Collins also invested in the Cape Fruit Farms company. Both businesses prospered, attributed to their sound work ethic, their business acumen and their sobriety.

In Johannesburg they met with Charles Leake, a fellow Methodist, at whose offices, the first Methodist Church services were regularly held on Sunday mornings. It was this small group of men who brought the Methodist Church to the Witwatersrand. At the time, Johannesburg was little more than a dusty mining camp inhabited by miners, adventurers, traders, tradesmen and con artists with limited access to the goodwill of any church. Mountstephens and Collins also encountered imperialists such as Rhodes and Jameson as well as the Transvaal’s President Paul Kruger.

Although Mountstephens and Collins Ltd made little progress during the Anglo-Boer Wars, the business flourished after 1902. The partners were able to contribute to the building of the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg. Here they met Daniel Corlett, Leslie Kent and also Gilbert Tucker. Tucker became their accountant, a close friend, a trustee and a significant player in the founding of St Stithians. Leake and Kent also became trustees and Corlett’s company was hired to construct the original College buildings.

Mountstephens married and lived in the house, Pendennis, in East Avenue, Parktown, close to Clarendon Circle. Not only was he generous to the church and to charities in his birthplace, but he and his first wife also took on the care of her widowed sister-in-law and her children, raising them as their own until he himself was widowed. Details of Mountstephens and the family that he raised came to light recently through an interview with his “grand-daughter” (Mrs Shirley Thompson – b.1935) conducted in Cape Town in early January 2020. Shirley recalls him from her early childhood as a generous, loving man.

Collins and Mountstephens had to be persuaded to leave a legacy to an educational institution as they believed that education was the duty of the state. However, Gilbert Tucker, himself an alumnus of Kingswood College in Grahamstown, convinced them of what could be achieved by establishing a Methodist school in Johannesburg. Collins and Mountstephens realised over time that state schools did not offer what they considered to be a good education: an emphasis on Christian principles and the development of leaders in social matters. Eventually they were persuaded to leave the residue of their estates to the founding of a Methodist school: St Stithians College.


Legal status

Functions, occupations and activities

Mandates/sources of authority

Macfarlane, Walter (2005) To Serve the Future Hour: A history of St Stithians College Johannesburg 1953 - 2003
Mears, Walter G A (1972) The Early History of St Stithians College

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Related entity

Collins, Albert Charles (7th October 1856 - 30th December 1937)

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Collins, Albert Charles

is the business partner of

Mountstephens, William

Dates of relationship

1875-03-12 - 1937

Description of relationship

Business partner and friend of Collins, co-founder of the College.

Related entity

Mountstephens, E (Mrs) (c.1953)

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Mountstephens, E (Mrs)

is the spouse of

Mountstephens, William

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Record created by MR 20210312




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