Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Govan, William

Glasgow Missionary Society
South Africa

William Govan was a Scottish missionary and educational administrator in South Africa. A graduate of the University of Glasgow, and experienced schoolmaster, and an ordained minister, he was appointed to be the first principal of Lovedale Institution, which the Glasgow Missionary Society founded in 1841 on the troubled Xhosa frontier of Cape Colony, South Africa. Lovedale, a high school, was shaped by Govan as a nonracial institution giving the best possible education up to university entrance. The first incoming class consisted of nine white and eleven black students. All shared the same classes and did manual labor to help support the school. In the 1850s Govan added courses in carpentry, wagon making, smithing, printing, and bookbinding, but his primary aim was to produce a Christian academic elite (black and white) to lead the nation.

In 1867, James Stewart joined the staff and soon challenged Govan’s emphasis. The church, Stewart believed, should provide the widest possible spread of primary education for Africans rather than concentrating on the few. When the church authorities in Scotland backed Stewart in 1870, Govan resigned. In Scotland he wrote s classic missionary history, Memorials of the Reverend James Laing of Kaffraria (1875).

Andrew C. Ross


R. H. W. Shepherd, Lovedale’s fourth principal, writes very fully about Govan in Lovedale, South Africa: The Story of a Century (1940). There are also revealing passages in J. W. Quarrie, Reminiscences of Sir Walter Stanford (1958) (McQuarrie was one of Govan’s pupils).

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.