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The University of Cape Town was once known as the South African College which Harry Bolus donated his extensive herbarium and library to.

In 1865 the Bolus Herbarium was established when Harry Bolus donated his extensive herbarium and library to the South African College. Later it became the University of Cape Town.

The collection of specimens at the university numbers over 320 000, making it the third largest university herbarium in the Southern Hemisphere. The collection is highly representative of the Cape Flora and also houses a large number of type specimens.

The roots of the University of Cape Town lie in the establishment of the South African College in 1829 as a school for boys. In 1874 the South African College Schools, teaching up to secondary level, were separated from the College, which prepared students for the examinations of the University of the Cape of Good Hope. Under the initiative of Professor C.E. Lewis the first male residence in Southern Africa was established in 1887, known as College House Residence. In 1918 the South African College was elevated to full university status with the power to award degrees, and thus renamed the University of Cape Town.

In 1928, the University of Cape Town moved to the Groote Schuur Estate campus. During the apartheid era, around 1960 to 1990, many university students consistently opposed apartheid, and the university was a bastion of liberalism. However, the demographics of the university did not begin to change meaningfully until the 1980s, more so the 1990s. 1987 saw frequent clashes between protesting students and police, with reporting of police presence on the campus being censored by the government. On 24 April 1987 the police entered the campus and this marked the first time since 1972 that South Africa’s police services had suppressed a demonstration at a white university.

The university’s crest was designed in 1859 by Charles Davidson Bell, Surveyor-General of the Cape Colony at the time. Bell was an accomplished artist who also designed medals and the triangular Cape stamp.