At its Synod in 1870, the Methodist Church in Ghana decided to establish an all-boys secondary school, dedicated to fostering intellectual, moral and spiritual growth. Accordingly, on Monday 3rd April 1876, the Wesleyan High School (now Mfantsipim) started operating in Cape Coast as the first Methodist Secondary School and also the first-second cycle in the then Gold Coast.
The school started with 17 students and James Picot, who was only 18 as the first Headmaster. Ten foundation students present at the inauguration of the school were: John Mensah Sarbah, George Grant, Henry Van Hein, William Fynn Penny (later Rev. Fynn Egyir Asaam), William Fynn, Robert J. Hayfron, Benjamin Pine Wood, Samuel C. Crankson, Brodie Arthur and John James Clement.
The school changed names several times before John Mensah-Sarbah, one of the pioneer students who had become an accomplished lawyer came up with the name ‘Mfantsipim’. It started as the Wesleyan High School, became High School and Training Instruction, Wesleyan Collegiate School, Richmond College and finally Mfantsipim.
For Sarbah and his friends, the name “Mfantsipim” was not to be broken into syllables to indicate “Mfantsefo Apem” (A thousand Fantes). They were more focused on the future needs of the country as a whole and to them “Mfantsipim” meant the ‘Soul of the People’ and it was in the School that the “souls of the people of Ghana” would mature. Mensah Sarbah also gave the school its motto “Dwen Hwe Kan” which, translated literally means “Think and look ahead”
The school also changed locations several times. From the Mission House to the former Colonial School on Saltpond Road, Acquah’s house, Coussey’s house at the foot of McCarthy Hill, Government buildings near the Isolation hospital, Sea View House, Mount Hope and eventually settled on the Kwabotwe Hill.
In 1891 the Wesleyan High School assumed the name of the Wesleyan Collegiate School at a time when it was saddled with challenges such as shortage of funds, unsuitable accommodation, and inadequacy of qualified staff. Under these dire circumstances, John Mensah Sarbah and a few others decided to tackle the problems and formed the Fante Public Schools Limited. The company set up in April 1905, a high school called ‘Mfantsipim’ which was distinct from the Wesleyan Collegiate School. Unfortunately, both schools still experienced serious difficulties and to save the situation, they were merged in July 1905 under the management of the Methodist Church, with the name “Mfantsipim”.
Over the years, several Headmasters have served the School with distinction. Their vision, commitment, and hard work are what has made the school what it is today. Rev. W.T. Balmer of the Methodist Church, Principal of Richmond College in Sierra Leone arrived in Cape Coast in 1907 on an inspection and met only eight (8) dedicated boys in the school teaching themselves because there was neither a teacher nor a Headmaster. He named them the “Faithful Eight” and accepted to stay and take charge of the school as Headmaster. During the centenary celebrations of Mfantsipim in 1976, a monument was erected in their memory.
The first Speech and Prize-Giving Day, started by Rev. Balmer took place in 1908. It is now an important event in the school’s calendar. Various activities are planned during this period, which brings together a host of ‘Old Boys’ and parents to the school every second Saturday in November.
Rev. R. A. Lockhart (1925-1936) consolidated the achievements of Rev. Balmer, Rev. Dyer, and Rev. Sneath. He was peerless, in terms of performance and achievement and tireless in his struggle to get the British Colonial Government to accept responsibility for providing secondary education for an increasing number of the country’s children. He saw this as very important for the country’s development.
In 1931, he initiated a £40,000 building project which moved the school from Mount Hope to present site, Kwabotwe. His constitution of the Mfantsipim School Committee became the basis of many school constitutions in the country. He introduced uniforms for secondary school pupils; initiated the single school session to replace the two sessions a day system and replaced the 2-term school year with three terms. He also took advantage of the concept of Africanization and appointed ‘Old boys’ as staff members and offered them facilities for in-service training and correspondence courses, thus giving them the opportunity to become graduates.
Mr. F. L. Bartels, the first African Headmaster (1949 – 1961) took over when there was an improved official policy in the matter of secondary education in the country. He applied himself with intelligence, foresight, and assiduity to the urgent question of expansion and development.
Rev W.G.M. Brandful, J. W Abruquah, O. K. Monney, H. V. Acquaye Baddoo, B. K. Dontwi, C. K. Ashun, Kwame Edjah and J.K. Simpson all of them succeeding Headmasters of Mfantsipim have all played their parts in making Mfantsipim what it is today.
The records are replete with the achievements of the School and its “Old Boys” exemplifying the values, of discipline, courage, hard work and above all, total dependence on God. Mfantsipim holds up constantly to its present pupils and old boys in their service to the country, the Christian ideals of its founding fathers. As is said – “You don’t pass through Mfantsipim, Mfantsipim passes through you.”
Rev. R. A. Lockhart summed it all up in his address at the Mfantsipim Speech Day of 1933, “Our pupils are not plaster saints, but every boy in the School knows that our allegiance is given to Jesus Christ and some of them recognize His right to rule their lives. If their service is more faithful because of what they learned in this School, then for that alone and for that supremely our work will be justified.”