George Museum is a cultural history museum located in the City of George, Western Cape, South Africa. It is owned and managed by Department of Cultural Affairs & Sport (Western Cape Government), South Africa.
What the visitor sees in the George museum today has grown from the private collections of one man, Charles Sayers. He was the owner and long-time editor of the George & Knysna Herald, a newspaper established by his parents in 1881. Sayers collected and preserved all aspects of his hometown’s history, with a specialist interest in old mechanical musical instruments. In 1967 he opened his “Mini Museum” to the public, housed in a single room adjoining a café in Courtenay Street. The people loved it and much encouraged by local authorities he moved to the first George Town House – the administrative building next to the market square which dated back to 1847. By now the Sayers Museum had attracted the attention of officialdom and barely six months after the move it attained provincial aided museum status as a fully-fledged cultural history museum for the region, with indigenous timber and its allied industries as its main theme. The growing popularity led to another move, this time to the building, which had been the original drostdy (magistrate’s residence and office) in the young town. The original “Mini Museum” has been re-created within the present George Museum. Adrian van Kervel, the first magistrate built the building in 1812-1815 as the Drostdy (residency). In 1826 it burnt down but was re-built. It became the legendary Victoria hotel in the late 19th century until it was sold to the George Municipality in 1972. In 1976 the museum was established here. The Drostdy or now the museum has amazing exhibitions on display. There are examples of the flourishing local Timber industry, old timber tools, implements, a yellowwood woodcutter’s cottage and an outdoor selection of labeled indigenous trees are on display...to name but a few of the exhibitions.
Establishment of George
The town of George relates to its establishment based on the timber industry. From the beginning of European colonization in South Africa in 1652, timber and the provision of various woods was of paramount importance for the survival of the settlers. Once forest areas near the present Cape Town were exhausted, the search for more timber continued east along the coast. The great forests of the Southern Cape were discovered as early as 1711, but due to their inaccessibility it was only decades later in c. 1777 that the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) established a woodcutters post or “buitepos” where George is today. However, as early as 1772 there was a gradual influx of settlers’ intent on making a living from the forests. In early days the lives and livelihood of the people revolved around the timber industry and the rich forests in the vicinity.
The George Beacon
In the George Museum foyer is the original George Beacon which was erected by the DEIC (Dutch East India Company) in 1785, by the then Governor of the Cape, Cornelis Jacob van de Graaff to strengthen their claim and to deter the English from trying to stake a claim in Outeniqualand. It was proclaimed a National Monument in 1962 and a heritage object in 1992.
Establishment of Magisterial District
On 23 April 1811 the Earl of Caledon, Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, issued a proclamation to form a new Drostdy (magisterial district) in Outeniqualand. He proclaimed that the district and the town, where the Landdrost (later known as the magistrate) would reside, be named after the reigning monarch of England, George III.
The plans for the Drostdy (current Museum building) were drawn up by the surveyor J. H. Voorman of Swellendam. He was also responsible for the layout of the wide streets. Construction started in 1813. The Drostdy was a double storey with thatched wings and linked by a flat-roofed ground floor hall. The building contractor was a certain Trenk. Various accounts describe the building as being H-shaped. The Drostdy, van Kervel’s official office and residence, was completed at the end of 1815. During July 1826 when Landdrost van der Riet (the 2nd Landdrost) and his family were on vacation, a fire nearly destroyed the Drostdy. Luckily the walls and the hall which is under the flat roof were still standing. The authorities originally intended having the Drostdy rebuilt, but eventually they decided to sell the property and in 1830 it passed into the hands of William Hollett. One can accept that when Hollett rebuilt the Drostdy, he would have retained that part of the building under the flat roof which was still intact, as well as such walls as were still standing. During the years that followed the property often changed hands and no doubt each new owner made his own alterations to the building. The thatched roof made way for one of corrugated iron very early on. The wood of the windows was replaced by steel, existing doorways were closed up, and new ones broken in. Parts of walls were demolished and other walls were erected.