Cultural experiences

South African museums: Eastern Cape

  • Adelaide
  • Alice
  • Aliwal North
  • Barkly East
  • Bathurst
  • Burgersdorp
  • Cathcart
  • Cradock
  • Dordrecht
  • East London
  • Fort Beaufort
  • Graaff-Reinet
  • Grahamstown
  • Humansdorp
  • King William's Town
  • Lady Grey
  • Mooiplaas
  • Mount Frere
  • Mthatha (Umtata)
  • Nieu Bethesda
  • Port Alfred
  • Port Elizabeth
  • Port St Johns
  • Queenstown
  • Somerset East
  • Sterkstroom
  • Uitenhage


    Ons Erfenis Museum is a period house museum whose highlights are a ceramics collection (Wedgewood, Dresden and Staffordshire), yellowwood and stinkwood furniture, silverware, glassware and jewellery.
    Queen Street
    Tel: (046) 684-0290
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-13:00; 14:00-17:00


    The FS Malan Museum features collections of beadwork, wooden sculptures and costumes.
    Henderson Hall, First Floor, University of Fort Hare
    Tel: (040) 602-2277
    Mon-Fri: 09:00-13:00; 14:00-17:00
    After hours by appointment

    Aliwal North

    The Kerkplein Museum, a component of the Aliwal North Museums Complex, is housed in the old Dutch Reformed Church and comprises an interior display of a street scene with shops and houses and an outdoor display of farm implements.
    Corner Smith and Barkly Streets
    Tel: (0551) 2441 / 2289 / 41910
    Mon-Sat: 09:00-12:00

    Barkly East

    Visitors to the Barkly East Museum will be introduced to the history of the Barkly East area and to the furniture, household items and sheep and cattle farming implements once prevalent there. The museum also has a collection of uniforms from the Anglo-Boer War and both World Wars.
    White Street
    Tel: (045) 971-0063
    Mon-Fri: 09:00-12:00; 15:00-16:30


    Exhibits in the Bathurst Agricultural Museum comprise engines, tractors, wagons, buggies, agricultural machinery and tools, some dating back to British settlers.
    Corner Trappe and Show Ground Roads
    Tel: (046) 625-0055
    Tues-Fri & Sun: 09:00-16:00
    Sat: 09:00-13:00


    An old parsonage, two typical Karoo houses, the first theological school and lean-tos in which old wagons and farm implements are displayed comprise the Burgersdorp Cultural Historical Museum.
    Piet Retief Street
    Tel: (051) 653-1738
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-16:00


    The CM van Coller Museum is in a turn-of-the-century shop and features early 19th century household items from the Cathcart district. Cathcart and Main Street
    Tel: (045) 843-1737
    Mon, Tues, Th & Fri: 10:00-12:00
    Wed: 14:00-16:00


    The Great Fish River Museum, housed in the old Dutch Reformed Church parsonage, a national monument dating back to 1849, gives a picture of the way of life of pioneer settlers in the Eastern Cape in 1806 through furniture, ceramics and photographs.
    87 High Street
    Tel: (048) 881-4509
    Tues-Fri: 08:00-13:00; 14:00-16:00
    Sat: 08:00-12:00

    b Schreiner House, a satellite of Grahamstown's National English Literary Museum, is a typical example of a 19th century Karoo house. It highlights the life and works of the famous South African writer and feminist, Olive Schreiner, who lived here from 1867 to 1870.
    9 Cross Street
    Tel: (048) 881-5251
    Mon-Fri: 09:00-12:30; 14:30-16:30


    The Anderson Museum displays turn-of-the century furniture and clothing, rock art, agriculture and family trees.
    Grey Street
    Tel: (045) 943-1017
    Mon-Fri: 09:00-12:00

    East London

    The East London Museum depicts the natural and cultural history and rich heritage of the region. Best known for the prehistoric coelacanth, the museum also displays reconstructions of the extinct dodo of Mauritius, along with the only known dodo egg in the world, superb Xhosa beadwork and aspects of German settler history.
    319 Oxford Street
    Tel: (043) 743-0686
    Mon-Fri: 09:30-17:00
    Sat: 14:30-17:00
    Sun: 11:00-16:00
    Closed: Good Friday and Christmas Day

    The Calgary Transport Museum, a satellite of the East London Museum, features a collection of carts, wagons and handcarts from the Border region, acquired and restored by the late Robin Wells. Also on show are a gypsy caravan, a tack room and a wheelwright's workshop and forge.
    13km from East London on the Stutterheim (N6) Road
    Tel: (0431) 730-7244
    Daily: 09:00-16:00
    Closed: Good Friday and Christmas Day

    Gately House, a historical monument built in 1878, is another satellite of the East London Museum. It was the home of John Gately, who served many times as mayor of East London, his wife Mary Ann, and their 12 children.
    1 Park Gates Road
    Tel: (043)722-2141
    Tues-Thur: 10:00-13:00; F: 10:00-13:00
    Weekends: 15:00-17:00
    Closed: Mondays, Good Friday and Christmas Day

    Fort Beaufort

    The Fort Beaufort Historical Museum displays aspects of the military and domestic life of Victorian times as well as a collection of weapons from the 19th century Frontier Wars.
    44 Durban Street
    Tel: (046) 645-1555
    Mon-Fri: 08:30-13:00; 14:00-17:00
    Sat: 08:30-12:45


    The Graaf-Reinet Museum Complex consists of several elements:
    Reinet House is an H-shaped house dating back to 1812 and was originally the home of the Revs Andrew and Charles Murray. It houses a fine collection of period furniture.
    Murray Street
    Tel: (049) 892-3801
    Mon-Fri: 09:00-12:30; 14:00-17:00
    Sat & Sun: 09:00-12:00

    At the Old Residency, also an H-shaped house, built in 1819, visitors can see displays of firearms, musical instruments and the history of Graaff-Reinet.
    Murray Street
    Tel: (049) 892-3801
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-12:30; 14:00-17:00
    Sat: 09:00-12:00

    Built in 1847, the Old Library Museum in the town's first library houses the Lex Bremner Fossil Collection of Karoo reptile fossils, and a collection of Khoi and San art reproductions.
    Church Street
    Tel: (049) 892-3801
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-12:30; 14:00-17:00
    Sat & Sun: 09:00-12:00

    Urquhart House, which dates back to between 1815 and 1821, exhibits a fine collection of Victorian furniture, a peach-pip kitchen floor, and a Dutch oven. Roses bloom in the Victorian garden and the museum also has a genealogical research centre.
    Market Square (Adjacent to Reinet House)
    Tel: (049) 892-3801
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-12:30; 14:00-17:00
    Sat: 09:00-12:00


    Many of Grahamstown's numerous museums are satellites or components of the Albany Museum Complex.

    Fort Selwyn was built in the shape of a seven-pointed star, enabling the maximum number of men and guns to fire from the walls. It houses displays of weapons and portable furniture used by British officers.
    Gunfire Hill
    Tel: (046) 622-2312
    Open during the National Arts Festival in July and by appointment

    Exhibits in the History Museum, formerly the 1820 Settlers Memorial Museum, focus on the history and lifestyles of the people of the Eastern Cape from 1710 to 1910.
    Somerset Street
    Tel: (046) 622-2312
    Mon-Fri: 09:00-13:00; 14:00-17:00
    Weekend: 14:00-17:00 except Christmas Day and Good Friday

    The Natural Sciences Museum dates back to 1855 and is the second-oldest museum in the country. It exhibits the first dinosaur discovery in SA, a working Foucalt pendulum, an Egyptian mummy, birds, mammals, shells, and a water gallery.
    Somerset Street
    Tel: (046) 622-2312
    Mon-Fri: 09:00-13:00; 14:00-17:00
    Weekends: 14:00-17:00
    Closed: Good Friday and Christmas Day

    The Observatory Museum, housed in a 19th century jeweller's shop and family home, depicts the lifestyle of a well-to-do Victorian family. It is home to the only genuine Victorian camera obscura in the southern hemisphere. Operating in a dark room, it shows Grahamstown as a miniature moving picture house.
    10 Bathurst Street
    Tel: (046) 622-2312
    Mon-Fri: 09:30-13:00; 14:00-17:00
    Sat: 09:00-13:00
    Closed: Good Friday and Christmas Day

    The Provost Prison was built in 1835 to house military prisoners. Its unique design is based on the 18th century "panopticon" system for the "ceaseless surveillance" of prisoners from the windows of the central tower.
    Lucas Avenue
    Tel: (046) 622-2312
    Visits by appointment

    The International Library of African Music houses a collection of traditional southern African recordings and musical instruments. It includes a library, archive, lecture room and an open-air theatre.
    Rhodes University, Prince Alfred Street (Follow ILAM signs from gate opposite Rhodes University Theatre)
    Tel: (046) 603-8557
    Mon-Fri: 08:30-12:45; 14:15-17:00

    The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, formerly known as the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology, is the leading centre for the study of aquatic life in southern Africa. The story of the coelacanth is told in a display in the foyer where there is also a marine aquarium.
    Somerset Street
    Tel: (046) 636-1002
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-13:00; 14:00-17:00

    The National English Literary Museum was established to promote the reading and appreciation of all forms of creative South African literature written in English. Temporary displays focus on various writers, literary periods or themes. Highlights of the museum's collection are the Thomas Pringle Papers, the Sir Percy FitzPatrick archive, and the papers of Roy Campbell, Athol Fugard, Johannes Meintjes, and Barney Simon.
    87 Beaufort Street
    Tel: (046) 622-7042
    By appointment

    Visitors to the Eastern Star Press Museum, a satellite of the National English Literary Museum, can see printing machinery and other historical items relating to printing, including John Fairbairn's editorial desk.
    4 Anglo African Street (off High Street)
    Tel: (046) 622-2704

    The Selmar Schonland Herbarium in Grahamstown, incorporating the Albany Museum Herbarium and the Rhodes University Herbarium, houses just under 200 000 plant specimens, making it the fourth largest in South Africa and the ninth largest on the African continent.
    Albany Museum, Somerset Street
    Tel: (046) 6222 312


    The Humansdorp Museum, a cultural history museum, focuses on the growth and development of Humansdorp through its display of farming implements, bottles, shells, clothing and crockery. It also features a restored water mill.
    17 Bureau Street
    Tel: (042) 291-0625
    Mon-Fri: 10:00-13:00; 14:00-16:00

    King William's Town

    The Amathole Museum, formerly known as the Kaffrarian, was started in 1884 and is the sixth oldest museum in South Africa. It focuses on local history, German settler history, Xhosa ethnography and anthropology. It also has an exhibition of mammals and on a South African animal legend - Huberta the Hippo.
    Corner Alexandra and Albert Roads
    Tel: (043) 642-4506
    Mon-Fri: 09:00-13:00; 13:45-16:30
    Sat: 10:00-12:30

    The Missionary Museum exhibits the missionary history of the area and beyond, displaying many facets of missionary life and the work of all denominations.
    Berkley Street
    Tel: (043) 642-4506
    Mon-Fri: 09:00-13:00; 13:45-16:45
    Weekends & Public Holidays: closed

    Lady Grey

    The Lady Grey Museum is situated in a Victorian building which housed the Poor School between 1898 and 1914. Its exhibits focus on celebrities such as Athol Fugard and Tiro Vorster who have roots in the Middelburg.
    Lady Grey Tourism Association
    Tel: (051) 603-1114


    At the Khaya la Bantu Cultural Village, a Xhosa homestead on a working farm, visitors can learn about Xhosa culture through guides who act as interpreters.
    Tel: (0431) 851-1011
    By appointment

    Mount Frere

    The Isinamva Cultural Village is an authentic inhabited Xhosa village, where visitors spend a day listening to storytelling, visiting healers and development projects, doing daily household chores, and so on.
    Tel: (039) 255-0427

    Mthatha (Umtata)

    Nelson Mandela National Museum - After his release from Robben Island, Nelson Mandela, as the first democratically elected president of South Africa, received a significant number of gifts from the South African and international community in recognition and appreciation of the role he played in the struggle for peace, freedom and democracy in South Africa. In accepting the gifts he indicated that he did so on behalf of all people of South Africa and further expressed the wish that the gifts be displayed for the benefit and appreciation of the nation, at or near his home village, Qunu, in the Eastern Cape. It is for this reason that the museum comprises the impressive Bhunga building in Mthatha, the Qunu component and the open-air museum at Mvezo.
    Bunga Building, corner Nelson Mandela Drive and Owen Street
    Mon-Fri: 09:00 to 16:00
    Sat and public holidays (except Workers Day and Good Friday): 09:00 to 12:30

    The Mthatha Museum, in the Old Post Office building, features displays of cultural and natural history, local birds, mammals, geology, archaeology, a beadwork collection and old photographs.
    Corner York Road and Victoria Street
    Tel: (0471) 31-2427
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-16:30

    In the Kaya Lendaba Arts and Cultural Village in the Shamwari Game Reserve visitors can observe rituals; be introduced to healing by means of indigenous plants; visit a healing cave; attend discussions about bones of divination and African astrology, and study alternative medicine.
    Tel: (042) 851-1196

    Nieu Bethesda

    The Owl House, its walls covered with mirrors and ground glass, was the home of the eccentric mystic Helen Martins (1898-1976) who was immortalised by Athol Fugard in his play The Road to Mecca. Her creative talent is displayed in the Camel Yard where statues of camels, wise men, churches and mermaids, all created from broken bottles, fragments of mirror and cement, turn the space into a fantasy world.
    River Street
    Tel: (049) 841-1642
    Mon-Sun: 09:0-17:00
    Closed: Christmas Day

    Port Alfred

    The Kowie History Museum concentrates on local social history with an emphasis on the period 1820-89. Displays include the Briseis (wrecked 1859), the Xhosa, and marine shells.
    Pascoe Crescent, East Bank
    Tel: (046) 624-4713
    Tues-Sat: 10:00-13:00

    Port Elizabeth

    Bayworld, formerly the Port Elizabeth Museum, offers a variety of live animal displays, including dolphins, seals, penguins, fish, snakes and crocodiles. Historical exhibits include shipwrecks, dinosaurs, Xhosa beadwork, historical costumes and local fossils.
    Beach Road
    Tel: (041) 586-1051
    Museum: 09:00-17:00
    Oceanarium: 09:00-13:00; 14:00-16:30
    Snake Park: 09:00-13:00; 14:00-16:30
    Closed: Christmas Day

    No 7 Castle Hill was completed in 1830 and is now regarded as one of the oldest surviving settler cottages in Port Elizabeth. The interior presents a picture of domestic life such as many which was enjoyed by English middle class family in mid-19th century Port Elizabeth. This picturesque family dwelling has yellowwood floors and beams, and a restored slate roof. The dollhouse, lace displays and kitchen is particularly impressive.
    7 Castle Hill, Central Hill
    Tel: (041) 582-2515
    Tues-Sat & Public Holidays: 10:00-13:00; 14:00-17:00
    Mon & Sun: 14:00-17:00
    Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day

    Prince Alfred's Guard Museum houses a military exhibit in a Victorian Drill Hall (1880), a national monument and one of the finest surviving examples of its type.
    PAG Drill Hall, Prospect Hill, Central
    Tel: (041) 505-1224 / 1251
    Mon, Tues & Th: by appointment
    Wed: 10:00-13:00
    Fri: 10:00-16:00

    The South African Air Force Museum, a satellite of the SAAF Museum, Swartkop, Pretoria, focuses on military aviation. Exhibits include Mirage F1 CZ, Atlas Kudu, Impala, Westland Scout, Bell 47,2 x Harvard and Bosbok aircraft and other related exhibits. A research library is available.
    Forest Hill Drive, Southern section of the Port Elizabeth Airport Reserve
    Tel: (041) 505-1295
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-15:00
    Sun: 10:00-16:90
    Sat & Public Holidays: Closed

    The St Croix Motor Museum features more than 80 vehicles, the earliest of which is a 1916 model. The vehicles are taken on the roads in and around Port Elizabeth once a month. The museum has a fully equipped restoration workshop and a library.
    Mowbray Street Newton Park
    Tel: (041) 392-5362
    By appointment

    Port St Johns

    The Port St Johns Branch of the Umtata Museum is housed in the old Freemason Lodge. It features the cultural history of the local people and local natural history (birds and mammals).
    Golf Course Drive
    Tel: (0475) 44-1265
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-16:30
    Closed weekends and public holidays


    The Queenstown and Frontier Museum is housed in a national monument. Its main focus is on the history of Queenstown and surrounding districts and it includes a large telephone and medical equipment collection and some natural history.
    13 Shepstone Street
    Tel: (045) 839 5860
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-12:45; 14:00-16:00
    Weekends: on request

    Somerset East

    The Somerset East Museum is housed in a Georgian manor house which had been a parsonage for 105 years. A period house museum (late 19th early 20th century), among its attractions are a Victorian herb garden, more than 700 roses, a blacksmith's shop, and the town's oldest cemetery.
    Beaufort Street
    Tel: (042) 243-2079
    Mon-Fri: 08:00-13:00; 14:00-17:00
    Weekends: by appointment


    The Sterkstroom Museum is an old-fashioned shop with a collection of crockery, household items, kitchenware and buttermaking tools. It also features the history of Sterkstroom and an agricultural exhibition.
    34 Van Zyl Street
    Tel: (04592) 188
    Summer: Mon-Fri: 08:00-16:00
    Winter: Mon-Fri: 08:30-16:30
    Sat: by appointment


    The Uitenhage Historical Museum Complex has several components:

    The Cuyler Manor Farm Museum complex is housed in a Cape Dutch manor home, circa 1814, which belonged to General Jacob Glen Cuyler. The exhibit depicts the early lifestyle of the people of the Eastern Province.
    Old Uitenhage/Port Elizabeth Road
    Tel: (041) 922-0372
    Mon-Fri: 10:0013h00; 13:3015:30

    The Drostdy Museum occupies a Cape Dutch style building, circa 1809. Its focus is on the historical development and growth of Uitenhage and the surrounding districts through furniture, clothing and household items. It also has an archive library.

    50 Caledon Street
    Tel: (041) 992-2063
    Mon-Fri: 10:0013:00; 13:3015:30

    The Station Museum, housed in the original railway station, depicts the Victorian lifestyle of the period. It also portrays railway history through a display of steam locomotives, rolling stock and luggage.
    Market Street
    Tel: (041) 922-8210
    Mon-Fri: 10:0013:00; 13:3015:30

  • The Camel Yard at the Owl House

    The Camel Yard at the Owl House (Image: South African Tourism)

    The Camel Yard at the Owl House


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