Museums, Art Galleries and Botanical Gardens

ID #2605

George Museum, Garden Route, Western Cape.

The museum has grown from the private collections of Charles Sayers. He was the owner and editor of the George and Knysna Herald, which was established by his parents in 1881. He preserved anything but had a particular interest in old mechanical musical instruments and typewriters that today form the nucleus of the museum’s collection. He opened his “Mini Museum” to the public in a single room adjoining a café in Courtenay Street in 1967. It was very popular and, encouraged by the local authorities, he moved it to the George Town House – the administrative building next to the market square that dates back to 1847. Six months later it attained provincial status as a cultural history museum, with indigenous timber and allied industry as its main theme.  Its growing popularity led to another move, this time to the original Drostde (magistrate’s residence and office).  The original “Mini Museum” has been recreated within the present museum.

When George was proclaimed a separate magisterial district in 1811 Adrian van Kervel, an able and diligent man, was appointed as the first Landdrost (magistrate). The Drostde served as his home, administrative offices and courthouse, and was built between 1812 and 1815. It was partially destroyed by fire in 1826 and was bought and rebuilt by William Holett as a private home in 1831. It changed hands several times thereafter until Alex Fotheringham opened a new hostelry, the Victoria Hotel, on the premises in 1885.  Known everywhere as The Vic, its hospitality became as legendary as the landmark itself.  George Municipality bought the property in 1972 and it became the home of the fledgling museum in 1976.  It was closed for restoration and renovation and opened in its present form in 1992.


The town was established because of the growing demand for timber by the building, transport and furniture industries. The Dutch East India Company established an outpost for the provision of timber near the end of York Street in 1776. It had its own Poshouer (Manager), 12 woodcutters, a blacksmith, a wagon maker and 200 oxen. After the British occupation of the Cape in 1795, a caretaker of the forests was appointed. After the second occupation in 1806, it was decided that the Swellendam magistracy was too large and the George Town was created as a separate magistracy. Van Kervel was appointed Landdrost and the town was proclaimed by the Earl of Caledon, Governor of the Cape on St George’s Day (April 23) 1811. It was named after the reigning British monarch, George III. (Incidentally he was as mad as a hatter. Perhaps you should ask the people of George how they feel about it)

In those early days, the lives of the townspeople revolved around the timber industry and the forests in the vicinity and it remained a peaceful, sleepy place.  The dramatic improvement in communications – road, rail and air links – eclipsed the ox wagons and coastal steamers of the previous century and resulted in the unprecedented growth of the town. Many excellent schools, a satellite campus of the University of Port Elizabeth, excellent sporting facilities, efficient medical services and a pleasant climate make George an attractive town.  The emphasis is on outdoor activities and the mountains, rivers and nearby coastline have made George a prime holiday destination.


Once the forest areas near Cape Town had been exhausted, the search for timber continued along the coast. The great forests of the southern cape were discovered as early as 1711, but it was only in 1776 that the Dutch East India Company established a Buitepos (Timber Post) where George is today.  Early woodcutters and their families lived in forest clearings where they evolved into a closely-knit community where intermarriage was common.  Their build was thin and wiry but they were tough and strong, with an incredible ability to fell and saw timber.  Its utilisation led to several industries, such as furniture and wagon making.  By 1910, several large sawmills had been established in the district. Timber was transported to coastal ports by ox wagon. Today modern technology is employed but the age-old technique of manufacturing solid wood furniture by hand is still used in the area.


A library of pressed plant specimens has been collected from the Southern Cape. It boasts an open education area where visitors may consult and handle specimens.  Quick guides, flip files, books, flower guides and keys are available and there are ongoing courses.  The specimen table has fresh specimens with both botanical and common names each week and additional information ion genera and families are clearly set out.  Visitors are most welcome, preferably by appointment (+27 (44) 874 1558) as field trips and community work may take staff away from the museum from time to time. A well-labelled fynbos garden, a forest garden and an ethno-botanical garden have been established behind the museum.


Documents, genealogies, photographs, maps, books and newspapers are open for inspection from Mondays to Fridays (excluding public holidays). Mail posted in the old red letterbox in the foyer will be franked with the unique George Museum postage stamp. Mail is forwarded daily.  Facilities for lectures, meetings, etc are available at a reasonable charge. Affiliated to the Cape Museum Service and SAMA.

Courtenay Street, George, which is on the Garden Route at the intersection of the N2 with the N12.  BHGeomus

Contct:            Private Bag X6586 George 6530
+27 (44) 873 5343 telephone
+27 (44) 874 0354 fax

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Last update: 2014-05-11 19:19
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.3

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