I struggle to pass by a small town museum if I have time on hand and time on hand I had the last time I visited the Karoo Heartland town of Somerset East. I immediately headed up to the Somerset East Museum standing in the shadow of the Boschberg Mountain at the top end of Beaufort Street. I’ve been here before but it’s been a few years so I decided another visit was in order.
The Somerset East Museum is also known as the Old Parsonage Museum as the building used to be the parsonage for the local NG Kerk. Shortly after Somerset East was establishment in 1825, land on the slopes of the Boschberg Mountain was given to the Wesleyan missionaries for a chapel and graveyard. The chapel was completed and consecrated in 1828, but a few years later the building and surrounding land were transferred to the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1835 the chapel was converted into a parsonage and it was used as such for the next 105 years. In 1971 the building was made available as a museum and opened in 1975 when the town celebrated its 150th anniversary.
I was met at the door by Keridwyn Frieslaar who has worked at the museum for over 20 years. She took me on a tour of the old house which has been laid out and furnished as it would have been back in the 1800’s. The museum doesn’t just have a very impressive collection of furniture and artifacts, it also has, or so they say, two ghosts. The first is said to be a Dominee (minister) and a number of people have reported seeing him sit behind the desk in the study. I did check the photo (in the collage above) but there is no sign of him. The second ghost belongs to a little boy who has been seen running around or just standing in a corner with a sad expression. Keridwyn showed me a gravestone under the floorboards in the lounge that belong the the infant son of a Pastor that was buried there (in the collage below). Him I also didn’t see. I’ll just say that I wouldn’t want to spend a night in this building if I was given a choice.
The museum’s exhibit isn’t just confined to the inside of the building. Around the building there are a number of interesting objects and sights (and sites). Behind the museum is an old Settlers grave yard with graves dating back to the early 1800’s while down a path on the right of the building is the grave of Ma’Dora. Dora Jacobs died at the age of 122 and was unofficially the oldest person in the world at the time. The Guinness Book of World Records never recognised her as the oldest person because three authenticated documents were required as proof of age. Not something that was easy to come by when Ma’Dora was born in a village in the Eastern Cape on 6 May1880.
The museum has a very informative exhibit about the Slagtersnek Rebellion and hanging (which I posted about recently) in an upstairs room. The exhibit contains the original beam that was used to hang the five men from in 1816 before it was used as support beam in a pigsty and where it was found in the 1940’s.
I had a look at the visitors’ book when I signed it and it is sad to see how few people actually visit this magnificent museum. It is essential that everybody in the town promote the museum, especially the guesthouses and B&B’s. Between this museum and the Walter Battiss Art Museum, Somerset East really has something for every history buff and culture vulture (and those who don’t see themselves as such) that visit and there really shouldn’t be an excuse not to pop in with at least one of the two if you have some time on hand as I did. On my next visit back in town I may just come a ghost hunting. Now where did I leave my Electro-magnetic field detector?