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Mess House and Officers Quarters - Museum
Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape

ROYAL ENGINEERS: Architect

Date:c1830
Status:Extant

 


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Coordinates:
32°46'38.21" S 26°37'45.00" E

Accommodation for Mess Establishment. 3 Captains and 6 men. Since 1938 it has been a museum.

Wording on information plaque mounted on a stand on the pavement outside the museum

The Officers' Mess

Dating from 1830, the building where the Officers' Mess was situated is one of the oldest in Fort Beaufort. After the 9th war of land dispossession saw an end to the hostilities and With the departure of most of the military, it was briefly used as a schoolhouse and the residence of the local schoolmaster.

In 1838 [sic 1938], the building was transferred to the municipality to be used as a museum to preserve and display items pertaining to the history of the town and surrounding district. Built in Durban Street, it did not form part of the original military fort. It has been preserved in practically its original state and was declared a national monument in 1980.

The museum has a comprehensive collection of both military and domestic artifacts, reflecting lifestyles as far back as the 1820s. At the entrance, stand two cannons which are dated 1814 and probably formed part of the town's earliest defences. The weapons room has an excellent firearm exhibit, which includes one of the country's largest single collections of flintlock and percussion cap rifles, dating back to even before the wars of land dispossession, as well as a document featuring the names of every British soldier who fought in the Anglo Boer War.

A copy of the first surveyor's map of the town, drawn in 1835 by Frederick Rex is on display and photocopies of the plans of the military buildings, barracks and defences obtained from the British War Office. Among the beautiful works of art are two original Thomas Baines paintings and a number of works by Frederick I'ons, including a large watercolour of Fort Beaufort dated 1844. The museum library contains a large and valuable collection of documents dating back to grants of land which were issued to British settlers - signed by Lord Charles Somerset.

An interesting exhibit is a kitchen range with the monogram of George IV that was Discovered in the old wine cellar in 1938. A recent expansion has been the setting up of an exhibition of an old-time blacksmith's shop. This was made possible when the children of Fort Beaufort's last true blacksmith, Mr J.D. Aylesbury, presented the contents of the forge on loan to the museum after the death of their father.

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Wording on National Monuments Council plaque

OFFICERS' MESS
THIS BUILDING WHICH WAS ERECTED ABOUT 1830 SERVED
AS AN OFFICERS' MESS FOR NEARLY HALF A CENTURY
UNTIL IT WAS CEDED TO THE CAPE GOVERNMENT IN
1882. THEREAFTER IT HOUSED A SCHOOL AND SINCE
1938 IT HAS BEEN A MUSEUM.
National Monuments Council
OFFISIERSMENASIE
HIERDIE GEBOU WAT OMSTREEKS 1830 OPGERIG IS HET
BAYNA 'N HALFEEU LANK AS OFFISIERSMENASIE GEDIEN
TODAT DIT IN 1882 AAN DIE KAAPSE REGERING
OORGEDRA IS. DAARNA HET DIT 'N SKOOL GEHUISVES
EN SEDERT 1938 'N MUSEUM.
Raad vir Nasionale Gedenkwaardighede
1980

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.