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Drostdy, The (Now Drostdy Museum)
Swellendam, Western Cape

Style:Cape Dutch
Street:Drostdy Street


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34°01'06.18" S 20°27'06.15" E Alt: 142m

Now Drostdy Museum. The Drostdy at Swellendam was built in 1746/47, soon after the establishment of the district as a drostdy in 1745. It was at first T-shaped, with its front facing north-west, towards the river; this is today only a side aspect. Schumacher's drawing made in 1776 shows that it had a straight gable over die entrance.
Landdrost PS Buissine in c1813 enlarged the building and turned it into a very wide H with a crossbar longer than the two parallel wings. He also bricked up the old front door and moved the entrance to where it is today, on the north-east side, between the wings, which now have the effect of stoepkamers flanking it. A pilaster gable with a decorative cap was built above the new entrance, while the new wings were given straight gables. Soon afterwards, Buissine added two short wings, parallel with the central crossbar of the H, which filled in the open space at the back. At first sight these two wings seem to form a continuous bar, but a narrow passage exists between their ends. This opens into another passage that lies between the central crossbar and the two short back wings; in its earlier stage this passage was roofed; then until late in the 19th century it was open in the sky, but it is now roofed in again. This passage is older than the 1813/14 alterations.
The Drostdy was sold in 1846, as part of an effort to reduce the Colonial debt. In 1835 it was bought by Pieter Gysbert Steyn, and it remained in the hands of his descendants until 1939. It was during the ownership of one of his sons, probably in c1870-77, that the appearance of the front was altered. The gable over the entrance disappeared. The two end-gables nearest the main road were replaced by hipped ends, but the gables at the back fortunately remained untouched; and finally the front door and the two windows on each side of it were replaced with Victorian ones. These changes were probably meant as refashioning and not as repair, for the exterior woodwork, at that date, cannot have been so badly rolled as to need replacement, as the remaining woodwork on the north-west side testifies up to the present day. The alterations are reminiscent of Grootvadersbosch, which probably served as a model. This alteration has now been reversed.
The old north-west front has what look like sash-windows, but are in fact casements with fixed upper lights. The two back aspects (south-east and south-west) both have low casements, as was then usual. On three sides runs a paved stoep with high whitewashed walls, interrupted by graceful flights of steps, while on the fourth is a paved courtyard. An interesting feature is the small wine 'cellar' at the east corner of the building, with its plaster decoration representing vine leaves and bunches of grapes, and a lean-to thatch roof (recently restored). This was added when landdrost Harry Rivers was the occupant, 1825-41. On a rise behind the Drostdy there are two thatched outbuildings. In 1939 the building was acquired by the government. It is now a local-history museum, which also occupies numerous adjoining buildings. [MA Cook 'The Swellendam Drostdy'. Lewcock pp71-72, 74, 79. Oberholster pp113-l14. V.d. Meulen pp18. Obholzer pp337-339.]

[Fransen p454]

These notes were last edited on 2020 01 07

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.

Writings about this entry

Potgieter, DJ (Editor-in-chief). 1971. Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa [SESA] Volume 4 Dev-For. Cape Town: Nasou. pg 90-92
Rothmann, ME en A. 1968 (1960). Drostdy op Swellendam, Die. Elsiesrivier: Raad van Kuratore. pg All
Timlin, William M. 1927. South Africa. A series of pencil sketches by William M. Timlin with an introduction by Gilbert. E. Chitenden. London: A & C Black. pg Fig 11