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Sir Harry Smith, Governor of the Cape Colony, proclaimed the Crown Colony of British Kaffraria on 23 December 1847, when, following the outbreak of the 5th Frontier War in 1846, the frontier territory had been occupied by British forces. King William's Town was established on the site of the Rev J Brownlee's Buffalo Mission Station, founded in 1826. The Residency was built on the foundations of the Mission House, which was destroyed more than once during the Frontier Wars.
With thatched roof and walls of stone, the building served as Government House in British Kaffraria, then later as the Magistrate's Residence. Gutted by fire in 1981, the old building is being restored as a museum, once again to take its place in the history of King William's Town.
[Picton-Seymour Désirée, 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. p, 119.]
The Old Residency was declared a national monument on 27 October 1978 vide Government Notice No. 2114.
Significance as gazetted
This property was erected by Rev. Brownlee of the London Missionary Society in 1826. The building was first used as a residency in 1847 after the ruins - it was gutted by fire - was restored by Sir Harry Smith. When British Kaffreria was incorporated into the Cape Colony in 1866, the house became the residence of the local Magistrate. It was used for this purpose until 1981.
In 1826 the Rev. John Brownlee of the London Mission Society founded a mission called Buffalo Mission Station which later became the nucleus of King Williams Town. By 1832 Brownlee had built a structure for the mission station (now known as the Old Residency) from where he toiled until 1835 when the structure was burn down during the 6th Frontier War. The annexation of the area between the Keiskamma and the Kei as the Province of Adelaide brought about the founding of King Williams Town with the re-built Brownlee Mission as the residence of Sir Harry Smith. When the Province of Queen Adelaide was evacuated in 1836 Brownlee once again regained possession of the site and structure.
Ten years later the War of the Axe saw the mission again put to use as the administrative centre of the new province of British Kaffraria with King Williams Town as its capital. Once again the structure was burnt to the ground to be re-built in 1847, now as Government House. Brownlee was able to return to King Williams Town but never to the house which from this point onwards remained in use as governmental centre. It served as magistrates’ residence until 1981.
Architecturally the house is typical of its time, built in a T-plan (probably evolved from a single I-pan room) of local materials with only fittings and fixtures such as the sash windows being imported (though these could have been manufactured locally by a garrison carpenter). The roof is of local thatch and the plan form is dictated by the length of span the timber roof trusses would allow. Two outbuildings have seen some alteration.
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.