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Cape Colony Department of Public Works


With his arrival in the Cape in 1786 Louis Michel THIBAULT, who served under the Dutch East India Company (VOC), can be considered the first architect to be appointed to the position of Public Works in South Africa and in 1786 was made responsible for public buildings under Captain (later Governor) van der Graaff, his patron.

The interregnum of the first British Occupation (1795-1803) was more of a curatorship than a formal endeavour to govern the Cape as a Colony by the British, and hence not much by way of administrative structures was undertaken in that period.

Resistant to the first British occupation of the Cape (1795-1803), THIBAULT finally accepted an appointment as architect in charge of repairs to military buildings of the garrison, taking the oath of allegiance and occupying the formal post of Surveyor of Buildings. Under Governor Yonge, THIBAULT was put in a supervisory position of new work for Government House in Cape Town (January 1800) but is not certain how much of the work executed at Government House was THIBAULT's.

In the time of the Batavian Republic (1803-1806) the post of 'Inspector General der Civielle en Militaire te bouwen' was created and occupied by LM THIBAULT. British defeats during the Napoleonic wars saw the transfer of the Cape Colony to the Batavian Republic (1803-1806) and THIBAULT appointed to the position of Inspector-General of State Buildings, Civil and Military, in November 1803 by the new governor Commissioner-General de Mist. In 1804 De Mist commissioned the new Drostdy buildings at Tulbagh, Graaff-Reinet and Uitenhage. Those at Graaff-Reinet and Tulbagh are firmly ascribed to THIBAULT, although Graaff-Reinet was 'adulterated in execution' (Fisher 1989) but the Uitenhage Drostdy is only attributed to THIBAULT.

With the re-annexation of the Cape by Great Britain in 1806 THIBAULT's position was retained and defined.

The second British Occupation of the Cape (1806-1820) occurring in war-time meant there was little money to spend on public works. THIBAULT had taken part in hostilities against the British and was made a prisoner-of-war. Nevertheless, his skills were indispensable and a few months later, in April 1806, he was reappointed Inspector of Public Buildings and was permitted to work as a Sworn Surveyor in 1807. In 1811 he received the appointment of Government Surveyor and was 'officially responsible for the design and supervision of all civic buildings erected during this period' (1807-1820) (Lewcock 1963:61). He is credited with having had a hand in various works such as the conversion of the old Slave Lodge in the Heerengracht into government offices (1807-1814).

In 1828 the post of Surveyor-General, Civil Engineer and Superintendent of Works was created in the Cape to be filled by MICHELL, a position he kept for all but three years of the rest of his lifetime. In his capacity as civil engineer and Superintendant of Works of the Cape Colony he was responsible for the construction of a fresh water reservoir for supplying the naval ships docked at Simon's Town (1829), a harbour pier in the vicinity of the Amsterdam Battery (1832), Mouille Point Lighthouse (1842, ruined) and improvements to the Green Point Lighthouse and construction of the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse (1851). Minor public works were the Rondebosch Gaol (1841, demolished) a Port Office for False Bay at the end of Bree Street, a Custom's House for Sir Lowrie's Pass and Simon's Town and Public Offices at George (1844). MICHELL returned in to Eltham (UK) in 1848 on leave of absence due to ill health and tendered his resignation as Surveyor General and Civil Engineer of the Cape Colony soon thereafter.

In 1848 PILKINGTON came to the Cape where he replaced MICHELL in the post of Colonial Civil Engineer. He was of a strongly religious bent and many years prior had opposed all warfare. He had been an itinerant preacher for the anti-slavery movement, universal peace and evangelical Christianity, but seems not to have belonged to any church. He followed this calling for seven years before resuming his profession in the Cape. About 1855 he submitted designs for the Parliament Buildings, Cape Town. He surveyed Bain's Kloof Road, on which Pilkington Bridge is named after him. He surveyed the route over Du Toit's Pass in 1858. The road was built much later. He remained in Cape Town, dying there in 1858.

John SCOTT TUCKER, a civil engineer who was appointed first Colonial Engineer in 1858, succeeded PILKINGTON. He prepared designs for the Cape Parliament buildings in 1860. His drawings were not used. There was an enquiry in 1876 apropos the new Houses of Parliament during which the evidence of an expert, AW ACKERMANN, was sought, asking whether or not the accepted new design 'Spes Bona' (C FREEMAN's design?) could be considered a copy or piracy of Scott Tucker's design submitted in 1860. The suggestion was refuted by ACKERMANN. SCOTT TUCKER retired later under somewhat of a cloud, in 1863 and was succeeded by M ROBINSON.

In 1856 George WALLIS was employed by the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Cape Town. From 1858 until 1859 he acted as clerk of works on the new South African library and museum building in Cape Town.

In 1872 when the Cape was given a degree of self-government the Ministry of Crown Lands and Public Works was created.

When a job with the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Cape Town was advertised Charles FREEMAN was appointed draughtsman and surveyor (temporary) under the Chief Inspector of Public Works in December 1871. FREEMAN's most important work was his design for the new Houses of Parliament in Cape Town (Radford, 1979:237-8). Freeman was one of seven competitors, and the only colonial, for the new building and in November 1874 he was announced the winner. His subsequent dismissal from this position in February 1876 led to the case being led before a select committee. The ensuing discussion centred on both unrealistic initial costs and general lack of experience in handling the commission by all involved. FREEMAN was not re-appointed architect and building was resumed only in 1879, the job being taken over by HS GREAVES. FREEMAN left the PWD in 1876 and went into practice on his own account.

ACKERMANN, when he entered public service, designed and supervised the Railway Terminal Buildings in Cape Town, c1875, and in 1876 was put in charge of the Houses of Parliament following C FREEMAN's dismissal and until the arrival of HS GREAVES in the same year. He records that in his staff there 'were Mr HS GREAVES, Mr LEES, Mr HOWARD and Mr WINDER. Mr GREAVES had been sent out to replace Mr McANDREW and Mr HOWARD was only partly employed '(Minutes of Evidence 1876:1-23). In 1878 ACKERMANN left government service. RANSOME had also come to South Africa 'in connection with the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town' (Afr Archt Jul 1911:33). He had taken up an appointment with the Colonial Government to work on these buildings and for three and a half years assisted HS GREAVES with them. He left to set up independent practice in Cape Town about 1884.

GREAVES was chosen from fifty applicants by the Crown Agents for the Colonies as architect for the new Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, a commission which had been won in 1874 by Charles FREEMAN, dismissed for incompetence in early 1876. Having been appointed to carry out the Houses of Parliament, GREAVES arrived in Cape Town before the altercation over FREEMAN's plans was resolved. His participation had to await a decision over the matter. Work had stopped after the foundations for the Houses of Parliament had been laid. GREAVES waited. With the re-organisation of the Department of the Colonial Engineer in 1879, he accepted appointment to the newly created post of Chief Deputy Inspector to the Chief Inspector of Public Works, a permanent post. RADFORD (1979:116) remarks that GREAVES seems to have been engaged on surveying the Public Buildings of Cape Town and District prior to his appointment in 1879 as Chief Architectural Assistant to the Chief Inspector of Public Works. When plans for the Houses of Parliament finally went forward late in 1879, he worked on the design of new Parliament Buildings with John WHICHCORD as consultant (Radford 1979:116). As the new architect in charge of the work, GREAVES supervised the professional team from the Public Works Department, and was put in charge of detailing. Contracts for the building were eventually signed in February 1882. In about 1883 the builder, John Bull, went bankrupt: the PWD completed the building, under the supervision of GREAVES, in 1885. GREAVES was in charge of all the architectural work executed by the Cape PWD and he can be credited with most of the large public buildings produced by the department (Radford 1979:116), including works such as the Cape lighthouses, the Magistrate's Court, Church Square (1891); the General Post Office in Adderley St (completed 1897) and the Produce and Feather Markets in Cape Town (1898). He was the supervising architect for the Valkenberg Mental Asylum on behalf of Sydney MITCHELL. GREAVES retired in 1900 and returned to England around this date, dying shortly afterwards.

He was succeeded at the Cape in 1900 by AG HOWARD, who had gradually worked his way up through successive grades in the drawing office until, in 1883, he was appointed Chief Draughtsman, a position he held continuously for fourteen years. In 1897 he became Assistant Architect under the Chief Architect for the Department, HS GREAVES, and on his death succeeded to his duties. HOWARD prepared, amongst others, the revised drawings for the Houses of Parliament, also those for the General Post Office, the Education Department in Church Square, the Custom House, Police Station and Post Office at Port Elizabeth (Men of the Times, 1906: 214).

In 1893 all public works functions were placed under the Secretary of Public Works.

KRAAN arrived in South Africa in 1893, working as an architectural assistant with the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Cape Town until 1895 when he left for Pretoria to work for the Public Works Department of the South African Republic. In 1896 MASEY came to South Africa on a three-year contract to the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in the Cape. MASEY visited a sick countryman and architect, who was Herbert BAKER, and offered to take care of his office. A short time later MASEY broke his contract with the PWD and joined Baker (1896).

SLADDIN left for South Africa in 1898 on receiving an offer of an architectural post under the Cape Government, employed by the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Cape Town, where he worked on preparatory working drawings, details, as well as the design, for the new Law Courts in Cape Town. He headed the PWD architectural department for a year-and-a-half at about this time. In 1899 he left the government service when he was offered a private partnership.

Both CHERRY and QUY joined the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Cape Town in 1890. In about 1892 CHERRY left the department to set up in independent practice.

In December 1901 JAGGARD arrived in South Africa in and was working as an officer of the Chief Inspector of Public Works in Cape Town in 1902, resident in Cape Town until 1908. During this period he designed schools, libraries and private houses in South Africa, some of his drawings being exhibited at the Royal Academy.

In 1901 George FITZGERALD joined the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Cape Town, employed as an architectural assistant. He remained with the PWD from 1901 to 1905.


By 1859 WALLIS was living at George. He supervised the erection of gaols at Oudtshoorn, Mossel Bay, George and Prince Alfred, and 1862 he had returned to live in Claremont, again acting as clerk of works for the South African library and museum building which had formally been opened in 1860 but was only completed in 1864. He had a brief few years supervising various church projects but rejoined the PWD in 1871 and supervised gaol building at Swellendam and Beaufort West in 1872. He settled in Oudtshoorn in 1871. WALLIS continued to supervise, design and build many buildings in the Cape. He died in Oudtshoorn and was buried at St Saviour's Church in Claremont, Cape Town.


Richard Ernest WRIGHT was transferred to the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in the Cape Colony, in October 1876 in the post of District Engineer, Port Elizabeth and apparently had his own practice as well. He won several competitions in Uitenhage such as the Public Baths (n.d.) and the Town Hall (1881). WRIGHT was appointed District Engineer in Kimberley in December 1883 and was promoted to consulting engineer in charge of Public Works in British Bechuanaland and Griqualand West. He was transferred back to Port Elizabeth in 1893 where he was responsible for designing the Cottage Hospital, Uitenhage, and the elaborate Public Buildings, executed for the PWD (1896-8). He was still working for the PWD in 1910.

James BISSET became chief resident officer at Port Elizabeth and in this capacity was construction manager of the East London to King William's Town Railway (1877) and sub-inspector of Public Works. He was for a short time in charge of works on the new Houses of Parliament in Cape Town in 1877 and was pensioned from the Public Service in 1878.

HOLT left for South Africa in about 1903 where, after two short engagements, he joined the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in the Cape remaining there for five years. He was retrenched in 1908. During the period with the PWD he worked on the Harbour Board Building in Port Elizabeth, among other buildings. He again returned to England returning to the Union of South Africa some years later.

By 1895 DAMSTRA was working in Cradock in the Cape where he saw the construction of several houses, and was employed as an inspector of public works.

Charles BULLOCK came to the Cape in the early 1890s, working in the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Cape Town. After a short time he transferred to Oudtshoorn where he worked in conjunction with JE VIXSEBOXSE for the Public Works Department. In 1903 he resigned from the public service.

Practitioners working for the Public Works Department of the Cape Colony before 1910.

ACKERMANN, Adolphus William
BEVAN, George Arthur
BLYTHE, Samuel Osborne
BRIDGMAN, Henry Hewitt (Junior)
BULLOCK, Charles
CHERRY, Frederick (Fred)
CURRY, John Henry
DAMSTRA, Mello Gerardus
FITZGERALD, George Edmond
FREEMAN, Charles
FRIPP, George Utting
GREAVES, Henry [Harry] Sidon
HAYS, William Bennett
HOLLAND(S), William Thomas
HOLT, Frank Bransbury
HOWARD, Adolph Gislingham
JAGGARD, Walter Robert
JURITZ, John William
KRAAN, Johannes Gysbertus
MASEY, Francis Edward
MICHELL, Charles Cornwallis
PITTS, Henry Davidge
QUY, Frederic N
ROGERS, Fergus Carstairs
SLADDIN, Thomas Arthur
STAINTHORPE, Thomas William
STENT, Sydney
THIBAULT, Louis Michel
VIXSEBOXSE, Johannes Egbertus
WALLIS, George
WRIGHT, Richard Ernest

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

Aquarium: 1898. St James, Western Cape - Architect *
Art Gallery for the Cape Colonial Government: 1899. Central, Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect *
Breidbach Bridge - Yellow Woods River: 1899. Qonce (King William's Town), Eastern Cape - Architect
Charles Joseph Levey Bridge: 1898. Tsomo, Eastern Cape - Architect
Clock Tower in Table Bay Docks: 1883 : 1997. Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect 1883
Customs House: 1891. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Fort Brown Bridge - Great Fish River: 1898. Fort Brown, Eastern Cape - Engineer
Fort England, including East Barracks - Later Lunatic Asylum, then Mental Hospital: 1815 : 1825 : 1894. Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape - Architect
Gannaga Pass: 1896. Middelpos, Western Cape - Engineer
Gaol: 1861. George, Western Cape - Architect
Gaol: pre 1862. Mossel Bay, Western Cape - Architect
Gaol - Now Western Cape Archives: 1855-59 : 1999. Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect
General Post Office: 1897. Central, Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect *
General Post Office: 1900. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Kraai Road Bridge: 1879-1881. Aliwal North, Eastern Cape - Architect
Lighthouse, Bird Island: 1873. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Lighthouse, Cape Agulhas : 1848. L’Agulhas, Western Cape - Architect
Lighthouse, Cape St Blaize: 1862-1864. Mossel Bay, Western Cape - Architect
Lighthouse, Danger Point: 1895. Gansbaai, Western Cape - Architect
Lighthouse, Mouille Point: 1842 : 1865. Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect
Loch Bridge - Kraai River: 1893. Barkly East, Eastern Cape - Architect
Magistrate's Court: 1894. Komgha, Eastern Cape - Architect
Magistrates Court and Offices: 1880. Kariega (Uitenhage), Eastern Cape - Architect
Magistrates Court and Police Station Building: 1884 : 1899. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect
Magistrates' Court: 1891. Church Square, Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect
Municipal Complex - Town Hall: 1881-1882 : 1955. Kariega (Uitenhage), Eastern Cape - Architect
Petersen Bridge - Kwelera River: 1897-1899. Kwelera, Eastern Cape - Architect
Police Station: 1897. Foreshore, Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect
Post Office: c1871. Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape - Architect
Post Office and Magistrates Court: 1898-1900. Rhodes, Eastern Cape - Architect
Prison: c1888. Cala, Eastern Cape - Architect
Railway Station: 1863 : 1873. Wellington, Western Cape - Architect
Railway Station - Second: 1876. Central, Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect
Road Bridge - Little Fish River: 1896-1897. KwaNojoli (Somerset East), Eastern Cape - Engineer
Road Bridge over the Great Kei River: 1879. Komgha, Eastern Cape - Architect
Rondebosch Gaol: 1841. Rondebosch, Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect
Somerset Hospital - Second: 1859 -1862 . Cape Town, Western Cape - Architect *
Temporary Police Quarters: 1898. Muizenberg, Western Cape - Architect *
Temporary Timber Bridge over the Great Kei River: 1877. Komgha district, Eastern Cape - Architect
Transkei Mounted Rifles (C Squadron) Drill Hall: 1907. Nqamakwe, Eastern Cape - Architect
Wagon Bridge over the Klaas Smits River: 1906. Komani (Queenstown), Eastern Cape - Engineer
Wagon bridge over the Mbashe River: 1893. Idutywa (Dutywa), Eastern Cape - Architect
Xalanga Road Bridge - Tsomo River: 1890. Cala, Eastern Cape - Architect