Museum of Natural History, now Amathole Museum
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(NM 1984) (SAWW 1910; The Citizen 9.6.84:13)
Extract from Chapter 1: The Beginnings 1884 - 1898 from "A History of the Kaffrarian Museum" by Brian M. Randles.
A Permanent Home.
The Society therefore resolved to investigate the possibility of obtaining ownership of a piece of ground to the east of the Public Library building. Mr Blewitt and Dr Chute, the Honorary Secretary, were instructed to write to the Library Committee asking for a grant of land and to present the letter at a personal interview.
At the end of 1896 the Public Library offered the site behind the Library measuring 100 x 66 feet (30.5 x 20.12m) to be used as a building site for a Public Museum. At their meeting on 16th December, 1896 the Naturalist Society resolved to express their thanks to the Subscribers of the Public Library for their generous spirit in consenting to the gift of land. It was also decided that the governing body would be the Subscribers to the King William's Town Public Museum and that this would be the elective body from which would be appointed an Executive Committee of Management, which would consist of a President, two Vice-Presidents and five members, each to be elected annually. The Trustees would be the Civil Commissioner of the Division of King William's Town, the Mayor, and one member appointed from and by the subscribers. The Trustees would be ex-officio members of the Executive Committee of Management. It was further decided that Mr. Laughton be asked to prepare plans for a full and complete design but that immediate expenditure on the building be limited to £1200 for a taxidermist's and a Committee room.
At the next meeting on February 9th, 1897 Mr J.W. Weir was elected President of the Executive Committee of Management with Mr T.N. Dyer and Mr J.D. Ellis as Vice-Presidents. The Colonial Secretary, Mr Te Water, had written to say that £1000 would be placed on the estimates for building a museum, provided a like sum was raised locally. It was generally felt that this condition did not accord with the promise of Sir Gordon Sprigg in August, 1896. Mr Blewitt and Dr Chute were asked to pursue the matter. At the following meeting it was reported that Sir Gordon Sprigg had written to say £1000 would definitely be placed on the estimates.
A special meeting of the Executive Committee on the 29th March, 1897 heard that the British Kaffrarian Savings Bank had agreed to advance £2000 at 2.5% interest (subject to an increase if rates should rise) on the usual terms of Bond. The Bye-Laws of the King William's Town Public Museum were adopted at this meeting and the annual subscription was set at 10/6d (half a guinea) per annum.
In May it was reported that Dr S. Schonland, Director of the Albany Museum, Grahamstown, had studied the plans of the museum which had been sent to him for his advice and he considered the area to be inadequate. At a special meeting the following day at the site of the proposed museum, it was resolved that the Library Committee be asked to increase the size of the ground to 100ft. x 100ft. (30.5 x 30.5m). This proposal was acceded to by the Library Committee in due course.
A useful acquisition came with the offer of old exhibition cases by the South African Museum. Thirteen were selected by Mr Joseph NEWEY and forwarded through the Public Works Department and were stored in sheds at the Agricultural Show Yards.
The availability of these cases came about because the South African Museum was moving its collections from the old museum in the building of the South African Library to newly erected premises. A little later on the Museum eagerly accepted the offer of 20 glass doors and sliding sashes also from the South African Museum.
In view of their grant the Government requested that it be represented by two members on the Executive Committee, including the Civil Commissioner. Mr T.W. Irvine was nominated as the extra representative. It was resolved that the Chairman of the Library Committee be an ex-officio member of the Executive Committee of the Museum and Mr J.F. Lonsdale took up this position.
An important decision was taken at the July, 1897 meeting to invite tenders by public advertisement for designs and plans of the museum to cost £2500. A premium of £21 would be given for the best design. Mr LAUGHTON was paid £11/10/- for the plans he had drawn and the advice he had given, at the Society’s request. By October entries were in and a plan by Mr Phillip E. TREEBY, architect of Johannesburg, was adjudged the best out of fourteen submitted. He had previously designed three museums in New Zealand.
A building Committee was now established and it accepted Mr TREEBY's quotation to supply detailed specifications and plans for the contractors at 2.5%. Tenders were now invited but were amended after a visit by the Architect, who suggested certain economies. Mr W. Higgs junior was awarded the tender for masonry work at £1250 and Mr J.R. Ireland's tender for carpentry work at £1160 was accepted. The tender for painting was given to Mr Samuel Cooper at £130. All were local contractors.
On 30th November, 1897 a meeting was called for the purpose of fixing the line of frontage of the new building, which it was decided would be set back by 15 feet (4.6 m) from Albert Road. During this meeting it was found to the dismay of the members that the ground surveyed was not sufficient to accommodate the building according to the plans approved. The Library Committee was immediately approached with a request to extend the grant about 5ft. 3 inches (1.6 m) to make a square of 100 feet (30.5 m). This was agreed to by the Library Committee.
In January, 1898 Sir Gordon Sprigg visited King William's Town. Preparations were not advanced enough to allow him to lay the foundation stone, but the opportunity was taken to hold a meeting with Sir Gordon at which the President, Mr J.W. Weir, explained the whole history of the institution and Sir Gordon was shown the plans of the new building. He expressed his satisfaction and promised his support for an increased annual grant as far as he was able, having regard to other claims. He was also asked to expedite the payment of the £1000 grant promised for the building.
Mrs Ellen Chute was asked to lay the foundation stone and the ceremony took place on 24th February, 1898. The inscription on the stone read: "MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY ERECTED A.D. 1898". The ceremony took place at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and a thunderstorm deterred quite a number of people from attending the ceremony. Nevertheless, everything went off very well and once Mrs Chute had truly laid the foundation stone, the company adjourned to the Reading Room of the Public Library for further speeches. Mrs Chute was presented with the customary trowel, suitably inscribed, to commemorate the occasion. In a cavity beneath the stone had been placed one of each of the coins of the Realm, one copy of each of the three local newspapers and a document recording the date of the laying of the stone, the year of the reigning Sovereign, and the names of the Governor of the Colony, the Prime Minister, the Civil Commissioner, the Resident Magistrate, and the Mayor of King William's Town as well as the names of the Committee Members, the Architect and the Contractors.
By 1982 the foundation stone had weathered so much that it was replaced by a brass plate with the same inscription.
(Paragraph regarding the appointment of Mr F Pym as the first curator has been omitted).
Meanwhile building of the Museum was going on apace and generally all went well except when it was found that due to a smudge on the paper Mr Ireland had read a "5" for a "6" and had made the windows 5 feet (1.5m) instead of 6 feet (1.8m) wide. However the Clerk of Works said the mistake would not prejudicially affect the building and the Committee agreed to let things stand, but Mr Ireland would be responsible for any consequences arising from his mistake. It was later found that it was a most fortuitous mistake for the exhibition cases obtained from South African Museum fitted in perfectly with the smaller windows. The loan from the British Kaffrarian Savings Bank was raised to £2500. It was planned to economise and build the West Wing as a lean-to, but Mr T.N. Dyer kindly offered to contribute £100 in order to build it to the original design. This was a blessing as it added a gable with a large window facing the street which enhanced the look of the building considerably. Unfortunately, this attractive gable had to be done away with when extensions were added in the 1950's. The total cost of the building came to approximately £3000 while legal expenses, fencing, fixtures, fittings and other sundries added almost another £800. The Committee had overspent by £300 but donations of £100 from T.N. Dyer and £50 from Mr J.W. Weir brought the deficit down to £150 which "our commercial friends" were asked to liquidate. In fact by the time of the annual general meeting for 1898 held in March, 1899 the deficit was only £60. There were now seventy local subscribers.
The opening ceremony was set down for 4 p.m. on Wednesday 5th October, 1898. It had been hoped that Dr David Gill, (later Sir), Her Majesty's Astronomer at the Royal Observatory, Cape Town would give a lecture on Astronomy as the main address but he was unable to oblige. In his place Mr W.L. Sclater, Director of the South African Museum, gave the Opening Address. Dr S. Schonland of the Albany Museum was present together with Colonel Fraser and Officers of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Berkshire Regiment, as well as Heads of Departments in the Government Service and a large gathering of people, many from distant centres. The programme was handsomely printed on silk. Mr James Wilson Weir, the President, presided over the ceremony and at 4 p.m., amid great rejoicings, his wife Mrs Mary Ann Weir unlocked the door with a golden key and declared the museum open to the public. The President then gave his address after which he invited those present to walk round and inspect the building and exhibits. In the evening a Conversazione was held and a large number of guests assembled in the building although it was wet and the roads in bad condition. The Choral Union was present and rendered items between the formal speeches. Mr W.L. Sclater spoke on the history of museums and of various museums here and overseas and of their uses and various functions. Thus was the museum finally launched and the plans and hopes of the members of the Naturalist Society were realized in an institution that was to become a great credit to those pioneers, the town, and the country.
Reference: Randles, B. M., A History of the Kaffrarian Museum; The Kaffrarian Museum, King William's Town, 1984.
Submitted by William MARTINSON
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.
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