Contact Artefacts
please if you have any comments or more information regarding this record.

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

Style:Cape Dutch
Street:Drostdy Street


Click to view map

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

Now Drostdy Museum.


Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) [Dutch East India Company]

1700s: 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.

British Cape Colony

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 continuous, however they are separated by a narrow passage. This connects at right angles with the passage that lies between the central cross-wing and the two short back wings.
This passage was once roofed. At some point in the 19th century this was removed and it was open to the sky, but it is now roofed in again. This passage is older than the 1813/14 alterations.
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 associated with housing wagons and slaves.
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 the sons of Gysbert Steyn, 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. Finally the front door and the two windows on each side of it were replaced with those of Victorian era. These changes were probably meant as refashioning and not as repair, for the exterior woodwork, at that date, cannot have been so badly weathered as to need replacement, as witnessed by the remaining woodwork on the north-west side. 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 of the sides runs a slate-paved stoep with high whitewashed walls, interrupted by graceful flights of steps, while on the fourth is a paved courtyard.

Union of South Africa

In 1939 the building was acquired by the government.

It is now a local-history museum, which also occupies numerous adjoining buildings, furnished in chiefly VOC period displays.

[MA Cook 'The Swellendam Drostdy'. Lewcock pp71-72, 74, 79. Oberholster pp113-l14. V.d. Meulen pp18. Obholzer pp337-339.]

[Transliterated from Fransen p454 citing his references]

Writings about this entry

Burrows, Edmund Hartford . 1994. Overberg Odyssey : people, roads and early days. Swellendam: Privately printed in co-operation with the Swellendam Trust. pg 12, 13, 17, 24, 26, 35, 38-43, 45, 58, 82, 87, 88, 123, 147
Fagan, Gwen. 1988. Roses at the Cape of Good Hope. Cape Town: Breestraat. pg 84, 124, 188, 208, 238
Fransen, Hans. 2004. The old buildings of the Cape. A survey of extant architecture from before c1910 in the area of Cape Town - Calvinia - Colesberg - Uitenhage. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. pg 454
Gaylard, Shaun & McDougall, Brett . 2022. RSA 365 : 365 Drawings of South African Architecture. Johannesburg: Blank Ink Design. pg 20 ill
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
Swellendam Heritage Association. 2018. Treasures of Swellendam. Swellendam: Swellendam Heritage Association. pg 16
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