Pearse Collection


As Geoffrey Eastcott PEARSE notes in his ‘Preface’ to Eighteenth century architecture in South Africa, there was, at that time, a dearth of publications devoted to the architecture of the Cape. For that matter, at that time, there was very little published on anything related to South African architecture. He cites as the exception Trotter’s special number of the Cape Times (1898) followed by her book of the same theme, ‘Old colonial houses of the Cape of Good Hope : illustrated and described.’ (1900), and specifically BAKER’s introductory essay ‘The origin of Cape architecture’. He cites Fairbridge’s ‘Historic houses of South Africa’ (1922) which in the first chapter ‘South African architecture' deals with some of its aspects. The main text of this volume is, however, a social history of the people associated with the places rather than an elaboration of their architectural character. He refers to a portfolio of drawings done by Messrs FM GLENNIE and FW MULLINS published by the Cape Institute of Architects which illustrated a number of doorways as well as the Wine Cellar of Groot Constantia.

Hence Pearse set about a project to record, measure and have made drawings of eighteenth century architecture and furniture for purposes of recording extant Cape Dutch buildings as well as pieces of the furnishings of the period which would have graced these homesteads.

What is interesting about the collection of Pearse drawings is that they were measured and drawn by young students, as indicated by the customary inscription ‘mens' [From the Latin mensus 'to measure'] following the name or names of the original authors. Pearse, as their Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Architecture (Wits school) and Head of School, took them on a field trip down to the Cape in the late 1920’s for the purposes of creating the material for the book. The tour to the Cape was memorable and has entered the annals of South African architectural history [See Herbert, Gilbert Martienssen and the international style, Chapter 7, 'The Cape Town tour' (37-39)]. Pearse thanks these participants in his ‘Preface’ as follows (in this particular order):


A coterie of these select students became known as the ‘Transvaal Group’, a term coined in French by the master, LE CORBUSIER. Ironically - and as an aside - in the same year that PEARSE published his monograph on this retrospective period of South African architecture, the ‘Transvaal Group’ published their manifesto ‘zero hour’, deliberately written in lower case sans serif in the style of the Bauhaus, in celebration of the Modern, the title chosen to show their resolve in breaking ties with the past. They were later to make their mark as early South Africa moderns.

PEARSE also notes in his preface an indebtedness to members of the architectural profession for making material available by way of additional information or for copying. They are:

GP MOERDYK, who had in 1920 as a Carnegie bursary holder, undertaken a survey of the important buildings at Cape. When these were ready for publication they were shipped to the South African High Commissioner’s Office in London where they were either mislaid or destroyed!
L MANSERGH had in his private collection drawings of the Dolphin Fountain at the Castle of Good Hope [now reconstructed by GABRIËL FAGAN ARCHITECTS] as well as the façade of Government House (Tuynhuys), made available for copying.

He thanks the following practitioners for making available data used in preparation of the detailed drawings [in this particular order]:
Gordon LEITH

The measured drawings were, in the main, redraughted by John FASSLER, indicated on the drawings in the customary fashion by being inscribed with the epithet delt [from Latin delineat meaning ‘outlined’]. Fassler was unable to afford the trip so was not member of the original student team in the field. He, as a young contemporary of the student team, was Pearse’s draughtsperson of choice, and as such became heir to the collection.

The published versions of the drawings are ‘clean’ versions of the originals. The photographs and measured drawings were reproduced by collotype (Wikipedia), since no other printing process could permit the minute detailed reproduction with the same degree of exactness. The drawing on the title page and dust jacket is by FW MULLINS. The book went to two reprints, once again in 1957 by its original publisher, Batsford. This renewed interest may have been prompted by Pearse publishing The Cape of Good Hope, 1652-1833 : an account of its buildings and life of its people the year before (1956), by the publisher Van Schaik. The third edition of 1963 was published by AA Balkema, the publishing house of the Dutch-born immigrant, Guus Balkema (1906-1986), who established himself at the Cape after the Second World War. The third edition has new photographs by Willem Malherbe, Hans FRANSEN and Arthur ELLIOTT. When Balkema ceased publishing, the drawings were found amongst the paraphernalia left in his publishing house. Gawie FAGAN, at the time engaged in the restoration of Cape Dutch homesteads, was offered these, which he gratefully accepted. He has preserved them over the years. He forwarded them to the University of Pretoria School of Architecture on loan for purposes of digitizing for the archive collection. They were shown at the Cape of Good Hope Castle and the South African Institute of Architects for exhibition in Johannesburg and then Pretoria in 2006.

The drawings for the companion volume ‘Eighteenth century furniture in South Africa’, only published in 1960 by Van Schaik’s of Pretoria.

As Pearse states in the ‘Preface’ to this volume, it is conceived as a companion volume to his earlier monograph, which it replicates in style and format, although published this time by JL van Schaik of Pretoria. From his expression of gratitude in the 'Preface' it is evident that in 1935, for the express purpose of measuring Cape Dutch furniture housed in museums and private collections in the Cape, he had three student colleagues accompany him on a return trip. These were:
Monte BRYER.

He again thanks, amongst others, various architectural colleagues for drawings, photographs or access to their private collections of Cape Dutch furniture:
Gordon LEITH
Norman EATON
Duncan HOWIE

These drawings are in the possession of Mira FASSLER KAMSTRA, daughter of John Fassler. A select number were exhibited in Bloemfontein as part of the Sophia Gray Memorial Lecture, of which Ms Fassler-Kamstra was the first doyenne. An agreement between the Departments of Architecture, University of the Free State and Pretoria, had the exhibition forwarded to the University of Pretoria where they were exhibited in the Gallery in the Old Letters Building. Unfortunately two of the drawings – framed – disappeared from the collection when the exhibition was demounted.

Mira Fassler-Kamstra, who arranged that the Fagan collection be safely transported and delivered, graciously simultaneously made her collection available for digitizing and archiving in order that the University of Pretoria have the complete record of drawings, the only such complete collection of the Pearse measured drawings, now made available digitally on UPSpace.