Cosmopolitan town’s history held

2017-04-04 06:03
Simon’s Town Museum, which turned 40 on Saturday, holds annual Heritage Day events.

Simon’s Town Museum, which turned 40 on Saturday, holds annual Heritage Day events.

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The Simon’s Town museum is celebrating 40 years of telling the community’s story.

The occasion was celebrated at an event on Saturday.

The museum was established by a group of volunteers and opened its doors on 1 April 1977. The museum started with the mandate of recording all aspects of the history of the Simon’s Town community, all the way back to pre-colonial history.

The exhibitions portray the past of the small maritime port, whose position on the Cape sea route resulted in its history being intertwined with that of many nations.

However, the museum is not just about history, say curator Cathy Salter-Jansen.

The museum runs various community outreach projects and engages with social issues by commemorating Aids Day, Women’s Day and Heritage Day, among others.

The exhibits in the museum have also changed over the years to reflect a holistic history, such as that of the forced removals from Simon’s Town under the Group Areas Act.

Salter-Jansen describes this exhibit as the “most emotional”. Much of the information on display has been recorded and preserved by Project Phoenix volunteers.

The long occupation by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) from 1743 and then the British from 1806 resulted in a “population that was very cosmopolitan”, Salter-Jansen explains.

“The Royal Navy established a permanent base at Simon’s Town in 1814 and its 144-year presence rocketed Simon’s Town from a tiny, seasonal backwater to a thriving, bustling, internationally renowned seaport, attracting people of diverse origins. Well over 200 years of intermarriage and social interaction created an exceedingly diverse community, whose shared traditions, history and heritage could be unique in South Africa, if not the world.”

Some of the evidence of this history is the museum itself, which is housed in the 240-year-old building named the Residency.

It was built by the VOC in 1777 as a winter residence for the governor of the Cape and it was here that important visitors were entertained. It became the Residency and magistrate’s court in 1814.

A new court was built in Simon’s Town in 1979 and the building became derelict.

In 1981 the board of trustees of the Simon’s Town Museum bought the almost derelict property. Hard work, planning, fundraising, dedication and generous donations enabled the trustees and the Friends of Simon’s Town Museum to transform the building into the museum.

The Residency was declared a national monument in 1988.

From its establishment, the museum has always relied on volunteers. They continue to contribute towards fundraising and running the shop and reception areas, as well as helping with walking tours and various other roles at the museum.

However, the number of volunteers is dwindling and the museum is in dire need of more community involvement, says Salter-Jansen.

“We have visitors from all over the country, but very seldom from Simon’s Town. Our focus is on the history of the community; the museum shows the community’s development and the challenges it has faced. You won’t see these kinds of exhibitions anywhere else in Cape Town.”

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