Monuments in Graaff-Reinet
Graaff-Reinet boasts approximately 220 listed national monuments, more than any other town in South Africa. A wander through the streets of the Horseshoe and a little further afield will reveal a rich ensemble of splendid old buildings, monuments and historical sites that richly illustrate the often turbulent story of Graaff-Reinet.
Reinet House in Parsonage Street was built in 1812 and was home to the Reverend Andrew Murray from 1822 to 1866 and his son Charles until 1904. The largest and one of the oldest grape vines in South Africa can be viewed in the grounds of Reinet House. The Graaff-Reinet Museum was established in 1956 in Reinet House and houses a significant collection of local memorabilia, furniture, paintings and a transport museum.
The Residency in Parsonage Street was built by Johannes Gerber on land purchased in 1819. The house was purchased by the Rubidge family and later became the residence of the Landdrost or Magistrate.
In 1978 it became an annexe to the adjacent Reinet House.
The John Rupert Little Theatre in Parsonage Street was once the Mission Church for the London Missionary Society and was known locally as the “Groot Londen” or Big London. It was consecrated by Dr John Philip of the London Missionary Society in 1847. The church was sold to the United Congregational Church in 1920. It was purchased by Anton Rupert in 1969 and after restoration was donated to Graaff-Reinet, where it serves as a local theatre for the community.
The recently restored Drostdy Hotel was designed by Louis Michel Thibault and built between 1804 and 1806. The building is H shaped with eight gables and has served as a hotel since 1876. The Stretch Court were originally labourer’s cottages situated between Church and Bourke Street and were named after Charles Lennox Stretch who divided them into allotments in 1858. Beautifully restored they form part of the Drostdy Hotel.
Urquhart House at the southern end of Market Square was built between 1806 and 1821 and became the Clegg’s Midland Hotel under the ownership of David Carel Schultz. The house was bought by Herbert Urquhart, Graaff Reinet’s longest serving Mayor, in 1912.
It became part of the Graaff-Reinet Museum complex in 1990 and houses a splendid collection of nineteenth century furniture, paintings and memorabilia.
Graaff-Reinet’s military history exhibition is housed behind Urquhart House and boasts an extensive collection of exhibits of the Anglo Boer War, First and Second World Wars and South Africa’s Border War of the 1980s.
The Town Hall in Church Square was opened in 1911 and was originally named the Victoria Hall in honour of Queen Victoria. The building was built in the Flemish Renaissance style and looks out over the Church Square Gardens which houses Graaff-Reinet’s War Memorial commemorating those who died in the two World Wars and South Africa’s Border War.
The Hester Rupert Art Museum in Church Street was built in 1821 as the Dutch Reformed Mission Church for the town’s Coloured Community. It was acquired by Anton Rupert in 1965 who saved the house from the threat of demolition to make way for a petrol station. The Museum was named in honour of Anton Rupert’s mother and houses a collection of South African art.
The Old Library Museum in Church Street has its origins in 1847 with further extensions added in 1878 and 1926. In 1847 the citizens of Graaff-Reinet established a public library, subscribing funds to build the central portion of the present building.
The Museum houses a permanent exhibition of fossils, Rock Art and Stone Age artefacts, an exhibition exploring the history of slavery and the long road to restitution and the Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe Permanent Exhibition, the founder of the Pan African Congress (PAC).
The Te Water House in Church Street, which was once gabled and thatched, was the home of the Te Water family and contained a collection of plush furniture, splendid chandeliers and beautiful wallpaper.
The house was used by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during the Royal visit of 1947. Today the house is used as an antique shop.
The Graaff-Reinet Club dates from 1875 and is the second oldest social club in South Africa. The building was completed in 1886 and served as a favourite watering hole for the Coldstream Guards during the 2nd Anglo Boer War. On departure for England a raucous party resulted in dancing on the bar counter and shooting eight .45 shots into the bar counter. These have since been plugged but remain a talking point to this day at gatherings in the club’s bar.
St James Anglican Church in Somerset Street was built in 1850 and consecrated by Bishop Gray, the first Anglican Bishop in South Africa, and is the oldest church still in use in Graaff-Reinet. The chancel and sanctuary were added in 1868. The Lady Chapel was added in 1893 to house the organ and the Rectory was built in 1897. The stone vestry was added in 1900.
The Trinity Methodist Church on the corner of Caledon and Bourke Streets was built between 1871 and 1875 and consecrated in 1875. The church was established at the behest of Reverend John Edwards of Somerset East in order to cater for the spiritual needs of the small Wesleyan Community in Graaff-Reinet. The church building was enlarged in 1894 and the manse serving the church was constructed in 1900.
The stately Dutch Reformed Church situated at the top of Church Street is the fourth Dutch Reformed Church to have been built in Graaff-Reinet since 1792 and the third on its current site. The foundation stone was laid in 1886. The Church was inaugurated in 1887 and cost £15,800. The church was designed in similar style to that of Salisbury Cathedral in England. The Church was constructed from local stone and members of the community assisted with the transportation of the stone to the construction site.
The Dutch Reformed 'Nuwe Kerk' or new church was established as an independent Dutch Reformed Church congregation in 1929. The split away from the established Dutch Reformed Congregation in the Mother Church largely centred on the controversial minister Reverend Naude who refused to preach in Dutch and rather ministered to the congregation in Afrikaans. The split pitted liberal against conservative, wealthy landowners and farmers against poor plot dwellers and ‘back-streeters’ and those who embraced Afrikaans against those who regarded the new language as ungodly.
The Gunpowder Magazine was constructed on the crest of a barren hill to the north of the village in the 1830s in order to store gunpowder, resulting from the passing of an ordinance by the Colonial Administration regulating the safe storage of this volatile explosive. Charles Lennox Stretch, the Government Surveyor at Graaff-Reinet, surveyed the site on Crown Land and the Magazine was constructed in 1831.
The Andries Pretorius Memorial is located just inside the entrance to the Camdeboo National Park along the N9 highway towards Middelburg. The sculptor, Coert Steynberg, designed the memorial incorporating oxen and a wagon wheel with Andries Pretorius gazing resolutely towards the north – the direction that the Great Trek took to escape British rule in the old Cape Colony of the early nineteenth century.
Just outside the Police College on the southern outskirts of Graaff-Reinet a roadside memorial pays tribute to the role of the Jewish ‘smous’ or peddler in supplying Karoo residents with some of the basic necessities of life from as early as the late eighteenth century. Their contribution to the growth of the Karoo economy was pivotal and in times past almost every Karoo town had an active Jewish community and synagogue, however their numbers have dwindled and the Jewish community has all but disappeared from the Karoo.
The Gideon Scheepers Monument is located on the Murraysburg road overlooking the wide expanse of the Nqweba Dam. The memorial commemorates the execution of Gideon Scheepers, an Anglo Boer War Commandant, who was found guilty by the British on a charge of war crimes allegedly committed whilst on Commando in the Cape Colony.
The memorial symbolises the spirit of hope and faith in God, the steadfastness of the Afrikaner nation and the tilted boulders an Afrikaner nation suppressed but not fallen.
The Anglo Boer War memorial on the corner of Donkin and Somerset streets bears the Latin inscription “Dulce est pro patria mori” which translates as “Sweet is it to die for your country.” The memorial erected in 1908 commemorates the execution of eight Boer Commandos by the British for high treason and in the instance of Commandant Gideon Scheepers, for war crimes.
Scheepers was executed in the dry river bed of the Sundays River in an area now covered by the Nqweba Dam, the other Commandos were executed in their home districts within the Cape Colony.