In a bid to preserve the heritage of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, the Albany Museum which manages a number of heritage sites in the city, has embarked on a programme to renovate heritage sites.
One of the city’s oldest heritage sites, the Observatory Museum, is currently being renovated. It’s famous for its Camera Obscura which is the only one in the Southern Hemisphere.
The 8th of September will be remembered as the last day this historical museum was operational.
The closure also formed part of the heritage celebrations for the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, held under the theme, Cultural Heritage for sustainable tourism: The Story of the Observatory Museum.
The museum was a house and shop of Englishman Henry Galpin, a watchmaker and jewellery that lived in Grahamstown in 1850 until his death in 1886.
The museum is unique because of its Camera Obscura with 360 degree view of the city.
It’s believed Galpin used the Camera Obscura to view Grahamstown as he was suffering from insomnia.
Fleurway Jones has worked at the museum as a curator for more than three decades. She says the structure of the building is what makes it special.
“It’s a very unusual building, someone says it defies architecture because it wasn’t meant to be a four storey building with two towers on top with a flag pole. It was meant to be a shop and a home but this man had an extraordinary idea of adding more to it and adding to it and his son helped him. So we have this unusual building that everyone love”
Besides the camera obscura, the museum is also linked with the first testing of the diamond discovered in the country in 1867.
It’s believed this is what led De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited to purchase the house due to its tie to diamonds.
“We have a number of interlinking stories, this was a businessman establishing himself in a new country with the family and so on we’ve got that story. We’ve also got this amazing story of the diamond and how it end up to land in Grahamstown and be identify finally in this building. And the opportunity people took to identify this building as a heritage site and worth of preserving,” Jones explains.
The closure of the museum will not deter tourists from coming to Grahamstown as the city prides itself of heritage sites, events and symbols, such as the annual National Arts Festival, the English Literary Museum which is a national museum and Egazini battle field.
The Egazini battle field site tells a story of a war between Xhosa warriors led by Makanda and British soldiers.
The Grahamstown municipality is named after this Xhosa warrior.
The Director of Museums and Heritage in the department of Arts and Culture in the Sarah Baartman District, Zandisile Sakata says, “It is said that about 10 000 Xhosa warriors were killed about British soldiers. If you look at the Fort England the Psychiatric hospitals, it used to be the British headquarters. So when Makanda was coming to attack Grahamstown, their aim was to attack the British headquarters. Opposite the hospital is where the battle was fought. Those sites are facing each other, that is the headquarters and the monument that resembles the battleground of Grahamstown.”
The Observatory Museum is a Provincial Heritage site.
The country will be celebrating Heritage Day on the 24th of this month.