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Simon’s Town Museum is housed in "The Residency" which was built in 1777 as the winter residence for the Dutch East India Company Governor at the Cape.
Simon’s Town Museum was established in 1977 by the Simon's Town Historical Society. The Museum was originally housed in the old Simon’s Town Municipality complex, but moved to "The Residency" in 1982. The building has a long history, having been used as a hospital, post office, school, customs house, police station, gaol and magistrate’s court.
The Simon’s Town Museum collects and exhibits the cultural history of the people of Simon’s Town and their connections with the Dutch East India Company and the Royal Navy.
Museum Layout & Exhibits
Souvenirs of Simon’s Town, the famous naval dog - AB Just Nuisance, the African Penguin and so on can be purchased in our shop. In addition the shop acts as an Information Bureau for Simon’s Town and handles queries ranging from accommodation and restaurants to the natural environment, walks, Cape Fynbos and scenic attractions of the area.
Displays also include the vital role played by Dutch East India Company Governor, Simon van der Stel, in the establishment of Simon’s Town in 1743, as a strategic port for shipping; the early farms and the first buildings which dotted the mountain slopes around Simon’s Bay. Many of these original buildings still stand today and have been declared National Monuments.
One can also read about how events thousands of kilometres away in the Northern Hemisphere impacted on the Cape of Good Hope. Napoleon’s rampage across the European continent lead to the Battle of Muizenberg in 1795 at the tip of Africa, when British forces ended the Dutch East India Company’s occupation of the Cape, which had begun in 1652. The French had begun to show an interest in the Cape of Good Hope and the British took no chances. They erected a Martello Tower in 1796, to guard the entrance to Simon’s Bay. The tower still stands today.
The British handed the Cape over to the Batavian Government in 1803, but after a mere 3 years they were back, after the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806. The Royal Navy established the South Atlantic station at Simon’s Town in 1814 and thus began its 143 year occupation of the port. The tiny settlement expanded rapidly from a far-flung winter anchorage to strategic naval port, which played an important role in the expansion of the British Empire and in the dynamics of international politics.
Simon’s Town played its part on the world stage, from the banishment of Napoleon to St Helena and the suppression of the slave trade along the African coast, to the fight against Naziism during the Second World War.
Many schools were established in the Simon’s Town area, the first being Cradock’s Dutch School, opened in the Residency in 1813, the building which houses the Simon’s Town Museum today. The Undenominational Public School was opened in 1815 and evolved to become the Simon’s Town High School of the present time. The oldest church, the Wesleyan Chapel, dates to 1828 and was consecrated by a visiting Anglican Bishop. The Anglicans worshipped on and off in the Mast House and Sail Loft from 1824 and then permanently from 1852, although the Dockyard Church of St. George was only officially dedicated in 1945. The congregation split with the building of St Francis of Assissi in 1837, only reuniting again in 1993. The Dutch Reformed Church congregation used the Wesleyan Chapel for some time, until their church was built in 1856. The Roman Catholic Church of Sts Simon and Jude was built in 1850 having grown from a congregation that originated with two Spanish-speaking brothers from South America, the Delcarmes, whose descendants became many. In 1926 the Muslim community completed the Noorul Islam Mosque. Originally it had been a house in which the faithful had met since 1888. The Muslim congregation received assistance from churches and individuals in the town, in form of labour and funds. The Jewish community did not have a synagogue, but worshipped in the Phoenix Hall of the Free Masons.
Of the numerous hospitals built in the town, the most impressive was the Dutch East India Company Hospital with its three front-facing gables, constructed on the mountainside, above the Residency in 1764. Old Hospital Terrace was built in 1814 for the Royal Navy and it was here that Lord Lister’s new antiseptic methods were used for the first time in South Africa. The old Military Hospital has as its claim to fame, the fact that legendary poet, author and playwright, Edgar Wallace, served there as a medical orderly in the late 1890’s. The new Royal Naval Hospital built in 1901, earned a very good reputation during World War Two for its high standard of care for patients with severe burns.
The oldest extant cemetery in South Africa is Simon’s Town’s Old Burying Ground, established in 1813. Those who built Simon’s Town, those who were just passing through, or who were lost at sea are commemorated here. Royal Navy matelots lie beside Russian sailors, slaves, Italian artisans, Boer prisoners-of-war, Kroomen and generations of townsfolk. The story of the Kramat in Simon’s Town is also displayed as is the history of the Dido Valley Cemetery.
The important part that Simon’s Town and its people played in the wars of the Twentieth Century is described in displays about the Anglo-Boer War prison ships; the Boer Prisoner of War Camp at Boulders (1901); the establishment of the Cape Coloured Corps in 1915 (on the site of the Boer POW Camp); the story of the hunt in the Rufigi River Delta for the German raider SMS Konigsberg (World War One), using the Curtiss seaplane in 1914 as well as the search co-ordinated by the Royal Navy from Simon’s Town, to find and destroy another German ship, the Graf Spee (World War Two) on the River Plate in 1939. Artifacts representative of World Wars One and Two, donated by Simon’s Town veterans, are on display. The roles played by the civilians and in women in uniform are also depicted.
A little-known fact is that at least 125 Allied ships were sunk by the Germans, Japanese and Italians, in relatively close proximity to Simon’s Town.
The hall was named after the late Gerald Read, former Chairman of the Simon’s Town Historical Society and contains displays on the Simon’s Town Municipality (1883-1996), a Dollshouse and the many Royal Visitors to the town. The British Royal Family were by far the most numerous visitors, their first representative being Prince Alfred, son of Queen Victoria, who visited the town in 1860. Also of interest are the Aborigine prince, Metarai (1808); Louis Napoleon, The Prince Imperial, who was killed in Natal in a war with the Zulus and whose body was brought to Simon’s Town in 1879, en route to Britain and Zulu King, Cetshwayo, who was brought to Simon’s Town in 1879 en route to Oude Molen where he was held captive.
This is an exhibition about the people of Simon’s Town, their homes and the devastating effect of the Forced Removals under the Group Areas Act, by the Apartheid Government in the 1960’s. The exhibition is Phase 1 of the Project Phoenix initiative launched by the Simon’s Town Museum, to record and preserve the history of the 7000 people who were forcibly relocated to other parts of the Cape Peninsula and beyond.
Just Nuisance, Simon's Town's famous mascot is appropriately remembered in this exhibition of his exploits. In the collection all Just Nuisances' official papers, his collar and many photographs. A special display and a slide show giving the story of this famous dog is shown daily to children and tourists from all over the world.
Displays include the rich history of the Royal Navy in Simon's Town; the history of the East and West Dockyards; and artifacts and uniforms pertaining to the Royal Navy in Simon's Town.
This is a replica of the many pubs that once slaked the thirst of the men in Simon’s Town and which have long since disappeared. The Africa Station Club was one of the best known, particularly to Royal Naval personnel. A display of ships badges is included.
Many shipwrecks have occurred around the Cape Peninsula and material collected from False Bay and the Cape Point area is on display.
Exhibitions portray the activities of the civilian population of Simon's Town - farming, whaling, fishing and coopering. The Cape Glass Company, the laundries, the tailors, shoemakers and barbers are also included.
It was in use until 1980, when the Magistrate’s Court moved to new premises. Prisoners waited here before being taken up the staircase in the Trade and Industries Room, to the Courtroom above.
The cells were built to house the slaves of the Governor of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape when he was in residence. From 1814 the cells were used as a gaol. The stocks were outside at that time and were used mainly to detain women. The Diet Scale on the door indicates the differences between the diets of black people and white people, men and women.
This is the cell where punishment was meted out to the slaves and prisoners. Whiplash marks can still be seen on the ceiling.
The courtyard is named after the late Alderman Gordon Wilson, former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the museum. The yellowwood tree was planted in 1948 by the Resident Magistrate. It is a very fine specimen and its rapid growth is as a result of its sheltered position and an underground water supply.