This house museum is furnished as a home for a well-to-do Cape family during the late 18th Century. It houses some of the best pieces of Cape furniture and silver in the country, in addition to a priceless collection of ceramics. A household such as this would only have been able to function with its share of servants and slaves, and recent research has brought to light the names and professions of some who lived in the house at the time, as well as the kinds of activities they would have pursued.
The house opened its doors as a museum in 1914, after the deaths of its last private owners, Marie Koopmans-de Wet and her sister Margaretha. It is the oldest house museum in the country. Marie Koopmans-de Wet, after whom the Museum is named, was well known during the South African War for her help to the orphans and widows of the Boer republics.
Why is this house important?
Koopmans-de Wet House was the first period house museum established in South Africa. It is one of only a few remaining late 18th century town-houses in Cape Town.
The fist grantee, Reynier Smedinga, started building a dwelling in 1699, and over the next century the house changed and grew according to the needs of the various owners.
The house was purchased for South Africa in 1913 in memory of Marie Koopmans-de Wet who, with her sister Margaretha, were the last private occupants of the house. Marie Koopmans-de Wet was active in Cape Town cultural affairs at the time and campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the Boer women and children incarcerated in concentration camps during the South African War of 1899–1902.
Some of the furniture and furnishings belonged to the De Wet family, but many other pieces have been specially purchased or donated by benefactors of the Museum.
The house is a Provincial Heritage Site
Just a handful of isolated structures whose survival is often due to an individual’s efforts, such as Marie Koopmans-de Wet. Conservation and development managers, and local and provincial heritage practitioners, refer to the house and its present setting with dismay, as an example of past achievements overwhelmed by insensitive new developments.
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