Shortly after the establishment of the town, land on the slopes of the Bosberg was given to the Wesleyan missionaries for a chapel and a graveyard. The chapel was completed and consecrated in 1828, but the building and surrounding land was transferred to the Dutch Reformed Church a few years later and in 1835 the chapel was converted into a parsonage.
In the 105 years the building served as a parsonage, four ministers lived here: the reverends George Morgan (until 1841), John Pears (until 1866), Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr (until 1908) and his son John Murray Hofmeyr. It was then sold to the latter’s son, dr. Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr.
In 1971 KS Birch, then the owner, made the house available as a museum building and in 1972 it was proclaimed a province-aided museum. A few months later the building was declared a national monument, and during the festival celebrations of the town’s 150th anniversary in 1975 the museum was inaugurated.
The Georgian house, at the foot of the Bosberg, stands serenely amongst tall indigenous trees and has magnificent rose gardens. The yellowwood beams and floors come from trees grown in the Bosberg. The former parsonage has been furnished with period pieces in the style popular towards the end of the nineteenth century.
The Somerset East Museum is unique in that it forms part of the Bosberg Nature Reserve.
Walter Battiss Gallery
45 Paulet Street
In an official ceremony held in front of the white-gabled house in Paulet Street, Somerset East, in September 1981, Walter (Whall) Battiss bequeathed his collection of his own art works to “the people of Somerset East and South Africa”. The two-storied house with its long, shaded verandah, lying peacefully asleep under the watchful gaze of the Bosberg Mountains, is a familiar landmark in the small Karoo town. Run by his family as a temperance hotel until 1914, it now functions as a gallery housing works executed by its gentle country son. The Walter Battiss art gallery was originally built in 1818 and served as an officers’ mess on “Somerset Farm”.
“My father was a waterfall, my mother a butterfly” – is an often repeated phrase which Battiss first wrote in the preface to his book “Limpopo”. “I found it easy for my father and the waterfall to be one and the same manifestation of paternal energy. My mother was small and flitted around, delicate yet super-mobile, the abstraction of a butterfly.” Butterflies appear on innumerable occasions in the canvases and sketches produced throughout Battiss’ long and varied career.
In 1938 Battiss forged a lasting friendship with Pablo Picasso. When asked about the friendship, Battiss responded simply: “Because he was different to anyone else in his simplicity. A great artist is a very simple human being.”
Later on Battiss turned to the Bushman art to find the “soul” of his paintings.
“Fook” was the imaginary world Battiss created out of the “island of his imagination”. He himself was the loveable “King Ferd the Third,” and the Fookian flag flew proudly in the garden of his Pretoria residence.
Walter Battiss was working at a winter retreat at Leisure Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast when he was struck down by a heart attack. He died in Port Shepstone on 20 August 1982.
Hope Church, The Congregational Church of Somerset East (National Monument)
Dorothy Evans was the widow of Rev. John Evans of Cradock. Shortly after her husband’s death and the proclamation of the town of Somerset in 1825, she settled in Somerset. She died in 1842 and is buried in the old graveyard behind the Somerset East Museum.
In her will, Dorothy Evans bequeathed to the London Missionary Society, “…her house and yard situated in Paulet Street…” In December 1842 the Superintendent of the Society’s Mission in South Africa applied to the Governor, Sir George Napier, for an allowance of twenty pounds per annum for the teacher of Coloured classes at Somerset. This was granted. A minister was sent to South Africa and shortly after, in 1844, a church for the Coloured Dutch-speaking Congregation was erected on Dorothy Evans’ yard. The London Missionary Society later became part of the Congregational Church.
Hope Church Parsonage (National Monument)
Home of Dorothy Evans. After her death, the Hope Church used it as a Parsonage
49 Paulet Street (National Monument)
(formerly 41 Paulet Street)
This property was one of three dwellings to be declared a national monument in October 1983. Granted to one Robert Robinson, the lot was one of the first to be allocated immediately after the founding of the town Somerset, in April 1825. The building dates between 1825 and 1830.
60 Paulet Street (National Monument)
(formerly 36 Paulet Street)
One of three national monuments to be declared in October 1983 and described as an “historic dwelling-house”, the property was originally granted to Jan Jonathan Durandt. The building dates between 1825 and 1830.
62 Paulet Street (National Monument)
(formerly 38 Paulet Street)
The third of a trio of properties to be declared national monuments in October 1983, the property was granted to William McDonald Mackay, the first and only Landdrost of Somerset. The property stretched from Paulet Street to Mackay Street. The building dates between 1825 and 1830.
William Oates School
The William Oates School is named after Rev. William Oates of Grahamstown, initially a Wesleyan Minister and a South African, trained at Grahamstown, Somerset East and Lovedale. Rev. Oates resigned from the Hope Church, the Congregational Church of the Coloured Community, but rejoined the Ministry in 1868. He became Minister to the “Dutch-speaking congregational Church” at Somerset East in 1880 and remained in office until his death in 1927.