Arts & Culture in Somerset East

Sommerset East Museum

Shortly after the establishment of the village of Somerset in 1825, a plot at the foot of the Boschberg was granted to the Wesleyan Church for the erection of a Chapel and to serve as a “burying” ground, the oldest in town. The Chapel was opened in 1828. A few years later, the property was transferred to the Dutch Reformed Church and by 1835, the building had been converted into a Parsonage (Pastorie).

During the 105 years that the building was used as a Parsonage, it was occupied by the Morgan, Pears and Hofmeyer families. Five generations of Hofmeyrs occupied the Parsonage for some 88 years.

It was declared a Province-aided Museum and a National Monument in 1972, and the Museum was officially opened in 1975 after restoration.

Situated in picturesque surroundings, the Georgian Museum building today forms part of the Boschberg Nature Reserve, and acts as a centre for all activities in the reserve. These include Group Adventure activities, Blue Crane Route Environmental Education Centre and open air classroom for learner groups, as well as a network of hiking trails.

The graveyard is home to the gravesite of Ouma Dora Jacobs, died in 2003 at age 122, then the oldest person in the world.

The permanent exhibition on the 1815 Slagter’s Nek Rebellion opened in 2006, and offers insight into events which happened around the world in the same era.

Walter Battiss Art Museum

The Walter Battiss Art Museum building was in use during the time of Somerset Farm (before the town of Somerset East was established in 1825) and was used as an Officers Mess for British troops stationed on the eastern Frontier. Note the beautiful fanlight and the railings in the picture alongside.The cast-iron fence was transported by wagon from Cape Town. Yellowwood from the Boschberg Mountain provided wood and beams for some partitions of the first floor. Several fireplaces still in the bulidng, have the royal coat of arms built into them. The Victorian veranda was added later.

Walter Wahl Battiss was born in Somerset East in 1906. At one stage the family rented 45 Paulet Street, and ran it as the Battiss Private Hotel.

The Walter Battiss Art Museum was officially opened on 24 October 1981. Battiss was present on the day, and donated 65 of his private collection of artworks to “the people of Somerset East”. He died in 1982.

After extensive deterioration, the gallery was closed to the public at the end of 1999, and reopened on 5 November 2004, after restoration.

Today it houses a permanent exhibition on the works of Battiss, including watercolours, oils, rock art and Fook Island.

The gallery forms part of the Somerset East Museum. Various items including T-shirts and publications are for sale.