Observatory Museum to be Renovated

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Thursday, 5th October 2017

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 working Victorian 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 2017 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 originally the home and shop belonging to Englishman Henry Galpin, a watchmaker and jeweller who lived in Grahamstown from 1850 until his death in 1886.

The museum is unique because of its Camera Obscura with its 360 degree view of the city.

Fleur Way-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 said 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 Galpin had the extraordinary idea of adding more and more to it.” 

Besides the Camera Obscura, the museum is also linked with the testing/confirmation of the first diamond, the Eureka, discovered in the country in 1867.

“We have a number of interlinking stories around the Observatory - the original owner and builder Galpin who was a businessman establishing himself in a new country with his family; the Eureka diamond and how it ended up in Grahamstown where it was identified in this building; and the people who chose this building as a heritage site worth preserving,” Way-Jones explains.

The closure of the museum should not deter tourists from coming to Grahamstown as the city has over 70 heritage sites and is known as the home of the annual National Arts Festival, the English Literary Museum and its Egazini battlefield.

The Egazini battlefield site tells the story of a war between Xhosa warriors led by Makana, and British soldiers. 
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 by British soldiers in the Battle of Grahamstown in 1819.” 

The Grahamstown municipality is now named after this Xhosa warrior.

The Observatory Museum is a Provincial Heritage site. 

Article has been edited. Article courtesy of the SABC by Mcebisi Ngqina.

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