Webley Mark V .455 revolver – with .22 Morris aiming tube, England, 1955. From the Iziko Social History collections.


Cranequin crossbow, German, 16th century.From the Iziko Social History collections.


The weaponry collection is yet another rich and diverse collection within the Iziko Social History Collections department, containing different types of firearms, stabbing weapons, artillery, protective garments, shields, throwing weapons and many more. Some of the weapons in the collection date as far back as the 16th century, notably a fine German cross bow with exquisitely inlaid decoration. Many of these are on display in at the Iziko Slave Lodge and the Iziko South African Museum. There are also items in storage.

The Rev. R Jeffcoat collection has a particularly fine collection of Oriental arms and armour. Works from countries such as India, Afghanistan, Persia, Nepal and Tibet are represented, illustrating the skill involved in the creation of weapons, many of which are also intricately decorated.

Counting amongst some of the most fascinating pieces in the collection are coats of arms, some dating back to the 16th century. There are chain-mails and helmets, and most exciting of them all – a complete Japanese samurai suit of armour. Present day movies and computer games have made these types of gear popular again, especially amongst the youth. This is definitely a strong point of the collection and an area people can relate to. Equally interesting are the tall hand-held weapons such as halberds and pikes, another old-worldly type of weapon which youngsters are fascinated by. Cannons are also something people are very interested in and we hold a fair number in the collection. The two massive cannons retrieved from the wreck of the Oosterland (1697) are amongst the most important and early examples in the collection.

One of the exhibition galleries at the Slave Lodge is currently showing a display of weapons. There are small firearms such as revolvers and pistols, as well as automatic firearms, including an AK47 and a locally assembled ‘zip-gun’. These pieces can in one way or the other be linked to the devastation caused by wars which raged over centuries, internationally and locally, including the use of arms in the struggle for freedom in South Africa, as well as the continued role firearms play in present day crime. The exhibition provides an opportunity to address contemporary issues, such as the advocacy for a gun-free country.

The weaponry collection is also richly representative of indigenous weapons from Africa, ranging from bows and arrows used for hunting, to axes, clubs, spears and shields.

Because of the existence of a historical fire arms collection at the museum, it was necessary to comply with the national Fire Arms Act. All the proper accreditation processes were followed, including training for staff that are directly caring for the collection. Application were made with regards to four Iziko sites, namely the Castle, the South African Museum, the Slave Lodge and the Iziko Social History Centre, and all were successful and now in receipt of official accreditation certificates.


Matthys van der Merwe
Email: marsh@iziko.org.za
Telephone: +27 (0) 21 405 2880