Iziko Bertram House

  • We are renovating
    From: December 31, 2015
    To: December 30, 2016
    Iziko Bertram House is currently closed due to maintenance and restoration activities. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.  More info
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Bertram House is a late Georgian town house situated at the top of Government Avenue. 

This stylish town house is a delightful venue for book launches and music concerts. Being in the house will take your guests back to the Georgian period, giving them an evening to remember. The square piano made by Clementi and Co. dates from about 1906. It was restored in 1993 and is regularly used for chamber music events throughout the summer months. The Bertram House Annexe offers conference facilities for smaller groups.

Capacity and configuration:

Room Theatre Classroom Reception Banquet Boardroom Dimentions Height
Bertram House Annexe   60 40 60 40 30 18m2  3,5m


Corner of Government Avenue and Orange Street

Booking details

Email: venuehire@iziko.org.za

Please note the following

No marquees are allowed at any of the Iziko venues
Conditions apply
Tariffs on request
Only email applications will be considered

Search Collections
The collections of African Art in the Permanent Collection of the South African (SA) National Gallery mirror the histories of independence, division and democracy that have shaped the character of our country over the last century and a half.   Read more
The Ancient and Classical Cultures are well represented by artefacts from Egypt dating from the Predynastic to Graeco-Roman Periods.    Read more
This collection comprises mostly indigenous African artefacts, with a special emphasis on southern Africa. Objects from all over the world have also been collected for comparative purposes, such as Inuit artefacts to provide an example of hunter-gatherer material culture in environmental conditions very different from those in Africa.    Read more
The Modern Painting and Sculpture Collection contains excellent examples of many leading South African artists of the early and mid-20th Century, such as Gerard Sekoto, Alexis Preller, Irma Stern and Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, all of whose artworks are very much in demand today. Modernism is not easy to define, but refers roughly to a period dating from the 1860s through to the 1970s, and is used to describe the styles and ideologies of art produced during that era.   Read more
The bird study skin collection focuses on South African species, but includes species from elsewhere in Africa as well as other regions of the world.   Read more
The Cenozoic period spans the Palaeogene (66 million years ago (Ma)) to the Quaternary (Holocene - present).   Read more
The ceramics in our collection originate from many parts of the world, mainly Asia, Europe, Africa, and in particular South Africa. Contemporary works by South African ceramic artists form an import and developing part of the collection.   Read more
Collection of Contemporary Paintings and Sculpture extends temporally from approximately the 1960s-1970s to the present day, and consists predominantly of works by South African artists. This is one of the most actively acquiring collections, and while the Art Collections acquisition policy considers the redress of historical omissions as vital to the collection, it is also forward-looking with regard to the output of emerging and established artists in South Africa.   Read more
The Iziko Slave Lodge hosts a display of Egyptian artefacts within the Iziko collection. The collection of Egyptian artefacts, however, span greater than what can be viewed in the upper level of the Iziko Slave Lodge.   Read more
The entomology collection includes about 1,000,000 pinned insects and about 30,000 alcohol preserved samples of insects, arachnids (scorpions, spiders, etc.) and myriapods (centipedes, millipedes, etc.). It is the oldest entomology collection in South Africa with specimens dating back to the 1860's, and it contains about 7,000 primary types, mainly those of Péringuey (beetles), Hesse (flies), Arnold (aculeate Hymenoptera), Purcell (arachnids) and Barnard (mainly aquatic insects).   Read more
The furniture collection contains a substantial amount of South African furniture, dating from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries. The emphasis of the collection is on Cape Furniture, originating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and is particularly well represented in the chair, table and armoire collections. Country and town furniture are represented; this collection includes some rare and unique items.    Read more
The glass collection includes items bearing the monogram of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and the Rosa van Gelderen Collection, a small but representative collection depicting English Victorian glass. In the bottle collection is an empty bottle of Constantia Pontac, dating from 1791.   Read more
The Historical and Maritime Archaeological Collection is housed at the Iziko Social History Centre. The collection has an extensive variety of artefacts from several sites in and around Cape Town. The artefacts represent 87 land sites as well as 45 shipwrecks sites.     Read more
The historical collections of painting and sculpture within the Art Collections Department of Iziko Museums embrace a wide range of works for art that are both South African and foreign in origin.    Read more
Invertebrate palaeontology is the study of fossils of animals with no backbone or spine. Fossils are the remains or impressions of a once-living plant or animal found in rock and often hardened through natural processes. Invertebrates as the name suggests are animals that do not possess a vertebral column and this especially applies to the soft-bodied and smaller invertebrates such as worms and amoebae whose remains are poorly fossilised.    Read more
Invetebrates are animal species that do not posess or develop a vertebral collumn. Familiar examples of invertebrates include insects, worms, clams, crabs, octopuses, snails and starfish.     Read more
The Karoo is a vast semi-desert region that covers much of inland South Africa, and is considered a national treasure for its abundance of desert-adapted plant and animal life, as well as its world famous fossils. The Karoo rock outcrops have long been regarded as the largest and richest collecting grounds for fossils of a long extinct group of vertebrates known as therapsids or “mammal-like reptiles”.   Read more
The mammal study skin collection includes a wide range of southern African large and small mammal species. Plains zebras Equus burchelli, which formed part of Reinhold Rau’s initial quagga project are particularly well represented.   Read more
Being situated near, the Atlantic, Indian and Antarctic marine systems has resulted in a wide diversity of southern African and other marine fauna being held in the collections at Iziko South African Museum.   Read more
Invertebrates are animals with no spinal column who dominate the animal kingdom, making up at least 95% of known animal species. Similarly, marine invertebrates make up the vast majority of ocean life; or at least those visible to the naked eye.    Read more
Marine mammals are a large and diverse group of 129 species that include seals, whales, dolphins, walruses and even polar bears. They share relatively few biological characteristics, but are instead grouped together because of one common factor – they all rely on the ocean for their existence.  The Marine Mammal Collection includes a comprehensive collection of cetacean and Cape fur seal skeletal material, as well as those from other marine mammals.  Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) are the largest and most diverse order of marine mammals.   Read more
Marine vertebrates have a vertebral column, i.e. a spine and are by comparison to their invertebrate counter parts small in number, constituting only 4% of the sea’s animal kingdom. They are nonetheless considered among the most structurally complex organisms.     Read more
Cape Town's famous collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings on view at the Old Town House.   Read more
The Iziko Natural History Collections stand among the oldest, richest and most distinctive collections in the country. Together, the millions of specimens chronicle the natural history of animals and plants from Southern Africa and across the world. In so doing, they tell a fascinating story of life on Earth – from the earliest origins to how life has evolved into what we have today.   Read more
The Numismatic Collection includes currencies, tokens, scrip, medals and medallions. The world coin collection ranges from ancient and classical times to the present.   Read more
Palaeontology is the study of the preserved remains or traces of plants, animals and organisms that died thousands to millions of years ago. These preserved remains are called fossils and are found in rocks and sediments. Fossils allow us to understand how the Earth has changed over time and how animals evolve to what they are today.   Read more
The collection has been augmented by welcome donations, such as the presentation of 50 photographic prints by Arthur Rothstein in 1976 by the US Government. In addition, individual photographers have supported the Gallery with extraordinary generosity: in 1981, Paul Alberts presented 76 photographic prints and, in 1986, David Goldblatt presented 182 prints of his work. More recently, Struan Robertson donated 505 prints and his entire archive of negatives in 2003. Without such open-handedness, the Photographic Collection of the Iziko Department of Art Collections would be infinitely poorer. Between 2002 and 2005, we were fortunate to have been awarded funding for acquisitions by both the National Lotteries Board and the Department of Arts and Culture, which directly benefited the Photography and New Media Collections   Read more
All drawing media, except silver-point, are represented and all types of print media are covered in its holdings. The early historical prints include examples by artists such as Martin Schongauer, Michael Wohlgemnut and Albrecht Dürer. The collection has a representative collection of South African prints and drawings from the early 20th century onwards and this area is its main focus with regard to acquisitions.   Read more
The Rocks and Minerals Collections at the Iziko Museum of South Africa include a fine collection of calcite, a large collection from the former Tsumeb Mines in Namibia, rhodochrosite, which is found in Hotazel in the Northern Cape as well as diamonds of many different shapes and colours. There is also a unique meteorite collection, including both iron and stony chondrites and a rare carbonaceous chondrite.      Read more
Of special interest is the silver collection, especially the Cape silver. There are several interesting items of Cape commemorative silver. Apart from European silver, there are also silver items from Malaysia and Russia   Read more
The bulk of this collection, which boasts works by British artists such as Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir William Beechey, Sir Henry Raeburn, Henry Alken, Samuel Alken Junior, Charles Henderson, John Herring Senior, James Pollard, John Sartorius and Dean Wolstenholme Senior.    Read more
A gift of British Art to South Africa, part of the permanent collection at the Iziko South African National Gallery.   Read more
The nucleus of the original collections was established in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as part of the historical, archaeological and ethnographic collections of the South African Museum (SAM), and later the South African Cultural History Museum (SACHM).   Read more
Terrestrial vertebrates are commonplace, distributed across the globe even though vertebrates, as a whole, make up a fraction of animal diversity. Other than that they’re land-based animals with vertebral columns (spines or backbones) they’re also characterised by their well-defined joints and digits (fingers and toes). In scientific jargon, terrestrial vertebrates are known as Tetrapoda, in reference to these limbs.    Read more
Iziko holds an extremely large textile collection which includes flags, household linen, Indonesian ikats and batiks, Oriental carpets, samples and embroideries, as well as tapestries.   Read more
Toys are important for understanding the material world of childhood and changing patterns of socialization. The Toy Collection contains mainly commercially-manufactured dolls, marionettes, soft toys, games and a range of metal and plastic vehicles and trains, as well as indigenous African toys.    Read more
The transport collection contains about thirty coaches, wagons and carts – most being part of the Isaacs Collection – and bicycles.   Read more
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.   Read more
The William Fehr collection is exhibited at the Castle of Good Hope and Rust en Vreugd. The Castle, Cape Town’s oldest existing building, houses the component of oil paintings, furniture and decorative arts. Rust en Vreugd, a fine example of colonial eighteenth century urban architecture, houses the art on paper – prints, drawings and watercolours.    Read more
A large collection of woodworking tools enhances the furniture collection and the majority of the tools were documented and donated by Captain W. J. Van der Merwe.    Read more

Open: Mondays to Fridays from 10h00 to 17h00 and certain commemorative days and public holidays
Closed: Saturdays, Sundays, Christmas Day and Worker's Day
Tel: +27 (0)21 481 3972

Address: Government Avenue: Access from Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street, Cape Town
Disabled access: limited to the ground floor only.

Entrance fees: 
Adults R20, 
6-18 years R 10, 
Family ticket (2 adults + 2 children, 6 years & older): R 50
SA students & pensioners (on provision of valid student/pensioner card): R 10
School groups (booked): R 5
School groups (unbooked): R 8
Under 5’s enter for free
*SA students and pensioners enter free on Fridays on provision of valid cards
*ICOM and SAMA members enter free on provision of valid cards
*50% discount for kids accompanying an adult during local school holidays

Ground floor

Entrance hall

The entrance hall is reached through a covered projecting portico with a black and white marble floor. Ceiling, cornice and woodwork were painted white during restoration and the walls coloured a deep green used throughout the house. Rooms are symmetrically arranged on either side of the passage leading from the entrance hall. The central positioning of the elegantly designed spiral staircase is emphasized by the entrance vista through the passage arches.

Double drawing room

To the west of the hall is the double drawing room. In England during the 18th century it was a richly decorated room, arranged in a formal manner and used for entertaining.

By the 1750s festoon curtains were popular, comprised of one piece of fabric drawn vertically in swags. Later in the 1780s French curtains were introduced, consisting of a pair of curtains drawn horizontally on two rods, sometimes having a pelmet or curtain cornice using brass or wooden rings.

Lighting was provided by cut-glass chandeliers fitted with candles. Beeswax or tallow candles were very expensive and the wicks required constant trimming. Candle stubs were a servant’s "perks". Wall sconces were often fixed in front of mirrors in order to reflect more light about the room. Silver candelabra and candlesticks became important status symbols and Sheffield Plate was used after its introduction in the 1760s.

At Bertram House it was decided that the principal rooms on the ground floor; the double drawing room and dining room, should be hung with wallpaper in order to enhance the decoration of the rooms and impress the visitors as would have been the original intention created by owners of that era.

The square piano made by Clementi and Co. dates from about 1906. It was restored in 1993 and is regularly used for chamber music events throughout the summer months.

Dining room

To the east of the hall is the dining room. During the early 19th century dinner at the Cape would have been served between six and seven in the evening. The table has been laid for dessert and the white damask tablecloth removed. The extra leaves of this table made it suitable for small family dining or adjustable for larger groups of guests.

The Kangxi dessert plates form part of a set which belonged to Mrs Lidderdale’s mother-in-law, née Mary Wadsworth Busk, who spent her early childhood in St. Petersburg. The English silver and wine glasses which complete the period setting all form part of the Lidderdale bequest.

It was customary for the hostess and ladies to retire to the adjoining drawing room at the end of the meal leaving the men to their own discussions and to drink and smoke. Later in the evening the men would rejoin the ladies in the drawing room for conversation and card games and tea would be dispensed. Mrs Sarah Norman Eaton described the local customs of the Cape in her journal dated 1818 and records that tea was served "in the same style as in England, though in Dutch families it is usual to introduce preserved fruits which my brother does when he has Dutch visitors".


The second room on the east of the entrance hall is the study. This room would have been used mainly by the gentleman of the house and their male visitors. The card table set in readiness for a game acts as a reminder of the importance attached to card playing, while the clay pipes indicate the use of the study as a smoking room.

The fall front secretaire with walnut marquetry is the oldest piece of furniture in the museum. It dates from William and Mary period (1689 - 1702) and forms part of the Lidderdale bequest.

Morning room

The room known at Bertram House as the morning room would probably have been referred to as the parlour in England. This room was more informal and intimate than the drawing room and would have been furnished with a central table and chairs grouped around it so that members of the family could read, practice needlework and take tea.

There is a predominance of early walnut pieces from the Lidderdale bequest in the morning room including a bureau bookcase and side chair dating from the Queen Anne period (1702 - 1714).


The location of the original kitchen is not known but would probably have been situated at the rear of the house. Equipment used in a kitchen during the late 18th century would have included iron kettles, copper pots, pans and jelly moulds and pewter plates, as well as wooden and earthen vessels. The insides of copper pots were kept well tinned to prevent the formation of verdigris. Sugar was purchased by the loaf and pieces were broken off and pounded in a mortar and pestle.

There is no formal attempt at recreating a late 18th or early 19th century kitchen at Bertram House, instead a kitchen dresser and table are displayed together with a few basic utensils and items of Sheffield plate.

First floor

Special exhibition space

Two rooms have been set aside in order to exhibit special collections, on the first floor.

A small room off the landing, halfway up the stairs, is used as an exhibition area to display the equipment used in various pastimes practised by ladies of the house, such as the art of letter writing and needlework.

The first exhibition room on the west of the landing is used to display items of jewellery and personal accessories dating mainly from the 19th Century. A fine collection of English silver used to serve food and drink during the 18th and 19th Centuries is exhibited in the second room on the west of the landing.

Bedrooms and dressing room

The first room on the east is a lady’s bedroom. It has a field bed with white muslin bed hangings and matching curtains. By the late 18th century curtains generally matched other fabrics of the room.

A larger room second on the east is furnished as another bedroom with adjoining dressing room. The four-poster bed hangings and curtains are made of fabric reproduced in England based on an original 18th century design. Both bedrooms have framed examples of needlework on display. The samplers made by young children demonstrate the importance of acquiring the skill of fine embroidery early in life.

The decoration of the bedrooms and treatment of the walls is restrained when compared with that of the principal rooms on the ground floor. It must be remembered that bedrooms were usually unseen by visitors and were not created to impress.

Entrance and front garden of the Iziko Bertram House.
Side view of the house.
Ground floor of the Iziko Bertram House
View of the lower level drawing room at Iziko Bertram House.
Square piano and harp located in the drawing room of Iziko Bertram House.
Dining room at Iziko Bertram House.
The ceiling rose cornice located in the hallway and other rooms of the house. The original (hallway) was restored and replicas were later added in other rooms.
The spiral staircase leading to the upper level. Photo: Nigel Pamplin (c) Iziko Museums of South Africa.
Floor plan of the first floor (upper level) of Iziko Bertram House.
Special exhibitions area located on the upper level of Iziko Bertram House.
Bedroom on the upper level of the Iziko Bertram House.

Records of owners of the property known as Bertram House, situated in Government Avenue, date back to 1794 when Andreas Momsen was granted the site by the Dutch East India Company. Details regarding dates of the construction of the present Georgian town house and the identity of the author remain a mystery. Nor is there conclusive proof that John Barker, owner from 1839 until 1854, was the builder, although it is generally agreed that the house was named in memory of his wife Ann Bertram Findlay, who died in 1838.

In 1841 Barker, an attorney and notary public, requested permission to place a door in the Government wall around the gardens to have easier access to the public gardens. He left an estate consisting of a "dwelling house, coach house, garden and vineyard" as well as "a cottage and a piece of ground".

During the century that followed, Bertram House was used for various purposes ranging from that of family home to boarding house. Later it became part of the South African College before being transferred to the Union Health Department and declared a National Monument in 1962.

In 1794 Andreas Momsen, dairyman of the Dutch East India Company received (in his private capacity) a piece of land next to the dairy, in extent 1 407,98 m2. He probably lived in a house on roughly the site of the present day Iziko South African Museum and used the private land he was granted for agricultural purposes. He sold his garden in 1799 and died in 1812. Today this land forms the complex known as the University of Cape Town Orange Street Campus.

Hermanus ter Hoeven owned the property from 1799 until 1810 when he went insolvent. Records show that by 1810 there was an incomplete building on the site, which was sold to a relative, with the same name; Hermanus ter Hoeven. During his four years of ownership it is observed that a house was completed as it was described as "a piece of land with the buildings thereon" in the transfer deed when it passed to the Widow Smuts in 1815.

John Barker bought the property in 1839 for £1 381.17.6. No diagram was filed with any transfer deed before 1854 but on the available evidence, through the research of Margaret Cairns, it is presumed that Barker was responsible for the construction of Bertram House. It is generally agreed that because his wife Ann Bertram Findlay died in November 1838, he named the house after her.

An attorney and notary public from Yorkshire, Barker arrived at the Cape in 1823. He appears to have been an enthusiastic builder as revealed in a letter dated 1836, "I am much engaged with bricks and mortar, being my own architect/builder... with my new slate of, the front of English brick...". Barker remarried in 1845. His second wife was Maria Johanna Silberbauer, but there no children. He died in 1854 aged 57 leaving an "estate known as Bertram Place" to be sold after division into five lots described as follows:

(1) the dwelling house, coach-house and garden
(2) and (3) the vineyard,
(4) and (5) the cottage and a piece of ground.

The resulting sale divided the property into two main lots comprising lots 1,2,3 and lots 4 & 5. This account will concentrate on the subsequent ownership of what remained as Bertram Place, namely lots 1 - 3.

Augustus Frederick Carrew, a master mariner and ship owner owned the property from the end of 1854 until his death in 1857. His widow married Abraham Jozua de Villiers. Although the assessment rolls for 1860 to 1865 record de Villiers as owner, it is not known whether the property was owner occupied.

There were three occupiers recorded in the Almanacs during the years 1865 - 1867; John Frederick Bourne, Colonial Railway Engineer and the Widow Elizabeth Tyers (possibly neé Parkes) and G.W. Tyers.

Captain Robert Granger bought the property in 1867, but it is uncertain whether he lived in Bertram Place as he had a house in Mouille Point. He died at Southampton in 1870 and Bertram Place was sold from his deceased estate in 1871 to Esau Harrington, a draper and haberdasher. During the four years of Harrington’s ownership the property was run as a board and lodging house.

Robert Granger is remembered at Granger Bay following his heroic rescue of nine men from a schooner which capsized in heavy seas in February 1857.

In 1875 Bertram Place was sold to James Wiley, an ironmonger, who established a prosperous family business and was a wealthy property owner. He lived at Bertram Place between 1875 and 1884 before moving to a house in New Kloof Street. Wiley retired to England and died in 1898. He let Bertram Place to T. Hill, then to Captain Francis Rennie and finally to Tiberias Benjamin Kisch, (1840 - 1913) the first Jewish professional photographer in the Cape.

In 1885 James Wiley sold a section of the property of Bertram Place measuring 663,17m2 to his son Robert, who built a house known as Bertram Cottage.

In 1891 Robert’s wife Sarah bought the lots originally known as lots 4 and 5 from the estate of Isaac Lewis. The couple owned the Victorian house called Bertram Cottage and a smaller dwelling facing Rheede Street known either as Perivale or Oakdale Cottage. In 1893 they bought James Wiley’s property Bertram Place, comprising 512,45m2 thereby amalgamating the separate lots. From then on the property formerly known as Bertram Place was called Bertram House in the municipal records.

In 1903 part of the Wiley property was sold to the South African College and in 1929 the remainder was acquired by the University of Cape Town, successors to the South African College. The land on which Bertram House stands was transferred to the Union Government in 1930 and used by the Department of Health. The building was declared a National Monument in 1962 and transferred to the SA Cultural History Museum in 1976 for use as a museum commemorating the English contribution to life at the Cape. It was unofficially opened to the public as a museum shortly afterwards. Major restoration of the house was carried out by Revel Fox and Partners, Architects, during 1983 - 1984, funded by the Department of Community Development. Bertram House was officially opened as a late Georgian house museum on May 12 1984.

During the mid-19th century the owner of the house, John Barker, requested permission to place a door in the government wall to have easier access to the public gardens.
John Barker, assumed to have been responsible for the construction/renovation of Bertram house, was an enthusiastic builder as revealed in a letter, "I am much engaged with bricks and mortar.... with my new slate of, the front of English brick...".
Captain Robert Granger owned the property after John Barker passed away. Granger Bay in Cape Town was named after Captain Granger who rescued nine men from a schooner that capsized in 1857.
Bertram house was declared a National Monument in 1962. Depicted here is the plaque of the Historical Monuments Commission (HMC), today known as the National Monuments Council, which falls under the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA).
"This early 19th century Georgian brick house is the only remaining example in Cape Town of a type once common here." - The plaque set up by the Historical Monuments Commission in 1964.

The design of Bertram House, methods of construction and the use of materials are typical of the Georgian style of a town house introduced at the Cape following the First British Occupation in 1795. During the restoration of the house, all the pitched roofing was replaced with Welsh slate 7 in order to conform to the practice adopted by wealthy English residents in 1816.

This roofing material proved to be a successful innovation as it was imported ready-cut into five millimetre thick tiles and was light enough to be used on pitched roofs, local slate from Robben Island being unsuitable because of it being too heavy. Welsh slate had the additional advantage of obviating the problems of damp often experienced by flat-roofed houses built at the Cape. These roofs were treated with whale oil to make them waterproof.

The distinctive appearance of the symmetrical façade of Bertram House was achieved by importing more expensive but durable face-brick. Locally made bricks were found to be of poor quality, required plastering and had to be lime-washed annually.

The rooms are light and spacious as a result of the sash windows characterised by thin glazing bars. These elements are further enhanced by the arrangements of the double drawing room where the Georgian penchant for combining informality with elegance is particularly evident, while the placing of a fireplace in each room is indicative of the Georgian concern for the comfort of the residents.

Although none of the original fireplaces were extant at Bertram House, the museum was fortunate in acquiring seven fireplaces from a contemporary house in Wynberg that had been demolished. A major aspect of the restoration was the woodwork, all the sash windows and French doors were fitted with internal shutters and external louvered shutters were replaced in keeping with the practice in Cape Town around 1837.

The original decoration of the walls had not survived but was based on paint scrapings taken throughout each room. A colour scheme was carefully selected and limited to a range of dark greens and ochres.

Attention was given to the treatment of ceilings formed of lath and plaster, often embellished with decorative plaster ceiling roses and cornices. The ceiling rose in the hallway is original, copies were used in the other rooms on the ground floor. Undoubtedly the finest surviving original feature is the graceful spiral staircase which leads to the first floor with its glazed hexagonal lantern.

The English influence on local architecture during the early years of the 19th century is noted in the accounts of various visitors to the Cape of Good Hope. In September 1800, Robert Semple comments favourably on this factor saying "The English ... are every day improving and beautifying the town". The following description he gives of the interior of a Dutch house illustrates some of the differences between the English style he was accustomed to and that practised by the Dutch inhabitants "... rooms are lofty and not plastered in the ceiling, which particularly strikes the eye of a stranger; the floors are not carpeted, and a few are provided with chimneys". The gradual change of appearance of the town is evident when this account is compared with that made by Andrew Dixon in October 1825. "It is certainly a comfortably laid out place, the houses chiefly composed of brick, limewash'd or otherwise colour’d; are very large and commodious...

Major restoration (carried out by Revel Fox and Partners) was funded by the Department of Community Development in the 1980s.


Pitched roofing was replaced with Welsh slate 7 tiles in 1816. Welsh slate had the additional advantage of obviating the problems of damp often experienced by flat-roofed houses built at the Cape.
Exterior louvered shutters on the house.
The house has a double entrance, a door on each side of the entrance.
Closer view of the entrance door to the house.

Winifred Ann Lidderdale, nee Neumann Thomas was born in Cape Town in 1882. Her father Charles was Black Rod in Parliament and organist at St. George's Cathedral. After her marriage to Henry Maxwell Lidderdale, she lived in England and the USA. In 1951 the childless couple returned to Cape Town for their retirement.

Mrs Lidderdale is widely remembered for her outstanding ability as a public speaker until her death at the age of 95 in 1977. Her public spirit is evident in the range of the following local civic achievements.

It was through her initiative that the Springbok Library was assembled in 1944 and housed in South Africa House, London, for the use of SA Volunteers in the UK. She subsequently arranged for the Springbok Library to be transferred to the South African Library in Cape Town in 1946. Mrs Lidderdale's concern for the elderly was demonstrated by the establishment of a fund known as Senior Security administered by the Rotary Club of Cape Town. Finally, her ardent desire to turn a dream of establishing a house museum to commemorate the British contribution to life at the Cape was made possible by her bequest to the nation.

Family History

Mrs Lidderdale's family ties with the Cape can be traced back to a romance between her great grandfather, a young officer in the Scotch Brigade named Hamilton Ross, and a local girl, Catharina Elizabeth van den Berg, during the First British Occupation in 1798.

A portrait of this young man is to be seen on the eighteenth century bureau bookcase in the morning room at Bertram House. Imagine his state of mind on learning that not only was his suit rejected by Catharina's father, but that she was intended as bride for the son of her hated new stepmother.

Subsequent events were dramatic. Early in September 1798 Ross sailed for Madras on HMS Sceptre and was followed about a fortnight later by Catharina. The elopement was noted by Lady Anne Barnard in one of her letters to Henry Dundas, Secretary of War, dated 24 September 1798 in which Ross is described as "a young man of very good character". The couple were married at Fort St. George, Madras, in the following year and returned to the Cape in 1803 where Ross became a successful merchant and prominent citizen in his adopted country.

Hamilton Ross made a valuable contribution to the economic, political and cultural life of the Colony through his activities as Sponsor of the Cape of Good Hope Bank and membership of the Legislative Council. He lived at his country estate, Sans Souci, in Newlands, and in January 1843 bought the Mount Nelson estate for his daughter Maria Johanna and her family.

There is a charming water-colour of the Mount Nelson house and front garden painted by Maria, who received lessons from Thomas Bowler, in the entrance hall of Bertram House. Maria's first husband, Joseph Hodgson, died leaving her with four young children.

She then married her cousin, John Ross. Their eighth child, Ellen Hamilton, born on the Mount Nelson estate was Mrs Lidderdale's mother. A small water-colour of Maria wearing a dark blue dress painted during her honeymoon can be seen on the amboyna bureau in the drawing room of Bertram House.

The Mount Nelson estate, registered in Maria's name, provided ample accommodation for the Ross family; beautiful grounds, including a deer park, were vividly recalled by Mrs Lidderdale who spent many happy hours playing there as a child.

Bertram House

In 1975 the Minister of National Education, Senator van der Spuy, announced that Mrs Lidderdale's bequest together with those of other benefactors would be permanently exhibited at Bertram House. Shortly afterwards, the house was opened to the public as a museum. Extensive restoration of the building took place during 1983 and it was formally reopened as a Georgian town house in May 1984.

Sadly, Mrs Lidderdale did not live to see the successful completion of this project. Active to the last, she died as a result of a fall whilst working on a catalogue of her collection in the house during her ninety-fifth year. Not only does her bequest form the nucleus of the collection in this museum, but the Lidderdale Trust Fund makes provision for the purchase of pieces, to augment the original holdings.

Lidderdale Trust Fund

The Lidderdale Trust Fund has enabled the Museum to obtain several important pieces of furniture and enlarge the silver collection. Purchases made include a mahogany dining table and set of six side and two elbow chairs which provide the focal point of the arrangement of the dining room. A four-poster bed and a baby's cradle acquired for one of the bedrooms. Several examples of silver have been obtained such as the two silver tea caddies made by Pierre-Gillois, London, 1768 on display in the exhibition devoted to silver teaware.

The generous bequest made by Mrs Lidderdale helped inspire others to give donations to the museum and contribute towards preserving and sharing out heritage. May the opportunity afforded visitors to see a facet of Cape history in the context of the recreated interior of a wealthy English residence be an enjoyable and interesting experience.

Winifred's father, Charles Neumann Thomas, played a role (as Black Rod to parliament) ingrained in English culture for centuries. Depicted here is Henry VIII processing to Parliament (17th century copy of a 16th century original), image via Wikimedia Commons. Once she’s seated on the throne, the Queen signals to the Lord Great Chamberlain, who commands the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod to summon MPs. But when Black Rod arrives at the Commons chamber, the door is slammed in his face. This symbolic show of defiance is an artifact of the strife between Crown and Parliament in the 17th century.
A portrait of Lady Anne Barnard by Richard Cosway (1742 - 1821). Ms Barnard noted Hamilton Ross in one of her letters to Henry Dundas in 1798, describing him as "a young man of very good character".
A historical publication made out to William Lidderdale, Governor of the Bank of England, on display at the Iziko Bertram House drawing room. Photo: Nigel Pamplin (c) Iziko Museums of South Africa.
On display at the Iziko Bertram House drawing room. Photo: Nigel Pamplin (c) Iziko Museums of South Africa.
A portrait of Sir Gerard Noel (1759 - 1838), 2nd Baronet of Welham Grove in Leicester and Exton Park in Rutland, hangs in the morning room of the Iziko Bertram House. Though Noel was not a resident of Bertram House, he did have a family connection to the Hamilton family in England.

Mrs Lidderdale's bequest comprises ten major collections of which the largest is porcelain, numbering 364 items. Although the collection consists mainly of English porcelain, it includes fine examples of Chinese export porcelain such as the bowl designed in famille verte enamels and pair of Quinlong jars (1736 - 1795) exhibited on the chimney-piece in the drawing room. English porcelain is represented by Spode, Rockingham and Worcester tea-sets, together with a number of Minton, Wedgwood and Derby dinner and dessert services. A wide selection of English porcelain has been carefully incorporated in the period settings created at Bertram House and bears witness to Mrs Lidderdale's taste as a collector.

The superb collection of English furniture forming part of her bequest comprises a total of 58 Georgian pieces. English furniture of an earlier date is represented by the Queen Anne (1702 - 1714) bureau bookcase placed in the morning room and the William and Mary (1679 - 1702) fall front secretaire with walnut marquetry displayed in the library.

The twelve oriental carpets in the textile collection provide part of the floor covering in the eight formal period rooms at Bertram House. Most of the collection of books concerned with English history and literature line the shelves in the library; the rest can be seen in the drawing and morning rooms. An elegant pair of candlesticks from the brassware collection enhance the chimney-piece in the morning room and a set of Georgian wine glasses can be admired in the dining room.

Three rooms on the first floor of Bertram House are used for informal displays, each room being devoted to a particular collection illustrating aspects of 18th and 19th century life. One room has a selection of English silver on exhibition. A silver cream jug made by Augustin le Sage, London, 1781, together with a tea set made by John Round and Son, Sheffield, 1886, augment a display on the serving of tea.

The second exhibition room has personal accessories and jewellery of the 19th century as its theme. Objects range from a dainty silver vinaigrette made in London in 1790 to a silver christening mug made in the same city in 1876. Over 30 items of Victorian jewellery comprising brooches, bracelets, pendants and ring inherited, given and worn by Mrs Lidderdale, can be seen. A locket of blue enamel, set with garnet and diamonds containing a photograph of Mrs Lidderdale's father, Charles Neuman Thomas, on the reverse side, and her own gold wedding ring have a particularly personal appeal.

Pastimes practised by ladies of the house during the Georgian period is the subject of the third room where examples of the equipment connected with the feminine arts of needlework and letter writing record the accomplishments admired in that era.

Examples of English-style ceramics on display at Iziko Bertram House.
On display within the bedroom of the Iziko Bertram House. Photo: Nigel Pamplin (c) Iziko Museums of South Africa.
Vanity table on display within the bedroom of the Iziko Bertram House. Photo: Nigel Pamplin (c) Iziko Museums of South Africa.

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About the Museum

Bertram House, situated at the top of Government Avenue in the centre of Cape Town, is currently closed due to restoration and maintenance operations being done on the site.

This house is the only remaining example of the English Georgian-style red brick houses that were once common in Cape Town. The house is said to be built c. 1839 by the English immigrant and notary, John Barker, who named it in memory of his first wife, Ann Bertram Findlay, who died in 1838.

Subsequent owners and tenants of the property reflect the society of 19th century Cape Town. They include Captain Robert Granger, a merchant and owner of 5 ships after whom Granger Bay is named, as well as Tiberias Benjamin Kisch, the first Jewish professional photographer at the Cape.

In 1903 the South African College took ownership of the house for use as office space, after which it was transferred to the government of the Union of South Africa in 1930. It was eventually transferred to the South African Cultural History Museum (SACHM) in 1976, to be furnished as a house museum. 

This was made possible by the efforts and generosity of Mrs Winifred Ann Lidderdale, who bequeathed a substantial collection of mainly porcelain and furniture to the SACHM in order to depict Bertram House as the home of a prosperous English family of the first part of the 19th century. After extensive restoration the house was officially opened as a museum on 12 May 1984 by Mrs Elize Botha, wife of the Prime Minister at the time, Mr PW Botha. Today Bertram House forms part of Iziko Museums and is the curatorial responsibility of the Social History Collections department.