P W Vorster Museum (Grootfontein)

P W Vorster Museum (Grootfontein)



The PW Vorster Museum at the Grootfontein Agricultural Institute is housed in the original farm dwelling, erected in 1827 and extensively renovated in 1887, at which time an impressive gable was added to the building’s exterior. The collection consists of Anglo-Boer War artifacts and a Post War collection as well as a large collection of farm implements. The Van de Walt family collections are also housed here. On Grootfontein are several post-war and farm cemeteries.

The history of Grootfontein dates back to the 1790’s when Klaas van der Walt already lived on the farm Grootfontein. In those days it covered 3,800 ha. The first official registration only took place in 1836, when it was awarded to Hendrik and his brother Nicolaas as erfpagland. The farm Grootfontein was originally divided into two sections, with a dry river bed as the only separation. They did live on the farm long before that date, because the original homestead, the current museum, was already erected in 1827.

On 1 December 1860 the Gereformeerde Kerk Middelburg was founded in the house.

Under the successive ownership of the Van der Walt, Vorster and Du Plessis families, Grootfontein gradually grew to its present size of 11 418 hectares. The farm’s last private owners were Jan and Nicolaas van der Walt and their sister Lucia, married to Schalk Willem Vorster. Both sections of the farm were sold to the “Imperial government in 1903 and 1904, respectively. The second section was sold for £5.2s. 6d/ha, the total sales price of the farm being £47 000. After it was sold to the Imperial government, it was used as a military camp. Peculiar to those bitter years after the Anglo-Boer War, the family cemetery was retained and not sold to the Imperial Government. Tradition has it that the one portion of Grootfontein would never have been sold, was it not for the intolerable nuisance the “Tommies” made of themselves with their predilection for petty theft.

This was the dawn of Grootfontein’s military era. Twelve to fifteen thousand British soldiers were encamped over a vast area of Grootfontein farmland skirting the town. This military presence served as a peace-keeping force outside the Boer Republics after the Anglo-Boer War. During this time the “Tommies” planted thousands of Eucalyptus trees, of which the greater majority are still to be seen lining Grootfontein roadways and clustered in the veld where military buildings were once situated.

The impact of 2 000 cavalry horses that grazed on the surrounding veld can still be seen today in the preponderance of kapokbush (Eriocephalus ericoides), in many of the grazing camps. The effect of the military camp on the town of Middelburg, and its economy was far-reaching.

Finally, in 1910, the last troops were withdrawn from Grootfontein and the farm was taken over by the Union Government with a view to founding a School of Agriculture – an idea inspired by F S Malan, the last Minister of Agriculture of the Cape colony before Union. During July of the same year, a talented young man named Russell Thornton was appointed first principal and was instructed to get the envisaged agricultural school off the ground.