Albany Museum, Grahamstown
Did you know?
The diamond display at the Observatory Museum boasts a full-size replica of the Eureka diamond - the 1st diamond discovered in South Africa.
The Albany Museum complex, established in 1855, is the second-oldest museum in South Africa. It is a true ‘living’ museum, with a wide range of portable exhibits, educational programmes and historical facilities.
There are five museums that make up the Albany Museum complex in Grahamstown: the Observatory Museum, the History Museum, the Natural Sciences Museum, Fort Selwyn and the Old Provost.
One of the most fascinating characters who lived in the little Eastern Cape city of Grahamstown was watchmaker-jeweller, Henry Carter Galpin.
Now called the Observatory Museum, Galpin’s house offers a glimpse into frontier life and his own, very busy, 36 years in the ‘City of Saints’. It also reflects his passions: optics, astronomy and the measuring of time.
The building is topped with a tower containing a Victorian camera obscura, believed to be the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. From here, Galpin – and now you, the visitor – could watch the comings and goings of Grahamstown in old-style panorama. There’s a telescope room, a meridian room, a Victorian Room and a special display on the birth of the diamond industry in South Africa.
The History Museum once focused almost exclusively on the 1820 Settlers who came to South Africa from Great Britain, but now displays an ethnographic collection dealing with southern Nguni peoples and the traditional dress of the amaXhosa.
The Natural Science Museum is a strong research facility but also boasts wonderful displays of meteorites, dinosaur reconstructions and the various earth sciences.
Fort Selwyn, which is opened on request only, stands on Gunfire Hill overlooking Grahamstown. It was supposed to be a refuge for citizens and a garrison for the military units that were stationed there from 1836. A colourful fact about Fort Selwyn is that, until 1870, a cannon was fired at 9am every morning – some say to remind local civil servants of regular working hours. Fort Selwyn, which later fell into disrepair, was restored in 1977.
The Old Provost was built by the Royal Engineers and served as a barracks and a prison. It was built in a panoptikon shape, consisting of an outer circle of cells and exercise yards which could be watched from a central guard house. The Old Provost stands near Rhodes University and is also opened on request only.
Apart from the Albany Museum complex, there are several other historical and research institutions in Grahamstown that might interest visitors.
The Cory Library for Historical Research and the International Library of African Music, which has a collection of more than 200 traditional African musical instruments, and is a teaching, publishing and research facility, are additional research institutions attached to Rhodes University.
The National English Literary Museum, also attached to Rhodes, will be worth seeing for those interested in the English language in South Africa.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Albany Museum Complex
Tel: +27 (0) 46 622 2312
Makana (Grahamstown) Tourism:
Tel: +27 46 622 3241
How to get here
Grahamstown lies about an hour's drive inland from Port Elizabeth on the R342. The Albany Museum's main building is a few metres away from the Drostdy Arch, the entrance to Rhodes University.
Best time to visit
Grahamstown's weather can vary a lot in a single day. It's a year-round destination, but always come prepared for cold and wet conditions.
Around the area
From Grahamstown you can venture further towards the Karoo to places like Cradock and Somerset East, or you could head for the coast and spend time in spots like Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea.
Tours to do
Alan Weyers' Spirits of the Past tours are world famous. See the city site for his details.
Walking is the best way - you see the other wonders of Grahamstown along the way.
What will it cost
A nominal admission fee is charged to all the museums.
Length of stay
Because there is so much of interest, a two-day visit to Grahamstown is recommended.
What to pack
Informal clothes plus something waterproof and warm. Winters can be bitter, so be sure to pack enough warm clothing in the months between May and August.
Where to stay
See the listed websites for accommodation options.
What to eat
There are a number of good places to eat in Grahamstown, from student hangouts to more upmarket venues.
There's always something going on in this marvellous little city. Check the local tourism site for details. The National Arts Festival in July is the highlight of the year.