If you want to find out about Huberta the Hippo, the various Xhosa kings, why Pondo women smoke with longer-stemmed pipes than Pondo men, how British settlers lived here in the 1800s and what an aardvark looks like up close, then come to the Amathole Museum in King William’s Town.

Did you know?

The Amathole Museum was established in 1884 and is one of the oldest museums in South Africa.

In days gone by, the King William’s Town Museum (renamed Amathole Museum) had a tradition of adventurous curators in the Hemingway tradition.

Old-time museums were always big on wildlife dioramas, so they needed the ongoing services of expert taxidermists – and a curator with a deadly eye, lots of specimen cases and a yen for open spaces.

In the case of the Amathole Museum, their particular Indiana Jones came in the form of Captain Guy Shortridge, OBE, in 1921. A former soldier, Shortridge had a deep love of discovery and the natural world. His expeditions through southern Africa on behalf of the museum were legendary. On one occasion he returned from the Kaokoveld in the former South West Africa (now Namibia) with more than 1500 specimens, including a giraffe. Crating and railing these down to King William’s Town was a Herculean task.

So when Huberta the Hippo was hunted and killed in the area after her long, eventful journey from northern Natal, Shortridge quickly dispatched the museum’s ‘preparator’ to prepare the remains for the taxidermist. After lots of inter-provincial wrangling for the body of the most famous hippo in the world, King William’s Town won.

So today there she stands, Huberta, a few metres away from Wolsak, 'the most remarkable buffalo of his time' – but that’s another story.

The cultural section of the Amathole Museum has a wealth of information on British settler life in the Eastern Cape, and Xhosa history, day-to-day rituals and cultural icons. One of the most interesting characters profiled here is Enoch Santonga, the Uitenhage choirmaster who penned Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika, South Africa’s national anthem.

Another fascinating display is a presentation of Xhosa cosmology, which invests certain creatures with powers through dreams and visions. The sculpture depicting this includes molesnakes, hedgehogs and, more ominously, zombies.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Amathole Museum
Tel: +27 (0)43 6424506

How to get here

The Amathole Museum is situated at the corner of Alexander and Albert roads, King William's Town.

Best time to visit

Weekdays: 8am to 4pm; Saturdays: 9am to 1pm; Sundays and public holidays: by appointment only.

Tours to do

The Missionary Museum is nearby and is also worth a visit.

What will it cost

R5 for adults; R1 for scholars older than 15; children under 15 free.

Length of stay

A couple of hours

Where to stay

King William's Town has a wide variety of accommodation on offer.