Olive Schreiner House in Cradock
Did you know?
Olive Schreiner’s house in Cradock is a satellite of Grahamstown’s National English Literary Museum.
There are many traces of the Victorian-era author, pacifist and feminist Olive Schreiner in the Karoo, the arid heartland of South Africa.
However, there are probably none so evocative as the Olive Schreiner House in Cradock, a little river town in the Eastern Cape. This small, flat-roofed house in Cross Street – built in about 1850 – was where Olive came to stay at the age of 12.
Her father just had been declared insolvent, and the family was in deep crisis. Olive’s brother Theo, as headmaster of the local public school in Cradock, gave her shelter at Cross Street. With her came sister Ettie and then her younger brother Will.
Cradock, in 1867, was an idyllic farming village on the Great Fish River. It was then a staging post for adventurers heading up-country, and was well known for its blacksmiths, wheelwrights and ironmongers.
Olive stayed here for 3 years, before leaving to work as a governess in Barkly East. She returned to the area in 1875, and five years later she had written her landmark book, The Story of an African Farm. It was published in London in 1883, under the male pseudonym of Ralph Iron.
Her book was an exposé of Karoo farm life and inequalities between races and genders. And although Schreiner had connections in Britain, her heart remained in the Karoo. She lived in various Karoo spots, including Matjiesfontein, Hanover and Kimberley.
Schreiner married Samuel Cronwright in 1893. They shared a love of the Karoo and held socio-political views far ahead of their time. Storyboards of their lives are on display at the Olive Schreiner House in Cradock.
The couple, a child who died shortly after birth and a family dog are all buried on top of Buffelskop, a hill near Cradock with a panoramic view of the Karoo.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Schreiner House, Cradock
Curator: Brian Wilmot
Tel: +27 (0) 48 881 5251
How to get here
Cradock lies on the N10 highway between Middelburg and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. It is about 250km, or two to three hours' driving time, from Port Elizabeth. Cradock lies approx. 250km north of Port Elizabeth on the N10, less than three hours' drive away. It is also about 800 km south of Johannesburg and approx. 800km north-east of Cape Town. The Schreiner House at 9 Cross Street lies near the Victoria Manor, a landmark site in the centre of town.
Best time to visit
Come in autumn (April/May) or spring (September/October).
Around the area
Venture out to the Mountain Zebra National Park, one of the most highly-acclaimed assets of the SANParks.
Tours to do
You can take day trips from Cradock to Graaff-Reinet and the Valley of Desolation, Nieu Bethesda, Bedford and Grahamstown.
Once you're in Cradock, most of the sites - including the Schreiner House - are within walking distance from your accommodation.
What will it cost
There's a donation box at the Schreiner House Museum.
Length of stay
A visit to the Schreiner House Museum should take you about 2 hours.
Where to stay
Just around the corner is Market Street, home to the elegant Tuishuise, a row of candy-striped old Victorian cottage guest houses that are a good accommodation choice.
What to eat
Over at the Victoria Manor, at the end of the Tuishuise cottages on Market Street, the buffet table groans with products of the Karoo especially the lamb dishes.
The Olive Schreiner Festival in the middle of winter (July) is in its third year and seems to be growing with every event. From discussions about the life and works of the celebrated Olive Schreiner to tours and slide shows featuring Cradock and the Karoo in general, the festival also attracts a large group of writers with connections to the Heartland of South Africa.
Karoo windmills from the crafters outside Cradock on the Port Elizabeth road, great Karoo biltong in all the butcheries and mohair products in the gift shops.