The farm Groot Constantia dates back to 1685, when the land was granted to Simon van der Stel, thus making it one of the oldest commercial wine farms in South Africa. Its Orientation Centre in the Jonkershuis complex contains panel, object and archaeological displays that provide an overview of Groot Constantia from the past to present, including slavery on the estate.
Carriages are on display in the Coach House and in the historical wine cellar, while the Wine Museum exhibits wine storage and drinking vessels from antiquity to the early 20th century.
The Homestead, with its exhibition of furniture, paintings, textiles, ceramics, brass, and copperware, provides an insight into the life of a successful 18th to late 19th century Cape farmer.
Groot Constantia Homestead and Wine Museum
The house is furnished as the home of affluent farmers of the 18th to early 19th century at the Cape. Furniture was placed in pairs and paintings according to themes where possible. Most of the furniture in the house was made at the Cape.
During restoration in 1926, the architect Kendall and his team discovered traces of decorative motifs which included stencil work and dados on the interior of the entrance hall of the house. These motifs appear to have been removed, as no trace of them could be found during the recent restoration. The paint colours and dadoes are typical of Cape houses of the 18th century.
The entrance hall contains furniture and paintings which date from the late 18th to early 19th century. The festoon blinds or ophaalders are similar to those used by the Cloetes, the family who owned the farm from 1778 – 1885.
The study room is situated to the left of the entrance hall, this is where the men traditionally gathered to converse and to smoke a pipe of tobacco. The objects in this room date from the 18th century to early 19th century and the furniture is in the Neo-Classical or Louis XVI style. This room contains the following objects; furniture used for writing, earthenware of Delft and Chinese origin, which was made for household use. The paintings found in the room depict military scenes and a horse rider.
The main bedroom on the eastern side with its view of the garden, vineyards and sea is situated next to the study, this bedroom was occupied by the farm owner and his wife. The furniture and other objects in this bedroom date from the 18th and 19th centuries. The four-poster bed is reputed to have belonged to the Afrikaans poet J H Hofmeyr and is typical of four-poster beds used at the Cape. During this time houses did not have bathrooms and toilet facilities. The baby bath and bidet are examples of portable washing facilities used.
The kitchen contains objects from the 17th to 19th centuries. Spindle chairs, described by some as slave chairs were found in kitchens during this period. The Frisian tail clock or staartklok was traditionally used in Friesland as a kitchen clock and would also have been used as such in the Cape.
The dining hall is the biggest room in the house and is the enlarged passage of the original Van der Stel house. Here the Cloetes entertained visitors and guests reportedly on a daily basis. The room is furnished with objects used in dining-rooms during the 18th and 19th centuries. The paintings have a seafaring theme.
The workroom was originally used as a bedroom. Objects in the room date from the 18th and 19th centuries. The paintings have interiors as their theme.
The bedroom on the western side is furnished with objects from the 18th to 19th centuries.
The women used to gather or kept themselves busy with handiwork in the drawing-room or sitting-room. At the time of the Cloetes, the room had many mirrors as is presently the case. The furniture in the room dates from the 18th century and is in the Rococo or Louis XV style.
The cellars below the house are probably those of the ground floor of the original Van der Stel house. The rooms were used by the Cloetes as storage area for good-quality bottled wine, vegetables and fruit. The rooms with windows were used as living space and workplaces for slaves and later for house servants. The area below the bedroom on the western side is a chicken run.
The Wine Museum is situated in a part of the historic wine cellar, which houses and exhibits storage and drinking vessels for wine, dating from antiquity to the early 20th century. A room next to the wine cellar was used by the Cloetes as an office for wine sales, with the desk they used as one of the exhibitions.
The Wine Museum is also used to exhibit a part of the carriage collection, amongst which are a Sefton Landau, Cape Cart, Ralli Cart, Buggy and a Farm Cart. The remainder of the carriage collection on the farm is exhibited in the coach house that forms part of the Jonkershuis complex. Amongst them are light trolleys or ‘molwaens’, a wagon drawn by six horses and a pioneer wagon known as a ‘kakebeenwa’.
Iziko Orientation Centre at Groot Constantia
The Orientation centre covers various aspects of the estate, past and present. Panels with aerial views of the farm explain the Constantia Valley and layout of the farm. This is enhanced with a scale model of the Groot Constantia estate.
There are panel displays of the Khoi-San people, the first inhabitants of the Cape, and a fascinating and informative timeline inter-relating information on Groot Constantia with South Africa. There are also panels on the botany of Constantia Valley and the famous oak trees on the farm. The importance of wine farming in the early Cape economy and the role of Groot Constantia as the earliest wine farm in South Africa is traced.
A particular focus of the exhibition is rural slavery and the basis it provided for wine farming at the Cape. For the very first time there is an attempt to trace the lives of Groot Constantia’s slave men and women. The challenge in trying to discern the voices of individual slaves at the Cape is that the historical record is largely lacking, this is due to the fact that as members of the working classes of the Colony at that time, their specific histories were undocumented. Instead, the presence of slaves at Groot Constantia, as elsewhere on Cape farms, is extracted from lists of slave owners’ possessions, estate transfer documents and court cases. The new exhibition includes slaves’ work on the farm – from labourer to cellar master to musician – their places of origin, many of their names and their medical treatment. Reference is made to a planned slave escape of 1712 when some 23 slaves led by an Eastern exile priest, Santrij from Java, gathered at Groot Constantia where Santrij lived. A visual highlight is a late 18th century drawing of a slave depicted with Groot Constantia’s owner, Hendrik Cloete Senior. The slave, who may be the owner’s personal attendant, and named only Jacob in the historical record, supports Cloete’s long clay pipe – a depiction indicative of the indulgence demanded by slave owners at the time. For more information about the slave history of Groot Constantia, visit the Slavery in South Africa website.
Other panels deal with the farm’s owners and the famous ‘Vin de Constance’. Noted here is that Napoleon was supplied with Constantia wine while in exile on St Helena and that King Louis Philippe of France and Frederick the Great of Prussia ordered quantities of Constantia wine. There are further panels on the architectural development of the farm over the 300 years of its existence. Alfred de Pass, benefactor of the Groot Constantia house museum, whose donation of furnishings and decorative arts, forms the nucleus of the exhibition in the house, is also commemorated.
History of Groot Constantia
The history of the farm dates back to 1685 when it was granted to its first owner, Simon van der Stel (1639-1712). He arrived at the Cape in 1679 to take over the post of Commander, later upgraded to that of Governor.
Van der Stel was very keen to acquire a farm and in 1685 a piece of land of more than 2454 hectares was granted to him. He named it Constantia and built a double-storey house on it. Vegetables and fruit were grown on the farm, in addition to the practice of viticulture and the production of wine. The produce was supplied to ships which called at the Cape. Van der Stel also specialized in cattle-breeding on his leased land. In 1716, four years after the death of van der Stel, Constantia was divided into three portions before being sold. Two parts became known as Bergvliet and Klein Constantia and the third part on which the Van der Stel house stood, became officially known as Groot Constantia during the mid-19th century.
The history of Constantia from then on became the story of mainly three families. Oloff Bergh (1643-1724) was the second owner of the farm. After his death in 1724, his dynamic wife of slave descent Anna de Koningh, became the owner. She owned the farm until her death in 1734. Agriculture and viticulture continued on Constantia during this period.
The following two owners, Carl Georg Wieser and his stepson Jacobus van der Spuij, respectively owned Constantia from 1734 – 1759 and from 1759 – 1778. Wieser had a good knowledge of viticulture and enlarged the vineyards. Van der Spuij on the other hand did not trouble himself with wine making. He owned a slave who acted as cellar master and wine maker. In 1778 Jan Serrurier bought Constantia from Van der Spuij, but eleven months later sold it to Hendrik Cloete, owner of the farm Nooitgedacht near Stellenbosch.
Constantia remained Cloete property from 1778 – 1885 and the Cloetes gave a new lease of life to the farm. Hendrik Cloete gave the farm a new look by having a new wine cellar built, situated at the back and on the same axis as the entrance to the farm and the homestead. He also had the original house adapted by structural changes such as adding gables, sash and new casement windows, and a higher and more pitched roof. Cloete also expanded the outbuildings in front of the homestead. He improved the vineyards and introduced his own wine making methods to the farm. His wine became world famous.
He died in 1799 and his eldest son, also Hendrik, became the new owner. He maintained the standards set by his father until his death in 1818. His wife Anna Catharina Scheller, became the next owner, with their eldest son Jacob Pieter Cloete acting as farm manager.
During this period, they acted as wine supplier to the exiled French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who was exiled to the island of St. Helena. In 1823 Jacob Pieter bought the farm from his mother, and continued the highly established viticultural standards. During his ownership the farm officially became known as Groot Constantia. Jacob Pieter Cloete died in 1875 and was the last private owner of the farm. The farm remained in his estate and his son Henry acted as farm manager. Henry’s affliction by the vine disease phylloxera urged him to leave for Europe to study methods for treatment, and during his absence his two sons were left in charge. Henry returned in 1885 and a decision to sell Groot Constantia by auction was taken.
It was bought by the Master of the Cape Supreme Court for the Cape Government which used it as an experimental wine farm, and during this period, in 1925, the homestead was severely damaged by fire. Restoration was done under supervision of the architect F. K. Kendall and from 1927 – 1952 the house was refurbished with items donated and bought solely for this purpose by the art collector A. A. de Pass. To this day, the De Pass Collection still forms the nucleus of the exhibition in the homestead. In 1969 the South African Cultural History Museum became responsible for the house and its collection, while in 1976 the Groot Constantia Control Board became responsible for the viticultural functions, previously the responsibility of the Department of Agricultural Technical Services. In 1993 the Groot Constantia Trust which owns and represents the farm in its entirety, was established.
A project to restore the architectural nucleus of the farm, which includes the homestead, began in 1993 and was completed a year later.
The wine cellar houses a Wine Museum exhibiting wine making equipment, especially wine storage and wine drinking vessels.
Slavery at Groot Constantia
Personal histories of the Groot Constantia slaves as reflected in the slave register (1816 – 1834).
Slavery today is outlawed in most countries and in 1948 the United Nations issued a Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 4): “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”. Despite this it is believed that 27 million adults and children are still enslaved to oppression, and it is also estimated that there are at present more slaves than ever before. Modern slavery, like past slavery, includes human trafficking between countries, bonded and mandatory labour, slavery by descent, forced marriage, and child labour (Web Ref). Most of these factors were part of Cape slavery and in particular, slavery at Groot Constantia.
In 1680 Commander (later Governor) Simon van der Stel bought his first slave, Jan van Oldenburg from Bengal. In 1685 the farm Constantia was granted to him and a year later, he owned 22 slaves who mainly worked on the farm. Thus, slavery was part of the farm since its establishment. In 1716 Constantia was divided into three parts and sold. Two parts were called Bergvliet and Klein Constantia, while the part on which the Van der Stel farm buildings stood, was called Constantia (later Groot Constantia) (Van der Merwe 1987: 38, Van der Merwe 1997: ).
The farm thereafter came unto various ownerships. The history of the Groot Constantia slaves is fragmentary and little is known about them or their occupations. Anna de Koningh, wife of Oloff Bergh and a descendent of slaves became the first female owner of Groot Constantia. During her tenure (1724-34), a total of 27 male slaves, one of them from Natal, attended to the farm. Most of the others came from India and Madagascar. One came from Bengal, the birthplace of Anna’s mother Angela (CA: MOOC 8/5 Inventory 118, Van der Merwe 1997: 17-20). During and prior to 1734 there was little or no wine produced at Groot Constantia, while there was production at Klein Constantia (Schutte 2003: 268). This may explain the lack of information, especially regarding the duties of the slaves. What is of great interest is that a slave acted in the role of cellar masters from 1759-1778, but nothing is known about his identity. It is also known that Jacobus van der Spuij, who then owned Groot Constantia, did not really involve himself with the winemaking (Swellengrebel 1982:112).
In 1778 the farm became the property of Hendrik Cloete of the farm Nooitgedacht near Stellenbosch, with his son Hendrik being the next owner. After his death in 1818, his wife Anna Catharina Scheller became the second woman to own Groot Constantia. During her ownership, in 1823, the farm officially became Groot Constantia. In 1824 she sold the farm to her son Jacob Pieter Cloete, and it was to remain his property until 1885 when it was sold to the Cape Government. During the Cloete tenure extensive use was made of slaves on the farm. One reads about the restoration work of Groot Constantia in approximately the year 1778 requiring many hands, and sometimes 120 to 150 men were required to do the work (Schutte 2003:271). Who they were, where they came from or to whom they belonged, is unknown.
In spite of this, the history of the slaves during the Cloete tenure became better documented, but still fragmentary. A major improvement however, came in 1816 with the inception of the Slave Office and Slave Register.