WA Lidderdale Bequest

The Bequest

Mrs Lidderdale's bequest comprises ten major collections of which the largest is porcelain, numbering 364 items. Although the collection consists mainly of English porcelain, it includes fine examples of Chinese export porcelain such as the bowl designed in famille verte enamels and pair of Quinlong jars (1736 - 1795) exhibited on the chimney-piece in the drawing room. English porcelain is represented by Spode, Rockingham and Worcester tea-sets, together with a number of Minton, Wedgwood and Derby dinner and dessert services. A wide selection of English porcelain has been carefully incorporated in the period settings created at Bertram House and bears witness to Mrs Lidderdale's taste as a collector.

The superb collection of English furniture forming part of her bequest comprises a total of 58 Georgian pieces. English furniture of an earlier date is represented by the Queen Anne (1702 - 1714) bureau bookcase placed in the morning room and the William and Mary (1679 - 1702) fall front secretaire with walnut marquetry displayed in the library.

The twelve oriental carpets in the textile collection provide part of the floor covering in the eight formal period rooms at Bertram House. Most of the collection of books concerned with English history and literature line the shelves in the library; the rest can be seen in the drawing and morning rooms. An elegant pair of candlesticks from the brassware collection enhance the chimney-piece in the morning room and a set of Georgian wine glasses can be admired in the dining room.

Three rooms on the first floor of Bertram House are used for informal displays, each room being devoted to a particular collection illustrating aspects of 18th and 19th century life. One room has a selection of English silver on exhibition. A silver cream jug made by Augustin le Sage, London, 1781, together with a tea set made by John Round and Son, Sheffield, 1886, augment a display on the serving of tea.

The second exhibition room has personal accessories and jewellery of the 19th century as its theme. Objects range from a dainty silver vinaigrette made in London in 1790 to a silver christening mug made in the same city in 1876. Over 30 items of Victorian jewellery comprising brooches, bracelets, pendants and ring inherited, given and worn by Mrs Lidderdale, can be seen. A locket of blue enamel, set with garnet and diamonds containing a photograph of Mrs Lidderdale's father, Charles Neuman Thomas, on the reverse side, and her own gold wedding ring have a particularly personal appeal.

Pastimes practised by ladies of the house during the Georgian period is the subject of the third room where examples of the equipment connected with the feminine arts of needlework and letter writing record the accomplishments admired in that era.

Winifred Ann Lidderdale

Winifred Ann Lidderdale, nee Neumann Thomas was born in Cape Town in 1882. Her father Charles was the Sergeant at Arms in the Cape Parliament (1904 - 1910) and organist at St. George's Cathedral. After her marriage to Henry Maxwell Lidderdale, she lived in England and the USA. In 1951 the childless couple returned to Cape Town for their retirement.
Mrs Lidderdale is widely remembered for her outstanding ability as a public speaker until her death at the age of 95 in 1977. Her public spirit is evident in the range of the following local civic achievements.

It was through her initiative that the Springbok Library was assembled in 1944 and housed in South Africa House, London, for the use of SA Volunteers in the UK. She subsequently arranged for the Springbok Library to be transferred to the South African Library in Cape Town in 1946. Mrs Lidderdale's concern for the elderly was demonstrated by the establishment of a fund known as Senior Security administered by the Rotary Club of Cape Town. Finally, her ardent desire to turn a dream of establishing a house museum to commemorate the British contribution to life at the Cape was made possible by her bequest to the nation.

Family History

Mrs Lidderdale's family ties with the Cape can be traced back to a romance between her great grandfather, a young officer in the Scotch Brigade named Hamilton Ross, and a local girl, Catharina Elizabeth van den Berg, during the First British Occupation in 1798.

A portrait of this young man is to be seen on the eighteenth century bureau bookcase in the morning room at Bertram House. Imagine his state of mind on learning that not only was his suit rejected by Catharina's father, but that she was intended as bride for the son of her hated new stepmother.

Subsequent events were dramatic. Early in September 1798 Ross sailed for Madras on HMS Sceptre and was followed about a fortnight later by Catharina. The elopement was noted by Lady Anne Barnard in one of her letters to Henry Dundas, Secretary of War, dated 24 September 1798 in which Ross is described as "a young man of very good character". The couple were married at Fort St. George, Madras, in the following year and returned to the Cape in 1803 where Ross became a successful merchant and prominent citizen in his adopted country.

Hamilton Ross made a valuable contribution to the economic, political and cultural life of the Colony through his activities as Sponsor of the Cape of Good Hope Bank and membership of the Legislative Council. He lived at his country estate, Sans Souci, in Newlands, and in January 1843 bought the Mount Nelson estate for his daughter Maria Johanna and her family.

There is a charming water-colour of the Mount Nelson house and front garden painted by Maria, who received lessons from Thomas Bowler, in the entrance hall of Bertram House. Maria's first husband, Joseph Hodgson, died leaving her with four young children.

She then married her cousin, John Ross. Their eighth child, Ellen Hamilton, born on the Mount Nelson estate was Mrs Lidderdale's mother. A small water-colour of Maria wearing a dark blue dress painted during her honeymoon can be seen on the amboyna bureau in the drawing room of Bertram House.

The Mount Nelson estate, registered in Maria's name, provided ample accommodation for the Ross family; beautiful grounds, including a deer park, were vividly recalled by Mrs Lidderdale who spent many happy hours playing there as a child.

Bertram House

In 1975 the Minister of National Education, Senator van der Spuy, announced that Mrs Lidderdale's bequest together with those of other benefactors would be permanently exhibited at Bertram House. Shortly afterwards, the house was opened to the public as a museum. Extensive restoration of the building took place during 1983 and it was formally reopened as a Georgian town house in May 1984.

Sadly, Mrs Lidderdale did not live to see the successful completion of this project. Active to the last, she died as a result of a fall whilst working on a catalogue of her collection in the house during her ninety-fifth year. Not only does her bequest form the nucleus of the collection in this museum, but the Lidderdale Trust Fund makes provision for the purchase of pieces, to augment the original holdings.

Lidderdale Trust Fund

The Lidderdale Trust Fund has enabled the Museum to obtain several important pieces of furniture and enlarge the silver collection. Purchases made include a mahogany dining table and set of six side and two elbow chairs which provide the focal point of the arrangement of the dining room. A four-poster bed and a baby's cradle acquired for one of the bedrooms. Several examples of silver have been obtained such as the two silver tea caddies made by Pierre-Gillois, London, 1768 on display in the exhibition devoted to silver teaware.

The generous bequest made by Mrs Lidderdale helped inspire others to give donations to the museum and contribute towards preserving and sharing out heritage. May the opportunity afforded visitors to see a facet of Cape history in the context of the recreated interior of a wealthy English residence be an enjoyable and interesting experience.


Bolsmann, J. 1978. The Mount Nelson Hotel. Cape Town: Haum, p.59

Cairns, M. 1976-1977. Bertram House. Africana Notes and News, vol. 22, 1976-1977, p.113

Cape Times. 1975. Mills, G.M. "Permanent Home for Collection", 26 April 1975

Cape Times. 1977. Obituary notice "Gracious Libber dies at 95", 4 August 1977

Cape Times. 1977. Obituary notice "R528 481 Will Aids Museum", 3 September 1977

Langham-Carter, R.E. 1976-1977. Bertram House: A New Museum for Cape Town. Africana Notes and News, vol.22, 1976-1977, p.7

Cornforth, J. 1978. English Interiors 1790-1848: The Quest for Comfort. London: Barrie and Jenkins, p.12

Robinson, A.M.L. 1973. The letters of Anne Barnard to Henry Dundas from the Cape and Elsewhere 1793-1803. Cape Town: Balkema, p.172, letter no. 18.

By Mary van Blommenstein