In 1970 a small group of people led by Shirley Hounsell, interested in preserving the history of agriculture in the Eastern Cape, formed a working committee to establish an agricultural museum in the historical village of Bathurst, in the heart of Settler Country. As there were no suitable buildings for a museum of this kind, in 1978 the Bathurst Municipality made available a tract of land adjacent to the Bathurst Agricultural Showgrounds. In 1978 the first building was erected on the present site, later named the Geoff Palmer Hall. This unusual museum continues to grow, with more and more items being received. In 2017 the museum had a record number of 1 540 visitors.
A growing history
Starting with a mere 30 items the collection has grown to more than 1 800. This includes a collection of 80 tractors, some of which are very rare. The museum also comprises a 19th century farmyard complex that consists of three large halls covering 1 548.5m², an engine room of 138.2m², a curators cottage of 90m², and a blacksmith and wheelwright shop of 84m² which will be a fully working smithy where blacksmithing courses will be offered. Also, two flat roof shelters housing reapers, binders and seed drills, measuring 77.5m² are on show. A total covered area of 1 970m². The aim is to complete the 19th century farmyard by adding a settler cottage, dairy and stable and a miller’s room with a working grist mill Dutch oven and an operational mealie sheller.
The museum has a well with a horse-driven bucket pump that can also be hand operated, a windmill and water feature, a spinning wheel and loom, and a working beehive. The Brian Moxham apiary has been completed with plenty of glass so that, when honey is being harvested visitors can watch without fear of being stung.
Unique and rare exhibits
Some of the unique and rare items on exhibition at the Bathurst Agricultural Museum include the following:
- A restored stock motorized plough built in Germany for export.
- A Karel Richter three-wheel tractor.
- One of the six originally imported John Deer H tractors.
- Nine Caterpillar Crawlers and a Calf Dozer with original order sheet to factory for manufacturing.
- International Crawler TD-9whose engine starts on petrol and switches to diesel with different valves.
- A 1946 three-ton Austin truck.
- Several stationary engines including a Petter Fielding twin cylinder 80 HP, a Corbett Williams 1920 hot bulb engine, a Spring Injection Blackstone engine and a Tangey suction gas engine. The latter engine was installed in the early 1900’s on Melrose Farm and it pumped 1 million gallons of water a day for irrigation. The crankshaft and flywheels weigh 4½ ton and the block weighs 3½ tons.
To learn more about the equipment and its historical context, click here to see feedback from a visitor who reminisces about his years growing up on the farm Applethwaite. For more information on the exhibits find the Bathurst Agricultural Museum on Facebook or on www.bathurstmuseum.co.za. –Ursula Human, AgriOrbit