• LOCATION 9 | Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine

    Drawing Room: The Hard Work of Entertainment

    Drawing Room: The Hard Work of Entertainment on Cape Town audio tour Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine

    Narrator: Groot Constantia owes a large part of its reputation to women.

    Some brought considerable wealth with them when they married its owners, and this money was used to finance the growth and development of the estate. Some owned the estate, including Anna Catharina Scheller, Hendrik Cloete Junior’s wife.

    Scheller outlived her husband and was the farm’s owner when it supplied one of its most famous clients, Napoleon, who is said to have asked for a glass of Constantia wine on his death bed.

    But another, perhaps even more significant contribution happened here, in the drawing room. To understand that, we’ll need to travel forward one generation.

    The owners of the estate are now Scheller’s second son, Jacob Pieter Cloete, and his wife, Catharina Cornelia van Reenen. Everybody in the Cloete family calls van Reenen Tante Kaatje, including the couple’s seven children.

    The year is 1861, or maybe 1862, and an anonymous visitor is just climbing down from her horse outside. Afterwards, she’ll write a letter describing Groot Constantia in its heyday. Then the Cape Monthly Magazine will publish it under the pen name “A Lady”.

    Female Voice: After a sharp canter, you take a turn to the left and enter a long avenue, which leads straight to the hospitable chateau of Great Constantia. The courtyard here is graced by a number of very fine old oaks in double file, and is bounded on one side by outbuildings, and on the other by a low whitewashed wall.

    Nothing can exceed the hearty good nature with which you are shown round the property by the younger members of the family, who talk a polyglot patois with their numerous daily visitors. And when you think of starting home again, after sipping samples from various brands, and duly admiring their taste, they very considerately invite you into the house again, where you make the acquaintance of ladies who are as pleasant as they are unassuming, and who must be heartily tired of their daily routine of duties in the hard work of entertainment.

    As the rooms gradually fill with company, you are asked to adjourn to a large saloon, where you find a capital luncheon laid out. An everyday business arrangement, combining hospitality and trade principles, and rendered necessary by the long distance from any hotel.

    The carriage-loads of strangers who turn up on fine days at all hours of the morning in drags, tandems, carts, and four in hand could not well otherwise be accommodated except in the generous fashion. And the people who come in them are certainly extraordinary customers in every sense of the world. May their numbers never grow less.

    Narrator: The hard work that was put into entertainment here obviously paid off.

    But it was also descriptions of Groot Constantia by the women being entertained that had the widest reach. Many of them had titles: Lady Jane Franklin wrote about her visit, and so did the Ladies Barker and Herschel. Alys Fane Trotter systematically visited the Western Cape’s most historic wine estates on her bicycle, including Groot Constantia, which she both wrote about and carefully drew.

    Then there was the Scottish aristocrat Lady Anne Barnard. She attended a wedding here in 1800 that got so out of hand she hid herself – behind a window curtain apparently, with a Mrs Holland and a Mrs Hogan.

    When you’re ready, go back into the dining hall and play track ten.

Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine