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Smuts House Museum (Irene)

Overview of the Smuts House Museum

The Smuts House Museum is a faithfully represented tribute to the home and lifestyle of General Jan Christiaan Smuts (1870 - 1950). General Smuts spent the last 40 years of his life from 1090 on this farm in Irene, called Doornkloof.

The modest farmhouse just southeast of Pretoria, has been turned into the Smuts House Museum, and declared a National Monument in 1969.

History of the Smuts House Museum

Soldier, scholar, statesman and philosopher, General Jan Christiaan Smuts was one of South Africa's most remarkable leaders. His countrymen, however, never could properly understand his enigmatic and multifaceted personality.

The farm Doornkloof has been preserved as a living memorial to the man affectionately known as "Oubaas", and houses many relics and mementos, offering an exciting and fascinating glimpse into the extraordinary life and career of General Smuts.

Although a man of many talents and fame, General Smuts yearned for peace and simplicity. This is quite evident from the simplistic furnishings of the Big House, which speaks strongly of his complete and utter disregard for luxury.

Believed to have been originally prefabricated in Britain, General Smuts bought the wood-and-iron building that served as the officers' mess for £300. After being dismantled and shipped to South Africa, the building was re-erected at the substantial cost of £1000 in 1909. Mrs Smuts, known as "Ouma", moved her family into the house on 10 July 1909.

As time went by, extra rooms were added to the house.

  • 1918: Kitchen and Pantry
  • 1942: Front verandah were enclosed

However, a century later, the Big House is still pretty much the same way it was originally built, and most of the original furnishings are on display today in the Smuts House Museum.

Being an important part of the South African delegation, the Smuts family entertained many famous guests. The British Royal Family visited Doornkloof in 1947, while on the Royal Tour.

General Smuts had a passion for botany and philosophy, and he could indulge in this to his heart's content on Doornkloof. He was a simple, peaceful man at heart, and stories are told of how General Smuts liked sleeping on his porch, cough lightly to quite down his daughters at night, and signal to them that it is time for lights-out.

After the death of her husband in 1950, Mrs Smuts continued to live in the house, until her death in 1954. Both General Smuts and Mrs Smuts died in the Big House. Their ashes were scattered on the top of Smuts Koppie.

Restoration the Big House

The Doornkloof society was established to assist in preserving the old house. Several members of the Smuts family, generous donations, plus hours and hours of hard work led to the complete restoration of the Smuts House. Smuts House Museum opened to the public on 8 October 1960.

in 1992, a qualified curator was appointed to the Smuts House Museum, and extensive research into the original appearance of the Big House was conducted. A number of extraneous items were removed, and the big task of locating and returning the authentic furnishings of the house were started.

Most of the original items were returned:

  • 1993: General Smut's bedroom furniture was returned from the National Cultural History Museum
  • 1993: The herbarium was also returned from the same Museum
  • 1962: The Johannesburg Public Library returned JC Smuts's famed library. The library, and declared a "National Cultural Treasure" in 1989.

The Oubaas Hiking Trail

The 2.3km Oubaas Trail was designed and laid out by the members of the Friend of the General Smuts Foundation. The trail winds through one of the few remaining pristine dolomite grasslands in Gauteng.

At the top of the Smuts Koppie, reachable only by the Oubaas Trail, you will find the Smuts Memorial, were both General and Mrs Smuts ashes were scattered.

Review of the Smuts House Museum

Another great day trip in Irene, Pretoria. We arrived at the Smuts House Museum just after 11h00, and enjoyed the museum at a leisurely pace. The house is aptly named the Big House. It was quite surprising finding so many rooms and artifacts inside the house.

The information provided by the curators are of high quality, and it, combined with the antique furnishings, gives one a glimpse into the life of this extraordinary man.

The Tea Garden (Ouma's Tea Garden), unfortunately did not impress us much. A bit on the expensive side, with not-too-bright staff, the Tea Garden could use some TLC. We had scones, and the scones were delicious, albeit served in a small side plate without eating utensils (I suppose that's what one has fingers for).

Not having put on the right shoes for climbing a mountain, we didn't climb the hiking trail, but climbing it up to the Smuts Memorial is definitely in my immediate future.

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