The Irish House and the Hugh Exton Photographic Museum
In the center of Polokwane, just across the park from one another, stand a striking Victorian house — topped with a jaunty clocktower and weathervane — and a quaint former Dutch Reformed Church. Each of these buildings houses a city museum, and each is worth visiting to understand the history and culture of Polokwane (formerly Pietersburg).
The Polokwane Cultural History Museum (Irish House)
The Polokwane Cultural History Museum is in the bright green Irish House, originally a prefabricated house built by German immigrant August Julius Herman Moschke in the late 1800s. Irishman James Albert Jones bought the building in 1920 — that is when the Irish House got its name — and ran a successful general dealer and clothing business. The Polokwane government bought the building in 1984, which is when it became a museum.
Today, the Polokwane Cultural History Museum has extremely well curated and informative exhibitions about the history of Polokwane, from pre-historic times until the current day. The exhibits cover the histories of all of the indigenous groups in the area, as well as different groups of immigrants from Europe and other parts of the world. The museum also includes a good summary of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and the transition to democracy, with a particularly good exhibition profiling the lives of Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli.
The Hugh Exton Photographic Museum
Walk out of the Irish House, cross over Thabo Mbeki Street, walk through the pleasant central city park (admiring the many bronze sculptures along the way), and you’ll find yourself in front of a quaint old whitewashed church. Originally built in 1890, the church was restored in the 1980s and is now home to the Hugh Exton Photographic Museum.
Hugh Exton lived in Pietersburg from 1899 and through the first half of the 20th century until his death in 1955. Exton took tens of thousands of photographs in and around the city during this crucial period in South African history, beginning with the Anglo-Boer War. Exton’s formal portraits provide a window into the fashion, style, and character of Pietersburg residents of all races, ages, and classes, and Exton also documented architecture, transport, commerce, and every other aspect of early 20th century Pietersburg life that one can imagine.
The photographic collection is fascinating and charming to wander through in such a lovely building. The museum has a lovely replica of Exton’s photographic studio, complete with old antique cameras.
Note that photography is not allowed in either the Polokwane Museum or the Exton Museum.
The Polokwane Cultural History Museum (Irish House) is at the corner of Market Street and Thabo Mbeki Street, Polokwane Central. Open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Hugh Exton Photographic Museum is on Landros Mare Street near the corner of Bodenstein Street, in the old church adjacent to the Polokwane Municipality Main building (Civic Centre). Open Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Call 015-290-2595 for more information about both Museums, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.