The Cape House of Assembly
and Lodge De Goede Hoop
By Worshipful Brother Alan A Cooper, PDGJD
Published in the 1981 GLSA Southern Division Spring Ball Magazine
The Cape Colony received its representative parliamentary institution in 1854, at a time when the economy was prospering though the country was bedeviled by the continual Frontier wars in the Eastern Province. It was faced by demands for separatism from Grahamstown and from Natal and the Transvaal Republic was about to be born. Sir George Grey became Governor of the Cape Colony to preside over the new Executive Council consisting of the Governor and Chief officials and to watch over the deliberations of the new Elected Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council.
It was a momentous year for the Cape citizens but practical matters came first. The newly created House of Assembly had to find a home whether in Cape Town or Grahamstown or in a ‘neutral’ town. There is no doubt that the first Speaker of the House, Sir Christoffel Brand who was appointed Deputy District Grand Master National for South Africa for the Netherlands Constitution in December 1847, brought some persuasion to bear to ensure that the first meeting of the House of Assembly was in Cape Town. And as there was no outstanding building vacant in the centre of the growing Cape Town at the time other than the banqueting hall of the Lodge De Goede Hoop, it was almost automatic that the House met there for the first time – at 11 am on June 30, 1854. It was however, only a preliminary meeting for the formal opening took place in Government House the next day. As the reproduction of a drawing of that event shows, pomp and ceremony were not forgotten on this important day.
The Cape Parliament leased the entrance hall, the large hall and two small rooms from the Board of Management of the Lodge. At first only a temporary occupation, free of rent, appeared to have been contemplated but later, in 1854, Parliament agreed to pay £50 a year for the three years from 1856 to 1858 and in 1859 a five year agreement was made for a rent of £150 a year. In 1873 the rent was raised to £250 a year – a large sum of money in those days. During 1866 and 1874 Parliament, or rather the Department of Public Works, made alterations to the premises with the approval of the Lodge – and at a higher rent each time. During those years from 1858, the Clerk of the House of Assembly, in numerous letters to the Lodge now stored in the Government Archives, Cape Town, suggested that Parliament buy the Lodge and its extensive grounds but the Lodge decided wisely against selling any part of the property though they must have been very concerned about encroachments and the considerable requests made by Parliament for more and more facilities.
The Clerk of the House of Assembly, writing to the Lodge on September 11, 1874, displayed an unconscious sense of humor. He peremptorily ordered that the Assembly had directed some alterations to the Assembly room – the Banqueting Hall – which would affect great improvement in its lighting and ventilation. ‘Sunlights are to be substituted for the present chandeliers and ventilators added to carry away the heated air of the room’ – presumably after the lengthy debates that characterised proceedings of Parliament at that time. The Clerk also said that, to avoid draughts and currents of air across the room, it was proposed to close the present private entrance for members and to make an entrance through the window of the Clerk of Papers room at the end of the building facing Bouquet Street. This would mean a slight encroachment on the Lodge garden but all alterations would be paid for by the House of Assembly. Under such conditions how could the Lodge disagree with these changes particularly as several members of the Lodge were also Members of Parliament?
The gardens of the Lodge were by the 1870s becoming a most popular outdoor venue for the public. Promenade concerts were held in the grounds under the management of a special committee, and members of the Lodge were each given special tickets to allow them entrance without paying. The grounds had been illuminated by gas pipes laid underground through the efforts of a wily entrepreneur, a vegetable garden uprooted and graveled and a stage erected for the theatrical performances. Regimental bands performed regularly in the grounds while the stage was often used for travelling concert parties as there were few other theatres in the town at the time.
In a grand finale a certain Signore Cagli asked the Lodge to allow a South African International Exhibition on the grounds to open in February 1877. Negotiations were long during 1876 while Cagli sent out circulars to industrialists in Europe and America asking for them to exhibit their ‘manufactures of all kinds’. They included potted or preserved meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, eggs, chemicals, perfumes, furniture, clothing, harness and saddlery, hardware, machinery and scientific articles including ‘earth closets’. He proposed that a large hall be built to house the exhibits which would attract people from every corner of the country. By December 1876 the organisers felt that the exhibition hall would not be big enough to house all the exhibits and asked for more space in the grounds to place the heavy machinery.
Under the sponsorship of the Prime Minister of the Cape, JC Molteno, the exhibition started with a flourish but only late in 1877 while the indefatigable Cagli pleaded through a series of letters to the Lodge, to have his lease for the building lengthened from five to 12 years to try to meet his untoward expenses. Eventually it cost the Lodge more than £200 which he could not meet for lighting. The grounds were also used for a circus while a small zoo was sited in one corner and even a roller skating rink promoter from Port Elizabeth set up a rink there. Understandably, Parliament took a grave view of such proceedings. No noise was allowed during their august sittings and on April 7, 1877 and a few days later on April 12, the Clerk of the House of Assembly chided the Lodge because the access to the House of Assembly through the public entrance in Bouquet Street ‘was being interfered with by order of the agents of the exhibition now being held in the Lodge grounds’. This entrance had to be free to allow the public to enter the House ‘irrespective of class or colour’. The Clerk also pointed to the ‘unsightly nuisance created at the approach and entrance to the House by the deposit of broken cases, lumber and other rubbish. This should be removed and the area be put in a state fitting to the dignity of the House while it was occupying these premises!’
Members of Parliament were given access to the Society Rooms of the Lodge which adjoined the Temple. They could make use of the restaurant, billiard room and bar. The traffic in the billiard room must have been heavy for, in the 1870s, the floor had to ripped up and a new one put down. Subscriptions were invited from both Freemasons and MPs who contributed gladly as it meant they had a right to the billiard cues of their own choice. When the Lodge decided to build a wooden hut as a smoking room, the House of Assembly felt that its members too should be able to use that facility. In March 1881, the Clerk of the House asked that the wooden hut smoking room be made available to the Government which would put up a more permanent structure. Even in those days they tried to segregate the smokers, it seems.
And up went the rent – from £400 to £500 a year from January 1, 1882. Yet de Goede Hoop was worried about the expenses of the property. ‘Constant depredations by the public’ necessitated a caretaker at £1 a week ‘it explained’. As the House of Assembly grew in numbers so it asked for more space. In 1882 it requested that the room above the House of Assembly room be allocated to it. The room in question was occupied by the male servant of the Steward who objected to the loss of the room and threatened to resign, but nevertheless the Lodge gave way to Parliament.
This relationship between Parliament and the Lodge was not always one of frustration for both parties. It became one of enlightenment when Parliament informed the Lodge in March 1882 that it had, in contemplation, to make an experiment in the use of electricity for the lighting of the House of Assembly and it needed to site a 10 hp engine in the yard of the Lodge premises. Later it said the yard would be too small for an engine room and it needed a large space by the main gate. If this went on there would be no grounds left for the Lodge’s extracurricular activities and it was perhaps with mixed feelings that the Lodge said farewell to Parliament which moved into its own newly built premises in 1885.
The official opening of the first Parliament presided over by Sir George Grey, the then new Governor of the Cape Colony. This formal opening was held in Government House on June 31, 1854. The day before, however, the House had met for the first time at 11 am in the Banqueting Hall of Lodge de Goede Hoop.