1877 Cape Town Cape Colony South African International Exhibition




The South African International Exhibition was held in the gardens of the Temple of the Lodge De Goede Hoop in Cape Town. By the 1870s the gardens, now a parking lot, were a popular outdoor venue for the public, especially for concerts. The grounds were illuminated for the exhibition, and theatrical performances, by gas lights fed by underground gas pipes.[1]  Signore Cagli, a local entrepreneur, asked the Lodge De Goede Hoop to allow the South African International Exhibition to be held there, opening in February 1877.  They negotiated almost all of 1876.  Cagli sent out circulars to industrialists in Europe and the United States asking them to create manufacturing exhibits.  The exhibits were about potted meats, fish, fruits, furniture, harness making, saddlery, preserving meats, machinery, and more. Samuel Marshall of Eyre Street in Britain sent some goods, including their patent elastic sheep shears, scythes, hay knives, hooks and ‘steel filing strickle’.[2] The fair ostensibly began in February, but it didn't really get going until the July of 1877, flourishing in November.  There was a circus, a business man from Port Elizabeth set up a popular roller rink, and there was a small zoo in the corner of the grounds.

Yet Cagli had trouble keeping up with infrastructure expenses.  He negotiated a five year lease for the grounds, but he petitioned to extend it to a 12 year lease which would allow him more time to meet expenses.  The Temple refused.  It had already spent more than £ 200 for fair lighting when Cagli couldn't pay the bill.  Also, Parliament was renting buildings from and adjacent to the Lodge De Goede. Members were not thrilled by the increased noise and large crowds.  Tensions between the Lodge and parliament increased. In April Parliament complained about the noise and unsightly debris (broken wooden cases, lumber, and other rubbish) at the entrance on Bouquet Street. Parliament felt that people from the fair were interfering with the entrance (and perhaps the dignity) of Parliament. They created a No Noise Policy to take effect during the August sittings.

Not much remains of the 1877 World's Fair in buildings or memory. The “Great Fire of 1892” destroyed the hall which had been built for the Great Exhibition. The hall was built of wood and corrugated iron. On a Sunday in February, 1892 a group of citizens were preparing scenery for a large stage production.  In the back of the Exhibition Hall Mr. Westall, a caretaker, had been instructed to burn some debris. Perhaps a spark from the debris fire hit the building, because something ignited some material next to the former exhibit hall; which in turn melted the lead pipes carry illuminating natural gas.[3]

The Temple's single story building with closely spaced windows surrounded by arched plaster no longer exists as it did in 1877, although the cornerstone from 1801 is still there. Six hundred Freemasons rebuilt the lodge, but not the exposition exhibit hall.

Although the original lease was for five years it is unclear if the site was used as a fairground in subsequent years. Cape Town is only listed as having had a World's Fair in 1877.  The Lodge and the Assembly buildings are still there, although both have been renovated over the years.  There are churches across Bouquet Street and along the length of the old fairgrounds there are several museums and a park.

[1]     Cooper, Worshipful Brother Alan A PDGJD. The Cape House of Assembly and Lodge De Goede Hoop. GLSA Southern Division Spring Ball Magazine. 1981. http://www.glsa23.co.za/cape-house-of-assembly “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.”

[2]  From the collections of Sheffield Libraries Archives and Information. https://service.sheffield.gov.uk accessed 2/23/2018.

[3]  de Goede Hoop-the Great Fire of 1892.  http://freemasonrysd.co.za accessed 12/3/2017.  At approximately twenty past three, a Mrs Brown Potter and Mr Kyle Bellew, members of the theatrical company that had hired the Hall, were chatting in the garden of the Lodge de Goede Hoop. Mr Bellew noticed smoke coming from between the sheets of corrugated iron which comprised the bottom section of the outside of the Exhibition Hall. With the fire spreading and the Fire Brigade desperately trying to extinguish it, the smoke and alarms attracted a great crowd of onlookers. The high walls obscured most of the activity, but some people had climbed on the roofs of nearby buildings to get a better view. Soon the Fire Brigade were reinforced by a detachment of the Royal Artillery who had come up from the Castle where they were stationed. By 5.00pm the fire was virtually out; the interior of the Temple swimming in water and burnt debris; the exhibition hall and the Banqueting hall, which contained one of the oldest billiard tables in the country was smoked ruin. The fire flared up briefly around 7pm and a wall had to be demolished to put it out.