Western Cape Archives and Records Service

Name in Afrikaans
Westkaapse Argiefbewaarplek
Postal address
Private Bag X9025
Cape Town 8000
South Africa
Visiting address
72, Roeland Street
Cape Town
+27 (0)21 466 8100
+27 (0)21 465 2960 086 622 4970
E-mail (general correspondence)
Website (National Archives)

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Opening hours

onday - Friday 8 am to 4 pm
except Thursdays 8 am to 7 pm
closed on public holidays

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he building is situated on one of the main highways leading into central Cape Town off De Waal Drive and is within walking distance of the city's railway station. Reserved parking is available for the public. Access is free to all. Visitors are required to sign the repository's user register maintained at the desk in the reception hall which leads to the reading room. Records, both public and non-public, twenty years old or older can be consulted in the reading room. Archives that date back less than 20 years need permission from the Provincial Archivist. Applications for permission should be made in writing to the Head of the Repository, who will check that it does not infringe on privacy rights or other criteria defined in the Promotion of Access to Information Act before making a recommendation to the Provincial Archivist.

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he Mission of the Western Cape Archives and Records Service is integrated with that of the National Archives which is to foster national identity and the protection of rights:

  • by preserving a national archival heritage for use by the government and people of South Africa; and
  • by promoting efficient, accountable and transparent government through the proper management and care of government records.

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n accordance with the National Archives and Record Service of South Africa Act (Act 43 of 1996) all public records in the Western Cape are transferred to the Western Cape Archives and Records Service when they are twenty years old or older. The repository also collects non-public records with enduring value pertaining to the history of the Western Cape Province and its diverse communities. These public and non-public records are supplemented by collections of maps, photographs, microfilms, books, pamphlets and official publications.

The holdings consist of 33 000 metres of archives. They are the documentary legacies of offices which functioned during the administration of the Dutch East India Company, 1652-1795; the period of the First British Occupation, 1795-1802; the Batavian Republic Period, 1803-1806; the British Colonial Period, 1806-1910 and the Union/Republic Period after 1910. The post-1910 archives are principally those of the Cape Provincial Administration, sub-offices of central government departments in the Cape Province (eg. magistrates' offices) and offices of local authorities in the Cape Province (eg. municipalities).

Inside view of the stackroom with VOC archives

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Archival groups: Council of Policy, 1651-1795. Court of Justice, 1652-1843. Master of the Supreme Court, Cape Town, 1670-1950. Slave Office, 1789-1845. Colonial Office, 1795-1912. Government House, 1800-1911. Batavian Republic, 1801-1806. Registrar, Supreme Court, Cape Town, 1828-1975. Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1892-1972.

Non-public records: Sir B D'Urban, 1823-1854 (A519). FS Malan, 1795-1941 (A 583). St George's Cathedral, 1806-1923 (A1939). Sir Richard Southey, 1834-1899 (A611). Maclear-Mann Papers, 1811-1909 (A 515). Urban Foundation, 1973-1991 (A2562).

Photographic collections: General, Elliott, Jeffreys, Ravenscroft and Steer collections.

Microfilms: Nationaal Archief van Nederland, The Hague, 1602-1946 (ZA). London Missionary Society, 1795-1923 (ZL). Public Record Office, London, 1795-1910 (ZP).

Online search: The archives can be searched online at the National Archives website using the National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). It incorporates the following databases:

  • The combined National Register of Manuscripts (NAREM) and National Register of Photographs (NAREF)
  • The Cape Town Archives Repository
  • The National Register of Audio-Visual Material
  • The National Archives Repository (public records of central government since 1910)

Computer-based searches: the archives also offer computerised finding aids in the form of guides (arranged archives and non-public records) and lists (map, photograph, microfilm, verbatim copies and publications collections as well as series of computerized archives) on the computer terminals in the reading room.

Paper-based searches: typescript inventories of arranged archival groups and collections of non-public records are also available.

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n 1876 the Cape government appointed a commission whose most important task was to collect, examine, classify and index the archives of the Colony. In 1879 Dr George McCall Theal was charged with the part-time supervision over the archives. In January 1881 he was succeeded by the Rev HCV Leibbrandt. All colonial archives dating before 1806 were transferred to the Government Public Library. From 1886 the archives were housed in fireproof rooms in the basement of the Parliament. Leibbrandt devoted much of his time to the binding of documents and the publication of his well-known Précis of the Archives of the Cape of Good Hope. In 1908 Leibbrandt retired and his post was not refilled. In 1909 a commission was appointed "to have the custody on behalf of the Colonial Government of the Archives". Two officials were appointed to arrange and inventorize the archives after office hours. Mr C.G. Botha was transferred to the Cape Archives as chief in 1912 and the commission held its last meeting in February 1913.

As a result of the re-organization of the archives service in 1919, the Cape Archives became an integral part of the SA government archives administration. From 1934-1989 the Cape Archives occupied the building of the University of South Africa in Queen Victoria Street. At the end of 1989 the Cape Archives moved to its present location, a custom-designed building in Roeland Street and subsequently assumed the name Cape Town Archives Repository.

In 1994, the Archives Service was positioned under the newly established Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, which becomes the Department of Arts and Culture in 2002. Two years later, the promulgation of the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act (Act 43 of 1996, as amended) provided the basis for the transformation of the public archives system and its alignment with the imperatives of the democratic South Africa. This structure has been reorganised in terms of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Schedule 5), which stipulates that archives other than national archives fall under provincial control.

In April 2006, the Western Cape Archives and Records Service was transferred from national control to the Provincial Government of the Western Cape and functions according to the Provincial Archives and Records Service of the Western Cape Act (Act 3 of 2005).

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he Western Cape Archives and Records Service is a subdirectorate of the Directorate of Library and Archive Services, which is an integral part of the Western Cape Provincial Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport.

Part of the readingroom

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he Western Cape Archives and Records Service aims to reach members of the public who do not know about the archives' existence and functions by running a number of public programmes. These feature open days, presentations and lectures on selected topics to scholars, students and members of the public.

Guided tours - including the strong rooms, which are normally not accessible to the public - are also conducted. There are exhibits on show in the reception hall and conference room.

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  • Botha, C. Graham, A brief guide to the various classes of documents in the Cape Archives for the period 1652-1806 (Cape Town 1918)
  • Botha, C. Graham, Cape Archives and records (Cape Town 1962)
  • Botha, C. Graham, The Public archives of South Africa, 1652-1910 (Cape Town 1928)
  • Guides to Arranged Archives, Accessions, Microfilms and the Verbatim Copies Series in the Cape Town Archives Repository (Cape Town 1986-1995)
  • Inventories of archives and non-public record collections in the Cape Town Archives Repository (Cape Town 1984-2000)
  • Kaapse Argiefstukke: Kaapse Plakkaatboek, Deel I - VI 1652-1806 (Cape Town 1944-1951)
  • Kaapse Argiefstukken 1778-1783 (Cape Town and Pretoria 1926-1938)
  • Leibbrandt, H.C.V, Precis of the Archives of the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town 1898-1989)
  • Lists of Archivalia and Photographs in the Cape Town Archives Repository (Cape Town 1989-1993)
  • Suid-Afrikaanse Argiefstukke: Belangrike Kaapse Dokumente, Deel 1-7 (Cape Town and Pretoria 1966-1973)
  • Suid-Afrikaanse Argiefstukke: Resolusies van die Politieke Raad, Deel I - X 1651-1743 (Cape Town and Pretoria 1957-1984)
  • Theal, Geo, M, Catalogue of documents from 16th September 1795 to 21st February 1803 in the collection of colonial archives at Cape Town (Cape Town 1880)
  • Theal, Geo, M, Records of the Cape Colony.. 1793-1831 (London 1897-1905)
  • Verster, F.P., 'A guided 'rummage' around the records of our history', Helderberg Sun (20 December 2005), 8.
  • Verster, F.P., 'A journey through the Cape Colony 200 years ago', Village Life (December/January 2005-2006), 14.
  • Verster, F.P., 'Archives extend a welcome to interested public', Village Life (October/November 2005), 3.
  • Verster, F.P., 'Professor Walker se viool: 'n pleidooi vir oorspronklike navorsing', Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa (June 2002), 139.
  • Verster, F.P., 'The Archives: a fountainhead for fact or fiction', Cape Librarian (March/April 2006), 36.
  • Verster, F.P., 'VOC-uitstalling in word en beeld by Kaapse Argief', BY, bylae tot Die Burger (23 November 2002), 2.

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The VOC archives in Cape Town

wo main archival groups relating to the administration of the VOC (Dutch East India Company) at the Cape 1652-1795 are in the custody of the Cape Town Archives Repository. These groups comprise the archives of the Council of Policy 1652-1795 (inventory no. 1/1) and the archives of the Court of Justice 1652-1843 (inventory no 1/2).

Example of treasures hidden in the VOC archives: an unique letter from the sultan of the Comoros of the 18th century

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As the central ruling body, the Council of Policy legislated for the administration of the Cape for the full duration of Company rule, issued instructions on all kinds of matters, imposed taxes, made appointments, granted land, heard petitions and managed all military and naval affairs, etc. Prior to 1656 when the Court of Justice at the Cape was established, the Council of Policy dealt with judicial matters.

In addition to the aforementioned archival groups, of which 5% is severely damaged, the Cape Town Archives Repository also holds a number of other VOC archives that have merged with later archives groups. About 46% of these latter archives are severely damaged. The full extent of VOC holdings is 322 meters.

Other archives kept by the Cape Town Archives Repository that relate to the VOC include:

  • Cape Title Deeds (inventory no 1/84), drawn up by the Council of Policy (1652-1825)
  • Attorney General (inventory no 1/19), archives created by the Independent Fiscal (1661-1923)
  • Master of the Supreme Court, Cape Division (inventory no 1/3), archives created by the earlier offices of the Orphan Chamber and the Insolvency Chamber (1670-1951)
  • Receiver of Land Revenue (inventory no 1/4), archives created by the Council of Policy (1682-1832)
  • Returns for Taxation Purposes (Opgaafrolle, inventory no. 1/5), drawn up on authority of the Council of Policy (1692-1845)
  • Secretary of the Burgher Council (inventory no 1/82), archives of a body subordinate to the Council of Policy (1695-1803)
  • Registrar of Deeds, Cape Town (inventory no 1/89), archives created by the Council of Policy (1708-1941)
  • Secretary of the Burgher Military Council (inventory no 1/39), archives of a body subordinate to the Council of Policy (1712-1795)
  • Notarial Protocols, Cape Districts (inventory no 1/7/1), drawn up by the secretaries of the Council of Policy (1790-1990)
  • Lombard Bank (inventory no 1/8), archives of the commissioners, of whom one was president and member of the Council of Policy (1793-1843)
  • Non-Public Records (finding aid G3), miscellaneous private papers relating to the VOC
  • Maps and drawings, including items created by the VOC

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Related Internet links

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