Melrose House, historic Pretoria home

The front of Melrose House, Pretoria. Photo Tony McGregor
The front of Melrose House, Pretoria. Photo Tony McGregor

The Treaty of Vereeniging which ended the Boer War

Around 11:00 p.m. on Saturday 31 May 1902 12 men sat around a large Victorian dinner table in the imposing dining room of Melrose House in Jacob Mare Street, Pretoria, to sign the treaty that would bring hostilities to an end in the bloodiest and most expensive war ever fought on South African soil, the Boer War, or Tweede Vryheid's Oorlog (Secong War of Independence).

The 12 men represented the governments of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR), Great Britain and the Orange Free State Republic. The negotiations which led to this treaty had started in the town of Vereeniging on the banks of the Vaal River (hence the treaty's name) some weeks before and were marked by acrimonious debate and dramatic outbursts.

The final vote in the negotiations in Vereeniging accepting the terms of the surrender of the Boer forces was completed at 2:00 p..m that Saturday afternoon and the treaty was rushed to Pretoria by train where it was met by Lord Kitchener, the commander of the British forces, and Lord Milner, British High Commissioner to South Africa. Lord Roberts had taken over Melrose House as his headquarters after the fall of Pretoria to the British forces in June 1900.

This was, without doubt, the most dramatic and important even ever to take place in Melrose House, built by a tycoon who had made his fortune initially on the Diamond Fields in Kimberley and then consolidated his fortune by setting up a transport business, using coaches he imported from the United States.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
George Jesse Heys. Image: Melrose House MuseumEmma Jane Heys. Image: Melrose House MuseumAdvertisement for "George Heys and Company's Express Saloon Coach Service." Heys imported his coaches from the Abbott-Downing Co. of Concord, New Hampshire. Image Melrose House Museum
George Jesse Heys. Image: Melrose House Museum
George Jesse Heys. Image: Melrose House Museum
Emma Jane Heys. Image: Melrose House Museum
Emma Jane Heys. Image: Melrose House Museum
Advertisement for "George Heys and Company's Express Saloon Coach Service." Heys imported his coaches from the Abbott-Downing Co. of Concord, New Hampshire. Image Melrose House Museum
Advertisement for "George Heys and Company's Express Saloon Coach Service." Heys imported his coaches from the Abbott-Downing Co. of Concord, New Hampshire. Image Melrose House Museum

The building of Melrose House

George Jesse Heys was the son of an immigrant from Haslingden, North Lancashire, Thomas Heys, who set up a gentleman's outfitters business in the Natal port of Durban in the 1840s.

George Heys studied at Durban Boys' High School and after leaving school worked for some years for his father's company, before moving to Kimberley after the diamond rush there.

Heys returned to Durban to marry Emma Jane Harris in 1873, taking he back with him to Kimberley where she gave birth to two daughters.

In 1879 Heys and his family moved to Pretoria where he set up a general dealership in Church Street trading under the name "Heys and Company General Dealer."

At first the Heys family lived in a house called Natal Villa on the corner of Andries and Minnaar Streets, not far from the two erven which Heys bought in 1885 in Jacob Mare Street, where Melrose House would be built.

British architect W.T. Vale designed the house and supervised its building, which was completed in 1887.

Mr and Mrs Heys toured Britain and visited the romantic ruins of Melrose Abbey in Scotland and decided to call their new home "Melrose Villa", later changing the name to "Melrose House".

The house itself is built in what can be termed the "eclectic" style, typical of the late Victorian era. It is rather fussily ornate and combines many different styles - author Desiree Picton-Seymour in her book Historical Buildings in South Africa (Struikhof, 1989) wrote, "With balconies and verandas and every conceivable type of window, from oriel to attic, each aspect of the house was elaborate with decoration."

The front gate of Melrose House on Jacob Mare Street is directly opposite the main gate of Burgers Park.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The table on which the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed. Photo Tony McGregorLord Roberts on the verandah of Melrose House. Image: Melrose House MuseumThe "Morning room" is the room on the left of this photo of the house. Photo Tony McGregor
The table on which the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed. Photo Tony McGregor
The table on which the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed. Photo Tony McGregor
Lord Roberts on the verandah of Melrose House. Image: Melrose House Museum
Lord Roberts on the verandah of Melrose House. Image: Melrose House Museum
The "Morning room" is the room on the left of this photo of the house. Photo Tony McGregor
The "Morning room" is the room on the left of this photo of the house. Photo Tony McGregor

Melrose House during the Boer War

Pretoria fell to the British forces under Lord Roberts, Commander-in-Chief, on 5 June 1900 and soon thereafter he requisitioned the house as the British Headquarters. The Heys family moved out of the house and went to stay with friends nearby for the duration.

Roberts, and after him Lord Kitchener who succeeded him as Commander-in-Chief, used the so-called "morning room" to the left of the front door as their office.

Roberts had annexed the ZAR for the British Crown on 25 October 1900 and at the end of November handed over power to Kitchener. Kitchener was the man who had gained renown as the victor in the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan just three years earlier.

After the Treaty of Vereeniging had been signed the British evacuated Melrose House and the Heys family returned. With the compensation money the family was paid by the British they were able to make several improvements to their alread comfortable home.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The central panel of the window in the main stairwell. Photo Tony McGregorThe window in the main stairwell. Photo Tony McGregorThe stained glass window in the billiard room. Image: Melrose House MuseumOne of the bathrooms. Photo Tony McGregorAnother bathroom. Note steam bath on right. Photo Tony McGregorA doll's house in the Melrose House Museum. Photo Tony McGregorThe facade of the doll's house. Photo Tony McGregorFountain in the front garden of Melrose House. Photo Tony McGregor
The central panel of the window in the main stairwell. Photo Tony McGregor
The central panel of the window in the main stairwell. Photo Tony McGregor
The window in the main stairwell. Photo Tony McGregor
The window in the main stairwell. Photo Tony McGregor
The stained glass window in the billiard room. Image: Melrose House Museum
The stained glass window in the billiard room. Image: Melrose House Museum
One of the bathrooms. Photo Tony McGregor
One of the bathrooms. Photo Tony McGregor
Another bathroom. Note steam bath on right. Photo Tony McGregor
Another bathroom. Note steam bath on right. Photo Tony McGregor
A doll's house in the Melrose House Museum. Photo Tony McGregor
A doll's house in the Melrose House Museum. Photo Tony McGregor
The facade of the doll's house. Photo Tony McGregor
The facade of the doll's house. Photo Tony McGregor
Fountain in the front garden of Melrose House. Photo Tony McGregor
Fountain in the front garden of Melrose House. Photo Tony McGregor

Inside the house

The way was long, the wind was cold,

The Minstrel was infirm and old;

His wither'd cheek, and tresses gray,

Seem'd to have known a better day;

The harp, his sole remaining joy,

Was carried by an orphan boy.

The last of all the Bards was he,

Who sung of Border chivalry;

For, welladay! their date was fled,

His tuneful brethren all were dead;

And he, neglected and oppress'd,

Wish'd to be with them, and at rest.

- from the Introduction to "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" by Sir Walter Scott

One of the most imposing aspects of Melrose House is the large window in the main stairwell with its central panel illustrating Scott's famous poem. It is one of two stained glass windows in the house, the other being in the billiard room.

Melrose House was bought from the Heys family trust by the Pretoria Municipality in 1968 for use as a museum. It is one of the most perfectly preserved examples of a Victorian home in South Africa and the museum management has been meticulous in the restoration wherever that was needed. Even the pattern of the wallpaper in some of the rooms has been re-created exactly from samples found in the house.

Around the garden various archaeological digs have been made and a fascinating collection of old bottles, kitchen utensils and other items found are on display in the museum.

There is now a tea garden at the house as well as a gift shop. Antique fairs are held in the grounds regularly.


Copyright notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010

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Comments 24 comments

Tashtoo profile image

Tashtoo 5 years ago from Nova Scotia

Great Write! Small world :)


50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 5 years ago from Arizona

Aye a fine article, well written and smoothly digested. I enjoyed it as a nice history lesson in times not so nice I suppose, Peace and Love, 50


LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 5 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

I LOVE YOUR WRITING! Sorry for yelling in such a historic setting. I have missed reading your Hubs. I cannot whip through your stuff, I must chew slowly. All up votes!


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

"And he, neglected and oppress'd,

Wish'd to be with them, and at rest."

Many a brave soldiers has come to find,

That rogues took the country- and his mind.

God bless Tony!


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

Enjoyed this one again.

A very well written and well researched hub.

Also well researched and this is what I love about HP :

As well as publishing our own work we also learn so much from others.

A vote up for this one.

Thank you so much for sharing Tony.

Take care.


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 5 years ago from Great Britain

You certainly come up with some seriously interesting hubs. This was an excellent read. Thank you. I love history.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is so great Tony. Melrose Villa is beautiful.I'm getting a good education from your informative hubs.I'll never understand, why so many wars, how sad that some people want to rule others. Thank you.

Love and Peace


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 5 years ago from I'm outta here

What a beautiful house or Mansion... The history is so rich and interesting. I love it that there is now a tea garden, makes it all come full circle and perfect. Charming. Peace :)


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

Another valuable and well-written article about a really lovely place set in history. You could easily write a history book which would hold people's interest, Tony!! I love history and it's a pleasure to find it well-done with "personality" in it.

And you got me with the stained glass window...... I just adore beautiful stained glass!!

Thanks!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Natasha - thanks for coming by and commenting - small world indeed!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dusty - thank you, I appreciate your comment very much. The times were not that great indeed!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Lilly - thank you very much for the very kind words (I didn't mind the shouting, LOL!).

Glad you enjoyed this one.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Brother Micky - those rogues! Yes we have to be constantly alert, constantly vigilant, for that is the price of liberty!

Thanks for coming by my brotherman!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Eiddwen - you are most welcom, my graceful Welsh friend! HubPages is a great site, even though we writers do get a bit down and crotchety about things like the HubScores and all sometimes!

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dim - thanks very much for your kind words! I enjoy your writing too.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Ruby - that is the sad question, why do people want to rule others? And go to such often cruel lengths to do so. It beats me too. Glad you enjoyed the read here.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Katie - thanks for stopping by. It does feel like a completion of a circle in a way. Mrs Heys apparently loved entertaining socially.

Thanks again

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Nellieanna - your kind words are truly and deeply appreciated! I feel so honoured that you enjoyed my work here, and I am with you in the love of stained glass. I must admit it was a great surprise to me when I found that this house had not one, but two great stained glass windows! I know some of the other stuff about the house but the windows were an exciting discovery.

Thanks again

Love and peace

Tony


li smith ion-eco profile image

li smith ion-eco 5 years ago from Hermanus, South Africa

I so enjoy reading your hubs Tony, this one is a gem! Fabulous images! I can just imagine the parties ...

Love and best wishes to you,

Li


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Li - sorry to respond to your comment so long after you posted it. Thanks for the visit and the very kind words. Yes, those parties must have been something else!

Love and peace

Tony


ExpandYourMind profile image

ExpandYourMind 5 years ago from Midwest USA

Great hub, Tony. I love exploring historical homes; pics are great!


Garnetbird 5 years ago

I LOVED the stained glass windows and the bathroom photos-so rare to see these old tubs. Very nicely done Hub! I spent my early childhood in an old green shuttered cottage near Lick Observatory, which had been a ship. The captain loved his ship so much he tore it apart and converted it to a home. Some of our beds were "pull-outs."


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

EYM - thanks for stopping by and for the kid words.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Garnetbird - thanks for the interesting comment. I like the sound of that cottage that once was a ship! Sounds like fun.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony

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