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Photographs, Negatives and Colour Slides in the Western Cape Archives and Records Service (WCARS)

Photographs are important sources of information for researchers in all study fields, including genealogical research. We are all aware of the necessity of preserving documents, since archives have an important cultural value for the protection of our identity and collective memory. Photographic materials are therefore key sources for historical research, especially for the study of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The amount of information and detail that can be seen in photographs is what makes them a uniquely rich historical resource.  They can show exactly how a person, place, item, building, clothing, etc. looked at a specific time.  Therefore, photographs should not be considered as purely supplementary material but instead as illustrative “windows to our past”.

Rouxville House, Kalk Bay. This property was demolished in 1959
( click on pic to enlarge, plus more pics )

At present the Western Cape Archives and Records Service (WCARS) has about 90 000 photographs in the various collections in stock. The photographic section also houses the negatives of most of these photographs. The descriptions of most of the photographs, negatives and colour slides are already available on the internet databases. The photographs that accompany this article were chosen from the collections due to the buildings shown being subsequently demolished, replaced, restored, neglected, deserted or changed as a result of development. Therefore, although the buildings are not there anymore, the images are proof of their history.

The following is a list of some of the various photographic collections and the where they can currently be accessed:

General  Collection (AG)

This collection consists of 18522 photographs, depicting various subjects such as portraits of individuals, families, buildings, towns, transport, nature, war, etc. These can be found via the search engines on the two websites of the National Archives and Record Service of South Africa (www.national.archives.gov.za – NAAIRS, and www.nationalarchives.gov.za - NARSSA) searching under Manuscripts and photographs, a computer list and the card index.

Breytenbach Collection (B)
The 5 photographs in this collection are of Commandant Danie Theron and can be found via NAAIRS, NARSSA and List No. 6/6.

Cape Archives Collection (CA)
There are 3599 black and white negatives in this collection. These are photographs of Mr Coburn and other photographers who worked at WCARS. The collection includes photographs of archival activities, buildings in Cape Town and surrounding towns, museums, churches, events, etc. These can be found via  NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and the card index.

Coburn Collection (COB)
There are 1555 photographs in this collection. Colour slides 1 – 599 represent Cape Town buildings and streets 1960s – 1990s; and 600 – 1555 are black and white negatives depicting train stations, trains, the Copper Railway and mines in Namaqualand, towns and caravan parks in Namaqualand, West Coast, Karoo and Namibia, museums, ships, battlefields and trains and railways in the former German South West Africa (Namibia). These can be found via  NAAIRS, NARSSA and a handwritten list.

De Smidt Collection (DES)
The collection consists of 14 glass negatives depicting views of Sea Point and Camps Bay and can be found via List No. 6/12.

Elliott Collection (E)
There are 9362 glass negatives (small to A4) in this collection, which covers various subjects, such as architecture (houses, farmsteads, buildings, etc.), landscapes, photographs of paintings, sketches, important individuals, events, etc. The descriptions can be found via NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and the card index. 

Fitchett Collection (FIT)
About 20 000 colour slides depicting architecture, mainly of the former Cape Province, 1978 – 1986; historical houses, buildings in towns and cities; farm houses and outbuildings. A list is available, but WCARS is in the process of capturing the descriptions for NAAIRS and NARSSA.

Gordon Collection
This collection is incorporated in the General Collection (AG) and can be found via NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and List No. 6/11.

Green Collection (G)
The 884 black and white photographic prints cover landscapes, houses, buildings, towns, cities, people, war, ships, etc. and the descriptions can be found on NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and List No. 6/4.

Hermann Collection (HM)
The 64 glass negatives in this collection illustrating views of Cape Town and surrounding areas in the early 1900s and List No. 6/6 can be used.

Holland Collection (HL)
In this collection the 59 black and white negatives portraying Cape Town scenes, buildings, ships, etc. in the early 1900s and the descriptions can be found on NAAIRS, computer List and List No. 6/6.

Hopkins Collection (HOP)
The 2714 photographs contain portraits of families, individuals, churches, etc. and the descriptions are available on NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and handwritten list. 

Jeffreys Collection (J)
The 14066 photographs in this collection cover various subjects, such as portraits of individuals, families, buildings, towns, transport, nature, war, events, etc. The decriptions can be found on NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and the card index.

Juritz Collection (DR J)
The 1179 glass negatives in this collection contain views of Cape Town, other towns and rural areas in the former Cape Province, as well as family and friends of Dr Juritz. These can be found via  NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list, List No. 6/5 and an index.

Leica Collection (L)
The descriptions of the 2596 black and white historical negatives (35mm) in this collection can be found on NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list, Register No. 6/7 and the card index.

Lomax Collection
Meintjies was the donor of this collection and it is incorporated in the General Collection (AG) and can be found via NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and List No. 6/6.

Moorcroft Collection
This collection is incorporated in the General Collection (AG). These can be found via  NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list, Catalogue No. 6/13 and the card index.

Morrison Collection (M)
This collection is a portion of the greater Elliott Collection. The 1079 glass negatives contain copies of historical photographs, maps, documents, sketches; photographs of buildings, houses, etc. These can be found via  NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list, Catalogue No. 6/3 and the card index.

Picton-Seymour Collection (PS)
There are 281 black and white negatives (35mm) in this collection, which depicts cities, towns and buildings around South Africa in the 1960s. These can be found via  NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and List No. 6/6.

Pocock Collection (P)
The 232 glass negatives in this collection contain photographs from around South Africa (towns, landscapes, etc.) and individuals, about the early 1900s. These can be found via  NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and List No. 6/6.

Ravenscroft Collection (R)
In this collection the 1977 glass negatives (small to A4) comprise photographs of towns and buildings of the former Cape Province and the descriptions can be found via NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and List No. 6/6.

Schrire Collection (SH)
The 27 glass negatives cover the Anglo-Boer War and can be found via List No. 6/6.

Steer Collection (S)
There are 155 glass negatives in this collection, depicting views of Cape Town and surrounding areas in the early 1900s. These can be found via NAAIRS, NARSSA, a computer list and List No. 6/6.

Ray Ryan Collection (RY)
The 1078 photographs deal with historical houses and buildings, churches, nature, passes, monuments and statues, etc. A list is available. 

Van der Riet Collection (VDR)
There are 251 photographs in this collection (1 – 160 are copies of photographs and 161 – 251 are black and white slides). These photographs were used in a publication regarding Grahamstown, which include photographs of Grahamstown, the Eastern Cape and individuals and families in Grahamstown and the Eastern Cape. These can be found via  NAAIRS, NARSSA and a list.

Vernacular Architecture Society of South Africa (VAS)
This collection contain colour slides of interior and exterior views of houses and buildings of architectural importance. List No. 6/1 is available.

Colour Slides (CS)
There are 87 slides in this collection, depicting photographs of paintings of TW Bowler, sketches of the United Tobacco Company, maps of LM Thibault, views of Tulbagh after the earthquake, buildings in Cape Town, water colour paintings of the Cango Caves by JW Mollendorf, etc. List No. 6/1 can be used.

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Standard prints of most of these collections are available in the reading room at WCARS. Copies of these photographs can be ordered in person in the reading room or by post/email. The copies ordered may be collected at WCARS or the copies can be posted. The tariffs and charges for ordering copies of photographs can be obtained from WCARS. Remember that there is also a maximum number of copies that can be ordered and that a waiting period is applicable after placing an order. All payments must be made in advance and must be in South African Rand.

For the collections where no standard prints exist, it is necessary to negotiate with the archivist in charge of the photograph collections for alternative ways to obtain copies.

When archival sources (such as photographs) in the custody WCARS are cited or provided in any published format or medium (paper and digital, for example the internet), the Western Cape Archives and Records Service should be acknowledged.

The contact details of WCARS is as follows:
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: +27 21 483 0400
Fax: +27 21 483 0444
Street address: 72 Roeland Street, Cape Town, 8001
Postal address: Private Bag X9025, Cape Town, 8000
www.westerncape.gov.za/dcas

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