Charles Mathurin Villet

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Charles Mathurin Villet (c.1778-1856) was a French botanist, zoologist, teacher, theatre director and leading figure in the nascent Cape theatre-scene during the Batavian Republic (1803-1806). (Also referred to in publications as C.M. Villet or Ch. M. Villet.)

Considered by F.C.L. Bosman (1928) to be the founding-father of French- and Dutch-language amateur theatre in South Africa.


He settled in Cape Town at the beginning of the 19th century as a young man of twenty-five.

In 1803 began with various theatrical enterprises, and having raised sufficient money through the theatre, he opened a school for language and mathematics in 1804, but continued with his theatrical activities. Competition from Charles Etienne Boniface eventually made Villet close his school in 1809, and open a shop in Long street selling seeds and stuffed animals. He still apparently sold tickets for theatrical performances from his shop. He eventually became a world renowned zoologist, collector and vendor of natural specimens, one of the richest men at the Cape. By the time of his death he had converted to Protestantism and become a fully-fledged member of the Dutch-speaking community.

His contribution to South African theatre and performance

In 1803 he formed a group of French and Dutch actors to present selections of both classical and Boulevard fare over the course of the next two years, under the French motto "Consacre a la beinfaisance, Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense" (though the amateur company apparently never used the motto as name, this came later with C.E. Boniface). When doing French plays, the company was simply referred to as Het Fransche Liefhebbery Geselschap ("The French Amateur Company").

Villet also acted as ticket agent for the French and Dutch plays of the time. By enabling this combination to flourish, he laid the foundations of what was to become a vibrant Dutch (later Afrikaans) theatre. Although no professional, Villet certainly received remuneration for his efforts, and the French company he ran was unique for its time in not playing in aid of charity.

In 23 December 1805 a benefit performance was held for him (Le Soldat Magicien by Anseaume and a comic opera by Sedaine) as he was leaving the theatre to concentrate on his school and later his shop in Long street, where he still apparently sold tickets for theatrical performances.

[TH, JH]


Bosman, 1928: pp 84-174;

Du Toit, 1988

Fletcher, 1994;

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