The Mechanics' Institute

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Mechanics' Institutes are educational establishments, originally founded in Scotland in 1821 to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects, to working men.

For a general overview of the history, aims and functions of these institutions internationally , see the entry on "Mechanics' Institutes" in Wikipedia[1]

For a discussion of the general concept of adult institutes, see also the entry on Institutes

The Mechanics' Institute in Cape Town

The Cape Town Mechanics' Institute was founded in September 1853 and was situated in Burg Street. It was apparently intended mainly to keep the youth occupied and to give them some background and training in science and technology.

According to Groom (February, 1900, cited by Bosman, 1980:p102, footnote 263), the building contained, among other things, "a large concert room, in which vocal and instrumental amateur concerts were nightly given and where stump speeches, recitations and other amusements drew audiences, both of the members and of the general public." Groom also refers to the hall as the Music Hall.

The Institute is cited as the venue for a number of theatrical companies in Cape Town in the 19th century, but unfortunately the Institute was not profitable and the building was sold - according to Bosman (1980, p. 319) probably to the Cape Town Institute and Club, and eventually making way for the Club's new theatre in 1876.

Among the specifically mentioned performances put on there in the mid-19th century were what William Groom (1899-1900) referred to as the amusing "lucubrations" of two local eccentrics, "Jack Threepence" and "Lord Darnley"; a series of so-called "People's Concerts", popular at the time (mentioned in 1857) and performances by the Juvenile Christy's Minstrels (e.g. the first on 16 June 1864, followed by more). Also offered were lectures by various speakers, including discussions of and/or readings from plays such as Trial by Jury (delivered by C. Bland in August 1861); Hamlet (by T. Brazier, in November 1861); Richard III (by T. Brazier, on 22 March, 1862); The Cricket on the Hearth (by Dr Ross, 20 May, 1862);

The Mechanics' Institute in Port Elizabeth

There is a reference to "readings" in The Mechanics' Institute Port Elizabeth by T. Brazier in 1865 (Bosman, 1980, p.297).


F.C.L. Bosman, 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 102, 105, 113, 123, 175, 269,, 297.

William Groom. 1899-1900. Drama in Cape Town. Cape Illustrated Magazine, 10(4): 478-481, 517-520, 547-552, 580-584, 640-643, 670-672, 706-708.

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