Cape Medical Museum

Cape Medical Museum


Contained in the New Somerset Hospital, the old city hospital for contagious diseases built by Sir George Grey the governor of the Cape in 1859 the Cape Medical Museum is a great visit if you are interested in the history of medicine, particularly as it emphasises both western and traditional medicine in the Cape. It lies in Green Point opposite the UCT Graduate school of Business, on the corner of Beach Road.

From turn-of-the-century reconstructions of consulting rooms, dispensary, a dentist’s room and operating theatre to an exhibit of a Sangoma’s bones, the Cape Medical Museum is the place to view the path of medical history. The history of western medicine in the Cape began with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck when the Somerset Hospital was built (not to be confused with the New Somerset Hospital, which followed later).

Early medicine was classified according to the symptoms of the disease, and the symptoms alone were treated. It relied on patent medicine, put together by Dutch apothecaries, who were in turn influenced by contact with indigenous peoples like the San, who used indigenous plants as their medicine.

Scientific medicine, which employed ether anaesthesia, only reached the Cape during the nineteenth century, whilst the first medical school was set up in 1912 at the University of Cape Town. The museum offers guided tours, slide shows, educational programmes, lectures and presentations and archival material. It is also used as a venue for medically-related functions.