Saturday, April 2, 2011

A ghost runs through it

Tokai Manor House was built in 1796. It is thought that the architect must have been the famous Louis Michel Thibault who designed many of Cape Town's beautiful Cape Dutch houses. There is rumoured to be a ghost in this 215 year old house. At a rowdy New Year's Eve party in the early 1800s, a guest of Hendrik Eksteen, the then owner, accepted a wager to ride his horse up the front steps, around the diningroom table and back. The luckless man was thrown to his death on the steps (that can be seen curving down the side of the facade of the house) and killed. Every New Year's Eve, a ghostly horseman gallops up the long avenue to the house, mounts the steps and circles the diningroom table before vanishing into the night.

The house was bought by the Forestry Department of the Cape Colonial Government in 1883. Joseph Storr Lister, Conservator of Forests, moved in with his wife, Georgina, the daughter of Thomas Bain, the celebrated engineer of roads and mountain passes. (Apparently the Africana Museum in Johannesburg published her reminiscences which includes an account of her days at Tokai but I haven’t managed to find a copy yet.) Joseph established the Tokai Arboretum adjacent to the house in order to establish which trees enjoyed the Cape’s climate. This is now a popular shady picnic spot. The Listers moved on to the Eastern Cape in 1888.

Tokai Manor House then housed the headmaster of the Porter Reformatory for Boys (later the Porter School) and now is just used for “cultural activities”.

Information from Cape Dutch houses and other Old Favourites by Phillida Brooke Simons.