Talks happen on the third Tuesday of a month, at the Athenaeum in Newlands. All are welcome, free of charge
Outings happen on the last Saturday of a month (usually). Members only


DATE: Tuesday 16th May
TIME: 8pm
PLACE: The Athaeneum, Newlands

TALK: Architects of Retribution and Rehabilitation: the hidden history of Old Orpen House and Porter Reformatory in Tokai
SPEAKERS: Antonia Malan & Alex Dodge

Antonia Malan is a historical archaeologist and heritage practitioner, and previous VASSA chair. She is currently a member of the VASSA Publications Portfolio. In 2001 she was a member of the team that prepared a heritage study for the Porter Estate Development Framework, but most of their research has not been published.

Alex Dodge is a VASSA member and explorer of the by-ways and corners of Cape Town and its hinterland. Her evocative photographs of the Tokai and Porter Estate were taken over the years between 2011 and 2023, as she regularly revisited a favourite landscape.

In 1883 the farm Tokai was bought by the Cape Colonial Government after the Eksteens were bankrupted. Although destined to become a lunatic asylum, objections by local farmers lead to the establishment of Joseph Storr Lister’s experimental forestry station on the farm.

Following the tradition of the local farmers, Lister used convict labour which was housed in the convict station next to the Tokai homestead and run by Captain Harry Orpen.

In 1888 the Porter Reformatory was moved from Valkenburg to Tokai (it was more difficult for the boys to run away). New buildings were erected along a ridge to the north, typical of colonial military installations, and workshops and staff quarters were added. The Cape-Dutch homestead became the superintendent’s residence.

Under new approaches to the penal system, especially for youngsters, moved away from punishment and forced labour towards military-type discipline, basic education and training in useful skills such as agriculture and woodwork. Vegetable gardens and vineyards, dairy cows and flowers provided food and surplus for sale.

The Porter precinct – a high security “total institution” – became an almost self-sufficient community, deliberately isolated from the neighbouring farms and suburbs. Despite the liberal reforms, a prison yard with isolation cells was still needed, and Old Orpen House continued in use.

DATE: Saturday 27th May
There will unfortunately be no outing in May.
One of the farms we had planned to visit had a death in the family and another cancelled for personal family reasons.
It is disappointing when, after a lot of planning, things go awry, but these things do happen from time to time. We will try again later in the year.

Look over  the LATEST NEWSLETTER  or browse PUBLICATIONS for past newsletters  



Rates are being held at previous years’ fees.
Single member R250
Family membership R400
SACAP accreditation R500 

Click here for HOW TO JOIN / PAY 



VASSA outings usually take us onto private properties, even into private homes. This is a special privilege which we must respect.
This list of rules may seem onerous, but it is necessary when dealing with a large group of people so that everyone is aware of what is acceptable and what is not.

Only paid up members may attend the outings. (Visitors to pay the annual price of membership to attend the outing.) Strictly no children and no pets. Wear Vassa name badges with correct colour tag.

Sign the register on arrival.

On arrival stay close to the leader so that the host can be introduced.  Do not wander off before the introduction.

On departure, gather around the leader to thank the host.  Do not leave before this.

If you have to leave before the end of the outing, inform the outing leader so that they do not wait or look for you.

Switch off cell phones or put them on ‘silent’.

Do not engage the host in private conversations and recollections while everyone else is milling around.

Before taking interior photographs, check with the outing leader that this is okay.

Do not post photographs of the interior on Facebook – this is deemed a security risk.

Do not touch anything – do not pick up porcelain to check maker’s mark, do not take books out of bookcases, etc.

Do not open closed doors.

Do not sit on the furniture.

Do not use the toilet without asking the host’s permission.

Do not take plant slips from the garden.

Do not use the privilege of an outing to organise private business arrangements or return visits with the host.

Do not voice negative – or personal – comments to other members while on site.

Vassa outings are usually open for all members to attend. However, certain outings may not be able to accommodate a large group of people, in which case numbers will be limited to a first come first served basis.  A contact email address is always provided in the newsletter.

If you cannot attend, let the organiser know so that someone on the waiting list can attend.



Past newsletters