When the contents of one of Constantia’s grand mansions went on auction earlier this month, they sounded echoes of another time and revived the story of how a couple separated by war found each other and came to settle in Cape Town.
The 64-room Harcroft House’s contents were auctioned on Monday November 18 by Strauss & Co. There were 558 lots that went
for between R200 and well over R400 000.
According to Strauss & Co, British-born Charles Rycroft and his wife, Muriel, bought Harcroft House in the 1950s. It was previously owned by the Baxter family, who were influential in developing and cultivating the arts in Cape Town.
Charles ran Harcroft Rubber Estates Ltd in Perak, Malaysia, until the Japanese invasion in 1941. Forced to flee, they went to Singapore but it wasn’t long before the Japanese closed in.
Muriel left on the last ship in February 1942, travelling via Bombay to Cape Town. But Charles was captured when Singapore fell in April of that year.
It was only in 1943 thatMuriellearnt Charles was alive in Changiinternment camp for civilians.
After many trials and tribulations, they were reunited after the war and returned to Perak in 1946 to rebuild the plantation and factory.
In the 1950s, they retired to Cape Town and bought the Constantia property, which had originally been part of the Klaasenbosch Farm.
The property was renamed Harcroft and bore many similarities to their home in Malay-
The mansion became the setting for the many antiques, works of art and collectors’ pieces acquired by the Rycrofts in Malaysia, Britain and their extensive travels to China, Japan and America.
Seven years after Muriel’s death in 1974, Charles married Louise Jackson, an animal lover and philanthropist, and together they gave assistance to The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust through the Harcroft Foundation.
Charles died in 1998, and Louise left the house untouched to preserve his legacy, living there until her death in 2014, aged 106.
Harcroft House is one of the last remaining mansions in Constantia.
The highest seller among the 558 lots on offer was a Chinese Early Republican Period, four-panel scroll painting depicting birds in flowering trees, which sold for R432 440, more than four times the estimate. This painting formed part of a selection of English and Far Eastern art, furniture and decorative items – notably ceramics, jades and ivories – acquired
by the Rycrofts.
A ten-panel painting from the Qing dynasty portraying an aristocrat’s court was gamely pursued by two bidders on the floor and eventually sold for R341 400.
The top silverware lot was a George IV two-handled tureen and cover by Rebecca Eames and Edward Barnard of London, which also trounced its estimate and sold at R147 940.
Thebest-selling South African painting was a still life of spring flowers and apples by Freida Lock, which went for R102 420.
“I was delighted by the broad interest generated by this sale, both among local and international buyers. The sale attracted bidders from China, Germany, USA, England and Russia,” said Frank Kilbourn, Strauss & Co executive chairman.
The mansion itself is also for sale through Strauss & Co but did
not form part of the auction.