The house was constructed around a central hall with openings on to Stal Plein and the Garden. There was one small salon on each side of the hall. A balustrade surrounded the flat roof and a central pavilion provided shade for those who wished to admire the view. By 1710 materials from the original fort had been used to add an extra storey to the house, following the same configuration as that of the ground floor. From then on, the house was continually being repaired, altered and added to. It was known as Government House from 1797 and when Lord Macartney moved in two years after the first British occupation in 1795, he found it large and attractive with many rooms including servants’ quarters, and accommodation for guards and slaves.
The front facade, facing the Garden, was an extravagant combination of decorative elements. Four elegant pillars supported the long balcony and flanked broad entrance steps. On the first floor, a pierced balustrade with decorative urns broke the upward journey of the eye to the figures of Poseidon and Mercury who supported a banner bearing the V.O.C. monogram of the Dutch East India Company. On either side of this splendid central feature, classical urns graced the roofline.When Lord Charles Somerset became the Governor of the Cape, he took one look at this facade and the somewhat neglected house that it fronted and pronounced it unfit for his habitation. He moved into the new summer residence, Newlands House, while the official residence was refurbished to his specifications. By 1826 the architect on the job suggested that it would be cheaper and more practical to raze the old house to the ground and start afresh.
Lord Charles did not approve of this. The north wing was demolished and a much-needed ballroom constructed in its place. Decorations that harked back to the Cape Dutch style were plastered over or built in. Long Georgian windows were added as well as a low-pitched slate roof. What, to English eyes, had once been a foreign-looking residence, had been converted into a tasteful Georgian country house.
The ballroom had to be virtually rebuilt in 1874 and extra office space was added in 1887. In 1890 a proper banquet hall replaced the wood-and canvas Exhibition Hall previously used for the purpose. Electric lights were installed in 1899.
This beautiful old building was the home of many British Governors. The medallion set in the centre of the balcony is of William of Orange and above him, the two infant gods Mercury and Neptune hold a drape which has the V .O.C. insignia, which of course was the monogram of the Dutch East India Company. The ballroom is on the left hand side and this is where Queen Elizabeth II held her coming of age ball when she was Princess Elizabeth, visiting the country with her parents in 1947. The Royal Family stayed at Government House during their visit and the building dates back some two hundred years and has been added to from time to time.