While colonialism’s devastating consequences for the local people are acknowledged today, the museum was established to celebrate the 'achievement' of European seafarers.
The Mossel Bay Museum was established on the 23rd of August 1960 and opened to the public in 1963. The museum did not have a theme, but the public was asked to donate local history objects. On11 August 1978, the Board of Trustees of the Mossel Bay Museum decided to preserve the 'Post Office Tree' and site of the original freshwater spring. The development of this area was approved on 15 November 1982 and on 1 April 1984, the Mossel Bay Museum became a provincial museum renamed the Post Office Tree Provincial Museum.
In 1987, a National Festival Committee Dias was established to commemorate the arrival of Bartolomeu Dias 500 years earlier. This commemoration culminated in the renaming of the museum to the Bartolomeu Dias Museum on 3 February 1989.
The three buildings of the museum were given different themes, namely:
- Granary: Reception/information and exhibitions of the surrounding areas.
- Maritime Museum: The Portuguese maritime history from 1488 and their connection with the English and Dutch explorers. The Maritime Museum also include exhibitions of Mossel Bay and its residents.
- Shell Museum and Aquarium: Sea and land snails, shells, and their ecology. How molluscs and shells are used by mankind.
Over the next few years, the Museum will be working towards developing a new museum visitor experience and interpretation of the history of the town.
The museum grounds are large and consist of various sections, including:
- The Granary: Reception area and conference facilities
- The Maritime Museum: 1988 Commemoration of Dias’s voyage, including a replica of 1488 Bartolomeu Dias Caravel and a souvenir shop.
- The Shell Museum and Aquarium
- The Post Office Tree
- The Chapel
- The Padrão
- The Reconstructed freshwater spring
- Whale watching site
- The Ethno-botanical and Indigenous Field Garden
- The Mossel Bay Archaeology Educational Project
- Munro’s Hoek cottages
- The Muslim burial site
- The museum is situated near the beach from where whales can be observed during June to November. Shops, restaurants, banks, and the tourist information centre are all within walking distance.
Axelson, E. (ed) (1988): Dias and his successors. Saayman & Weber, Cape Town.
Fagan, G. & Axelson, E. (1984): Die Posboom Provinsiale Museumkompleks, Mosselbaai. Kaapstad: Departement van Natuur- en Omgewingsbewaring van die Provinsiale Administrasie van die Kaap die Goeie Hoop.