The bulk of the William Fehr Collection is displayed in the Castle, South Africa's oldest building surviving intact. The Castle was begun in 1666 as the second major VOC fortification at the Cape. It is a five pointed structure with six foot thick, stone-clad walls and built according to early 17th century Dutch fortification principles. It is a very well preserved building and bears similarities to other VOC castles in the East such as in Sri Lanka. The Fehr Collection is housed mainly in rooms used during the 17th and 18th centuries by the VOC's Council of Policy and Council of Justice and in the former residence of the Governor.
Until 1811 the Castle was used for many and various purposes - barracks for the soldiers and officers, 3-storey apartments for the Governor and top civil officials, a wagon maker's workshop, a blacksmith's workshop, a luxury goods shop, an apothecary, wine cellar and grain store, etc.
During the early years of the Second British Occupation in 1811 the Castle became a purely military headquarters. From then until the arrival of the Fehr Collection in 1952, the Castle remained a military base.
Much of the furniture on exhibition is Cape-made, dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The 18th century was the high point of Cape furniture manufacture. Cape furniture is of simple design, somewhat austere and often imposing, set off best against the unadorned but attractive settings of Cape Dutch interiors, such as the Castle. Extensive use was made of exotic woods from the East. There are a few examples of 18th century furniture, made in Indonesia and Sri Lanka under Dutch rule. They are characterised by exuberant shapes and carving.
Views of the Cape settlement, including marine paintings, predominate. Though a reflection of a colonial world view, the works tell us much about aspects of the Cape and its people between the late 17th and first half of the 19th century. In the Entrance Hall and Second Room are works depicting events relating to British colonial expansion on the Eastern Cape frontier. Here are works by Thomas Baines (1820-1875), Sandile's Kraal in the Amathole, depicting the homestead of the Xhosa chief and a representation of the artist tucked away on the left. Baine's Attack on Maqoma's Stronghold and Death of Colonel Fordyce illustrate episodes from the Eighth Frontier War (1850-3) fought by the British against the Xhosa. There is Langschmidt's Canteen Scene during the Frontier Wars and I'Ons' Settlers Camped on the Great Fish River.
In the large Council Chamber are early depictions of Table Bay. Of special note is the large canvas by Aernout Smit (1641-1710), showing the bay, the old fort and the Castle, one of the finest late 17th century views of the Cape. Other works reflect the curious though characteristic distortion of Table Mountain, such as the fanciful glacier-like peaks painted by Lambert and Scott in Table Bay, c. 1730. In the upstairs Banqueting Hall are a variety of marine paintings of Table Bay by well-known English artists, including William Huggins (1781-1845) and Thomas Baines.
The largest group of ceramics is Eastern porcelain made in the 17th and 18th centuries for export to Europe. They include the familiar blue and white ware first made in China and copied later in Japan and Europe (Entrance Room, ante-room to Peacock Room, Staircase Room); examples of Japanese polychrome enamelled ware (Council Chamber); and Japanese blue and white plates with the familiar VOC monogram in the centre (Second Room, ante-room to Peacock Room and Banqueting Hall).
There is also a large polychrome plate manufactured in c. 1750 in China for export, with the motif of Table Bay. The wealth of Eastern ceramics excavated in recent years by archaeologists working in the Castle proves that such material was in common use during the 17th and 18th centuries.