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Two blocks to the west of Melrose House is Barton Keep. As the name implies, the style and design suggest a French chateau or medieval castle. The tower, to the left of the attractive entrance, is a main feature of the design. The ivy which in summer completely covers the tower and portion of the house enhances the charm. The octagonal shape of the dressed stone wall round the broad stoep adds further to the effect of a fortress, though a friendly one!
The three circular rooms of the tower, one above the other, are especially bright and attractive with a romantic aura which must have lent itself to many imaginative games among the seven Bourke children. The finely wrought ceiling of the lowest tower room is of unusual and delicate design. Like Melrose House the main rooms are large - the dining-room often sat 30 at meals - and the lofty ceilings are finely moulded. Striking features of these rooms are the large fireplaces with their imported tiles and ornate mantelpieces. Strong hooks at intervals just below the ceilings of the wide passages and main rooms remain to show how valuable tapestries were displayed.
Unfortunately this home has deteriorated, for it was empty and neglected for many years before being purchased from the Bourke Trust by the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk in June 1945. After slight restoration Barton Keep is being used by the Pretoria Conservatoire of Music, and the tones of musical instruments echo through the otherwise empty house.
Edmund Bourke's grandfather emigrated to Natal from County Mayo in Ireland. Edmund Bourke was born in Pietermaritzburg in 1850. In 1871, at the age of 21, he came to Pretoria as manager of a branch of commercial dealers in Durban. In Pretoria he prospered and launched successful business ventures of his own. He and George Heys became good friends and business associates in various fields, which included a gold mine near Machadodorp.
His first home was a small house at the corner of the present Prinsloo and Jacob Maré Streets. With the arrival of five daughters (the two sons were born much later) he needed a much larger house and the first plans for Barton Keep were discussed in 1885. Mr. Bourke went to the Netherlands where the design and final plans were completed. All the material used was imported from England and the Netherlands and a number of Dutch builders were employed. The house was completed between 1886 and 1888.
Edmund Bourke became a burger of the Boer Republic and was a personal friend of President Kruger. Thus the outbreak of the second war of independence, the South African War, placed him in a difficult position. After discussion with the President he and his family left for England for the duration of the war. From there throughout the war years Edmund Bourke sent medical supplies and equipment through Lourenço Marques (Maputo) to the Boer hospital in the Staatsmodel School. The hospital was administered by his brother George Bourke!
In 1902 Barton Keep served as staff headquarters for Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner.
After the war, Edmund Bourke returned to Pretoria to resume an active part in its affairs. He became the first mayor of the town in the post-war Council.
The three prominent businessmen of this period, George Heys, Edmund Bourke, and Robert Hamilton, were often together and became known as the Triumvirate.