Port Elizabeth of Yore : Volume 1 – Defying the Odds – Now Available

This volume is available as follows: Soft cover = R 320, hard cover now discounted to R390 plus shipment costs to SA destinations at R100. Copies of the book can be collected in Port Elizabeth from Alan Montgomery at 084 368 1304. It can also be purchased from Fogarty’s. Alternatively contact me, Dean McCleland at deanm@orangedotdesigns.co.za or 082 801 5446.

Banking details:

Bank: Standard Bank Branch: Clearwater Mall Account number: 00 294 451 0 Swift code for overseas payments: SBZAZAJJ Reference: Name

As Port Elizabeth celebrated its bicentenary in April 2020, this event has to be celebrated for not only was it the birth of a new town, but it was also home to many of our ancestors. This four-volume set of books records those birth pangs and well as the people and events which over the next 150 years made Port Elizabeth what it is today.

Comments on the back cover

Initially Port Elizabeth was only earmarked as a landing place for the British settlers and not as their destination. Yet in the thirty-year period from 1820 to 1850, contrary to expectations it experienced a tremendous growth spurt. So prodigious in fact was its expansion that it even overtook Cape Town in terms of the volume of exports.

This is the story of the people and events that form the basis of this incredible journey.

This book forms part of a four-volume series which takes the reader on the fascinating odyssey from the original inhabitants – the Khoi – through the town’s development into an entrepôt, wool processor and exporter to its pinnacle as the Detroit of South Africa.

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Fire of 1903 which Almost Immolated Pyott’s Ambitions

To a younger generation of Port Elizabethans, the name Pyotts Biscuits is largely unknown but to a century of residents it resonated as the biscuit of choice. Personally, the Pyotts business has a stronger connection. As an articled clerk with Price Waterhouse in the 1970s, I was allocated to the Pyott’s audit. By then the business had been sold to a competitor and later on the name of the business severed its link with the Pyott’s name.   

The details of this fire are wholly derived from a report in the subsequent edition of the Eastern Province Herald.

Main picture: Pyott’s original factory in Port Elizabeth

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Leper Institute in the Baakens Valley

Prior to 1839 there was no proper accommodation in the Eastern Cape for lepers or destitute persons. Lepers were confined, often in jails in appalling conditions, pending their transfer by ox wagon to the leper institution at “Hemel en Aarde” which was some distance away in the Caledon district.

This blog covers the creation, operation and closure of the Leper Institute over the period 1839 to 1846.

Main picture:  Map of the Leper Institute, Gubb’s farm and the Baakens River

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The First Toll in Queen Street

By its very nature, charging toll fees for the use of a facility, or in fact the “user pays principle” is an elegant method for authorities to recover the cost of maintaining roads and bridges yet worldwide it sometimes invokes the worst of human nature. In Port Elizabeth’s case, it was just over four years after its founding in 1820, that the first toll was installed.

To ensure that only out-of-town traffic would be tolled, the toll was setup outside the limits of the town which in 1824 was Donkin Street. The position selected was about 500 metres from Russell Road as it was in the country.  

Main picture: The Baptist Church in Queen Street

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Special Justices Appointed to Oversee Slavery

In 1806, when the second British occupation of the Cape occurred, the English humanitarianism movement which had been stirring the crusade against the slave trade for decades, achieved their greatest victory. 1806 coincided with the passing in the House of Commons of a Bill for the abolition of the slave trade. As a slave-owning colony, the Cape was soon to feel the impulse of the incipient human rights legislation.

Main picture: A certificate from the Slave Registry Office, 1827

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Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: The Bathing House at Humewood

Of all the artefacts along the southern beaches, the Bathing House at the mouth of the Shark River was the most prominent landmark. Opened in 1913, it was demolished shortly before the great flood of 1968. Controversially its demolition has been conflated with the flood and has even been stated in publications that the flood was its downfall yet in fact it was demolished in 1966.

Main picture: The unusual design of the Bathing House is highlighted in this night time shot

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Hotel in Cape Road, Newton Park

A hotel, now long forgotten, operated in Newton Park on Cape Road from 1861 until July 1902 when it was burnt down. No extant photographs of the hotel survived, nor can the exact location be determined. According to Margaret Harradine, it was probably situated on the spit of land on which Pelo’s Café and Wimpy’s restaurants currently operate. Notwithstanding that, Margery Lochhead claims that it was located near St. Hugh’s Church.  

Main picture: PE Hunt Club on Willowby Farm, now Glen Hurd,  owned by George Parkin

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Loton Tipper of Amsterdam Hoek

Loton Tipper will forever be associated with Amsterdam Hoek. With no bridge close to the river mouth, Amsterdam Hoek was effectively isolated from Port Elizabeth. Notwithstanding that impediment, Loton must have betted on the area becoming a weekend retreat away from the hustle and bustle of Port Elizabeth by purchasing a significant number of stands. In sporting circles, his contribution to its development in the early is recognised, ranking second only in significance after that of Howard Sherman.

Thanks to Jenny Rump for providing me with all the articles and other information enabling me to write this blog.

Main picture: Weekend and holiday cottages along the Swartkops River

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Status and Governance

By any measure, in 1804, when Uitenhage was established, its future outlook was more sanguine than that of Port Elizabeth as the scene that greeted visitors to Uitenhage was the plenitude of fresh water and verdant countryside as opposed to decrepit shacks on the coast. Being cognisant of realties, in 1804 Port Elizabeth automatically became part of the Uitenhage District.

The blog covers the status and governance of this seaside hamlet as it grew first into a town and finally into a city.

Main picture: Watercolour entitled ‘View of Port Elizabeth from upper Russell Road’ by Lester Oliver in 1854

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Howard Sherman – The Consummate All-Round Sportsman

For the most part, sport in the nineteenth century was an amateur activity with significant prizes not being awarded to winners. Even sixty years ago, many international sportsmen were compelled to be employed fulltime in some other profession. In other words, sport was not a paying occupation but rather performed almost as a labour of love. This was the milieu into which Howard Sherman was born yet he thrived.

Main picture: Howard Sherman 1861-1935

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Grey Institute – The Tumultuous First Three Decades

In tracing the arc of the development of the schooling system in Port Elizabeth, one rapidly focuses on the first school of significance: The Grey Institute on the Hill. Ultimately the precursor for the more spacious Grey High School situated in Mill Park, the Grey Institute laid the foundation for this venerable institution.

In order to fully operationalise their vision of having a central “campus” with outlying feeder schools, would take twenty tumultuous years. Finally, by placing the organisation of the school under the microscope, it reveals an educational system diametrically opposed in many ways to the present method of operation and its attendant rules and regulations.

Main picture: An early photograph of the Grey Institute in Belmont Terrace before the clock tower was added in 1875

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