Port Elizabeth of Yore : Volume 1 – Defying the Odds

As Port Elizabeth approaches 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.

Volume 1 entitled Defying the Odds will be released later this year with the other three volumes following at six-month intervals.

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 Beach at North End

The wide sandy beaches that once spread from the North Jetty, next to the landing beach, and continued all the way past the mouth of the Papenkuils River have long since been destroyed by progress. In this case its nemesis was the dual events being the advent of the railways and the harbour works. In essence, the desecration of this natural wonder was due to two man-made causes. The hinderance in the flow of sand due to the harbour works, resulting in the erosion of the beach, allowed the railways authorities to obtain the right to use these once pristine beaches for the laying of additional railway tracks. This option suited their purposes as it was cheaper than the expropriation of buildings close to the shore on which to lay these tracks.

In old reports the curve of the Bay towards North End is often referred to as the “bight”, an Old English word.

Main picture   North Beach, North End 1927

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Runaway Tram in Russell Road

This incident has long since been forgotten by the residents of Port Elizabeth, yet it is often raised in discussions related to tax matters. In particular it is the term “in the production of income”. It is used extensively in tax law to determine what expenses are allowable as deductions. When doing so, the issue raised in the case of this runaway tram is pondered about.

This is the human story behind that tax case.

Main picture: The scene at the foot of Russell Road when a runaway train collided with the Masonic Hotel

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A Description of Port Elizabeth in 1874

In his book A Descriptive Handbook of the Cape Colony, John Noble provides a description of all the major towns in the Cape Colony in 1874. His narrative about Port Elizabeth itself is glowing. However he concludes by stating that the “country about Port Elizabeth is very uninviting.” Included in the blog are the census figures for 1874 as well as a detailed description of the wool washing process which had by this time become more mechanised.

This is a verbatim transcription from Noble’s tome.

Main picture: View of Port Elizabeth in 1873

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Human Dimension of the 1908 Flood

Port Elizabeth was renowned for its severe floods having experienced periodic flooding with the most notable being in 1867 and  1897. Previous river floods had caused little damage in the valley and around the mouth of the Baaken’s Valley as there were no buildings on the flood plain. But this time it was different. In the period subsequent to the previous floods, the lagoon had been systematically reclaimed and buildings had been injudiciously built on the flood plains. This was to exacerbate the effect of the flood waters.

The moniker for this catastrophe would forever be The Great Flood.

Main picture: Debris accumulated against the main bridge across the Baaken’s River forcing the water down Commerce Road to the Harbour Board building

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The Cussedness of Inanimate Objects: The Case of a Missing TV Remote

What a strange adage. More like the title of a PhD thesis in Philosophy than a high-falutin term for the seemingly intentional behaviours or happenings with non-sentient objects.

To pass time whilst jogging, runners often engage in inane conversations about the most frivolous topics. It was one such runner, Elbert Loubser, who introduced me to this concept.

Main picture: The remote that flumoxed the Loubser household

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Economics and Forecasting the Future

Over the years, I have read plenty of articles on economists forecasting the future but what troubles me is why they are so abysmal at getting them correct

Take the crash of 2008. Why didn’t they predict it years before based upon the facts on hand viz the granting of loans based upon dubious or non-existent security? Subsequently why didn’t they predict the rapid recovery – one can even call it an over-exuberant recovery.

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