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.
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
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
The objective of any biography is to obtain an understanding of what motivates that person and how they handle situations, especially the troublesome ones. Essentially what one attempts to do, is to understand what makes a person tick. Even in the best cases, vital pieces of evidence are missing, hidden behind the veil of their private lives. Just ask a divorced person for a resume of their ex-spouse and compare the response with what is publicly known about the person. The mask will slip, and the real person will be revealed. So it is with Francis McCleland except that Francis’ obnoxious actions towards third parties became common knowledge and were not restricted to one person. Being so egregious, the other parties took public umbrage at Francis’ actions and hence his personality – or at least to the putrescent bits.
Almost ab initio, the Cape Colony was cleaved into
two after the arrival of the 1820 Settlers. The Eastern Province separatism originated as
early as 1823. The initial resentment
which inspired separatism arose due to the British settlers’ demands for a
greater military presence on the frontier. Within thirty years, this resentment
was driven by a different set of concerns as the two regions differed in their demographics
and their politics. However, the west-east division was not absolute until it
was built into the structures of the Cape’s legislature with all the English majority
areas being demarcated as being part of the Eastern Province. This was a
prelude to the formation of the Eastern Province Separatist League which
demanded greater autonomy for the Eastern Province as a separate Colony with its
Main picture: In 1854, the Cape Colony was split into 2 provinces comprising 22 districts
Normally women during this era were hidden from the purview of subsequent generations. Whether they are remembered – if they are recalled at all – is through the deeds of their husband and not for what they achieved themselves. But Polly – Mary Ann’s sobriquet – was different. She survives not through some outrageous deed but rather her wistful letters and poignant poetry.
Main picture:Joseph James and Mary Ann Beckley with their youngest daughter Grace on the front verandah at Draaifontein.
WW2 was fought across the oceans of the world. As such the seas off Port Elizabeth were not immune from the depredations of the scourge of the seas: The U-Boat. One such vessel that was sunk off the Eastern Cape coast was the Liberty Ship, the Anne Hutchinson.
The American Liberty ship Anne Hutchinson SS was torpedoed and shelled on October 26th, 1942, by German submarine U-504. Her stern portion up to No. 4 hatch was blown off. The forepart was towed into Algoa Bay on October 31st. Three lives were lost.
Main picture: Anne Hutchinson after being torpedoed
As recounted by Rosemary MacGeoghegan nee Wood
Main picture: William, Elize and Harry Wood in South End in 1864
The original house of the McCleland’s in PE was No. 7 Castle Hill but how many in the McCleland clan are aware that the distaff side of the family for three of the Rev Francis McCleland’s sons, whose wives were all Beckley’s, were raised in this unprepossessing house on the hill along Draaifontein Road.
Whether this house was
built in 1803, as is now supposed, or in 1815 when Capt. Francis Evatt was
granted this property, is irrelevant in the oldest extant house stakes. On either
count, no. 7 Castle Hill is the lame donkey to the virile horse.
Main picture: Photo of the Title Deeds taken by Tony Beckley
For me, Seaview has always been the embodiment of a wild,
eccentric and cantankerous old man. One moment it could be placid and charming
and yet the next moment it displayed its obstreperous wilful nature. To make
peace with such a character, one had to make peace with its mood swings
The focal point of Seaview has always been the hotel
which sadly has recently been demolished. Naturally Seaview is much more than
its hotel. It is a township located on a rugged stretch of coastline unsuited
for swimming but with its own wild beguiling charm.
Main picture: The interesting thing about this picture is that
it is pre-1934. They started construction on the hotel in 1934 from the right
of the hotel as you looked at it with the ocean behind you. The giant Norfolk
pines are not yet even visible, the two structures that are visible are on what
would become hotel land.
John Parkin was the leader of an 1820 Settler Party which
arrived aboard the Weymouth on the 15th May 1820. A carpenter and
wheelwright by training, John Parkin resided at Lower North Street, Exeter,
Shortly after settling at the area designated for the Devon party at Kariega, John Parkin relocated his family to Port Elizabeth where he acquired a huge farm, eponymously known as the Baaken’s River Farm. By the time of his death in 1856, the Parkins were one of the wealthiest families in town.
Main picture: John Parkin of Baakens River Farm
destruction of the St. Mary’s Church was devastating for the community in Port
Elizabeth. Not only was it the first church to be erected in the town but it
was also the focal point of many activities in the town as well as being the
mother church for all the sibling Anglican churches.
there was any beneficial effect of its destruction is that it afforded the
congregants an opportunity to transform a non-ecclesiastical oblong building devoid
of architectural merit into a building befitting its status and not just a
building fit for purpose.
Main picture: St Mary’s church the morning after the fire
One of the seminal events
in the history of the Eastern Cape and ultimately South Africa, was the arrival
of the British Settlers in 1820. Notwithstanding their importance and impact
upon the trajectory of South Africa, no artefact of that landing is extant.
If an artefact were still
surviving, should it not have pride of place at the Bayworld Museum? If such an
artefact is indeed extant, where is it located?
Main picture: The Chapman’s Bell is housed at the Centurion Bowling Club, Lyttleton Manor Centurion