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

This volume is now available as follows: Soft cover = R 250, hard cover R475 plus shipment costs to SA destinations at R100. Copies of the book can be collected in Joburg from Dean [082 801 5446], Cape Town from Blaine [074 103 7137] and at Port Elizabeth from Alan [084 981 8491 oe 041 368 1304]. Alternatively email Dean at deanm@orangedotdesigns.co.za.

Banking details:

Bank: Standard Bank Branch: Clearwater Mall Account number: 00 294 451 0 Swift code for overseas payments: SBZAZAJJ Reference: Will be provided before EFT is performed

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: Cape Recife’s “Mary Celeste” Affair

The Mary Celeste, which is often erroneously referred to as Marie Celeste, was an American merchant brigantine discovered adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean off the Azores Islands on December 4, 1872. The contents of the vessel, including the cargo, was still intact and useable. All that was missing was the lifeboat.

Eight years prior to this mysterious occurrence, Port Elizabeth bore witness to a similar incident which occurred off Cape Recife when a full-rigged sailing ship named Scindia was spotted drifting. For historical accuracy purposes, should the Mary Celeste not be referred to as the Scindia redux instead of vice versa?  

Main picture: An 1861 painting of Mary Celeste (named Amazon at the time), by an unknown artist

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Restoration of Verandah of No 7

Per se, the restoration of the verandah of No. 7 Castle Hill should not be a major issue. Yet on several levels it encapsulates the problem. The one stance that I have taken in accordance with best practice with regard to restoration is to maintain not only the integrity of the structure but its look, feel and texture. Secondly in the case of national monuments, who will ensure that maintenance is performed timeously but also in keeping with the character of the structure.  This requires personnel with competence, interest and integrity.

This blog underscores the efforts of the erstwhile curator of this museum to ensure the faithful restoration of this priceless settler artifact and is largely drawn from an article in 1985 by Mrs. Rosemary Trehaeven.

Main picture: Portion of WA Harriers’ drawing showing Castle Hill

According to Rosemary, “for some time, the surface of the stoep at the Historical Museum, No. 7 Castle Hill had been giving cause for concern. The concrete surface had developed large cracks through which water percolated whenever it rained. This problem was aggravated by the variations in the fall of the stoep surface. The fall was such that water did not drain away through all the weepholes provided but tended to collect in a basin-like area near the front door from whence it drained down into the fill of the stoep.

Although the concrete of the stoep surface was obviously of a later date than the materials used in building the house itself, there were no clues as to the paving which might have been used had the stoep formed part of the original building. After much investigation as to the building materials which are both available today and could have been used in Port Elizabeth c 1828 1830, it was decided to use red 9 x 9 inch (230mm) square quarry* tiles to re-surface the stoep.

No. 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth Published by the Port Elizabeth Museum Board, 1975

It seems certain that there were quarry tiles available in the Eastern Cape when No 7 Castle Hill was built. The fireplaces in the parlour and one of the bedrooms have 9 x 9 inch red quarry tiles and where the dining room fireplace was there are 11 x 11 inch (300mm) square quarry tiles of a beige colour still in place.

The Settler potter, James Hancock, who lived in Port Elizabeth from 1827 to 1836, is known to have made roofing and quarry tiles as well as bricks. Bricks of the hard-burnt kiln type were made in Port Elizabeth in 1822. In March of that year, Captain Evatt sent samples to Cape Town which he described as “being equally hard as English.” Knobel’s survey, as shown in the map of Port Elizabeth 1820 by James Swann, give erven 3033 as belonging to Philip Frost. He was the founder of a brickmaking firm which manufactured bricks in Port Elizabeth and later in Uitenhage throughout the 19th Century. It is likely that where bricks were being made quarry tiles would have been produced too. Red quarry tiles may be seen used as flooring in the ruins of Cradock Place while in Grahamstown paving of beige coloured quarry tiles both 9 x 9 and 11 x 11 inches is to be found in some of the oldest houses.

The tiles which have now been used at No. 7 Castle Hill were donated by Corobrik. They are 9 x 9 inches. (230 mm) square, a size and type long since out of production. As there is considerable variation in the size of the individual tiles, sometimes as much as 10 millimetres, it has made laying difficult. These irregularities are nevertheless a welcome feature because they are in keeping with the old building. For the same reason, the quarry tiles have been laid upside down to take advantage of the rougher finish and occasional blemish to be found on the under surface.

During the work of restoring the stoep a discovery was made which caused much excitement and speculation. Immediately to the right of the front door (as one enters the house) a door at basement level was uncovered. This door would have provided entrance into the well of the staircase which leads from the ground floor down to the basement. It was flanked by a transverse wall of random stonework which ran from the right-hand side of the front door towards the wall which retains the fill of the present stoep. The door opening had been roughly filled in with exceptionally large boulders and subsequently covered by the stoep as it exists at present.

This discovery of a previously unsuspected opening has given rise to numerous queries as to why it was there, when and why it was filled in and built over and what the house looked like when the door was in use.

In conclusion

As one is made aware in this article by Mrs Trehaeven, the underlying philosophy of the restorer should be to return the structure faithfully back to its prior state. Imagine in this case that the tiles selected were of modern design and with dimensions .8mx.8m, it would have been on a slippery slope to eviscerate the house. That is what has occurred with the houses in Donkin Street. Many people have complemented the restorers yet in fact what the restorers have sadly accomplished is to convert the Regency style houses into faux Regency type dwellings. Regrettably the heavy-handed manner of the restoration displayed little sympathy for one of Port Elizabeth’s primary historical landmarks.


Restoration of the Stoep at No. 7 Castle Hill by Rosemary Trehaeven [Looking Back, July 1985]

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Red Lion Tavern

In all likelihood, this is the oldest hotel / bar/ drinking hole bearing the name The Red Lion in Port Elizabeth, yet none of them has any connection to the others apart from the name. Of the three, the first has the most interesting history but even then, it almost disappeared under the swirling sea of history to be forever lost to the predator called progress.

It an attempt to revive that history, I have written this blog

Main picture: Cornfield’s 1823 sketch of Port Elizabeth with the Red Lion Tavern possibly being visible

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John Vorster in PE: Three Tumultuous Years

Most of the older South Africans will recall John Vorster being the Prime Minister and later the President of South Africa, yet few residents of Port Elizabeth will be aware of the fact that Vorster resided in Port Elizabeth from 1939 to 1942, a formative period of Afrikaner nationalism which Vorster embodied. As a member of the pro-Nazi organisation, the Ossawabrandwag, during WW2 he was detained and ultimately interned at Koffiefontein in the Orange Free State.

Attached is a verbatim copy of an article by H.O. Terblanche entitled: John Vorster’s Three Years in Port Elizabeth 1939-1942

Main picture: Celebrating the centenary of the Great Trek

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Uitenhage Springs

Unlike Port Elizabeth in which no house had water on tap until the 1880s, Uitenhage never experienced this inconvenience. While Uitenhage was established with a secure water source, the inhabitants of Port Elizabeth had to struggle for an adequate water supply for many years.

This secure water source for the residents of Uitenhage was the Uitenhage Springs. Most of the information used in this blog has been extracted from the book Streams of Life  by David Raymer.

Main picture: Aerial view of the Uitenhage Springs

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Early Development of Sanitation

In a large measure, the lack of a proper water borne sewerage system symbolised the lack of development in Port Elizabeth as compared with the home country where John Snow had proved that a proper sewerage system was vital from a hygiene perspective especially the prevention of cholera.

This blog covers the development of a proper sanitation system in Port Elizabeth.

Main picture: Sewer being constructed in Rudolph Street South End in 1904.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The 1968 Flood in Numbers

Harrowing accounts of what people endured over four hours on the Sunday morning, 1st September 1968 are recounted, as they should be, every Spring Day on radio and in the local newspapers. Needless to say, they are tragic and terrifying.  To put this flood into perspective, this flood will be interrogated not from a human drama viewpoint but rather from the perspective of rainfall, isohyet charts and comparisons with subsequent floods

On Sunday 1st September 1968, a ferocious storm hit Port Elizabeth when more than 40cms of rain fell in just four hours, wreaking havoc, damaging some of the city’s most prominent buildings and infrastructure and killing nine people.

Main picture: Flooding in the Baakens Valley

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