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
As Jon Inggs acknowledges in his enlightening thesis on the development of the harbour until 1870, “Nothing was done to improve landing facilities at Algoa Bay before 1820 apart from setting up a flagpost on the landing beach with the dual role of marker and signal as to whether it was safe to land or not”.
What would be done, if anything, over the first decade from 1820 to 1830 in order to improve matters for shipping in Algoa Bay?
Main picture: Port Elizabeth from the shipping in 1850 by HWHC Piers [NMM Art Museum]
I am increasingly of the opinion that the wearing of masks is an imperative. I have just finished listening to a Czech doctor who said that it is mandatory to wear masks the moment they step outside and their infection rate is testimony to those measures. I’m not talking about the N95 mask but the ordinary pleated mask. Its all about risk reduction.
At the turn of the 20th
century, Port Elizabeth still did not possess a harbour. For fifty years no progress
had been made in spite of a barrage of
requests. In 1905 the Cape Government submitted three proposals to a commission
of engineers in London to adjudicate them.
The commission recommended
the submission by Coode, Son and Matthew but would this proposal be the plan to
eventually be executed?
Main picture: Proposed new dock at Port Elizabeth with the outer wharf at North End
Far be it for me to impugn the motives of the Port
Elizabeth Harbour Board for requesting an eminent harbour engineer, Mr. C.W. Methven, to report on the practicability
of building a harbour at the mouth of the Swartkops River. Accordingly I will
not speculate as to their rationale but rather assume that the issue regarding
silting would forever bedevil the construction of a breakwater at or in close proximity
to the existing jetties and landing beaches.
Despite a breakwater being
a critical component of a harbour, Port
Elizabeth was deprived of one until the 1920s. That consigned the unloading of
the ships to be performed in the roadstead, an archaic practice, long since
abandoned by other ports.
The initial attempt at
building a breakwater in 1856 was disastrous as it became unusable due to
silting after the flood in 1867. It would be fifty years before another attempt
would be made to construct the breakwater.
Main picture: Breakwater with the Charl Malan Quay still under
In the midst of the
Coronavirus epidemic ravaging the world, South Africa will have to brace itself
for a tsunami of dead bodies. Given crowding in the townships and on the public
transport, social distancing is impractical. The last time that South Africa experienced
such a pandemic was in 1918 which resulted in at least an estimated 500 000
How did this pandemic
affect Port Elizabeth? And what lessons can be learnt?
Main picture: Mouth of the Shark River in Humewood with Lazaretto Contagious Diseases Hospital
When I was directed by an email
link to this video (https://www.youtube.com/embed/BC1l4geSTP8)
I thought I had been sneakily misdirected to a televangelist’s video – he
looked just like your common or garden mercenary TV pastor/charlatan.
I must admit that I did not get
past the first minute of his presentation when his earnest piercing eyes forced
me to shut him down before I did the coyote trick and chewed my arm off. So, this will not be a comprehensive
refutation of his claims but I got enough of his drift and arguments early on
and I did not wish to waste my life any further than I had to. It’s all been said before.
If one doubts the terrible economic consequences of the disease, then these Nasa photos will jolt you out of your complacency. They show the amount of Nitrogen Oxide in the atmosphere which is primary due to the usage of motor cars but also any industrial process that burns fuels at high temperatures.
The first photo overs a period in January before lockdown – voluntary as well as involuntary – and the second covers the period after it has taken effect.
Amongst the many iconic buildings in Main Street during the mid-1980s was this building. Originally built in 1937, it underwent a major upgrade in the 1950s and a minor one in the 1960s.
Main picture: OK Bazaars building in 1938
The original building, designed by Jones and McWilliams in the Art Deco style, was constructed in 1936/7. The iconic Lombard Chambers, designed by my great great grandfather on the distaff side of the family, George Dix-Peek, was built in 1879. This building was demolished to make way for the OK Bazaars.
The OK Bazaars building was one of very few to have used glazed ceramic tiles as a decorative finish, an element that was used for decoration a great deal in Art Deco buildings especially in Britain.
The 2 storey Aegis Assurance and Trust building was originally sandwiched between the Lombard Chambers and the Mutual Arcade (original building date unknown). It had a 3rd storey added in 1923. This building was demolished in 1956 when OK was extended north up Main Street. The contract for this extension was awarded to one of the top building contractors of that era, JJ, Ruddy & Sons, who appointed my father, Harry Clifford McCleland, as site foreman
During the 1960s, some modifiations were made to this building. The first-floor restaurant over the canopy was removed and the fins, which were taller and had flagpoles attached to the top, were shortened and the capping slab added.
On the 13th January 1934, the Japanese freighter ‘Paris Maru’ of 7,197
tons bound for Cape Town struck Roman Rock which is situated at the bell buoy
off Summerstrand after leaving port. Badly holed, she made a dash for port and
unfortunately she did not make it. The vessel sank just outside the Port
Elizabeth harbour entrance. The wreck became a hazard for shipping and had to
be blown up.