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: Hougham Hudson – Questionable Probity

By being not only a Civil Servant but by also occupying positions such as that of Civil Commissioner and Magistrate, the highest levels of integrity, trust and probity were demanded from the holder of these offices. During the establishment of a Leper Institution in Port Elizabeth, many questions were raised about Hougham Hudson’s integrity, and he was found wanting. Despite these episodes exposing additional breaches of ethical standards and behaviour, there appears to be no ostensible consequence for Hudson but it must have tarnishing his career in some manner or fashion.

Main picture: Hougham Hudson [1793-1860]

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SMAC in the Face #32:  The War of the Wordles

Who would have thunk that a silly but harmless little computer game would cause a rift between the two greatest English-speaking nations.  I refer of course to Wordle.  The outbreak of linguistic war between the Old and the New Worlds has its genesis in the fact that the game’s developer, Josh Wardle (believe it or not) is a Welshman who sold his Celtic soul when the New York Times bought his program.

First, the normally phlegmatic Brits provoked a trans-Atlantic twar when they complained bitterly about the American spelling of the word HUMOR on the 9th of February. Little did they know that the word, humor, was used extensively in Old English.  In the Middle Ages, they believed that a person’s health and disposition were the result of a balance of four fluids in the body – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile.  These fluids were called humors and there was nothing funny about them.

On the 24th of February the New York Times evened things up with the wordle of the day being BLOKE.  This time it was the turn of the Americans to spew bile, both the yellow and the black varieties and probably indulge in a bit of bloodletting too.  To them, a bloke is just a guy but that does not signify to the Brits as they killed that Guy off with extreme prejudice on 5 November 1606.  A few days later Wordle had the poor Americans up in alms again with the word RUPEE.  “It’s not even an English word,” was one of the more benign tweets.

South Africans have grown up in the middle and are confused, particularly my generation who were brought up speaking and spelling British Standard English but are now force fed a diet of simplistic American English without the mystique and eccentricity of British spelling – what’s the difference between practice and practise or does the word end in -ise or -ize.  But we are lucky now with Wordle as we slide seamlessly between the two English languages and can solve AITSA as well.

Wordle has about 10,000 words that are valid entries to stop people randomly going through the alphabet.  It also has a predetermined list of about 2300 answers which will take us deep into 2027.  What are we addicts going to do then, huh – take up knitting when our bladder wakes us up in the wee hours and there’s no the new wordle of the day?  Since the takeover by the New York Times, they have removed at least 19 words from the possible inputs and 6 from the answers.  The reasons cited have been: offensive words straight out of Trump’s and rappers’ lexicons like PUSSY, WHORE, BITCH, etc.; triggering words such as LYNCH; obscure ones like PUPAL; confusing spelling between the Brits and Americans such as FIBRE/FIBER or current news items as in FETUS (which also has the confusing spelling – to Americans that is – of FOETUS).  Interestingly, towards the end of March the woke worthies of the NYT removed HARRY as an answer.  It could have fallen foul of a number of categories: it is offensive or a swearword to a lot of Brits in these post markle times, it is a current news item and, as a verb, it has an obscure meaning to illiterate Americans, or is triggering to some snowflakes. 

Take your pick but The War of the Wordles continues unless PUTIN presses a button which will be the end of Wordle and the World as we know it.  As Einstein said, “World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Mrs. Chase, Mr. Tee and the Toll Saga

Both parties to the dispute over payment of toll fees at the Toll outside the Baptist Church in Queen Street in 1840 were well-respected residents of Port Elizabeth. Mrs. Chase was daughter of Frederick Korsten, the wife of the late John Damant who died in 1825 and then the wife of John Centlivres Chase while the Toll Keeper clerk was one Richard Tee junior, the son of a property mogul and a founding member of St. Paul’s Church in Albany Street, also called Richard Tee.

It was while he was the “toll keeper of the Toll of Port Elizabeth” that Richard was involved in one of those cases which never should reach court (the sum involved was one shilling and four pence!), but which even reached the Circuit Court. As is so often the case in matters of this nature, each party no doubt felt that a matter of principle was at stake.

Main picture: The original toll used to be on the opposite side of Queen Street to the Baptist Church which hosted its final service in 1959  

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Settler Family called Damant

Most settler parties conformed to the rules of the Emigration Scheme that they would be settled in the frontier districts. Having been stationed at Fort Frederick for seven years prior to the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, Captain Damant had already decided that the Gamtoos valley area would be the new family home.

This is the saga of the Damant family of Hankey

Main picture: A farm in the Gamtoos Valley

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A SMAC in the Face #31: Hollow Victory Day Parade

All autocratic systems share a common weakness – they just love martial parades with serried ranks of men and weaponry.  Russia and Putin are no different.  Coming hard on the heels of their May Day celebrations is the Victory Day celebrations on May 9.  This day commemorates the final surrender of Nazi forces in WWII.  The USSR, as it was then, suffered the most of any country and rightly holds the day dear.  Confusingly, the Western Allies celebrate it as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day on the 8th of May when the definitive surrender document was signed.  V-E Day has become an anaemic celebration consisting mainly of wreath laying.  Russians, on the other hand, have used their Victory Day Parade through Red Square to demonstrate their military might like a steroid-enhanced bodybuilder pulling poses.  He could have a glass jaw, but he looks pretty impressive.

In the weeks preceding, Russia had repositioned its forces after its attempts to defeat Ukraine by main force had failed dismally.  It seemed that Putin was opting for a quick small solution in the East which would allow him still to declare victory on May 9.  Embarrassingly they failed again.  This year’s parade was eagerly anticipated, not for the military hardware, but to see what illogical distortions would Putin spew out and what dire tub-thumping threats would he make.  He generally disappointed but nevertheless creatively hailed a ‘great victory’ and devoted the rest of his speech to whingeing about American hegemony and Ukrainian Nazis who seek to destroy Russia.  ‘Russia’ he said, ‘preventively rebuffed the aggressor. It (the special operation/invasion/war – author) was necessary, timely and … right.’  The parade itself was anaemic with up to a third fewer vehicles than normal.  The obvious conclusion is that they are desperately needed elsewhere.  The Russian losses have been staggering – 1130 tanks, 2741 armoured personnel carriers, 509 artillery pieces, towed and self-propelled, 179 multiple rocket launch systems, 156 helicopters and 199 planes*.  To put the numbers into perspective, this represents 5-10 times the equipment owned by the SANDF, working and not-working. 

It is not an exaggeration to state that the Russian war chest is beginning to look bare.

*The numbers have been supplied by the Ukrainians but have been largely backed up by independent sources from photographic evidence.

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Boer War Letters of the Ferndale Boys

A 2nd generation member of the Bean family, Mr Thomas Pullen Bean (1845 – 1925), living in the Sunday’s River Valley area struggled to make a living there. On listening to the advice of his brother-in-law and neighbour, Maj-Gen. John Pigott Nixon of Balmoral, he investigated the prospects of the Gamtoos Valley. Upon inspection, he was so enamoured that he rented the undeveloped farm, then known as “Saagkuilen” and still Crown land, on a tributary of the Gamtoos River in 1885. Initially the family of 10 children, 4 sons and 6 daughters, only had a wagon for accommodation. Not liking the Dutch name, he renamed it Ferndale. Soon Thomas applied himself a main house to be known as the Settler House as well as a tiny 2 room cottage, later expanded to 3. Seven years later in 1892, the wife of Thomas Pullen, Edith Emma Bean (nee Pakenham) purchased the property and accordance to the Title Deeds it is registered in her name. Finally in 1912, a more robust house, nicknamed the “Big House” was built on the property and the original house was demolished. The original cottage is still standing and functional.

Amongst the gaggle of ten children, two sons, Guy Pakenham Bean and Dixon Charles Pakenham Bean would join the Imperial forces and join battle against the two Boer Republics to the north. It was the letters of these two sons which would survive and through the gracious assistance of Patricia Reid, that I was able to obtain copies of two letters written by her father, Guy Pakenham Bean, and one of her uncle Dixon Bean. These three letters provide an insight, albeit a smidgen of a glimmer, into aspects of that tumultuous war.

Main picture: Front and rear of medal awarded to Guy Pakenham Bean

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A SMAC in the Face #30: Adolf Hitlowitz

During the lead-up to and the prosecution of the war against the Ukraine, Russia, via Putin, his fellow travellers and his apologists have trundled out lies ranging from the ludicrous, through the outrageous to, the grotesque.  Russia claimed its ‘Special Operation’ against the Ukraine was aimed to de-nazify it.   This claim served not only as a hastily plucked fig leaf against world opprobrium, but also to mobilise the Russian people.  The Russians react with particular horror at the word Nazi who were responsible for up to 27 million deaths in WWII, directly and indirectly.  To reinforce this, Russia routinely publishes pictures of satanic symbols etc found on buildings that had been occupied by Ukrainian soldiers.  Lying has become part of the DNA of Russians to ensure personal safety, so I would not trust their authenticity.

The de-nazify lie failed to gain traction internationally, particularly since President Zelensky of the Ukraine is Jewish.  In an attempt to bolster their position, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, floated the bizarre lie during an interview on Italian TV on 1 May.  He claimed that Hitler had Jewish roots.

The Russian propaganda machine also indulges in a disgusting amount of bluster and dick swinging about how Russia is going to nuke puny Britain off the face of the Earth complete with graphics, not to mention other European countries.  But even more sinister for the Russians themselves, and I presume captured Ukrainians was a statement by Karen Shakhnazarov.  He leads the state-backed Mosfilm film studio and said on the state-owned Russian television channel Russia 1 a few days after the Hitler claim, ‘The opponents of the letter Z must understand that if they are counting on mercy, no, there will be no mercy for them.’   He then went on to add, ‘It’s all become very serious. In this case, it means concentration camps, re-education and sterilisation.’   Not only does this harken back to the bad old days (not that Russia has had many good days in the last century or two) of the Siberian Gulag but also has shades of the evils of Nazism – a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Not quite the tone to take when accusing the other guys of being Nazis.

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Pinchin’s Ascent of the Cockscomb

Robert Pinchin was born in England in 1824 and died in Port Elizabeth on the 9th May 1888 at the young age of 64 probably due to overwork. He arrived in Port Elizabeth from London in 1849, marrying Mary Ann Burton on the 13th September 1853, Pinchin was a land surveyor, civil engineer and architect from the end of 1849. During the period 1863 to 1868, Pinchin was in partnership with G.W. Smith. Pinchin laid out much of the first streets and properties in Central, Port Elizabeth and became a respected consultant. Robert negotiated a supply of water from the Shark River Co. to the municipality. In 1881, G.W. Smith again joined Pinchin in partnership, at Port Elizabeth, and on Pinchin’s death in 1888, took over the practice.

Pinchin’s interests were astronomy and geology. In 1862 he released his treatise in which he advocated the construction of the Van Stadens Water Scheme which would alleviate the water supply difficulties of Port Elizabeth which did not yet possess domestic plumbing. In 1870 Robert led a party which climbed the Cockscomb Peak and hence would be the 3rd successful party to do so as far as they were aware. Pinchin lived with his daughter in his mother-in-law’s house in Baakens Street and then in 1877 built a house in Park Drive. 

The Story of Pinchin’s Ascent

This narrative has been largely based upon the report that Pinchin drafted for the Herald and was published on the 20th April 1870.  Excluded are irrelevant comments and minor adjustments have been made to spellings and flow of sentences. Long sentences have also been truncated to enhance readability. Apart from these changes, the narrative is true to Pinchin’s original article in the Herald. 

Main picture: Cockscomb Peak from the north

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A SMAC in the Face #29:  MAD Vlad

Apart from the odd granny who was mad, my generation grew up with two other meanings of MAD.  The first was benign and a lot of fun.  I am referring to the monthly MAD magazine which, together with the Goon Show and Monty Python, I credit with helping us navigate the confusing modern world.  It was launched in 1952 and at its peak in the mid-70s was selling 2 million copies.  It satirised, parodied and lampooned movies and the political and cultural world around us with fantastic cartoons during the height of the nuclear war paranoia and the general culture of establishment’s censorship.  In so doing, it provided a teething ring for future comedians, radicals and well-adjusted people too.  Unfortunately, it fell on hard times and published its last edition in April 2018.

The other connotation of MAD was the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction which was a Mexican Standoff with nuclear weapons instead of revolvers in the cold war years.  This fragile strategy proved successful in maintaining world peace and was allowed to atrophy to some extent after the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, it has reared its radioactive head with the unstable Vladimir V. Putin, or MAD Vlad, threatening nuclear Armageddon, the first leader (apart from the Young Un) to do so since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  This is a weak and infantile reaction by someone who didn’t think things through properly, particularly what he wanted to achieve and what would be his exit strategy if things went wrong.  He is now up the creek without a paddle and, with his old cold war foes and political opponents circling, his war chest is as bare as his heroic photos except for Russia’s nuclear arsenal – his ass in the hole.