Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Telegraph and Telephones

With the advent of these two innovations, the speed of communication surged by leaps and bounds. The first to make its mark was the telegraph in 1861 which enabled long distance communication for the first time albeit in written form. However, it was only in 1882 that the telephone was introduced to the residents of Port Elizabeth.

Main picture: First telephone exchange switchboard in Port Elizabeth, 1882

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Gas Works

The history of gaseous fuel, important for lighting, heating, and cooking purposes throughout most of the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th century, began with the development of analytical and pneumatic chemistry in the 18th century.  

Port Elizabeth took advantage of these developments when on the 1st September 1862 the Port Elizabeth Gas Company was formed. Initially gas was to be used for lighting.

Main picture: The gas works in North End prior to 1914

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Jews Arrive and Make their Mark

Despite being a small proportion of the town’s population, the Jewish community has always been prominent in Port Elizabeth mainly due to their business and commercial acumen, but they also played a prominent role on the Port Elizabeth City Council. 

It is fair to say that everybody either had a Jewish school mate, friend or neighbour. In the case of the McCleland’s it was the Siesel’s who had escaped from Germany in the early 1930s. Arriving in Port Elizabeth with nothing but a suitcase, Mr Siesel opened a trading operation catering for the black population. The Siesel’s were our neighbours across the road in Mowbray Street, Newton Park. 

Main picture: Western Road Synagogue

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Adolf Schauder

Adolph Schauder is one of a number of residents who have played a pivotal role in Port Elizabeth’s development but foremost amongst the Jewish community’s contribition was Adolph Schauder who, despite being an immigrant, was instrumental in the provision of housing for its underclass and indigent population. 

Main picture: Councillor Adolph Schauder turning the first sod of the slum eradication scheme at New Brighton on the 21st November 1937

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: How Trams and Cabs Operated in the Late 1800s

Much like the current tensions between Uber and the Metered Taxis embroiling the taxi industry, likewise there was a similar tense relationship in 1873 between the various modes of transport and operators with shysters and hucksters prevalent. In this era the antagonists were the omnibuses or horse-drawn trams, hackney carriages and cabs with the latest technology being the omnibus. 

To regulate the operations of the various modes of transport, the Municipality drafted a set of Regulations and gazetted them on the 29th July 1873.  

Main picture: Cabs in front of the obelisk

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Early Hotels

The initial accommodation of the 1820 Settlers left much to be desired: rows of tents in the sand dunes where Strand Street is now located, with Algoa Bay’s incessant wind whipping sand into all the exposed orifices. Some might even have been told shameless falsehoods about their future accommodation to lure them to the Cape. But once they stepped off their vessels, they would have to don the mantle of self-motivating, independent pioneers. The unspoken reality is that they would have to turn a pipe dream of a new life into reality. Perhaps they encountered dispiriting moments, but most would batten down the hatches and endure. 

But what the Colony lacked was proper temporary accommodation in the form of hotels especially for visiting colonial officials. 

With their keen enterprising spirit, many would swiftly erect buildings with more than a passing resemblance to hotels. As Port Elizabeth was the entrepot to the Eastern Cape hinterland and later to the Diamond Fields, it rapidly upgraded these Spartan dwelling into respectable establishments.  

This is the story of that evolution. 

Main picture: Scorey’s Hotel being depicted as the large building on the left with the garden of Anne Scorey just below the hotel

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Bridges Over Troubled Water

River crossings for the early traveller were always time consuming and sometimes even hazardous if they were dependent upon the tides such as the drift across the Zwartkops was. Perhaps that explains the Divisional Council’s decision to place this crossing on its first to-do list after its establishment.  

This covers the trials and tribulations of the history of the Zwartkops River crossing from the use of the drift, to the pont and ultimately the various bridges and ultimately their effect on the ecosystem. 

Main picture: The Wylde Bridge across the Swartkops River. This bridge replaced the Rawson Bridge

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Walmer Road or Berry’s Hotel

In its early days, Port Elizabeth was like a magnet attracting many entrepreneurial types. This is what made it so vibrant and dynamic. Amongst those were the Berry’s, two unrelated families. One made its fortune in contracts with the Divisional Council and the other as a hotel proprietor.  

This blog covers the travails of Walter Horace Berry, the Hotelier. 

Main picture: Walter Horace Berry, son of Walter Horace Berry senior

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