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.

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: Richard Attwell’s Pioneering Enterprise

This biography by Eric Attwell covers Richard’s life in Grahamstown as an 1820 settler as well as his later life in Cape Town. The Attwell’s connections with Port Elizabeth in the form of the South African Milling Company are also covered.

Main picture:   Queen Street. The Port Elizabeth Steam Mill Company was opened on 6 September 1884 & the building was designed by G W Smith. It later became the South African Milling Company

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A SMAC in the Face #68: The NHS is in ICU

The ANC inherited a morally and ideologically compromised state, but one which was the envy of Africa in many ways.  It was far and away the most advanced educationally, industrially, technologically and had a first world level banking system.  The provincial hospital system provided a fantastically affordable and top notch service albeit with disparities across racial lines.  With South Africa the darling of the world, the first 15 years were plain sailing and the economy grew significantly.  This allowed the medical system to be equalised across racial lines.  However, the consequences of badly thought through policies, corruption, state capture, the burgeoning of indolent and incompetent supernumeraries in the state sector and the defunct SOEs put increasing pressure over the next 15 years on all state activities.  Eventually the medical system copped it and it flatlined in 2023.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Bureaucracy in Action in Algoa Bay

What one is unaware of is that bureaucracy prevailed even in ancient times. It is not a recent invention and in fact, its application could have been much more stringent than current applications as no latitude was permitted. In many cases, the punishment was extremely severe. 

Much like today, junior civil servants did not have cart blanche to acquire additional or even replacement capital equipment without obtaining the requisite levels of approval.

This blog will provide some examples of mid-19th-century bureaucracy in action within the Harbour Master’s office.

Main picture: Market Square in 1842 with Scorey’s flagstaff in the centre next to John Centlivres Chase’s house in the centre

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Newpaper clippings on fires during 1903 and 1904

Being such a tiny town at the turn of the century, one would not have expected so many fires. Yet there were an inordinate number based upon anedcdotal evidence of the newspaper clippings of that period. Needless to say but this fact was atributable to both the archaic fire fighting equipment exacerbated by the type of construction materials used.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Accidents on the Apple Express Railway

The Port Elizabeth-Avontuur Narrow Gauge line was authorised in 1899, with construction starting in 1902. In late 1906, it reached the end point at Avontuur and officially opened early in 1907. A main line track covers a length of 177 miles (284kms) from Port Elizabeth to Avontuur – this is the longest narrow gauge railway line in the world, crossing Van Stadens Railway Bridge, the highest narrow gauge railway bridge in the world. In 1914, the 30km Branch Line, from Gamtoos Station to Hankey and Patensie was opened to serve this rich irrigation farming area. Both freight and heritage operations successfully operated on line.

Main picture: Accident on 25 Aug 1906 on Van Stadens Gorge on Apple Express / Avontuur Line

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Rishworth’s and other Livery Stables

Until the invention of motorised transport, society had the animal equivalent of the Car Rental Company which offered rental of horses, carts and wagons of a multiplicity of sizes and designs as well as the option of self-driving or chauffeur driven.  Of these Livery Companies, as they were known, the best known was the Rishworths in Jetty Street.

Main picture:  Russell Road circa 1877. On the left is William Rishworth’s livery stable, while on the right is Widdicombe & Sennitt, grocers. Converted from a gorge, Hyman’s Kloof was opened as Russell Road in August 1863 thereby creating new land on either side. The buildings in this street were mainly an admixture of houses and workshops.

Rishworth’s stables
Travellers or visitors to and from Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage invariably used hired conveyances from livery stables in the Bay, the best patronised being those of Mr. Rishworth in Jetty Street. A postcart service was also run daily between both towns as well as being used for the conveying of passengers.

Like the current convention of locating car rental companies at places of entrance or departure such as airports, a similar principle applied in the age of sailing. To ensure its visibility, the site of the popular Rishworth’s livery stables faced both Jetty and Strand Streets. The Rishworth’s stables extended to a street at the back that led down to the sea. Here, spruce riding horses and carriages were kept for hire to the public at any time that they were required. All the other space in this vicinity for many years stood vacant. The old stables were eventually demolished to make room for the spacious stores of H. M. Benjamin & Co., the produce and wool merchants.

Apart from operating a livery stable, Rishworth senior also owned a grocery store and a dairy whose cows were kept at the back of the shop. These premises were located at the south west corner of Main Street and Russell Road. This site would undergo numerous changes over the years. After Rishworth, Whitehead, the provision merchants, would demolish Rishworth’s building and construct a new one which opened during August 1891. This building was later taken over by Kolnick’s and finally it was demolished to make way for the Russell Road interchange.

Fire in Rishworth’s Queen Street property on 28 January 1904

On Thursday night a fire occurred in Queen Street when Mr. Rishworth’s premises, occupied by Singer Co, as a store were gutted. The alarm was given at the Fire Station by the police at 10:27.and the Brigade turned out promptly with their hose cart, and very soon had two branches at work. Mr. Butterworth was also soon on the scene, and took command of the operations. The back portion of the premises consisting of a wood andiron structure, burnt fiercely, and at one time grave fears were entertained that the front portion and also the store occupied by Messrs Platzky and Resenkowitz, adjoining, would be destroyed, but fortunately the brigade were able to check the onward progress of the flames. The damage is considerable, as there  was a large amount of stock in the shop.  It is understood that both property and stock was insured.      

Queen Street before 1906. The breweries with the gasworks behind. On the left is part of “Cannon House”, situated in St Patrick’s Road & owned by William Rishworth.

Prince Alfred’s visit
Tom O’Brien who lived in ‘Erinville’ in Cape Road when only five other neighbours occupied the entire area which was then considered “out of town” was one of Rishworth’s customers. He was a very keen sportsman, his favourite pastime being hunting and horse racing, and he was one of the first members of the P.E. Turf Club. Besides his own racehorses he kept some fine packs of hunting dogs and saddle horses which he was always ready to lend to his friends. It was probably that sporting prowess which sealed Tom’s invitation to a local hunt when he would accompany Prince Alfred in 1860 on a hunt across the Amsterdam Flats near Zwartkops. From which livery stables would he choose to hire a fine mount but those of Mr. Rishworth at the foot of Jetty Street.

The Gates brothers
Four brothers named John Henry, August, Michel and also possibly Johannes kept livery stables in Princes Street, 28 Upper Pier Street, 3 Skipton Cottages on Convent Hill and Western Road. Harry (sic) Gates, the brother of Johannes Gates who kept the Fairview Hotel [located on the site between the future St Heugh’s Church and Pelo’s Cafe] occupied iron buildings at the back of the Masonic Hotel for use as his livery and bait stables. It was Harry who supplied the horses to the sailors from the HMS Raleigh.

Jacobson’s Cabs
Jacobson’s livery stables were located in Queen Street. These stables were renowned for supplying the cab and horse for the opening of the Circuit Court. On this occasion the Sheriff would fetch the judge from the P.E. Club in Bird Street in an open carriage and drive him to court. The attendants were always smartly dressed in top hats and tails.

Photos & newspaper clipping from Butterworth via David Raymer
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton (Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).
Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by J.J. Redgrave (1947, Rustica Press)

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Destructive Fire at Kayser’s Villa in Park Drive

Amongst Port Elizabeth’s civic minded businessmen, there was a local merchant Charles Frederick Kayser. Like many unfortunate residents, Kayser would also suffer a huge conflagration which would consume his posh house Glen Lynden in Park Drive.

Main picture: Park Drive. Glen Lynden on 26 Dec 1906 after the devastating fire of the previous night

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