Port Elizabeth of Yore : Volume 1 – Defying the Odds

As 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.

Volume 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 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: The Railway Line to Humewood and Driftsands

Of all the Branch Lines in Port Elizabeth, this one to be the least known. Initially it was laid as part of the project to tame the supposedly deadly driftsands which would encroach and smother the harbour. To prevent this apocalypse, it was decided to cover this moving sea of sand with the garbage generated by the residents of Port Elizabeth. 

Main picture: The platform adjacent to Customs House to embark on the journey to Humewood

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Mystery Cannons near Schoenmakerskop

Even though the well-known local diver, David Allen, is touted as the earliest discoverer of the guns of the Portuguese man-o-war, Sacramento, there are in fact two earlier claimants to the prestigious title. The first, from the 1920s has a strong family connection whereas the other claim is undated but probably dates from the 1930s or 1940s.

I will let you be the judge of that.  

Main picture: Per Dale Poulter, on the left is Bunny Hodges and on the right, bending over to obtain a closer look, is the elderly Louis John Poulter. Presumably the person in the middle is Harraway  

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Saving a person suffering from Covid-19

This is not a scare tactic or crying wolf to get everybody to adhere to the recommendations regarding Covid-19 but hopefully it will have the required salutary effect. Having had a wife who was intubated for six and  half weeks, I can comprehend what these patients are experiencing. For them it is far worse as unlike Janine, these patients are not in a coma. And the ICU was 50% full.

This is a Facebook post pasted from a doctor in the Eastern Cape.

Main picture: An intubated patient

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Ore Terminal

Fifty-seven years ago on the 1st April 1963 the Port Elizabeth ore berth was opened and the first carrier to load was the Swedish bulk carrier ‘Lappland’. The Shigeo Nagano operated by the Norwegian company Berge Sigval of Bergeson called on the 16th August 1965 to load ore, which was the largest single consignment of ore , 64,613 tons to be exported out of a South African port. She loaded the record cargo in 55 hours at the berth for four days. Due to her size , the J.R. Moore was brought from Durban for the berthing of the carrier as the T. Eriksen was under repairs at the time due to her sinking with the loss of three lives. The ‘Shigeo Nagano’ sailed at high tide at 08:50 am on Friday the 20th August 1965. She held the record for being the biggest carrier to call and load in Port Elizabeth only to be broken in November 1981 when the giant carrier ‘Neckar Ore’ arrived and loaded a record cargo of ore which to this day is still standing.

Main picture:  Picture taken on the 1st April 1963 the day of the opening of the ore plant in Port Elizabeth showing the Swedish bulk carrier ‘ Lappland’ the first ship to load ore from the new berth.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The S.S. Western Knight-The Death Shriek of a Ship’s Siren

So far, 1929 had proved to be a disastrous year for shipping on the South African coast. To add a liberal dose of salt to that wound, at 8:30 on a foggy Monday morning, the American freighter, the 5,779-ton SS Western Knight, would be added to that tragic total.

In the impenetrable fog and along this treacherous coastline, the vessel blindly groped its way past Schoenmakerskop, a disaster waiting to happen. Then my grandmother, Elizabeth Daisy McCleland, granny Mac to us, heard the death shriek of a ship’s siren.

Main picture:  Salvage operations underway on the SS Western Knight

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Debunking Graham Hancock’s Claims

Graham Hancock is a British writer and journalist. He is known for his pseudoscientific theories involving ancient civilisations, Earth changes, stone monuments or megaliths, altered states of consciousness, ancient myths, and astronomical or astrological data from the past. 

Normally when I watch a master magician or mentalist weaving their spell over the audience, my mind is sharply focused not on the outcome of the act but rather the manner in which the performer is duping the audience. For me, Graham Hancock is no exception.

Main picture: Graham Hancock

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Thunderbolt Reef claims another Victim

One would have thought that the denouement of the age of sail would have brought the menace of the Thunderbolt Reef to a close. Instead, it was not to be. Perhaps as a belated swansong, on a calm winter’s afternoon on Monday 29th July 1985, yet another vessel would attempt to traverse the treacherous inner route between the rocky shore at Cape Recife and Thunderbolt Roof. With few exceptions, they would learn a sobering lesson about its dangers. In the case of the Kapodistrias, a Greek bulk carrier of 29,185 tons, it would not be an exception.

How was it possible that a modern vessel equipped with all the latest navigation equipment, could run aground on a  calm morning?

Main picture: This was the last photo taken of the Kapodistrias wreck at Cape Recife. The next morning she was gone.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Little-Known Obelisk in Walmer

Most residents of Port Elizabeth are oblivious of the rich and varied history of this 200-year old town. It would be fair to say that they would be ignorant of many of its artefacts as well. Being unaware of this memorial would not be an exception except that in this case they could claim to possess a valid excuse: its location.

The description of this memorial is taken from Tong Longworth’s book simply entitled Walmer.

Main picture: Obelisk at the Walmer Golf Club

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Building Blocks of the First Harbour

For numerous reasons, Port Elizabeth was last in the queue to receive a harbour. From the early clamouring in the 1830s, it would be another century before the first harbour was commissioned.   

As the Harbour Supplement to the Eastern Province Herald dated 28th October 1933 stated, “

Building a harbour without concrete blocks would be like making bricks without straw. So, the blockyard is the foundation, as it were, of the work.”

This blog is an article from that supplement.

Main picture: The Titan crane laying a block on the breakwater

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Recollections of the Walmer Train

The Walmer Branch Line, as it was known, would only operate from December 1906 to 26th November 1928. During those 22 years, this narrow gauge train would wend its way through to Walmer from Station Road, parallel to Strand Street, in Port Elizabeth to 14th Avenue in Walmer via Humewood.

In this blog, Anthony Longworth provides his recollections of this iconic railway, how it operated and what route it took. For a detailed technical blog, go to ‘http://thecasualobserver.co.za/port-elizabeth-yore-narrow-gauge-walmer-branch-line/

Main picture: The terminus of the Walmer Branch Line

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