One forever associates sights, smells and sounds with where one grows up. Sometimes they are pleasant and sometimes not so, but they all define our childhoods and underpin our lives in subconscious ways. The sound of the surf is one of my most pleasant memories as much as I’ll never forget the rotten sulphuric smell of the aptly named Smelly Creek at the shunting yards in Deal Party. But a distinctive sound that I oddly found soothing and comforting, probably because of its familiarity, was the otherwise harsh sound of Harvards flying lazily overhead, particularly on beautiful summer days. Being a boy and a WWII buff, that sound would always bring out the Biggles in me and get my pulse racing.
Main picture: The iconic North American AT-6 Harvard (Texan to Americans) resplendent in SAAF colours
Hard tailed Hogs with their equally hard tailed chicks on the back burbled laid back into town from points North and West, occasionally emitting an ear shattering bark to serve notice of a weekend of mayhem. The Kawas, Hondas and Yammies made a more strident entrance, racing between robots but the attitude, chicks and threads were the same. It was September 1977 and 4000 horsemen of the Apocalypse – well the Nomads Motorcycle club amongst others – had descended on PE for a weekend of exhaust fumes and burning rubber fueled by high octane petrol as well as high octane chicks, brandy and rum – Coke optional.
Main picture: The 1978 massed bike parade through the city
This blog is based mainly upon the reminiscences in the 1940s of Anthony Scallan who was born on the first floor of his father’s shop in Main Street on 12nd October 1952. Below, the sign on the shop front, it read, “James Scallan, Tailor.” This business was run by John’s grandfather, James Scallan, an early Settler but not strictly 1820, and by his father, Patric [sic], who had been born in 1822.
This blog vividly recounts what Main Street was like in an era when most buildings were double-storied with the upstairs area being the family’s home.
Join me on a journey to a long-lost world of early Main Street, not only the buildings but also some of the characters that inhabited them.
Main picture: Brister’s furniture makers in Main Street just before Donkin Street Continue reading
By virtue of the town still being so small twenty-three years after its establishment, it was still possible to print a comprehensive list of all its officials and residents. The List of Town Officials was published in 1843 whereas that of all Town Residents was published in 1849.
What do they reveal?
Main picture: Port Elizabeth in 1840
Often spoken of as “the father of the Eastern Cape,” friend and son-in-law of Frederik Korsten, one of Baillie’s Party aboard the Chapman, M.L.A, John Centlivres Chase was one of the prominent and influential settlers of the infant town.
Despite setting foot initially at Port Elizabeth, Chase’s odyssey would not commence there, but its terminus and swansong would be.
Main picture: John Centlivres Chase
Providing part of the cosmopolitan mix at South End was the Chinese community. Their status in South Africa of Yore was ambivalent; not black enough yet not white. This is their story in Port Elizabeth.
Main picture: Chinese School in North End
Much is known about the 1820 Settler, the Rev Francis McCleland, merely because he was the first Colonial Chaplain at St Mary’s Church in Port Elizabeth and probably more so due to his house, Number 7 Castle Hill. But how did his offspring fare in this new land especially given the fact that there were no school facilities initially?
Main picture: Number 7 Castle Hill, the house in which they were brought up
Even though technically not a “son” of Port Elizabeth, having been born in Aberdeen in Scotland, John Paterson’s influence on Port Elizabeth was profound. Amongst his numerous achievements was the establishment of the Eastern Province Herald, now called simply The Herald.
Main picture: John Paterson
Lawrence Green’s book Harbours of Memory sketches what the port cities of South Africa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s were like. It provides a vivid depiction of life in those days. This blog covers excerpts of his musings and prognostications on early Port Elizabeth’s harbour and shipping activities, its different communities, its highways and byways and the characters that inhabit it.
Main pictures: Baakens Valley in the 1860s
Over the 19th and 20th September 1854, the residents of Port Elizabeth had front row seats as the three masted wooden transport ship, the Charlotte struck rocks at the bottom of Jetty Street during a gale and was wrecked at North End.
Main picture: The Charlotte being battered by the wind and the waves