By any objective measure, the
first aeronauts – parachutists and ballooners – possessed a death wish. Simply
put, the contraptions and materials that they used to perform their stunts were
below par for the job at hand. Yet these bold experimenters and stuntmen persisted.
Some might say that Stanley Spencer, a world-renowned aeronaut had outlived his
nine lives by the time that he visited Port Elizabeth on Wednesday 2nd
March 1892 and entertained a large crowd at St. George’s Park
Main picture: Professor Price at Market Square in Queenstown
It was a grieving Sir
Rufane Donkin who arrived in Port Elizabeth on the 5th June 1820.
Even though he
had married Elizabeth Markham in Yorkshire under a traditional organised
marriage which was the custom in those times for the social upper classes, remarkably,
he had truly fell in love with his beautiful young wife. En
route back to Great Britain, he had been diverted to the Cape as temporary
It was during the laying
of the foundation stone of a proposed hotel for Captain Moresby that Donkin
proclaimed that the nascent town would be named Elizabeth, after his beloved
dead wife. Port Elizabeth had been conceived.
As well as naming the
town after his deceased wife, he had other plans to commemorate her: proclaiming
of a reserve on which a pyramid would be built as a monument in perpetuity.
The Third Avenue Dip links Newton Park with Mangold Park. Before the building of the William Moffett Expressway, it was the only access across this portion of the Baaken’s River to Walmer, Lorraine and Mangold Park.
Main picture: An overflowing Baakens River at Third Avenue, Newton Park, normally a trickle has swollen into a raging torrent
Having been brought up in Newton Park. I always assumed that I should know the origin of the suburb’s name, but like most people, I am blissfully unaware of how it acquired its name let alone the history of the area. Hopefully this blog puts this lack of information partially to rights.
The motor launch Joe
was carrying ten fishermen when on the night of the 22nd May 1906 it
failed to return to port. Anxious families spent a fearful night hoping beyond
hope that their loved ones would return unharmed. As days passed into weeks,
then months and finally years, would these grief-stricken families ever receive
closure, or would this remain an open wound never quite healing.
What had happened to this
vessel and its ten occupants?
Main picture: Messina Bros
tug Talana, skippered by Spero Messina, recovered pieces of the wrecked launch,
The Joe, in Algoa Bay 15 months after it went missing in May 1906
Before the age of helicopters, shipwrecks usually resulted in severe loss of life.
Without a method of rescuing passengers and crew from a stricken ship, they
were either drowned in the attempt to reach shore in an era when swimming ability
was the exception rather than the rule, or they clung to the rapidly
disintegrating ship only to die once it no longer offered protection.
of the Manby Apparatus was the first attempt at offering stranded passengers
and crew. In Port Elizabeth, this equipment was operated by the detachment of
the Prince Alfred’s Guards known as the Rocket Brigade.
Main picture:Prince Alfred’s Guards Rocket Brigade with the Manby Apparatus
Port Elizabeth Volunteer Rifle Corps was founded in September 1857 in response
to Sir George Grey’s request for volunteer regiments to be established. In
I860 the Corps provided a guard of honour for Prince Alfred during his visit
and with his consent then took the name “Prince Alfred’s
Guard”. Twenty years later in 1877, PAG was involved in its first battle
at which it would earn its first battle honours.
This blog is based upon excerpts of a booklet entitled “The First Four Months of the Kafir War of 1877 and 1878” by Acting Quarter-Master Sergeant H. Stahlschmidt of the 2nd Detachment Prince Alfred’s Guard. This is his eye-witness account of the action during which he was severely wounded. No biographical details of the author have been found except that he was employed as a clerk from about 1875 to 1885 and lived at 9 Constitution Hill.
Main picture: Umzintzani – Prince Alfred Guard’s
baptism of fire
It is a testament to the young John Owen Smith’s tenacity and
self-belief that he embarked on a ship en route to the Cape Colony without his
parents at the age of 15. Yet by the age of 27, he was well-established in auctioneering,
finance, bonded warehousing, construction, merchanting and later shipping in
Port Elizabeth. Before returning to his homeland, his later ventures were in
mining in Namaqualand and the northern Cape.
this a case of the ship’s master being too well-meaning or does this episode cast
aspersions on Owen’s ability after his narrow escape en route to Port Elizabeth?
Being a cynic, I believe that Cox possibly consented to assist a fellow ship in
trouble not for altruistic motives but rather so that he could pocket the £200
offered by Mr. Hume, the Mauritana’s agent.
make up your mind
picture:The Gambia lies wrecked on the rocks at the bottom of
Kemp Road after attempting to tow the Mauritania out to sea.
Gambia’s first problem arose before the steamship arrived in Algoa Bay. This incident
happened while sailing between London and Cape Town during May 1871. One night,
for some inexplicable reason, the vessel ended up some 77kms off course from
where she should have been. As a result, she hit a sandbank on the Northern
Cape coast. Below deck the impact had strained her plating and frames so badly that
she was leaking profusely. The pumps were swiftly brought into action and fortunately
the steamer reached Cape Town safely but required immediate repairs.
the subsequent Court of Enquiry, the Master, Captain James Cox, was found
guilty of negligence and his master’s Certificate was suspended for six months.
As is often the case in such events, even the pointed questions at the Enquiry
had not uncovered the underlying cause of this mishap. As Cox could ill-afford
to run any risks which might raise any questions regarding insurance, he
requested that the ship’s First Mate, Albert Studdy Owen, rather than a
stranger, be appointed sailing master of the Gambia in his stead. As Owen was
certified to act as master of the steamship, the ship’s agent, William Dickson,
sent a letter to Owen explaining the situation under which Owen is offered the
position as sailing master.
to PE resumed
Gambia sailed for Port Elizabeth with Owen navigating. As the Gambia approached
Port Elizabeth in the early hours of the 27th May 1871, a significant
exchange of differing opinions occurred on the bridge. Together with Cox and
Owen on the bridge was the ship’s surgeon, Alfred Carter. At the enquiry, Carter
recalled that when the depth readings were between seven and eight fathoms (13m
to 15m), Owen asked Cox, “Don’t you think, sir, we had better let the anchor
go here? Almost petulantly, Cox replied, “No. No. We are yet two miles
off. The cargo boats will not come out so far”. Owen submitted to Cox’s
statement as they sailed closer to the shore. Ultimately the Gambia dropped
anchor in 5½ to 6 fathoms (11m) of water. After 55 minutes the barrel of the windlass
broke off and the cable parted 20 minutes later. The Gambia steamed slowly beyond
the other ships in the area until daylight when it anchored in eight or nine
fathoms (about 16 metres) of water.
the Mauritana arrived in the Bay there was a thick haze and visibility was
reduced to a minimum. Her captain, Lawrence Macdonald, slowly approached the
shore in his vain attempt to spot the light from the Donkin lighthouse. When he
suddenly heard waves breaking, he immediately dropped anchor in seven fathoms (13
metres) of water. His vessel was only 60 metres from the breakers.
Mauritana’s local agent, Mr. Hume, boarded the Gambia the following morning. He
offered Captain Cox £200 to pull the Mauritana into deeper water. I attempting
to do so, Cox experienced severe difficulties in getting his ship in a position
to pass a hawser – a thick rope or cable for mooring or towing a ship –
across to the Mauritana. At the Enquiry, Cox claimed that he had remarked that “I
am not going to lose the ship for the sake of the Mauritana”, to which Cox
replied, “Oh! Let us have another trial”.Eventually the hawser was
passed. Mr. Owen maneuvered the ship in a very proper manner”.
arrangement with Macdonald was that as soon as the tow rope was attached, they
would release the anchor. However, Macdonald claimed that they did not slip the
anchor “as the steamer’s head inclined inshore and the warp was not taut and
had we shipped, the vessel would have gone onshore”.
the three-mastered screw steamer Gambia swung its bow towards a rocky strip of
North End beach. Captain James Cox cried out, “By Jingo, we shall lose the
ship if we do not mind what we are about. We must cut the hawser”. As the
Gambia headed for disaster on Saturday the 27th May 1871,the
carpenter chopped the tow rope and it dropped into the sea. As it did so, it
wrapped itself around the propeller and caused it to jam. Left powerless, the
Gambia drifted like a hobbled pony towards its final resting place at the bottom
of Kemp Street.
the ensuing court of enquiry, Cox and Owen each claimed that he was not master
of the vessel, but the Resident Magistrate, Alfred Wylde, ruled that the loss
of the Gambia was attributable to Cox. The court suspended his master’s
certificate for 12 months, a derisory period considering that his actions had
resulted in the complete loss of the steamer.
C. W. Frames made attempts to refloat her, but without success, and her
wreckage was eventually blown up. The Gambia remained a feature of the
foreshore for many years opposite the railway station.
the Victim of bid to rescue another vessel, by
Ivor Markman in The Herald dated 5th February 2009