Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Hill Presbyterian Church

View of the Hill Presbyterian Church from Donkin Reserve

Initially the Presbyterians in Port Elizabeth could not afford their own church so they supported the “New Church,” an Independent Church, from 1853. This church was located at the corner of Main and Donkin Streets. Finally, in 1861 they were able to support their own church. 

Accordingly, they built a magnificent Gothic style church in a prominent position on the hill which is visible from Algoa Bay. 

Main picture: View of the Hill Presbyterian Church from Donkin Reserve

Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Advent of Bioscope

A little gathering outside the theatre  that became the Grand

The fact that just over a year after Cinématographe was invented in 1895, it was demonstrated commercially first in Joburg and then in Port Elizabeth, is indicative of the pervasive nature of technology. Moving pictures had finally been invented albeit without embedded sound. 

In spite of these restrictions, people flocked to witness the latest invention which, like all pioneering devices, would be used both for good and ill. Think of Geobbels, the Communist states and even Donald Trump with his fake news. 

Main picture: A little gathering outside the theatre  that became the Grand Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Water, water, everywhere but……..

The Children's Pool and Shark River

In the annuals of history, one of the key criteria for the establishment of a town was a ready water supply. What this meant in reality was that towns were located on a perennial river with a persistent strong flow. Not so Port Elizabeth. This problem was to bedevil its development over the years. 

Where did Port Elizabeth obtain its water supply from, especially in the early years? 

Main picture: On this puny stream, grandiloquently called Shark River, that supplied Port Elizabeth with its first piped water

Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Great Gale of 1902

Effect of the gale

Port Elizabeth is renowned for its shipwrecks. The most calamitous ones were as a consequence of south-easterly gales in Algoa Bay. They are a poignant reminder that in the face of on-shore winds, sailing vessels in the roadstead and at the mercy of the elements, frequently lost their anchors and were driven ashore. An additional problem was that some ships were in poor condition with rusted cables and other defects. 

The most disastrous gale in South African maritime history was the gale of 1902 resulting in the destruction of 18 vessels and the loss of 60 lives. 

Main picture: On the morning of 2nd September 1902, North End beach was strewn with ships

Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: What Happened to the Baakens Lagoon?

Baakens River looking up from the mouth in 1860

Like many of the rivers in the Eastern Cape, the Baakens River also originally possessed an impressive lagoon. Old photographs and painting show it being used for leisure activities such as boating. 

What eventually happened to this splendid lagoon? 

Main picture: Baaken’s River looking up from the mouth in 1860 with Fort Frederick atop of the ridge

Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Settler ship “The Chapman”


Whereas the Aussies refer to the Chapman as the Convict vessel, South Africans refer to her as the Settler ship, one for confinement and the other for release. 

This is fascinating history of the 70 years service of colonialism of this renowned ship and some of its crew. Apart from trading and conveyance operations, it was also fitted out with guns for two periods of its life and was engaged in naval warfare. 

Main picture: A Model of the Chapman

Continue reading