Port Elizabeth of Yore: Alfred Brookes-Humewood’s Benefactor

Alfred Herbert Brookes will not be remembered for his stints as Town Councillor, Mayor or parliamentarian representing Port Elizabeth and he will probably also not be remembered for his numerous bequests to various bodies but should be remembered for his bequests for the improvement of Humewood.

Even if he not remembered for his philanthropy, he will be remembered as Brookes’ Hill is named after him.

Main picture: Camping on Brookes Hill in the 1920s

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Arthur Clayton – Imbued with Civil Engineering Ethos

What all local and central government authorities suffer from in the new South Africa is not only the blatant criminality in the form of corruption and nepotism but the appointment of wholly incompetent and corruptible employees. As a direct consequence, the signs of decay and neglect are visible everywhere.

The vignette below highlights and underscores the requirement to uphold not only the laws and bylaws but the ethos imbued and distilled in them as well as their enforcement, otherwise collapse is inevitable. The fastidious nature of the previous brand of civil servant such as Arthur Clayton embodied these concepts which ensured the optimum functioning of society.   

This morning, I heard the sound of rushing water and went to investigate. I found that because of the water restrictions, a furrow had been dug from the tap into the flower beds.  The tap was gushing. Was this wrong though? A hose was not in use”. It was yet another ironic moral and legal problem for Arthur James Clayton, City Engineer of Port Elizabeth, the man who was obliged to ban, albeit temporarily, the use of garden hoses except for an hour a week. He solved it with characteristic directness. “I told my mother to turn the tap off immediately.” he said.   

This example albeit petty was the moral dilemma personified.

Main picture: Arthur Clayton

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Were Trekboere the Founding Fathers?

Being Port Elizabeth born and bred and being the descendant of prominent 1820 stock, the fact that “other people” could have inhabited this area prior to the arrival of the 1820 Settlers never crossed my mind.  Ironically, I was disabused of the notion that the original residents of the area were English speaking people from England, or Ireland in my case, when I accepted the notion that the khoikhoi predated the Whites by perhaps 10,000 years.

In due course, i.e. years later, the realisation dawned that the Afrikaner must have played a role in the creation of town even if it was not as significant as the English settlers. This epiphany arose when I asked myself a simple question, “How did the  Afrikaans place names such as Buffelsfontein, Nooitgedagt and Welbedacht arise?

The fact that the arrival of the Trekboers was in the 1770s led me to a fuller understanding of the people of this part of South Africa and the role that they played in it.

Main picture: Trekboers

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Taking the Old Fishery Road to The Fishery

During the 1800s the area known today as Hobie Beach was originally called The Fishery. As the coast south of the harbour was rocky and inland of the shore was covered with fine, soft sand dunes into which ones feet would sink much like into a soft jelly, the direct coastal route was considered impassable. Instead, a circuitous route which bypassed this sand belt, was created. It was this road that was the improvised roadway known as the old Fishery Road which vended its way inland before making a sharp left turn towards the sea.

As The Fishery was the centre of a thriving fishing and whaling operation, its lifeline to civilisation was via this non-descript road for over half a century.  It should be noted that minor adjustments were made to this route, the Mark 2 version, which did reduce  its length. However, there was never access to the Fishery along the beach, but only by the overland “Fishery Road“.

Main picture: Map of the Fishery Road

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Saga of Mormon Converts

The first Mormon missionaries from the United States arrived at the Cape in 1853 and several months later were propagating their new doctrine in the Eastern Cape. The two leading converts were Eli Wiggill and Henry Talbot.  As the epicentre of the religion was Salt Lake City, Utah in the USA, the converts decided to relocate to America.

Only three unusual incidents regarding Mormon members will be covered in this blog.

Main picture:     

In 1855, the original three missionaries in South Africa, Jesse Haven, Leonard I. Smith and William H. Walker, went home and encouraged their fellow Latter-day Saints to emigrate to Utah. To facilitate this process, they assisted the South African converts to raise funds for them to do so. When local boat captains refused to transport Mormons, John Stock, Thomas Parker, and Charles Roper of Port Elizabeth sold their sheep and bought their own boat. Between 1855 and 1865, some 270 church members emigrated to the United States from Port Elizabeth. In 1858, only 243 local members remained.

On Wednesday 9th March 1859, the first local converts to Mormonism left on the “Alacrity” for Salt Lake City. Several parties left in I860 and 1861. In December 1862 John Stock returned to P.E. to make more converts and left with them in March 1863.

Hilarious failed conversion
The pretentious Commercial Hall building which was later demolished to make way for the Public Library, was often used for public and ratepayers’ meetings, balls and dances. A flight of steps led up from the street to the main entrance and offices. In those days, the town was visited at various times by several Elders from the Mormon city of Utah in search of converts or straying lambs for their fold where many women and girls were needed to become wives. Polygamy as espoused by the religion necessitated the recruitment of females in greater quantities than males.

St. Mary’s Church on the right of the Commercial Hall in which Francis held two shares

The propaganda of this religious body was openly preached in our Market Square and large gatherings on Sundays were usually held in front of the Court House (which in those years was held in the CommercialHall). On one Sabbath afternoon, the usual crowd of listeners assembled on the higher steps and porch of the building whilst the Elders preached, exhorted and addressed them from the roadway below.

Amongst the multitude eager for enlightenment of this new creed was a semi-intoxicated coloured woman, well-known as Mickie Rhebok, with arms akimbo, prominent on the highest of the steps and listening intently to the new doctrines of future bliss being expounded. At the conclusion of his discourse, the Elder exclaimed: “I hear a voice from Heaven“, whereupon Mickie shrieked: “Jy lieg, ou kerel! Ek is hoer na die Hemel as jy, en ek kan niks hoor nie!” which reads in English: “You lie, old chap! I am nearer to Heaven than you, and I can hear nothing.” Needless to say, she did not become a convert and in the roars of laughter that followed, the Elder’s remarks were lost in the noise.

Loss of children
This is a verbatim account regarding the melancholy experience of a female convert  from the E.P. Herald dated 13 April 1860 entitled Singular and Melancholy Bereavement.Amongst the Mormons who embarked at Port Elizabeth on board the Alacrity, for Boston, en route to the Sat Lake Settlement, was a Mrs Huey and six children. The vessel requiring water, however, had to put in here, and advantage was taken of the circumstances by Messrs. Fairbridge and Hull, as attorneys for Mosenthal Brothers, to secure the arrest of Mrs Huey for a debt of £85 owing to their clients. A writ was at the same time issued for the Mormon leader, Stock, who had chartered the vessel, but Mr. Geyer, the sheriff’s officer, not finding him, was only able to attach Mrs. Huey, who on Wednesday evening conveyed to the town prison. As it appeared [that]she felt confident of being able to regain her liberty [the] next day, on presentation of her case to the judges, she only took one of her six children, a baby, ashore with her, leaving the others and all her luggage on board the Alacrity.

On Thursday morning, through the medium of Mr. Buissine and the Attorney General, she was brought up in custody before the judges in chambers, with a view of seeing whether the surrender of her estate would not be an effectual means of securing her release. She stated to the lordships  that she had left moneys in the hands of Mr Harriers, at Port Elizabeth, for the payment of her debts, and that, so far from her attempting to give her creditors the slip, he intended departure for America had long been publicly known. After a short discussion between their lordships, the Attorney General, and Mr. John Reid, who appeared for Messrs Openshaw and Unna, holders of a Bill for £174, not yet due, a private consultation was held in an inner room, and after a little delay, the Chief Justice intimated that, considering the circumstances of the case, they had resolved to accept the surrender, and appoint a provisional trustee. Almost concurrently with this announcement, it was intimated that the Alacrity had sailed out of the Bay, carrying off the children and luggage of the unfortunate woman, who, on hearing this, burst into a flood of tears and bewailed her sad condition. The state of affairs being thus completely altered, a fresh discussion took place as to what should be done, and ultimately it was decided that no surrender need be then made,  that Mrs. Huey should be released from custody, and that Mr. Harries should be communicated with. The poor woman then took her departure view of testing the hospitable disposition of a Mormon “brother” at Mowbray.  

Petulant convert
In the correspondence columns of the E.P. Herald dated 5th February 1858 contains an attack on Mormonism by “Tammy Coofit” written in the Scottish dialect. The address given is Balmoral so the correspondent was probably the eccentric General John Nixon, who set up the estate Balmoral which later became Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s estate Amanzi.

En passant
The last contingent of converts, comprising about eighty adults and children, left Port Elizabeth for the Great Salt Lake City in February, 1860.

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)
Latter Day Saints in the Eastern Province in the Mid-19th Century by HE Meyer [Looking Back, Vol. XVI, No. 2, June 1976


  1. Details of converts per ship


2. Parties emigrating

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Refugees during the Boer War

Up until the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War, Port Elizabeth had never been inundated with refugees. However the ABW was another matter altogether. This situation arose due to the fact that the “Uitlanders” or foreigners were at the heart of the dispute between the Boer Republics and the British Empire. Being a British colony and as they were often English subjects, the Cape Colony was morally obliged and responsible to assist the refugees.  

Main picture: Refugees from the Boer War living in cattle stalls

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: John Geard – Ironmonger with a Social Conscience

Two members of the Geard family gained prominence in Port Elizabeth – Charles Geard and his son John Geard.  Despite the blog’s title, it will encompass the lives of both Geards. The death of John Geard was an “inconvenient” loss because at the time of his death he was compiling a biography of their lives. Such a loss inevitably reduces the depth of the resulting end product. So it is in this case.

This blog encompasses the two segments of John’s life; first the autobiographical section and then the rest of his life recreated by the author of the biography A Memoir of the Late John Geard from “scraps of paper, correspondence and newspaper clippings“.  

Main picture: John Geard

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Military Road-The First Road up the Hill

One of the requirements of the recently arrived English military in 1795, was a fort on the hilltop but just as important was a road stretching from the landing beach at the mouth of the Baakens River, to the fort.

Apart from its military significance, it would be the only road up the hill until White’s Road was constructed by Henry Fancourt White in 1850. Bookended by Baakens Street at the bottom and Belmont Terrace on the hill, this road has lost its significance when roads were cut into all the kloofs as far as Albany Road [formerly Cooper’s Kloof].

This blog covers all the significant buildings which occupied this historic street. The majority of them have already met their ultimate fate – demolition. In the case of Newspaper House, it will be “demolition by neglect”. Even the last of the historical or significant buildings will shortly be – as John Cleese would intone – ex buildings.

Main picture: 1818 Military map by Lt Wily-Military Road marked in yellow

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