Port Elizabeth of Yore: Acrimonious Rivalry between Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth in the 1860s

For the most part, the relationship between the two adjacent towns was cordial but with an undertone of superiority on the part of the residents of Uitenhage. This situation was about to deteriorate. During the 1860s, the state of healthy rivalry degenerated into fierce acrimonious contestation. At issue was the length of rural roads that the Uitenhage Divisional Council was responsible for vis-à-vis Port Elizabeth. Yet another contentious issue was the ownership of the tolls collected on the main roads. 

This episode is a timely reminder that rash impetuous decisions must never supplant rational compromises however aggrieved one party feels. A wilful disregard for the truth and the facts would prolong the dispute until wisdom prevailed. This situation is eerily similar to modern disputes about resource allocation a la the NHI.

Main picture: The Wylde Bridge which replaced the Rawson Bridge

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Old Gamtoos River Bridge

Like all river crossings before the advent of pontoons and later bridges, the travellers could only cross the river at locations sufficiently far inland so as not to be affected by tidal inflows while still being as close to the coast as possible. Furthermore both of the ingress and egress points had to be characterised by gentle slopes. 

This blog covers the evolution of the crossing of the Gamtoos River from pontoon to a single lane bridge. 

Main picture: Ferry across the Gamtoos River

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Mackay Bridge over the Sunday’s River

The Sundays River is the Eastern boundary of the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area and is situated right next to the Addo Elephant National Park’s southern boundary. The Khoisan people originally named this river Nukakamma (Grassy Water) because the river’s banks are always green and grassy despite the arid terrain that it runs through. It is said to be the fastest flowing river in the country. 

For many years, travellers to Grahamstown had to cross the river using a punt. Ultimately the need for a bridge was acknowledged. 

Main picture: The Mackay Bridge

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Beach Hotel

The opening up of the shore south of South End to development in the late 1890s, ultimately culminated in the building of holiday hotels along the beach front. The first of these was named the Beach or the Humewood Beach Hotel. In doing so, confusion has subsequently reigned amongst historians. 

Confounding the issue, was the building of separate Beach and Humewood Hotels after the original Humewood Beach Hotel was destroyed by fire in December 1915. 

Main picture: The second hotel to bear the name of the Beach Hotel

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Van Stadens River Mouth & Estuary

Located half way between Port Elizabeth and Jeffreys Bay, the Van Stadens River mouth has always been a place where the denizens of Port Elizabeth could relax away from the hurly-burly and bustle of Port Elizabeth. Initially the holiday makers would have to bring everything with them – from the pots and pans to the canvas roof over their heads – on their carts and wagons. 

Today, it sports rondawels, chalets and facilities to cater for all one’s needs. But what is its attraction is its beauty and tranquillity with miles of sand dunes in both directions

Main picture: Van Stadens Mouth from Cadles in 1870 by Sarah Holland, the earliest drawing of Van Stadens

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Erica Girl’s School – The Early Years

The establishment of the Erica School is a pointed example of what is possible when one person has the passion and determination to achieve their goal. In the case of the Erica School, it was a young woman of 26 who exuded this zeal and an almost fanatical determination, despite patriarchy being the dominant social norm. 

The name of this trailblazer was Mary Anne van Wyk. The reasons for this intensity and forbearance is not particularly clear; suffice to say that she displayed an apparent timidity which concealed “a brave independence and an inflexible adherence to duty.” 

Main picture: Erica School building

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Telegraph and Telephones

With the advent of these two innovations, the speed of communication surged by leaps and bounds. The first to make its mark was the telegraph in 1861 which enabled long distance communication for the first time albeit in written form. However, it was only in 1882 that the telephone was introduced to the residents of Port Elizabeth.

Main picture: First telephone exchange switchboard in Port Elizabeth, 1882

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Gas Works

The history of gaseous fuel, important for lighting, heating, and cooking purposes throughout most of the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th century, began with the development of analytical and pneumatic chemistry in the 18th century.  

Port Elizabeth took advantage of these developments when on the 1st September 1862 the Port Elizabeth Gas Company was formed. Initially gas was to be used for lighting.

Main picture: The gas works in North End prior to 1914

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Jews Arrive and Make their Mark

Despite being a small proportion of the town’s population, the Jewish community has always been prominent in Port Elizabeth mainly due to their business and commercial acumen, but they also played a prominent role on the Port Elizabeth City Council. 

It is fair to say that everybody either had a Jewish school mate, friend or neighbour. In the case of the McCleland’s it was the Siesel’s who had escaped from Germany in the early 1930s. Arriving in Port Elizabeth with nothing but a suitcase, Mr Siesel opened a trading operation catering for the black population. The Siesel’s were our neighbours across the road in Mowbray Street, Newton Park. 

Main picture: Western Road Synagogue

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