Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Buildings of Mosenthals

During the 19th century and early 20th century, Mosenthals was the largest company in Port Elizabeth. The erection of its elegant head office and stores on the corner of Jetty Street and North Union Street was emblematic of their exalted status.

Much of this information for this blog has been provided by the Technical Editor, Blaine McCleland as well as the books of Margaret Harradine.  

Main picture: Initial building of Mosenthals probably close to the landing beaches

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Land Ownership in the 1820s

Forms of land tenure and availability of vacant land

Any map of the area surrounding Port Elizabeth extending outwards to the Gamtoos in the west and Sundays River in the northeast in the 1820s depicts less than two dozen farms, all with Dutch names. This reflects the fact that from the 1770s onwards the Trekboere had settled here on their quitrent farms.

This fact did not affect the 1820 Settlers per se as they were scheduled to be settled on the frontier, but it did mean that in reality none of the land around Port Elizabeth was “in British hands” and as such unavailable to the British settlers. One such person was Charles Lovemore whom we shall be introduced to shortly and who had decided to settle at Port Elizabeth. Unlike the settlers at the frontier, Lovemore would have to acquire his own land.

Main picture: Map of Klaas Kraal, renamed Bushy Park by Henry Lovemore

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Closure of the Inner-City Locations

The nascent town of Port Elizabeth required labour especially surfboatmen who loaded and unloaded the vessels moored in the roadstead. Initially it was the local khoikhoi who were employed but at a later stage they were replaced by the amaFengu as they were deemed to be more productive.

To house these workers, areas – the so-called Locations – were set aside on the Hill and allocated for their use. As the white population swelled exponentially, they sought land nearby on the Hill leading to the inevitable competing demands for land.

Thus commenced the settlers’ quest to relocate the indigenous people further out of town. None of their petitions could effect a change as the Council was legally committed to reimburse the Blacks for the improvements that they had effected to their properties in the event of their eviction but the residents were unwilling to bear the cost of the relocation.

This blog covers the path from uprooting these communities until their settlement on the periphery and also outside the town’s boundaries.

Main picture: Russell Road. The top of Hyman’s Kloof. On the right is the Strangers’ Location, set aside for Mfengu labourers in 1855

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Jonathan Board – Builder and Property Owner

Jonathan Board came to the Cape as a member of Richard Daniell’s party. Shortly after his arrival he met Henry Lovemore when partly rebuilding the main residence at Bushy Park homestead which had been destroyed in a fire. This friendship would serve him well and he would ultimately marry, Eliza, Henry’s youngest daughter by his first marriage.

Main picture: Rufane Vale

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Algoa Flying Club

Algoa Flying Club, including Algoa Flight Training Division, finds its roots before the 2nd World war when the Port Elizabeth Aero Club was formed in 1929, training pilots on Tiger Moths. The club was reformed 26 November 1956 as the Algoa Flying Club, named after Algoa Bay on the coast of which the city is situated.

The first Wings Parade for 12 student pilots was held in November 1957. This makes the Algoa Flying Club one of the oldest and most established Flying Schools in South Africa.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: James Edward Bruton-An early photographer

Invented in 1816, the first device that we recognize as a camera, was created by Joseph Niépce. The camera swiftly attracted devotees and rapidly spread across the world. In the Cape Colony, James Bruton was amongst the first photographers practicing the art of photography in Port Elizabeth shortly after its introduction. William Ring might have been the first practitioner in the nascent field in Port Elizabeth, but James Bruton was more prolific.

This blog mainly covers James’s life but it does also provide several snippets on this family.

Main picture: Thomas and Charlotte Bruton, the parents of the photographer James Edward Bruton

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Swimming at the Breakwater

Cynics in the 1800s probably referred to Port Elizabeth as the Port without a Harbour as Algoa Bay was devoid of any artefact commonly used by or forming a part of a functioning harbour. But as export volumes rapidly ramped up, the demand for a harbour became crucial. As a bare minimum, a breakwater was essential so that ships could seek refuge inside the breakwater during inclement weather. Finally, a proposal in 1855 gained acceptance. With construction almost complete, at the beginning of 1866, the Harbour Board provided a swimming place for men beneath the shield.

Whereas the Harbour Board was of the belief that the provision of a safe swimming place would receive affirmation and acclamation instead it was the object of criticism. How did such a kind generous offer devolve into its antithesis?  

Main picture: The newly constructed breakwater at the mouth of the Baakens River

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: James Brister

Unlike many Settlers to South Africa, upon arrival James Brister did a tour of inspection  and was favourably impressed with the country to make it his home. As Port Elizabeth was likely to become a large commercial town, he commenced business there in a small way as an importer and manufacturer of furniture.

Today many pieces of antique furniture extant in Port Elizabeth bear the tag James Brister on them.

Main picture: James Brister

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Great expectations but uninviting facade

Like many mariners, settlers and visitors before him, JM could not suppress his dismay when Port Elizabeth came into focus. Instead of the anticipated forest of trees and lush vegetation, all that JM could discern was a stony hill without greenery of any sort rising sharply from the shoreline. As he sat down to record his experiences that night, the word uninviting came to his mind.

On the morrow when he would explore the town, any misapprehensions about this town would be dispelled.  Any and all misconceptions would also be cast aside.

This blog is a brief extract of JM’s journal who, for personal reasons, desired anonymity. Hence the use of the initials JM. The period covered was late 1881 up to March 188.

Main picture: Market Square in 1896

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Rivalries and Competing Visions

Systems, towns, people and religions do not operate in a vacuum. Rivalries and competing visions form the cornerstone of civilisation, and so it was for the infant town of Port Elizabeth. Competing interests without the best interests of this struggling Bay at heart, sought to create an environment advantageous to themselves. One of these competing visions was the most suitable location of the proposed harbour on the Eastern Province coast.

This contestation, which forms the focus of this blog, could rather have been titled “The Tale of Two Harbours” but as I have already dealt extensively with development of PE’s harbour, the focus now will predominantly be on the Kowie Harbour..

Main picture: Kowie River with sailing boats of yore

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