Port Elizabeth of Yore: Through the Eyes of the Poulter Family

The Poulter Family of Port Elizabeth might not have been prominent socially or in municipal affairs yet through the prism of this family, one is able to view life of the Port Elizabeth of yore. All of this information has been kindly supplied by Dale Poulter, the current generation of Poulters.

Main picture: Louis John Poulter as a member of the Southern Rifles

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Fascist Movements and Anti-Semitism

The seeds of the European Fascist movements of the 1930s were cast far and wide. In South Africa they fell on fertile ground. The burgeoning white nationalist movement harboured elements of these virile, virulent shoots in the form of the Ossewa Brandwag and the S.A. Greyshirts. As the ominous spectre of the Nazi contagion spread its tentacles into South Africa’s political discourse, South Africa’s versions of these thuggish movements arose in manifold forms, one manifestation being Robbie Leibrandt, who attempted to assassinate Prime Minister, Jan Smuts.

Main picture: The Centenary of the Great Trek commemorated by ox-wagons going through the city

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Reclamation at the Harbour

The first major extension to the harbour after the construction of the Charl Malan Quay was reclamation of land on the seaward side of the Charl Malan Quay in 1938. The company which did the dredging, first built a new sea wall parallel to the old one at the distance required for the extra width that had been planned and then a dredger pumped sand from the sea bed into this space to build up a base for the new section.

Main picture: Reclamation at Victoria Quay in 1938

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Port of Elizabeth: Royal Visit of 1947

Unlike more recent Royal visits, the visit by the Royal Family to South Africa in 1947 was a full marathon and not a 100-metre dash. It was a two-month swirl of introductions, photographs, handshakes, toasts and speeches. Even the vivacious Princess Elizabeth, the heir apparent, was afforded the opportunity to make a speech, her first. The two-month long sojourn to a land on the cusp of fundamental change, would include two days, the 26th & the 27th February 1947, to make the acquaintance of the peoples of arguably the most English city in South Africa, Port Elizabeth.

Main picture:
Brigadier Arthur Coy with the Mayor of PE, Mr Neave, inspecting the Ex Servicemen with the King and Queen at Crusaders ground, St. George’s Park in February 1947. The princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were in attendance. There was a garden party in Victoria Park afterwards.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Hobie Beach. From a misnomer to a sobriquet

Officially Hobie Beach is called Shark Rock Beach. But even that name is incorrect for two reasons which will shortly be explained. Notwithstanding the fact that the origin of the name and its derivation is inaccurately attributed, why would the sailors in their billowing Hobie Cats, the gaily coloured visitors on the Shark Rock Pier or the sun-blistered sun tanners on the golden beach care about such historical inaccuracies?

Of course, they don’t care a fig! But I do. Because I am interested in history but not to needlessly pick an unwinnable verbal brawl.

This is the saga both of the naming of this area from a misnomer to a sobriquet to uncovering its long-lost use prior to the establishment of posh suburbs in the area and the construction of the Shark Rock Pier.

Main picture: This is the oldest extant photograph of the mouth of Shark River with Hobie Beach on the tight

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Bruno: A Gobby in the Lobby

Main picture: The statue of Bruno with his gobby ball was commissioned by the Std 5 class of 1970 and has pride of place in the lobby of Herbert Hurd Primary

This is an obscure memorial, a semi private one. It is a memorial to a dog that meant so much to so many children from Newton Park in the late 60’s and early 70’s. In the words of Theo Rjis, Bruno seemed to belong to nobody but belonged to every pupil in the school and Gary Williams who struggled with schooling, “He was my school Prozac.”

Wow. Actually, bow-wow, not that Bruno said anything. He was the strong silent type as Staffies are wont to be.

This is the story of Bruno, a brindle Staffie, who was memorialized by the Std 5’s of 1970 and still lies guarding his gobby in the lobby of Herbert Hurd Primary School – my school.

The statue of Bruno with his gobby ball was commissioned by the Std 5 class of 1970 and has pride of place in the lobby of Herbert Hurd Primary
Bruno didn’t know about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as he was only in primary school, and even if he did, they were all taken care of. By night he lived with the Roberts, his part-time owners, on the corner of Hudson Street and 5th Avenue and by day he lived at our school. If his owners didn’t feed him interesting stuff, then there were more than 500 kids clamoring to see to his needs. If the Roberts weren’t loving enough there was always Mr Presley, the school caretaker who pampered him, not mention those 500 kids. And as for sex, well the Roberts had taken care of that for him.

Bruno’s only need, nay addiction, that he struggled with throughout his life was the need to chase a gobby ball. If it did sometimes happen that he was ball-less when Mr Presley, the caretaker, had run out old cricket balls or the kids were being stingy, then a half brick would suffice. I was also told that when he was caught short during school holidays, he would become a shoplifter. He would tootle over to Hill’s Chemist on the corner of 3rd Ave and Cape Road and steal a used tennis ball out of the basket where they were loosely kept – needs must and all that.

I suppose that there are many other stories, but I personally know of two:
It was around 1968 and Bruno was by now solidly in his middle age. One day, a white bull terrier – the kind with the bullet nose and who say nothing but just take your name down – appeared on the grounds during break. HKGK. Before we knew it, the two were having a rort . They went for each other as only dogs of those breeds can do, with Australian subtitles since they were on mute as these breeds are wont to be. It was a cage fight of the most vicious kind with us forming the cage. When someone eventually managed to part them, Bruno was beaten and slunk bloodily away. We were distraught.

This new dog became king of the school, but not for us. We missed our happy, friendly Bruno and this young pretender with pink eyes did not cut it for us. Unbeknownst to us Bruno was at home licking his wounds, thinking to himself, “I’ll be back.” A long week went by and then Bruno returned. They had a massive rort again with Afrikaans subtitles thrown into the mix this time. Bruno saw off the pretender and was never challenged again. Order in the Universe had been restored.

On another occasion we came out at first break to find Bruno furiously digging around the concrete base of a post or pole that had long since disappeared. This was on the Willet Street side, about half way down the rugby field. That day we forwent our ritual games of Cops and Robbers as we munched our wax paper wrapped peanut butter sammies while curiously watching him. It was like a rort and we boys formed a rowdy circle around Bruno and his protagonist – The Rock. We shouted encouragement and advice but he didn’t need any, he knew what he was doing. Bruno, with his stiff little tail wagging enthusiastically in the air as he scrambled with his forepaws, was trying to dig around the side of this lump of concrete. Eventually the bell went and we trudged bemused back to the classroom wondering what second break would bring. Second break came and we eagerly rushed outside to see what progress had been made. There was Bruno proudly standing next to his lump of concrete which was about half his size and which was now out of the hole. His nose was all bloodied from nudging at the lump but his smile was bigger than ever.

Plaque on statue to Bruno

The plaque says it all:

A friend who gave so much pleasure to so many for so long while visiting this school.


[1] We used the word rort to describe a fight.  Why, I don’t know but there is a dated Australian usage that means a wild party.  Seems reasonably apt to me. 

[2] “I’ll be back” are the immortal words spoken by the robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1984 science fiction film, The Terminator.

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Khoi and San – The First Inhabitants

During the mid-1700s, as the Dutch farmers pressed ever eastward, the only other humans that they came across, would be bands of itinerant Khoikhoi but no other people. Even Bartolomeu Diaz in his squat wooden caravels had in 1488 noticed them in spite of their sparse density. The footprint of this nomadic people was light and easily erased. Never settling in a location long enough to leave an imprint, their influence was ephemeral. 

This peripatetic people, who left no trace of their existence, were the first people in Port Elizabeth.

 Main picture: Statue of Dawid Stuurman

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Kragga Kamma

Up until the late 1700s, this area was teaming with wild game with large herds of elephants abounding. Various explorers and adventurers attested to the fact that this part of the country once boasted incredibly dense populations of most of the species encountered in South Africa. Until recently, none of these animals could be seen in this area anymore. Now, a recently opened game park has put this to rights.

This blog has been based almost exclusively on the Heritage Impact Assessment by Jennie Bennie. 

Main picture: Homestead of Henry Bailey Christian from 1889 to 1892  Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The First Official South African Cricket Test

Due to its overwhelming British influence, Port Elizabeth was regarded as the most English of all the towns in South Africa during the nineteenth century. Therefore it is fitting that the first official test match – of that most quintessential of English sports, cricket – should be played in Port Elizabeth between the English and South Africa.

Main picture: The South African team in the first test

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: From Sandy Hills to Tent Town to Sandy Hills Once Again

For the Settler, this voyage would be the quintessential destination to a terra incognito, not only from a location perspective but also from a livelihood point of view. Most had not been selected psychologically with the criteria of the rugged pioneer in mind nor did many possess any farming skills or aptitude. Apart from the tiny Deal Party, Port Elizabeth, or “landing place with fresh water” as it was shown then on the maps, was merely a waystation en route to the Albany District. As such, their initial impact on this hamlet was minimal; more like that of any itinerant or peripatetic soul. 

Yet their impact would ultimately be immense as those without the requisite farming skills would drift back to the area to apply their skills and their trade. It was only then that the hamlet would be converted from sandy hills into a vibrant fast-expanding town vying with Cape Town as the Colony’s largest city. 

This is the story of this transient herd, their travails and their experiences whilst in Port Elizabeth. By now, the story of the 1820 Settlers is well known and does not form part of the history of Port Elizabeth per se. As such, this blog will focus on the salient facts but not the minutiae of the Settlers’ experiences.

Main picture: Arrival of the 1820 Settlers

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