Port Elizabeth of Yore: Would 1903 be a Reprise of 1902’s Great Gale?

As Port Elizabeth is prone to violent south-easter wind storms in the latter half of the year, optimism that there would not be a repeat of the 1902 disaster was profoundly misplaced. 

1903’s storm season would test whether the rescue services were adequately prepared when nature would once again do its damnedest. Timeless lessons would once again be learnt and relearnt. Would the authorities once again be assailed by a raft of criticism for their maladroit handling of the situation, be damned with faint praise or receive a chorus of approval?

Only time would tell.

Main picture: Rescuers go out on the line during the gale of November 1903

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Boer War Years

The Boer War, or as it now known, the South African War, might not have physically ravished the town, yet it did affect Port Elizabeth in so many other ways. The denial of the right to citizenship of the Uitlanders in the Transvaal Republic was the ostensible reason for the declaration of war by Paul Kruger on Britain on the 11th October 1899. Instead the underlying reason was a century of pent-up animosity between Boer and Brit. 

Main picture: No. 2 Remount Depot

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Slaves

Whilst the Cape Colony might well have possessed slaves, the establishment of Port Elizabeth came at the culmination of the emancipation efforts by the British government. Hence the prevalence and practice of slavery was not of such great importance as it was closer to Cape Town. 

In 1807 the British government banned the slave trade to all her colonies, including the Cape. This meant that no more slaves (from any destination) could be sent to work in the Cape. However, those who were already in the Cape continued to work as slaves until 1834 when all slaves in the British Empire were to be emancipated. Many of the slaves chose to remain on with their owners while some started a new life in and around Cape Town working as tradesmen. Gradually these people became absorbed into the Cape community.

Main picture: The reality of slavery

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Bus Intrudes into the World of Trams

It was not that the bus was not available for use by 1913 in Port Elizabeth, but probably that the Tramways were myopically fixated on the tram as the primary mode of transport. The buses that they did possess, were instead used for excursions and not as an extension of their tram business. 

This was about to change. Given the buses flexibility regarding routes, they gave the Tramways a run for their money. Then the inevitable occurred. The Tramways adopted the motto, “If we cannot beat, join them.” 

Main picture: Trams at Humewood

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Early Years of Electric Trams

Far be it for me to belittle the contribution made by the horse drawn tram in the movement of residents within the town of 15,000 people, but they had severe limitations given the topography of the town. It was mere wishful thinking that this conveyance could ever service the hill area.

Progress was swift. In 1881, horse drawn trams were introduced and sixteen years later in 1897, electric trams made their appearance and by 1913 buses had been introduced, albeit initially for excursions. The latter two services progressed in tandem until the flexibility of routes without the need for tracks, predetermined that the bus would ultimately prevail.

Main picture: The scene at Market Square on 16th June 1897 when the electric tram system was officially opened

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: What Happened to the Rietbok?

On Monday 13th March 1967, a Vickers Viscount 818, on a scheduled fight from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg, via East London and Bloemfontein, crashed into the sea somewhere off Kayser’s Beach, near East London. 

What train of events was the cause of this crash? Why did twenty passengers and five crew vanish without a trace?

Main picture: Vickers Viscount 818

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Concentration Camps during the Boer War

During the latter stages of the Boer War and the defeat of the conventional Boer forces, the fighting devolved into a guerrilla war with the open veldt and the scattered Boer farmhouses providing the logistics system. In order to sever this supply line, the farm houses were torched, and the animals slaughtered, in terms of the Scorched Earth policy, while the wives and children were placed in concentration camps. Without this sustenance, all the Boer forces apart from the bitter einders opted to surrender.

Main picture: Memorial at the North End Cemetery to those who died at PE’s Concentration Camp

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Airfields, Airports & Aerodromes

During the age of biplanes, aerodromes, airfields and airports were intimate places where family and their friends could view the passengers boarding while standing beside the plane. Today their signature features are formality, impersonality and huge scale, the very antithesis of the personal touch. This impersonality is exacerbated by the hub-and-spoke approach of air flight today.

Without radar, navigational aids and concrete runways, these aerodromes served these fragile midget planes.

Main picture: Avro Anson F1 1143 based at 42 Air School

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Collegiate School: The War Years

It was not only during the six long years of WW2 that the “routine and normal” had all but disappeared, but also thereafter, with its continuing shortages and years of hardship. What the war years did engender, was a sense of connectedness, solidarity and responsibility. It was this civic mindedness which drove the community to surmount these challenges. 

How did those years, fraught with possible dangers, or loss of a brother, father or even uncle in the crucible of war up north, as it was euphemistically referred to, affect one school at the heart of the community in Port Elizabeth?

 Main picture: Senior Collegiate Girls School, Bird Street, May 1924

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