Port Elizabeth of Yore: What Happened to the Baakens Lagoon?

Baakens River looking up from the mouth in 1860

Like many of the rivers in the Eastern Cape, the Baakens River also originally possessed an impressive lagoon. Old photographs and painting show it being used for leisure activities such as boating. 

What eventually happened to this splendid lagoon? 

Main picture: Baaken’s River looking up from the mouth in 1860 with Fort Frederick atop of the ridge

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Settler ship “The Chapman”


Whereas the Aussies refer to the Chapman as the Convict vessel, South Africans refer to her as the Settler ship, one for confinement and the other for release. 

This is fascinating history of the 70 years service of colonialism of this renowned ship and some of its crew. Apart from trading and conveyance operations, it was also fitted out with guns for two periods of its life and was engaged in naval warfare. 

Main picture: A Model of the Chapman

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Second Great Trek

Piet Retief Monument in Summerstrand

From the Afrikaner only representing 3.9% of the white population in Port Elizabeth in 1904, the great influx of Afrikaners from the rural areas in the early part of the 20th century resulted in their share of the white population increasing to 29.2% in 1936 and 44% by 1970.   

Over 70 years, Port Elizabeth was transformed from an English town into a South African town. 

Main picture: Piet Retief Monument in Summerstrand

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Town in its Fifties (Circa 1860/70)

The North Jetty

Unlike humans, turning fifty did not imply that Port Elizabeth was approaching middle age. Instead, it was still an age of exuberant growth and limitless possibilities, as it was now the largest port in South Africa, volume-wise. It would take another century for old age, tepid growth and decline to set in. 

This description of Port Elizabeth in its teenager years is fascinating and is taken from a thin unnamed booklet entitled “between 1860 and 1870.” 

Main picture: The North Jetty

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Cecil Rhodes and the Countess of Carnarvon

The Countess of Carnarvon, probably painted in Genoa after her completion

The Countess of Carnarvon possessed neither pretensions of royalty nor naval majesty. Instead, it was a small screw steamer of 100 tons, which operated in Algoa Bay. In his inimitable way of paying scant regard to treaties and morality, Cecil John Rhodes conjured up a masterstroke to acquire land illegally on the Pungwe River in Gazaland, Portuguese East Africa using this nondescript vessel as a gunrunner. 

If this scheme was illegal and immoral, Cecil John Rhodes did not understand the basis of what was unlawful. Would this outrageous scheme finally blot his copybook? 

Main picture: The Countess of Carnarvon, probably painted in Genoa after her completion

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: A Town at War during World War II

Cape Recife WWII Forward Observation Post

Maybe the battlefields were thousands of kilometres distance, yet far-off Port Elizabeth was affected in numerous ways from the mundane to the deadly. Apart from the direct effect on the town, numerous of its citizens, such as my father and many of my uncles, volunteered for active service.   

The focus of this blog is on Port Elizabeth itself, both as regards military establishments, training and enemy actions. 

Main picture: The Fortress Observation Post at Seahill, Cape Recife

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Fort Frederick

Fort Frederick dated 12 March 1905

It is fair to say that the origin of Fort Frederick was more a response to political tensions in Europe rather to local enmity between the Dutch frontiersmen and the Xhosa tribesmen. While the latter upheavals arose as the vanguard of the Dutch boeren [Afrikaans boere] approached the advancing Xhosa tribesmen, the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 had plunged the western world into a protracted period of war. 

This blog traces the fascinating history of Fort Frederick from its inception until the present time. 

Main picture: Fort Frederick dated 12 March 1905

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: PE’s Machine Gun Section in WW1

Inside view of a WWI trench at Massiges, northeastern France

As all Regiments in the Union were disbanded for the duration of WW1, this applied equally to the Prince Alfred’s Guards. On being notified of this decision, at the insistence of some Port Elizabeth citizens, a complete machine gun section of twenty-two men was privately formed. The story which follows is taken from a souvenir brochure entitled “For Remembrance” published after the cessation of hostilities. 

This is a commemoration for the bravery displayed by all of these men and especially to the five who paid the ultimate price. 

Main picture: Inside view of a WWI trench at Massiges, northeastern France

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Effect of the Krakatau Explosion

Contemporary map of Krakatoa

If Krakatau was not amongst the top three greatest volcanic explosions, I do not know what is. On a pure loss of life comparison basis, Krakatau only resulted in 36,000 deaths versus 230,000 for the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26th December 2004. Certainly, the effect of Krakatau was felt was as far afield as Port Elizabeth and South America.

 Even though its effect on Port Elizabeth was not very significant, in one person’s life it was important. 

Main picture: Contemporary map of Krakatoa

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