Port Elizabeth of Yore: One Day in September 1869 in Algoa Bay

In the age of sail, the South-Easter in Algoa Bay could be treacherous, driving vessels onto North End beach. Saturday 18th September 1869 was to be no different. At 2:15 p.m. on this fateful day, the officials at the Algoa Bay Port Office put out the signal “wear cables” for the benefit of shipping lying in the roadstead. 

The only unanswered question was whether some or all of these vessels would survive the impending storm. Later during the age of the steamship, riding out a storm was often gut-churning but never fatal. During the age of sail, it was quite another matter. 

Main picture: Ships in Algoa Bay

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The First Account of Algoa Bay

The fact that Bartholomew Diaz, a nobleman of the Portuguese royal household and explorer, sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa in 1488, reaching the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic, would  reverberate for centuries to come. At the very least, the coastline should have been documented but it took 87 years for this to occur.

This is the narrative of Manuel de Mesquita Perestrelo’s 1575 voyage at the behest of the Portuguese king, Dom Sebastian. 

Main picture: 1575 map of Southern African coastline from Cape of Good Hope to Inhambane

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The 1905 Floods in the Gamtoos Valley

During the past two centuries, the Gamtoos Valley has experienced at least seven severe floods – 1847, 1867, 1905, 1916, 1932, 1944 and 1961. Of those, the 1905 flood was the most destructive, not from an overall economic perspective but rather due to the fact that my grandfather, Harry William McCleland, and his young bride, Elizabeth Daisy, were made destitute.

While my grandparents’ experiences might have been sadly lost in the mists of time, this account by a survivor, Mrs Gillbee, has survived 

Main picture: Gamtoos River in 1903

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Mill Wheels Grinding: Lost in Clumber

Mill Wheels Grinding.  {aka Yenta searching for mills- like any good Jewish Donna Quixote would do} even if she has to scrabble amid the goggas. 

I came upon, {bit Alice in Wonderland hey?} this rather sad mill in 1998. Travelling though the backwoods of Trappes Valley, and ‘Englishy’ railway station some 25 kilometres from Port Alfred, heading west. What attracted me, was a scorched looking tower sticking out above the trees. It had apparently burned down in 1970. 

Main picture: Trappes Valley – mill before fire   Continue reading

Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: Cradock Place

Of all the artefacts that Port Elizabeth has unconscionably lost, perhaps this rates as the worst. On the threshold of the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, a Dutch immigrant by the name of Frederick Korsten, had made his mark prior to the establishment of Port Elizabeth. Perhaps for this reason alone, aside from any architectural merits of the buildings, these artefacts deserved to have been preserved for posterity. 

This blog comprises two sections. Firstly it briefly sketches the journey undertaken by Korsten to arrive at Algoa Bay and what Korsten did whilst in Port Elizabeth. In the second section, it provides an account by the final tenant of this property, who will provide an insight into the treasures hidden therein. Finally the real reason for its reprehensible destruction will be exposed.

Main picture: Cradock Place

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Museum and Snake Park

The precursor to the establishment of the museum, was the founding in April 1856 of the Athenaeum Society whose purpose was “to promote the interests of science and literature.” The journey from this humble beginning to its present home at Bayworld, Humewood, is indicative of a society’s striving for knowledge and a sense of wonderment. 

Main picture: Museum in the Wool Market

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Match Manufacturing

In the publication “The Match Industry in South Africa,” Mr. D.R. Leith notes the following: “Matches were first manufactured in South Africa in July 1885, in Port Elizabeth, by Mr. Thomas Milward.”

After an auspicious start in Port Elizabeth, match manufacturing operations were set up elsewhere in South Africa. In 1903, the light of a new industry was extinguished in Port Elizabeth when the factory was shuttered.

This is the story of why that initial attempt did not ignite a new industry in Port Elizabeth.

Main picture: The staff of the first match factory founded in Port Elizabeth in 1885. Mr William Brooker is seated in the middle, with his son, W.H. Brooker on his right. The other sons, C.F. and A.V. Brooker are, respectively the lad in a hat at the right in the back row, and the small boy seated on a case at the left. The photograph was taken circa 1902. Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: John Paterson vs PE Municipality in 1863

John Paterson must have finished Friday 22nd May 1863 in a euphoric mood. The Town Council had accepted his proposal to use the unwanted obelisk as a memorial to the betrothal of the Prince of Wales and Alexandria of Denmark. So far, Paterson had experienced improbable good luck, much like the Midas Touch. During that day’s festivities, Paterson had been royally feted with cheers of acclamation. 

On the other hand, the next day, Saturday 23rd, would be a stark contrast to this, culminating in a legal confrontation with the Port Elizabeth Town Council. It was marred by an accident which would cost John Paterson the best part of £600, a King’s Ransom in those days.

Main picture: John Paterson Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Woolwasheries, the First Industry in PE

Prior to the establishment of woolwasheries in Port Elizabeth, there were no industries in the town. The salient feature of economic activities was a focus on merchanting and activities related to the harbour. Activities such as house construction, shoe and bootmaking were prevalent but they were not undertaken on an “industrial scale.” Instead they were all undertaken on a “made to order” basis on the owner’s property rather than for stock in a factory.  

With the burgeoning wool trade, various entrepreneurs sensed a business opportunity. Thus commenced the woolwashing industry for which Port Elizabeth is still renowned.

 Main picture: Woolwashing in Humewood  Continue reading