Port Elizabeth of Yore: Early History of South End

South End, as we know it, was a farm, Papenbiesjesfontein, extending from the Baaken’s River to about the S-bend at Humewood. According to J.J. Redgrave in Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days, it was granted by Lord Charles Somerset in 1820 to Gerhardus Oosthuizen. His widow bought the farm from the joint heirs for £135 sterling and subsequently married a tall, bearded Hollander named J.A. Rudolph. When he died, she married William Gardner and only after her death in 1859, was the estate sub­ divided into building allotments.

Main photo: Baakens Valley. C1881. In the background are three cottages (now Harris Street). Below them the old homestead of the Board family. To the right the steam laundry, opened May 1877. In the centre theproperty of John McWilliams (at one time a hotel). In the foreground the property of John Harrison Clark

Until then, South End was merely a farm. On 28th June 1849, Andries Rudolph issued a warning to trespassers:

“The undersigned hereby gives notice that there is NO PUBLIC ROAD in connection with his land, except the road leading to Mr. Muller’s farm known as ‘Welbedacht’ (Walmer) which forms his N-West ‘boundary line. As he is daily losing stock, besides suffering damages done to the farm, he hereby makes known his determination of resisting in future all trespassers.,,. (p.71 Redgrave)

In the 1860’s there were few dwellings in that part of the town. South End was known as _”the place across the river.” The area was covered with bush and scrub and sand dunes obstructed the approaches to the beaches. A bridge named the Union Bridge was built across the Baaken’s River in 1852, under the supervision of Mr. White who built White’s Road, but it collapsed five years later. Until the bridge was rebuilt on stronger foundations, people were ferried across the river by Malays.

The few dwellings which existed were primitive, and wattle and daub huts and tin shanties of Malay fishermen dotted the foreshore. The Rudolph’s lived for many years in Thomas Street, as did the Gardner’s. There was a collect­ ion of tin shanties called the Wooden Diggings along Scott Street and the sea came right up to South Beach Terrace. For many years a large cattle kraal existed on the site of the old Tyrone Hotel at the foot of present day Walmer Road.

The area, with no roads, covered with sand­hills, bush and scrub, was used mainly for the collection of firewood. Large quantities of stone were obtained from a quarry above St. Mary’s cemetery and conveyed in wooden trolleys, which ran on narrow rails, to the old South End breakwater. This stone was used as ballast for ships. The trolleys were drawn in strings of five or six by oxen. The stone was then tipped into surfboats and taken to the ships lying at anchor in the roadstead.

South End only developed when the Harbour Board began constructing a new breakwater. The first piles were driven in April 1862, of the arm which was to extend a few hundred feet at right angles from the breakwater. This undertaking was however, doomed to failure due to the silting which occurred after a disastrous storm in 1867 which all but devastated South End. Rudolph Street in particular, became a raging torrent of seething waters. The houses and roads, built to accommodate the influx of people to South End as a result of the Harbour Board activities in the area, were ruined, but, with characteristic generosity, the townspeople. assisted South End to recover.

At this time, Walmer, as we know it, was still a farm called Welbedacht and development in Walmer only began in 1887.

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