Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: The 1820 Centenary Memorial

This artefact might not be as well known as the others that have been  lost in Port Elizabeth, yet it could have been if he had not been  demolished soon  after its construction.

Main Picture: The 1820 Centenary Memorial with the Grand Hotel on its left and the Edward Hotel behind the memorial

The celebration of the centenary of the arrival of the 1820 Settlers was held a year late. Instead of the 9th April 1920, it was held on the 9th April 1921. As the majority of the white population of the town and in fact the majority of total population were of British descent, this celebration resonated with the town’s folk. Chief among the guests were the Governor-General, Prince Arthur of Connaught, and Princess Arthur, the Prime Minister, Gen J.C Smuts, and Sir William Goodenough, Commander-in-Chief of the Cape Station, whose flagship HMS “Dublin” was anchored in the Bay.

The prominent artefact to celebrate their arrival, would be the Campanile. On this date, the foundation stone of the proposed Campanile was laid by Prince Arthur of Connaught. The first suggestion of a bell tower to commemorate the Settlers came in 1904 from Rev Alfred Hall of the Queen Street Baptist Church, who planned it for the front of the Church. Orlando Middleton designed an elaborate tower, but it was too costly. The 1920 design was that of W.J. McWilliams.

For the Great Commemorative Gathering on the Donkin Reserve, Jones and McWilliams designed a pavilion for the main party, reminiscent of “old Cape Dutch gazebos or garden houses”. As decoration there was a model of the Chapman and tablets on the piers and keystones recorded the names of the transport ships. Later in April the pavilion was used for the visit of Earl Haig. In July 1921, the 1820 Memorial Settlers’ Association asked the Council to accept the pavilion as a gift and perhaps add seats and a fountain, but this was refused, and the view of the Council was that it be removed. Their logic was based upon the terms of the grant of this land to the residents of Port Elizabeth, which precluded the building of any other structures upon it apart from the pyramid in memory of the Acting Governor’s newly deceased wife, Elizabeth Donkin. In taking this decision, the Council ignored the fact that two precedents had already been established in building the lighthouse and an adjoining lighthousekeeper’s house.

If the 1921 Pavilion had been retained, it might well have been in keeping with Sir Rufane Donkin’s wishes in that it related directly to the 1820 Settlers, but that it is a moot point.

Future celebrations

What is the likelihood of the celebration of the bicentennial of the 1820 Settler’s arrival in Port Elizabeth in 2020? Being of Settler descent, as my great-great-grandfather, the Rev. Francis McCleland, was an Irish settler, I am particularly in favour of some form of celebration. This event would also be an acknowledgement of the huge accomplishments of this industrious people.

Sadly, the answer has to be in the negative. From an African perspective, the idea of the celebration of their arrival is akin to admitting that there were any positive results of their arrival.  Politically the concept of “colonialism” is denigrated as being wholly inimical to South Africa in spite of it being abundantly clear that industrial and infrastructural development were wholly as a consequence of the arrival of these settlers. This admission in no way diminishes the social and political consequences visited upon the other races in South Africa. Despite this self-evident situation, given the current political milieu, it is plainly impossible to celebrate the Settler’s arrival without unleashing the red berets of the EFF and the racist proclivities of the BLF.

Given these realities, it is sadly impossible to hold any form of public celebration of this momentous event.


Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

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