Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: Customs House

Customs House with its tower which was removed later on before 1925

Of all the historical artefacts to have been lost in Port Elizabeth, the destruction of the old Customs House must be the most significant. Its demise was being badly damaged by fire in 1978. Attempts to save the building failed and it was demolished in 1982.

Main picture: Customs House with its tower which was removed after a flood in 1908

Original Customs House

When Port Elizabeth’s first customs official, William Dunn (1821-27), arrived in December 1821, he was given one of the old wooden garrison buildings dating back to the first British occupation (1795-1803) to use as a customs house. By February 1822, however, a quote of R$34500 for a new building was accepted from H Schutte. But a delayed start saw the government take the opportunity in April 1823 to order Schutte to build it at the Kowie instead. Construction started there in August 1824 and the building was completed by the end of the year. Thus Dunn was left with the old military building. In 1824 a request for a new building was supported by the local landdrost, J G Cuyler, but Dunn had to be satisfied with permission being granted in April 1825 for him to hire Hunt’s house as a combination customs house, post office and residence. The annual rent was R$60.

By 1826 support for the Kowie as the major eastern Cape port was on the wane. The commissioners of inquiry decided that a collector should be appointed at Port Elizabeth and a separate customs house established where “the custom duties received in the eastern province may be accounted for in the same manner as those in Cape Town.” They felt Algoa Bay was more “attractive to shipping” in addition to being close to Uitenhage where they proposed to have the seat of government. It was recommended, however, that a customs officer continued to be appointed at Port Frances, “who should report to and act under the orders of the collector at Port Elizabeth“. The whole move was to be financed by trimming £900 off the salaries of customs and port officials in the western Cape.

D P Francis was appointed Port Elizabeth’s first collector of customs and port captain in 1828. By 1831 it was decided to create the separate post of harbour master. Edward Wallace duly arrived in November and took over the port office from Francis. But it was found that the customs office was too small for both of them. Thus Francis suggested that Wallace operate from the two buildings used to house the port boatmen which was conveniently near the landing beach.

St. Mary's Church on the right of the Commercial Hall in which Francis held two shares

The Commercial Hall, in the middle of the photo, was used as the Customs House prior to the construction of the first purpose built Customs House. The Commercial Hall is situated on the site on which the Library would be built, opposite St Mary’s Church

Fifteen years later Port Elizabeth still did not have a customs house specifically built as one. Early in 1846 the customs department moved into a wing of the recently completed Commercial Hall which it rented for £45 a year. The other wing was occupied by a reading club for £30 a year. However, the centre room, one of the largest in the eastern Cape, had never been put to the use for which it had been designed. In August 1846 tenders were called for it and the south wing’s hire.

Charles Inggs

Charles Inggs

Eventually in 1865 a start was made on constructing a customs house. The foundation stone was laid by the sub-collector, F B Pinney, on March 22. Situated on the corner of Fleming and North Union Streets, this land belonged to William Fleming. The Italian-style building was designed by Alfred Warren and built by Charles Inggs but objections from the government had seen it reduced from three to two floors. The building was handed over to the customs department on June 18, 1866, ” ‘replete with every convenience,’ and a credit to its designer, Mr. A. Warren, and Mr Inngs (sic), the builder.

Original purpose built Customs House

Original purpose built Customs House at the corner of Fleming and North Union Streets, In 1922, a third floor was added.

The New Customs House

At a Town Council meeting on the 2nd October 1889, after a letter from H.S. Greaves, Colonial Architect, of the Public Works Department in Cape Town, was read, it was agreed that the Government could have reclaimed land at the bottom of Jetty Street on which to build a permanent custom house. Foundations were commenced on 20th November 1889, and Captain Young moved into his office in March 1891.

 

View of Customs House from the other side

View of Customs House from the other side

The Harbour Board advertised its move into the new building in 1893. The customs house created a most imposing entrance to Port Elizabeth.

It was located on ground reclaimed from the sea at the foot of the North Jetty. It was constructed in 1891 on the site of the “Captains Rest Rooms” which was patronised by the seafaring folk. The sea used to wash almost to its walls but now, due to reclamation for the Charl Malan Quay in 1933, the sea has been pushed back about 137.16 metres.

Originally the Customs House occupied pride of place on the shoreline of the North Jetty but was now not quite as prominent as before.

Customs House with its tower

drawing-of-customs-huse-port-elizabeth-signed-h-s-greaves-p-w-d-supplement-to-eastern-province-herald-mar-2nd-1891

Drawing of the Customs House signed H.S. Greaves [Public Works Department]. A supplement to Eastern Province Herald dated 2nd March 1891. Note the impressive tower

Custom's House

Custom’s House

The Customs House was situated at the main entrance to the Port Elizabeth harbour. This is an imposing assortment of buildings, erected under the supervision of the Public Works Department, containing various offices for the examination of luggage and goods. The design architect was Adolph Gislingham Howard.

customs-house-building-c-189502

customs-house-building-c-1895

customs-house-as-completed-in-1891

After the removal of the Tower

After the 1908 flood, the tower was thought to be unstable and it was removed. Exactly how the flood affected the tower is unknown but a priceless artefact was lost.

Customs House-sketch by Tony Grogan

Customs House – sketch by Tony Grogan

 

Customs House decorated for the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1925. The dome has been removed

The Customs House decorated for the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1925.

 

Customs House after 1906 but before 1923

Customs House after 1906 but before 1923

 

View of the Custom's House from the sea front being towered over by the Campanile

View of the Custom’s House from the sea front being towered over by the Campanile

 

customs-house-building03

The Customs House prior to the construction of the Charl Malan Quay in 1933

 

customs-house-next-to-the-campanile-and-station-building-in-this-beautiful-painting-by-ron-belling

In this beautiful painting by Ron Belling, the Customs House can be seen next to the Campanile and the Station Building

customs-house-building03

After the construction of the Charl Malan Quay in 1934

the-campanile-viewed-from-the-other-side-with-the-customs-house-to-the-right-of-it-on-the-right-the-old-albany-hotel-can-be-seen

To the right of the Campanile, the Customs House can be viewed just beyond the old Albany Hotel

 

1959-view-of-the-campanile-and-customs-house

In this 1959 view of the Campanile, portion of Customs House can be seen on the right sans tower

 

The Campinale viewed from the jetty with the Customs House to the left of it behind the customs house the old Astra Theatre can beseen

The Campanile viewed from the jetty with the Customs House to the left of it behind the Customs House, the old Astra Theatre can be seen

 

The Campanile viewed-from-the-other-side-with-the-customs-house-to-the-right-of-it-on-the-right-the-old-albany-hotel-can-be-seen

The Campanile viewed from the other side with the Customs House to the right of it. On its right, the old Albany Hotel can be seen.

The Coat of Arms on the Customs House, which have been brought from the original Fleming Street custom house, was removed in 1961 and destroyed.

The Final Years

Customs House shortly before the Settlers Highway was build. The Albany Hotel and the Astra Theatre have already been demolished

Customs House shortly before the Settlers Highway was build. The Albany Hotel and the Astra Theatre have already been demolished

 

The last days of the Customs House behind the then newly build Settlers Highway

The last days of the Customs House behind the then newly build Settlers Highway

Badly damaged by fire in 1978, attempts to save the building failed and it was demolished in 1982.

Customs House today

Google Streetview of where the Customs House used to b located - October 2014

Google Streetview of where the Customs House used to b located – October 2014

 Gravestone on Charles InggsSources:

http://www.artefacts.co.za/main/Buildings/bldgframes.php?bldgid=10085

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine

First purposely built Customs House at PE from the thesis of Jon Inggs at Rhodes in the 1970s, “Liverpool of the Cape: Port Elizabeth harbour development 1820-70“, MA thesis, Rhodes University, 1986, pp 260-61.

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2 Comments

  1. Dean I have only just recently come across your Port Elizabeth blog – fascinating stuff indeed!

    Here is an extract on the first purposely built Customs House at PE from my thesis at Rhodes in the 1970s: Jon Inggs, “Liverpool of the Cape: Port Elizabeth harbour development 1820-70”, MA thesis, Rhodes University, 1976, pp 260-61.

    I have a photograph if you want to use it and the information for you blog.

    The builder, Charles Inggs (1815-69), is my ggg-grandfather who arrived in PE on the SS Indian Queen with his family in July 1858. Supposedly the coat-of-arms he created for the building was transferred to the new Customs House in the 1890s.

    Keep up the good work!
    Jon Inggs

    Appendix 9
    9.9 CUSTOMS HOUSE:

    When Port Elizabeth’s first customs official, William Dunn (1821-27), arrived in December 1821, he was given one of the old wooden garrison buildings dating back to the first British occupation (1795-1803) to use as a customs house.(174) By February 1822, however, a quote of R$34500 for a new building was accepted from H Schutte.(175) But a delayed start saw the government take the opportunity in April 1823 to order Schutte to build it at the Kowie instead.[ 176] Construction started there in August 1824 and the building was completed by the end of the year.[177] Thus Dunn was left with the old military building. In 1824 a request for a new building was supported by the local landdrost, J G Cuyler, but Dunn had to be satisfied with permission being granted in April 1825 for him to hire Hunt’s house as a combination customs house, post office and residence. The annual rent was R$60.(178)

    By 1826 support for the Kowie as the major eastern Cape port was on the wane. The commissioners of inquiry decided that a collector should be appointed at Port Elizabeth and a separate customs house established where “the custom duties received in the eastern province may be accounted for in the same manner as those in Cape Town.”(179) They felt Algoa Bay was more “attractive to shipping” in addition to being close to Uitenhage where they proposed to have the seat of government. It was recommended, however, that a customs officer continued to be appointed at Port Frances, “who should report to and act under the orders of the collector at Port Elizabeth”.(180) The whole move was to be financed by trimming £900 off the salaries of customs and port officials in the western Cape.

    D P Francis was appointed Port Elizabeth’s first collector of customs and port captain in 1828. By 1831 it was decided to create the separate post of harbour master. Edward Wallace duly arrived in November and took over the port office from Francis. But it was found that the customs office was too small for both of them. Thus Francis suggested that Wallace operate from the two buildings used to house the port boatmen which was convenienty near the landing beach.(181)

    Fifteen years later Port Elizabeth still did not have a customs house specifically built as one. Early in 1846 the customs department moved into a wing of the recently completed Commercial Hall which it rented for £45 a year. The other wing was occupied by a reading club for £30 a year. However, the centre room, one of the largest in the eastern Cape, had never been put to the use for which it had been designed.(182) In August 1846 tenders were called for it and the south wing’s hire.(183)

    Eventually in 1865 a start was made on constructing a customs house. The foundation stone was laid by the sub-collector, F B Pinney, on March 22. The Italian-style building was designed by Alfred Warren and built by Charles Inggs. But objections from the government had seen it reduced from three to two floors.(184) The building was handed over to the customs department on June 18, 1866, “‘replete with every convenience,’ and a credit to its designer, Mr. A. Warren, and Mr Inngs (sic), the builder.”(185)

    175. RCC XXVII pp 217-19 – 11/2/1822 Schutte to govt sec, 27/2/1822 govt sec to Schutte
    176. RCC XXVII pp 219-20 – 4/4/1823 govt sec to Schutte. Cory dates this as 1824 – Cory vol II p 96
    177. RCC XXVII pp 219-20 – 24/11/1823 Schutte to govt sec, 13/12/1824 Schutte to govt sec; GTJ 8/6/1832 p 25. In 1826 Schutte claimed R$17157 in extra expenses for building at the Kowie instead of Port Elizabeth: RCC XXVII pp 215-17 – 5/8/1826 gov to colonial secretary.
    178. Victor (1973) p 302
    179. RCC XXVII pp 447 – 6/9/1826 report of the commissioners of inquiry to Bathurst on finance
    180. RCC XXVII pp 447
    181. Victor (1973) pp 305-06
    182. EPH 25/4/1846 p 2 – letter from “A Shareholder”
    183. EPH 8/8/1846 p 1
    184. EPH 11/4/1865 p 3
    185. EPH 19/6/1866 p 2

    Reply
    • Hi Jon

      I would appreciate whatever info that you have. I will include that in my blog

      If you have any other info or photos on PE of Yore, I would appreciate it

      You will notice that I have written a whole bunch of blogs on PE & have just written a book on my great great grandfather, the Rev Francis McCleland who erected the oldest extant house in PE viz No. 7 Castle Hill as well as St. Mary’s Church

      Regards
      Dean McCleland

      Reply

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