During January 1938, the pre-WW1 German ex-battleship, now training ship, paid a visit to Port Elizabeth. The young German cadets were invited to attend a party Woodridge School. In retrospect that innocent invitation ultimately became an embarrassment to the school for reasons soon to be revealed. One year and nine months later on the 1st September 1939, this self-same ship would fire the very first shots of WW2.
Main picture: The cadets from the Schleswig Holstein display the swastika emblem over the balcony at the Woodridge school
Of all the business colossuses that Port Elizabeth has produced, John Paterson might outrank them all except perhaps the Mosenthal Brothers. Pamela Ffolliott correctly labels Paterson a Titan. To successfully establish two enterprises of the stature and calibre of Standard Bank and the E.P. Herald which have endured for more than a century and a half is testament to his foresight. Paterson encapsulates the vision, energy, restless spirit and other attributes of a successful businessman.
As his two most notable business accomplishments viz the establishment of the Eastern Province Herald and Standard Bank have been examined in detail elsewhere, this blog will only investigate the earlier life of this remarkable, indefatigable man as well as his civic-mindedness which drove his desire to establish a municipality in this forsaken town.
Main picture: John Paterson
William Fleming played a vital role in Port Elizabeth from 1842 until his death in 1861 at the age of 65. Like many of his contemporaries, he deserves to be recognised not for his legal and business acumen but rather for the civic mindedness which he displayed in the latter period of his life.
One of his sons was also named William. In tracking the careers of both men, the confusion regarding whether it was the father or the son to whom an event or activity should be attributed takes time to untangle. In the McCleland family tree, William Fleming is especially relevant as he married Adelaide McCleland, daughter of the Rev. Francis McCleland, making him my second great uncle.
Main picture: William Fleming as a Captain of the Prince Alfred’s Guards
The initial impetus to establish some form of volunteer military force in Port Elizabeth arose due to the perpetual threat posed by the warring Xhosa tribes.
To augment the British forces stationed in the Cape, especially in times of crisis, the British established volunteer military units throughout the Cape Colony. In the beginning they were typically of short duration to meet a specific threat posed to the colonists but later these temporary units would be replaced with units of a more permanent nature.
This blog will cover all such volunteer forces and units until the first disbandment of Prince Alfred Guards in 1860.
Main picture: February 1835 – Arrival of Harries’ Troop from Palos Kraal with WM Harries in the centre
Was it a Comedy of Errors or Merely a Dose of Reality?
With the rapid growth in exports from Port Elizabeth, incessant demands arose to build a proper harbour in the form of jetties and a breakwater. The initial attempt at harbour building was the construction of a jetty using the wreck of the vessel Feegee as its base. Its usefulness was short-lived as a sudden gale drove several vessels through it, irreparably damaging it.
Various configurations of a breakwater were later proposed and the design that was adopted was constructed just south of the Baakens River. This was the start of a town’s nightmare as first the sea and then a flood were to silt the harbour up, posing a threat to the operation of the landing beaches. Instead of a crowning achievement, this episode resulted in not only the necessity of dismantling the breakwater but even more disconcerting, it caused the postponement of the construction of the breakwater and quays by 60 years.
If successful, it would have been a transformative change for a town in no small measure defined by its primitive method of discharging cargo onto flimsy lighters out on the roadstead.
Main picture: The breakwater south of the Baakens River – a fatal design flaw
Like all friends, we should swop stories from our libraries of our lives – the funny, the surreal as well as the sublime. What use are books in a library unless we on occasion dust them off and page through the long forgotten episodes of our lives. Many hoped that by enlightening us with their Life Stories that their obligations to their class mates, would be fulfilled. Instead to kickstart the process, I have tapped a number of the class of 71 to contribute their stories.
Any good economic advisor has to make disclaimers about his personal interests so that you can decide whether to trust him. So, I shall make my personal disclaimer upfront.
Jeff Bezos might be the richest man on Earth, but he looks like a dork. Personally, I think he is a dork. If you think that it’s wrong for me to get personal and insulting, I agree that’s it insulting for dorks to be compared to Bezos. To the dorks of the world, I apologise.
Main picture: Jeff Bozo in guru pose speaking to his devotees from his Madras at Van Horn, TX, before ejaculating on his spiritual journey in his priapic amusement park ride.
Prior to 1975, the Comrades Marathon was only open to white men. Despite this restriction, several women and black people ran the race in contravention of that restriction. One such person was Robert Mtshali, a young black runner, who in 1935 completed the race in 1935 as an unofficial runner in the time of 9:30. To provide Mtshali with some form of recognition for his achievement, a local Councillor, Councillor Dr. Vernon Lyall Shearer, presented him with an unofficial award.
While I have always been aware that baskets were used on occasions to transfer passengers to and from tugs, that always left the majority of the passengers with no ostensible method of transfer. After sleuthing by my brother Blaine and by means of an article in Looking Back uncovered by myself, the mystery has finally been resolved. Archaic and dangerous would be adequate descriptors of the practice employed.
Main picture: A tug ferrying passengers from North Jetty to an awaiting ship in the roadstead. Note the wicker baskets on the jetty as well as a steel rod hanging over the water.
According to an intermediary who I was using to contact Jammie, he professed to be a “very private person“. Hence he was hoping that by ignoring me, I would just disappear. Like an irritating fly, I would buzz around periodically making my presence known. Then one day, out of the blue, he relented. He announced in a telephone call that he would talk. In providing him with examples of the other reports and interviews I was hoping that he would relent and provide me with a peek in the man himself, what motivated him and perhaps even reveal an amusing incident or two, but it was not to be. Instead what he provided was a straight telling of his career at Alex. More’s the pity. Hence Jannie will remain an enigma to me. Nonetheless, I would like to thank Jannie profusely for producing a thorough professional report.
Naturally Jannie’s report is written in the first person but wherever I have elaborated on his report, it will be in the third person.
Main picture: Jannie and Joan Fourie in 1995