Port Elizabeth of Yore:  New Brighton from Fishing Village to Leisure Area [1820 to 1902]

Today New Brighton is a sprawling township between the Papenkuils River to the Fishwater Flats. But it was not always so. It commenced its modern life as a modest fishing village of a Settler Party from Deal in England who had high aspirations.

For the purposes of this blog, Deal Party and New Brighton have been combined as their histories are inextricably linked together. However this blog only covers the period 1820 to 1902 with a separate blog covering the period when it was converted into a Location.

Main picture: As there  are no extant pictures of this era, I have included some related pictures instead. Photograph of a whale being cut up on North End beach. Supplied by Carol Victor of the NMBMPL.

Pre-1820 Settlers
Prior to 1780, no whites resided in this area and neither did the khoikhoi. Being peripatetic by nature, the khoikhoi were itinerants who never settled in one area but moved on whenever natural resources became depleted. The first whites in the Port Elizabeth/Uitenhage area were the Trekboers during the 1770s. The earliest farm in this area was that of Thomas Ignatius Ferreira on the Papenkuils River in 1776. After being purchased by Frederick Korsten in 1812, it was developed into a thriving enterprise supplying salted beef to British troops in Mauritius.  

The 1804 map of the coastline from the Ferreira’s River [now Papenkuils River] to the Swartkops River

Port Elizabeth in early 1800s showing the Blockhouse, Fort Frederick and Military Road

Deal Party Estate
In June 1820, Sir Rufane Donkin granted 1300 acres north of the Papenkuils River to Charles Gurney and the settlers from town of Deal in Kent. It is 13kms south of Ramsgate and 13th north east of Dover. Initially, eponymously called New Deal, later the area became known as Deal Party. A party of 24 from Kent led by Charles GURNEY sailed in the “Weymouth”. The settlers were located west of the Zwartkops River mouth.

The 1820 Settlers website describes this settler party as follows: No. 5 on the Colonial Department list, led by Charles Gurney, a druggist of Brewers Street, Deal, Kent. This was a joint-stock party originally comprised almost entirely of young single men, boatmen of Deal, who were “desirous of being settled near the sea coast in order to combine fishing with farming. As the party was finally constituted, however, it included men of a variety of trades, three of whom were married men with their wives.

The party’s application was forwarded to the Colonial Department by the Member of Parliament for Canterbury, Stephen Lushington, whose patronage had been solicited on Gurney’s behalf by Captain Thomas Baker RN. A further reference was provided by the Rector of Deal, who described the men as ‘respectable characters, each of whom possessed some small capital and inclined to be industrious. The distress which is unhappily so universally prevalent in this place, and the consequent difficulty of procuring a subsistence, has prompted them to embrace the opportunity.’

Gurney applied successfully for permission to include a boat from Deal with the party’s baggage, and two men were given free passage back to England at the end of 1820 to fetch three whale boats for a fishery to be established at Port Elizabeth.

Deposits were paid for 13 men who sailed in HM Store Ship Weymouth, which left Portsmouth on 7 January 1820. At their own request, Gurney’s people were embarked at the Downs. The Weymouth reached Table Bay on 26 April and Algoa Bay on 15 May. The party was located near Port Elizabeth, west of the Zwartkops River mouth, and named the location New Deal.

As this group of boatmen realised the potential of whaling, two of them returned to England in order to acquire whaleboats. Their venture was not ultimately successful, and they were insolvent by August 1828. The families had dispersed before then, but some remained in the Port Elizabeth area, at least for a time. The property passed to Frederick Korsten.

In 1860, the Government allocated the responsibility for the maintenance of all outspans and trek paths to the Divisional Councils. In line with their new responsibilities, during 1861 the Divisional Council issued a set of requirements that a contractor would have to comply with. First the Council had to select the land on which the outspan would be built and then it had to certify that the applicant was “a fit and proper person to become an innkeeper.” The applicant, in turn, had to meet various requirements.

Outspan House built by RJ Berry in 1862 as an inn for travellers

In return for meeting all these requirements, the innkeeper was entitled to charge 6d per span of oxen or horses using the water. It was the enterprising Mr Richard John Berry who was first off the mark to construct a public road inn. On the 6th July 1861 he submitted his application for a 33-year lease “on a piece of land forming part of the public outspan situated between the Deal Party farm, Fishwater Flats and the sea i.e. on the main road from this town to the Rawson Bridge at Zwartkops, for the erection of an inn or a hotel.” Enclosed in his letter was a plan of the proposed Inn which was to be all brick construction under a slate roof, with stone foundation. It contained six bedrooms, a dining room, lounge, kitchen and stables at the rear for six horses. The buildings were to be completed within twelve months and one of the dams would be ready within one month of execution of the contract.

What is clear is that Matthew Berry must have either made a fortune himself or inherited the money from his father, John James Berry, as he purchased the Deal Party farm in 1879, renaming it soon afterwards as Beaconsfield Manor on which was erected the Beaconsfield Hotel. In the 1880s, the Sportsman Hotel was built in Swartkops and was also granted a liquor licence. This meant that there were three hotels along this short stretch of Grahamstown Road.

On taking over the Deal Party farm in 1879, he immediately changed the property’s name to Beaconsfield Manor. In 1883, Matthew advertised that he had extended the house and offered “fashionable sea-bathing at New Brighton.” 

Origin of the township
The New Brighton Township grew around the railway station built in 1877. It includes Red Location, White Location, McNamee, Boastville, Elundini and KwaFord. Red Location is a settlement of mostly tin shanties; the name originated from the red oxide paint used to protect the corrugated iron structures and roofs from rust, which have become a trademark in the area.

Court case
An interesting Court Case arose in the mid-1890s involving hunting and shooting rights over the farm “Deal Party” at New Brighton. At this time, this area fell outside the municipal area and had not yet been converted into a black township. 

In this Court Case, Mr. Thomas O’Brien, the plaintiff claimed £50 from the defendants, Hansen & Schrader, as damages, and as well as applying for an interdict restraining the defendants from interfering with the right of hunting and shooting over a certain farm Deal Party. Sarah Berry, the owner of the property, was paid  by O’Brien to have sole and exclusive rights in 1892 (for a period of 5 years) for hunting game which included some buck imported from England, as well as some pheasants and partridges which were released on the New Brighton farm.

Central to O’Brien’s complaint was that when a racecourse was built on the New Brighton farm, apparently a large area of bush and vegetation was removed which made the birds move away to the more attractive and adjacent Deal Party farm. The Deal Party and the New Brighton farms were divided by a wire fence which extended down from the east of the main road of Port Elizabeth. To the west of the main road ran the Railway line. To the north – Deal Party farm – was bounded by the Fish Water Flats farm and towards the south in the direction of Port Elizabeth, the farm was bordered by the Papenkuils Creek. A wagon road diverted from the main road where the police barracks were situated, leading to the New Brighton Hotel adjacent to the sea. Near this hotel was another wagon road running at right angles with the railway line coming from the siding. Near the siding were 2 cottages, an old one and a new one.

Swartkops Station

On the 6th April 1896, a race was held at the New Brighton oval race course where a large number of indigenous people as well as Europeans filled the stand the whole day and the plaintiff O’Brien argued that the race course as well as the crowd attending, infringed on his sole/exclusive rights.  It is said that before this date, that there was a large amount of game on the New Brighton farm.

The Deal Party farm
At one stage belonging to Galpin, this farm, of about 1000 acres, was situated between the main road and the sea:
– was divided into two parts which included the New Brighton farm as well.
– situated between Papenkuilsriver and the ocean (North End Cemetery) – further up this river (now industrial waste dumps) leads to the ruins of Cradock Place, where once the Prophet Makhanda was held before he was imprisoned on Robben Island.
– by the 1890s, it had 2 cottages – one very old and one of long standing.
– according to Herbert Berry who had lived in one of the old cottages since 1879, partridges & pheasants which were originally imported for the farm, preferred the New Brighton Hotel area.
– Richard Berry – uncle of Herbert and Charles Berry, lived on this farm for 60 years.
– Originally Deal Party farm was named ‘New Deal Village’ where about 24 settlers chose to stay under Boatman Charles Gurney (from the Kentish Coast from 1820)
– Provided a good cover for game & birds.
– All along the sea were sandy hills covered with scrubby bush, referred to as Doornbeeze.
– By December 1903, 30 stores sites were earmarked along the railway line.

New Brighton Hotel owned by Matthew Berry

The New Brighton farm
Of 400 morgen (1 sq. km = 116.75 morgen) was a holiday resort and included the:
– New Brighton Hotel.
– New Brighton Race Course (The New Brighton Sporting Club), being of oval shape and a quarter mile in circumference.
– Originally had a fair supply of buck and hares as well as a few birds.
– By February 1895, at the Creek on the New Brighton farm was a bonded warehouse, being the magazine for explosives (Hansen & Schrader).
– On the 6th January 1896, The New Brighton Sporting Club (horse racing) was formed with James Wynne jr as first President. The racecourse at New Brighton, today part of Deal Party, was a popular racing venue until the Second World War. In 1907 there was also a P.E. Sporting Club, but both were superseded by the Suburban Sporting Club.
– Between August 1898 and November 1899 various bonded warehouses were built on this farm,
– in 1899 the Port Elizabeth Council purchased the farms Cradock Place and New Brighton for the relocation of “natives”. This was before the 1901/2 Bubonic plague outbreak, which provided additional momentum for this relocation.
– After considering several sites, the Government bought Dr G.L. Galpin’s property, portions of Cradock Place and Deal Party, on which to establish a “model Native settlement” during January 1902. Wood-and-iron buildings from the closed Uitenhage Concentration Camp were re-erected here and painted red. In June 1903 the first residents moved into ‘Red Location’. The name ‘New Brighton’ had already been coined by Matthew Berry for his part of Deal Party.

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton (Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).
Article in the EP Herald dated 9th June 1959 on Matthew Berry & the New Brighton Hotel.

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