Port Elizabeth of Yore: Development of the Hinterland by 1806

As the Trek Boere moved ever eastward during the 1700s, the eastern boundary of the Cape Colony was itself relocated to the next large river. Initially in the 1700s the area surrounding the future town of Port Elizabeth was simply known as Algoa Bay which fell under the large district known as Graaff Reinet. In early 1800s, this district was bifurcated with the southern portion being called Uitenhage after the town established in 1804.

Surprisingly even though Uitenhage was the seventh district to be established, within three decades after being populated by the Trek Boere, it had achieved a sizable heft in certain aspects.

This surprising situation is illustrated various tables shown in Theal’s Records of the Cape Colony.

Main picture: Districts of the Cape Colony in 1806

All residents of the Cape Colony had to complete an opgaafrol. This was an annual return or account of livestock, produce, and land under cultivation, introduced at the Cape in 1796 for the purposes of taxation. Unlike the current tax system in which tax is collected on the income earned or generated, tax in the Cape was levied on the assets owned and the produce produced. These submissions provide a window into the wealth and output of every individual as well as a providing a population census which even included slaves and the khoikhoi.

Based upon these returns, the figures were aggregated per District of which there were seven after the split of the Uitenhage area from the Graaff Reinet District. These districts were:

  • Cape Town
  • Cape districts
  • Stellenbosch
  • Swellendam
  • Graaff Reinet
  • Uitenhage and
  • Tulbagh

Given the fact that Port Elizabeth did not exist in 1806 while Uitenhage, albeit only two years old in 1806, possessed all the ingredients of a prosperous regional capital in the form of a strong perennial river and fertile soil, most of the figures for the district Uitenhage would in all likelihood relate to the town Uitenhage .

In 1806, Uitenhage’s prospects were in marked contrast to the wind-swept sand pit which would become Port Elizabeth. In fact, it was avoided by travellers travelling up the coast as there was no reason to pass through the area. Travellers would detour past Port Elizabeth by cutting across from the Gamtoos River and head directly from Uitenhage. Port Elizabeth was regarded as a parochial backwater with little to recommend it.

When interpreting the statistics derived from the opgaafrolle be mindful that the figures for Port Elizabeth form part of Uitenhage. Furthermore when mentally disaggregating the figures into Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth assume that at least two thirds of the figures, if not more,  relate to Uitenhage.    


Note that:

White person were classed as Christians

Hottentots mainly lived in the rural areas

The majority of slaves resided in the western Cape and not the newer Districts

   Population Comparisons and Ranking

Animal head count

Note that:

  1. Sheep outnumber cattle by 6:1
  2. Most cattle and sheep are farmed in the east
  3. Uitenhage has a disproportionate share of cattle & sheep

State of Cultivation

In all categories of cultivation, Uitenhage performed poorly.

From these tables it is obvious that the Uitenhage District was the least developed portion of the Cape with the state of cultivation at a very low ebb whereas in comparison sheep and cattle farming, the Uitenhage District ranked second and third respectively.  


Records of the Cape Colony Vol vi by G.M. Theal

The British Soldier on the Eastern Cape Frontier by J.B. Scott (1973, Dissertation for Doctor Philosophiae)


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