Port Elizabeth of Yore: Economic Developments in the Early 1850s

In the 25 years since the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, Grahamstown had been larger than Port Elizabeth. To many, especially those in Grahamstown, this seemed to be preordained. Many relished the idea of a harbour on the Kowie River as this would undermine Port Elizabeth’s only supposed advantage in the development stakes.  

By 1850 Port Elizabeth was clearly in the ascendancy with vibrant growth and its enterprising mein. From now on, Port Elizabeth would be Grahamstown’s bete noir.

Main picture: Market Square

Winners and Losers
In an article in the Herald of 29th June 1850 under the heading of SIGNS of PROGRESS, the editor opines as follows: “It is stated in town that three of the principle mercantile establishments of Grahamstown contemplate fixing a head office at Port Elizabeth. It is manifest that the seaport at some distant date must be the Commercial Capital of the Province.” It was not capitulation but the stark reality staring them in the face that Port Elizabeth was turbocharged for growth.

The final nail in its coffin would be the decision regarding the routing of the railway line where Grahamstown would be, to their chagrin, not be on the main line but rather on a secondary line.

Index of values of fixed property
This brief article in the EPH dated 28/9/1850, compares the vibrancy of the Port Elizabeth property market with the stagnation of the Grahamstown property market.

Port Elizabeth: Prices still rising. Building ground with Main Road frontage outside town running eastwards 200-300feet realising £60 – £70. Houses sold at rate yielding 10-12% on investment.
Grahamstown: Depreciated compared to previous years. Many houses and premises unoccupied

Joint Stock Companies
As at the 14th September 1850, Port Elizabeth could loudly boast that it now was the home of three Joint Stock Companies.

Immovable property
Further good news was hidden on page 2 of the EPH dated 13th July 1852 when the correspondent proclaimed that “The Municipal valuation of immovable property was now £100,000 with a rise in value of 100% over the past year.” As if that news was insufficient, they announced that “£50,000 worth of new stores and buildings were being erected.”

Another measure of development is the number of buildings in the course of construction or tendered for. On this yardstick of development, Port Elizabeth also came out tops.

Chamber of Commerce
At a meeting of merchants held at the Commercial Hall on the 13th June 1853, it was decided that a Chamber of Commerce was created yesterday reported in the EPH as “Port Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce” be constituted. The Committee to frame the rules would consist of W. Fleming, C. Andrews, J Simpson, HJ Dunell and F. Deare.

Various edition of the EPH viz Eastern Province Herald

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