Port Elizabeth of Yore: Fortuin Weys – An enterprising Malay

Very little is known about Fortuin Weys but what is known makes him a very remarkable person and an asset in an embryonic town.

This is the story of Fortuin Weys or Weis as he is sometimes referred to

Main picture: 1803 Gesigt van Fort Frederick en Algoa Baai Willem Bartolome Eduard Paravicini Di Cappelli

Over the years the journal of the Port Elizabeth Historical Society makes a mention of Fortuin Weys but the details are skimpy at best. According to one comment he is variously described as a free person of colour, a Malay and a Free Black. Despite this, he is recognised as being a Malay but Weys remains something of an enigma. Fortuin Weys was born in Cape Town circa 1774 and died in Port Elizabeth on the 6th April 1838 at the age of 54. His wife was Doortje or alternatively Dietje van de Kaap.

By 1817 Fortuin was in charge of a military canteen in Port Elizabeth. In 1820 he was building himself a house in Port Elizabeth and was later said by Pringle to be “one of the wealthiest and most respected inhabitants”. This house was located close to Fort Frederick

Carol Victor of the PE Library has kindly supplied this map

Translation of the text:
The above Diagram A.B.C.D represents 127 Square Roods 50 ditto Roods of ground situated in the District of Uitenhage within the limits of the Ground allotted to the Garrison of Fort Frederick, Algoa Bay extending NE towards the Commissariat house distant Thirteen Roods, and it is bordered by the said Garrison Grounds.

Surveyed by me on the Application of the Free Black Fortuin.

3rd December 1819

In 1822, Griffith Hawkins drew up a list of all the inhabitants of the hamlet together with their occupation. On it he lists Fortuin Weys as a Malay blacksmith. By 1836 he is listed as a victualler.

Water supplier
It was in relation to the supply of water to vessels at anchor where Fortuin probably acquired his reputation as an entrepreneur. What most vessels required when at anchor in Algoa Bay was a supply of fresh water. Realising the need, Weys in 1829 laid a pipeline from a well in Market Square down to the bottom of Jetty Street, then to the landing-place on the open beach where a small tank boat ferried it across to the vessels in the roadstead. Apparently Fortuin himself built the pump.

Schedule of Lots in the Baakens Valley
Wording on the original Land Grant to Weys

Deciphering per line
1. The xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx is a copy and an enlarged scale of
2. the property extending 2 morgen and 100 sq roods
3. of land extent to the Valley near Port Elizabeth
4. the property of Staines – granted to
5. the free black Fortuin Weys on the 15th day of June 1925
6.                                                    Copied from a plan by C.J. Grey
7.                                                    Rob [Indecipherable]

Property owner
Weys owned many properties with the site of the Grace Street Mosque being granted to him in June 1820.
On the 29th March 1820 Weys was granted Plot No. 9 at Algoa Bay, as Port Elizabeth was known at that time, by the Acting Governor on payment of RX$30 [Rixdollars 30] and on the 1st October 1821 he acquired Plot No. 34 on the same terms. During a later enquiry into lands granted by Sir Rufane Donkin during his term of office, Sir Rufane stated that Weys had erected four houses on his properties. On the 15th June 1825, Weys was granted 8½ morgen of ground on the banks of the Baakens lying between the back of the property which would become St. Josephs hospital and the river bank. An old sketch plan shows two houses and a large market garden on this land. It was here that he built one of his houses and operated a market garden and an extensive brick making business and a quarry. Apart from this, he owned several Lots in the town. The Grace Street Mosque site was granted to Fortuin in June 1820 when he was considered to be “one of the wealthiest and most respected inhabitants.

The first enterprise in Port Elizabeth which supplied water to ships in the roadsteed was one built by Fortuin Weys, who in 1829 built a pump to pipe water to the sea’s edge from a well in Market Square.

As late as 1890 there was a legal dispute over his property. Mr JA Holland as “executor to the estate of the late Fortuyn Weys” claimed that some ground along the Victoria Quay which had been taken over by the Cape Government Railways was the property of the Weys’ estate. George William Smith, surveyor, was requested to investigate the matter but what the outcome was is not given in the documents.

Apparently, Fortuin was the second person in Port Elizabeth to build a substantial house.

Fort Frederick

Apart from property in Port Elizabeth, Weys also acquired a farm Doorn Nek in the Zuurberg which originally formed part of the Uitenhage District and later part of Alexandria. The first reference to who the owner of this farm was, appears in the Gazette in 1838 when this property of the late Fortuin Weys is listed as part of his estate and is about to be sold in Port Elizabeth is listed as part of his estate.

Apart from these well-known occupations, Fortuin is also listed in his Death Notice as an eating house keeper.

By 1820 Fortuin Weys was one of the town’s most respected residents. Amongst the galaxy of enterprising residents of the town over two centuries, Fortuin should considered amongst the stars and was certainly its first entrepreneur. It is a pity that neither picture/drawing of himself nor his properties is extant. As a visual person, I can more easily relate to a person or an object if I can view it as descriptions do not generate a visceral effect.

Death Notice of Weys Fortuin supplied by Yusuf Bemath

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).
Looking Back Volume 20 Number 2 June 1979

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