Port Elizabeth of Yore: Hougham Hudson – Questionable Probity

By being not only a Civil Servant but by also occupying positions such as that of Civil Commissioner and Magistrate, the highest levels of integrity, trust and probity were demanded from the holder of these offices. During the establishment of a Leper Institution in Port Elizabeth, many questions were raised about Hougham Hudson’s integrity, and he was found wanting. Despite these episodes exposing additional breaches of ethical standards and behaviour, there appears to be no ostensible consequence for Hudson but it must have tarnishing his career in some manner or fashion.

Main picture: Hougham Hudson [1793-1860]

Hudson’s career progression
Hougham Hudson was a member of Dyason’s party which had been located on the right bank of the Torrens River. In 1821 the party broke up and Hudson moved to Graaff-Reinet where he was appointed Clerk to the Landdrost’s Office and Post Master. He remained in those offices until 1826 when he was promoted to District Clerk, Registrar, and Assistant Guardian of Slaves at Uitenhage. At the end of 1827 he was made Clerk to the Commissioner-General and on 24 January 1828 he was appointed Resident Magistrate of Port Elizabeth. On the death of the Resident Magistrate of Uitenhage in 1831, he acted as Resident Magistrate of both places until 1 July 1834. On the 25th of that month he was appointed Agent-General to the Kaffirs and acting Resident Magistrate of Albany, and in September of that year he was appointed Acting Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor, in addition to being the Agent­ General.

Accommodation for lepers & destitute persons
Prior to 1839 there was no proper accommodation in the Eastern Cape for lepers or destitute persons. Lepers were confined, often in jails in appalling conditions, pending their transfer by ox wagon to the leper institution at “Hemel en Aarde” which was some distance away in the Caledon district.

As the Lieutenant Governor had indicated that it was his intention to establish an institution for lepers from the Eastern Districts at either Graaff-Reinet or Somerset East, on 28 August 1838 the Civil Commissioner of Uitenhage wrote to the Acting Government Secretary, Hougham Hudson, advising him that there were eleven lepers at Uitenhage for whom he sought the usual authority to remove, either to “Hemel en Aarde“, or such other institution as the Lieutenant Governor should indicate. He mentioned that either Graaff-Reinet or Somerset East would be better than ”Hemel en Aarde” as the cost of transport to either of the former towns would be considerably less than to the latter. The lepers were, pending removal, being housed in a mud hut which was in such a state that a new building would have to be erected (at some considerable expense) if they were to remain there any longer.

Windmill in the Baaken’s Valley-From Adrian Gardner’s Collection

On 3 September Hudson replied that the Lieutenant Governor was contemplating “such an arrangement“. However, it took some time for the “arrangement” to be finalized and it was not until May of the following year that lepers were removed from Uitenhage to Port Elizabeth. One hopes that they were not the same people; if they were, in the meantime, no doubt, the poor souls had been kept in the mud hut.

So far as paupers were concerned, there was a pauper institution connected with the Somerset Hospital, but as it would not be able to cope with paupers from the whole Colony for much longer, the Governor was of the opinion that one or more similar establishments should be established in the Eastern Districts, on a small scale, into which paupers from that part of the Colony could be admitted. So far as people of colour were concerned, he thought that it might be possible to obtain their admission at one or other missionary institution on payment of a moderate sum per head for their maintenance.

On 14 November 1838 the Acting Lieutenant Governor, Colonel John Hare, submitted a selection of possible locations to the Governor for consideration for the establishment of a leper institution. Apart from locations at Graaff Reinet, a building near the mouth of the Kleine Montjes Rivier and Cypherfontein, Hougham Hudson’s house and farm was also on the list. The list did not explicitly state whether it was the Coega or the Baakens River property which was subject to the offer.

On 30 November 1838 the Governor advised Colonel Hare that he had considered the four proposals and that it appeared to him that Hudson’s proposal was by far the most suitable. He suggested that Hudson be approached for a more detailed statement of his terms.

Suspicions of malfeasance arise
In the space of thirteen years Hougham Hudson’s income from government appointments rose from £22 10s. to over £500 per annum. As may be expected, his rapid rise in the civil service and his high salary did not escape the vigilant eye of the press. The last straw apparently being the appointment of his seventeen-year-old son as his clerk at a salary of £150 per annum. The Grahamstown Journal considered the last appointment to be “quite as objectionable as any act whichever disgraced the most corrupt period of our colonial history“, called it a “public scandal“, and over the next few months it and its readers engaged in “knocking” Hudson. To put this amount in perspective, apart from the nepotism aspect, the salary of senior officials within local government were not earning much more than that.  

On 27 December 1838 Hougham Jnr. wrote to the Commercial Advertiser, trying to justify everything, which only made matters worse. In his letter he mentioned that his father had been “ruined by a fire“. This was followed by a rather sarcastic letter which appeared in the Journal of 7 February which, inter alia, alleged that no sooner had Hudson been granted “one of the most valuable erfs” in Port Elizabeth, than “it was discovered that the ground attached to the Jail was too confined to admit of any further buildings, and that there was no recourse but to allow the patriotic Hudson to build additional Jails on his own grant, for which he was and still is induced reluctantly to ‘accept’ a goodly rent from the Government.” This incident occurred during the time that Hudson was the Resident Magistrate in Port Elizabeth.

A resident of Port Elizabeth wrote to the Journal on 12 February 1839 that the fire referred to by Hudson Jnr. had burned down a house which was two to three miles from the town. It had consisted of three small rooms, kitchen, etc., and the ruins of an old mill. The property had been vacant for some time past and was to hire at 25 Rix dollars per month. The nearest water was the Baakens River, which was not only brack for most of the year but was about a quarter of a mile (about 400 metres) from the house and at the bottom of a precipitous hill. This property was now let to the government as a hospital or asylum for infirm or indigent persons of the coloured classes at a rent of 100 guineas per annum.

Further wrongdoing exposed
The following month another letter from a Port Elizabethan appeared, detailing Hudson’s various salaries and rents from assets, including the rent of a mill and house near Port Elizabeth which were let to government (without tenders having been called for) for a leper institution at £105 per annum. According to the correspondent it had previously been let for £18 per annum.

The last letter on the subject appeared on 16 May 1839. It was dated 1 May and reported that Hudson and his son had visited the property to see what the water situation was like. The correspondent wrote, “The late copious rains which have so inspirited our farmers, have not failed to bring water as well as grist to the mill. So good an opportunity was not, therefore to be lost, for holding a survey upon the new ‘Leper Institution’, to report on the fitness of the mill for the purposes of such an establishment, as well as to show, beyond the possibility of doubt, how judiciously government had acted in agreeing to pay £80 or £90 per annum, more than any private individual, and above all, to see and taste the water.” “As might be surmised,” he continued, “abundance of water of the best quality” was found. He also remarked on the fact that the doctor of the Port Elizabeth district had not been included in the inspection. To add further grist to the mill, the correspondent noted that instead, the  Acting District Surgeon of Uitenhage, Hudson’s “personal friend and tenant“, had gone along.

In any event, Hudson was quite happy to provide the more detailed statement which had been requested by the Governor. In his capacity of Acting Government Secretary, he would have been aware of the fact that the Governor was considering the establishment of an asylum for paupers in the Eastern Districts and he expressed the opinion that it would be most economical to have both leper institution and pauper establishment at the same place, but a little distance apart, and one overseer or superintendent could look after both. His original proposal had been that he let his dwelling house and land at the back of the Monument at Port Elizabeth for accommodation of lepers and that he erects cells for lepers on the land.

Revised offer
Perhaps in an effort to ameliorate this embarrassing situation, he now offered, in addition, a good stone building with ground along the Baakens River, which could accommodate ten to twelve paupers (or more), and the overseer. There industrious paupers could cultivate gardens and erect huts close to them. He was also prepared to erect sheds or cells for more than thirty lepers, to the satisfaction of the authorities, and was prepared to lease the whole to Government for from five to seven years at a rental of £100 or £105 per annum, depending on building costs. If the number of persons increased after a year, he would, if required, build more rooms for paupers or cells for lepers, on being allowed a proportionate increase in rental for same. At the end of the lease he would not re-let or sell the property without offering it to Government first. If, however, Government had a better plan for paupers, he would adhere to his original offer. On 21 December the proposal was forwarded to the Governor who advised on 4 January 1839 that it had his approval and Colonel Hare was authorized to take the necessary steps to  put it into effect.

The latter accordingly wrote to the Civil Commissioner at Uitenhage, J.W. van der Riet, on 22 January advising him of the Governor’s decision. Van der Riet was to take over Hudson’s buildings and the land near the Baakens River as soon as they were in good tenantable repair. Once this had been done, he had to make the necessary arrangements and provide for the reception of destitute persons from Uitenhage, and once the sheds or cells had been erected for the lepers, he had to arrange for any lepers in Uitenhage or Port Elizabeth to be removed there. He was authorized to enter into an agreement with Hudson for the hire of the premises for a period of seven years and to employ a sober, competent person as superintendent. He was also to call for tenders to supply the institution with rations, clothing, etc., for the year and to frame instructions for the guidance of the superintendent: these were to be forwarded to Colonel Hare for approval. In reply Van der Riet suggested that Richard Tee Senior be employed as superintendent.

Advertisements were placed in the Government Gazette of the Eastern Province of 5 February 1839 calling for tenders for the supply of articles required for the use of the Institution. Samuel Kerr submitted a tender to supply mattresses and pillows, which was accepted, and a tender by W.M. Harries to supply the rest of the articles which were required, was successful.

Hudson’s land was leased from him for a term of seven years from l April 1839. This consisted of a piece measuring 103 morgen and 315½ square roods (88.6732 hectares)(D4) which had been granted to Johan Gottfried Schlemmer on 1 July 1825 and an adjoining piece of sour grazing ground, Lot 8, measuring 7 morgen, 15 square roods and 67 square feet (6.0178 hectares) (D4) which already had a windmill on it when it was granted to Hendrik Woest on 4 February 1819. The windmill, which by 1889 was in ruins, was the source from which the present Port Elizabeth suburb of Mill Park took its name. The land, which was inaccurately described as being “at the back of the Monument“, was in fact quite far from the Donkin Monument – about two kilometres as the crow flies – beyond what is now St. George’s Park. The northern boundary of the land was the grazing lands of the Garrison at Fort Frederick, while its southern and south-eastern boundaries were traversed by the Baakens River. Along the river on the south-eastern boundary there was a strip of arable land of a quarter morgen (about 2,000 square metres). (Schlemmer’s land was later the site of Gubb’s Location.)

As had been reported in the Grahamstown Journal, the Acting District Surgeon of Uitenhage, Dr. J.W. Fairbridge accompanied by William Fleming, Justice of the Peace (in the absence of the Civil Commissioner), had inspected the Institution on 30 April 1838. Fairbridge reported (to Hudson as Acting Government Secretary) that he had found the buildings in good order for the reception of thirty-two lepers and twenty-four other inmates (besides accommodation for the overseer), who could be moved there immediately. He reported further that the buildings were located in a healthy position and the place was abundantly supplied with water of good quality. His report does not mention that he had been accompanied by the Hudsons as the correspondent of the Journal had alleged.

Effect of disclosures on Hudson
As these disclosures of malfeasance and nepotism were made in the public media, the general awareness of that fact must have had profound consequences for Hougham Hudson. Notwithstanding this, no information can be ascertained whether his standing within the Colony had been negatively impacted.  But like the modern day, such corruption is insidious and detrimental to other members of society and there should always be consequences for the culprit.


Letter to the Commercial Advertiser from Hougham Hudson Junior Graham’s Town Dec 27th 1838
April 1820. Settler in partnership with Dyson & Bennet. Worked on location for a year
1821 Removed to Graaff Reinett. Accepted a post as a clerk in Landdrost’s Office and Post Master
1826. Promoted to Uitenhage as District Clerk, registrar and assistant guardian of slaves
End 1827. Clerk to Commissariat-General
Jan 1828. Appointed Port Elizabeth’s Resident Magistrate
1831. On the death of the Uitenhage Resident Magistrate, he took in that post as well
July 1 1834. Retired and on July 25th and appointed  Agent-General for Kaffirs in Cape Town
March 1835. Made Government Commissioner with Magistrate’s pay
February 1836 Appointed Acting Albany Resident Magistrate and Acting-General
September 1836. Acting Secretary to Lieutenant Governor.
Letter from Son

A Genealogy of the Tee Family of Norfolk by Brian Tee Senior (1998, Perth, Western Australia)
Graham’s Town Journal Letter to Commercial Advertiser from Houghan Hudson Junior dated 27th December 1838

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