Port Elizabeth of Yore: Howard Sherman – The Consummate All-Round Sportsman

For the most part, sport in the nineteenth century was an amateur activity with significant prizes not being awarded to winners. Even sixty years ago, many international sportsmen were compelled to be employed fulltime in some other profession. In other words, sport was not a paying occupation but rather performed almost as a labour of love. This was the milieu into which Howard Sherman was born yet he thrived.

Main picture: Howard Sherman 1861-1935

The Genesis of the Sherman Family in SA

Henry Sherman was born in 1804. At the age of 16, he arrived in the Cape Colony with the Independent Party of British Settlers aboard the SS Waterloo. He married Sarah Jane [1811-1874]. She bore him twelve children: William, Jane, Alexander, James, Maria, Frederick, Averilda, Alice, Amy, Sarah, Jessie and Henry-Joseph [1830-1869]. It was one of Henry-Joseph’s progeny who was to have one of the earliest and most profound impacts upon Port Elizabeth. He was initially employed in his father’s business in Cape Town and eventually managed the branch in Port Elizabeth. He married a widow, Mary Lloyd [1818-1891] who had been married to a Mr. H. Jennings and who had two children, both daughter, Mary Jennings [1845-1936] and Anne Jennings [1847-1894].

Above: Warehouses on Algoa Bay, 1886 by George Otto Battenhausen

Warehouses on Algoa Bay, 1886 by George Otto Battenhausen

After Mary Jennings married Henry-Joseph Sherman, she bore him four children:  Sarah [1856-1900], Cecilia [1858-1874], Henry-Ready [1860-1860] and Howard [1861-1935]

Early life

Howard was born in Port Elizabeth in 1861 and was only eight years old when his father died in 1869. As a consequence, the family business was closed down. Fortunately, his education was not truncated with his early education being at the old Grey Institute in Belmont Terrace. From there, he proceeded to Watson’s College in Edinburgh, Scotland, in order to complete his education. On his return, he entered with zeal into the business and sporting life of the rapidly expanding town.

Petronella Sherman 1867-1955, wife of Howard Sherman

He followed a clerical career working at Armstrong’s Ironmongery Store on the corner of Donkin and in Main Streets. Up until 1878 this building had been used by the “New Church” at which time John Holland purchased it and contracted George Dix-Peek to redesign it.

A magnificent athlete, he soon made his mark both on the running track and on the rugby field. As a runner, he became most famous throughout South Africa, and he later demonstrated his amazing versatility by becoming an equally formidable cyclist. He numbered his trophies by the score before his athletic career came to an end.

In Rugby, Howard soon made his mark as a player of the rarest distinction – a brainy player and a player who placed the finest ideals of amateur sport in the forefront of his life. He became one of the founders of the Olympic R.F.C. in 1881, and the love for the Club was a tremendous factor in his life. During his Rugby career, Howard Sherman not only represented Eastern Province on several occasions but more than once captained the Provincial XV. He even played against several of the touring British teams. He was also largely responsible for the formation of the Eastern Province Rugby Union and was Honorary Secretary of the Union in 1890.

In 1892, he relocated to Johannesburg where he resided for several years. There he also left his mark on the game resulting in the Transvaal Rugby Union recorded a vote of thanks “for the preparation of the new football ground and other matters pertaining to the promotion of the game.”

In recognition of his outstanding services to the Olympic’s Club, he was elected a Life Member of the Club. As late as the last Saturday of his life, he was present at the Crusader ground to view his old Club to do battle with their ancient rivals.

These nine houses form part of a unique terrace (“Charmouth Terrace”) consisting of a row of identical late-Victorian double-storeyed semi-detached houses which were erected at the turn of the twentieth century (1899 – 1900)

In the athletic arena, among other distinctions, he won the South African mile championship. He was also one of the founders of the Port Elizabeth Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club in 1882. Also for a time he served as its honorary secretary. In later years, an athletic meeting at Westbourne Oval was deemed not to be complete without “Daddy” Sherman in the chair as referee. This was a duty that he never missed, except of the rare occasions when his health would not permit his attendance. Furthermore, his quiet, well-reasoned decisions, when some point was presented to him, was the product of wide experience, and a close study of the rules. Never were his decisions questioned.

Howard Sherman was also a noted horseman and for many years he invariably rode one of his own mounts at Gymkhana meetings. He was also a courser [swift horse] when the sport had a vogue in Port Elizabeth.

Members of Prince Alfred’s Guard form up on the field at St George’s Park in 1907

In poultry circles, he was no less noted as a breeder of famous birds. His intimate interest in poultry remained one of his foremost activities to the end. Moreover, he was one of the founders of the S.A. Kennel Club, on which committee he served for many years.

Howard’s business career was inseparably linked with the well-known firm of Wm. Armstrong & Co. Apparently, he was Mr. Armstrong’s right-hand man in every sense of the term. After lengthy service with the firm, he only retired from active service a year before his death. In spite of that, on every sale day, a Thursday, he would be found at work in his office.

Sports grounds of St George’s Park

Howard married Miss Petronella Meyer of Windmill Farm in 1895. They lived in “Kelso” at 120 Heugh Road and was buried at St John’s Church in Walmer.

Apart from being a keen all-round sportsman, Howard was also one of nature’s gentlemen for which he will eternally be recognised.


Sherman Family

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).

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