Port Elizabeth of Yore: John Harrison Clark

Among Port Elizabeth’s early entrepreneurs was one, John Harrison Clark, whose occupation is given as merchant. According to the Port Elizabeth Directory and Almanac of 1877 he sold hardware from premises at 14, 16 & 18 Main Street. The company John H. Clark & Co was bookended between Dreyfuss & Co in front of St. Mary’s Church occupying erfs 2 to 12 and on the northern side of Clark’s premise, was Standard Bank. On the opposite side of Main Street at number 11, was John Geard’s ironmongery shop.

This is a brief blog on the life of John Harrison Clark.

Main picture: Property of John Harrison Clark in Rufane Vale which formed part of Baakens Valley. Originally part of the property owned by Jonathan Board, the first “cottage” was erected here by 1852 when he offered the lease for sale.

John Harrison Clark was born in London on the 14th September 1814 and he died in Port Elizabeth on the 24th January 1883 at the age of 69. It is not known when he arrived in Port Elizabeth. What is known is that at the age of 28 he married Anne Sophia nee Nudd on the 3rd February 1842. and at the age of 45 he married Sarah nee Challen on the 22nd June 1859. In total, John sired 8 children.

JH Clark per Geni.com
Above: Main Street after 1884.The land between Dreyfus & Co. & the Standard Bank was the property of John Harrison Clark bought in the late 1840s. The centre building was erected in 1854 & the third replaced Clark’s home, originally owned (1835) by Samuel Buffrey.
Main Street after 1884 indicating land usage

Like most of the first generation of merchants in Main Street, their business premises were located on the ground floor of the building whereas their accommodation was in a flatlet on the first floor. Clark appears to have followed this precedent but like most of these entrepreneurs they relocated to more salubrious areas once the business generated sufficient money to permit a more lavish lifestyle. In Clark’s case, he upscaled to Rufane Vale in the Baakens Valley onto an erf originally owned by Jonathan Board. Whether he purchased the stand directly from Board in 1852 or at some later stage, cannot be determined.

In April 1841 The Port Elizabeth Boating Company was formed with Daniel Phillips as Managing Director. The for­mer private concern of Carel Friedrich Silberbauer was turned into a joint stock company. The second boating company was the Eastern Province Boating Co, which began operations on 1 May 1847. These companies were engaged in the loading and off-loading of the ships anchored in the Bay, using surf-boats. These were flat-bottomed wooden boats with a single mast and sail. They were sailed towards the shore then turned stern first to the surf and drawn onto the landing beach using warps (ropes) attached to buoys for that purpose. At some stage, Clark acquired an interest in this company.

Baakens Valley circa 1881. In the background stand three cottages in what is now Harris Street. Below them is the old homestead of the Board family. To the right is the steam laundry which was opened in May 1877. In the centre of the photograph is the property of John McWilliams which at one time was a hotel. In the foreground is the property of John Harrison Clark.

In February 1865, the Union Boating Company was formed. The Chairman and Directors were Joseph Simpson, J.H. Clark, G.C. Smith. C.T. Jones and F.S. Fairbridge. The Superintendent was James Searle. The Company bought the stock of E.B. Wheatland and leased the building used by him, and others adjoining and being built behind, between Commerce and North Union Streets.

Park Drive. Lots 179 & 180 of the Rufane Vale lands, sold in 1895 & bought by William Macintosh (knighted 1923), who built this home. The land was called “Jutland” by the previous owner, J H Clark. In 1920 it was divided into plots & sold as Jutland Township. The house was demolished later

In addition, Clark had an interest in the Port Elizabeth Bank as well as owning several ships including the “Argali” which was launched in 1864. Clark also owned a great deal of property in Rufane Vale, Main Street which formed part of the church grant, the corner of White’s Road, in Mount Pleasant et cetera.

John Harrison Clark junior

Of his eight children, only one became well known or more correctly infamous and to confuse matters he bore the same name as his father: John Harrison Clark.

John Harrison Clark or Changa-Changa (c. 1860–1927) effectively ruled much of what is today southern Zambia from the early 1890s to 1902. He arrived alone from South Africa in about 1887, reputedly as an outlaw, and assembled and trained a private army of Senga natives that he used to drive off various bands of slave-raiders. He took control of a swathe of territory on the north bank of the Zambezi river called Mashukulumbwe, became known as Chief “Changa-Changa” and, through a series of treaties with local chiefs, gained mineral and labour concessions covering much of the region.

According to Wikipedia, “Starting in 1897, Clark attempted to secure protection for his holdings from the British South Africa Company. The Company took little notice of him. A local chief, Chintanda, complained to the Company in 1899 that Clark had secured his concessions while passing himself off as a Company official and had been collecting hut tax for at least two years under this pretence. The Company resolved to remove him from power, and did so in 1902. Clark then farmed for about two decades, with some success, and moved in the late 1910s to Broken Hill. There he became a prominent local figure, and a partner in the first licensed brewery in Northern Rhodesia. Remaining in Broken Hill for the rest of his life, he died there in 1927.


Hills Covered with Cottages: Port Elizabeth’s Lost Streetscapes by Margaret Harradine (2010, Express Copy & Hills Covered with Cottages: Port Elizabeth’s Lost Streetscapes by Margaret Harradine (2010, Express Copy & Print, Port Elizabeth)Print, Port Elizabeth)
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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