Port Elizabeth of Yore: John Parkin – from Humble Beginnings to Property Magnet

John Parkin was the leader of an 1820 Settler Party which arrived aboard the Weymouth on the 15th May 1820. A carpenter and wheelwright by training, John Parkin resided at Lower North Street, Exeter, Devon.

Shortly after settling at the area designated for the Devon party at Kariega, John Parkin relocated his family to Port Elizabeth where he acquired a huge farm, eponymously known as the Baaken’s River Farm. By the time of his death in 1856, the Parkins were one of the wealthiest families in town.

Main picture: John Parkin of Baakens River Farm

Main picture:

In 1818, Baakens River Farm was granted to John James Berry. Today this farm encompasses the suburbs of Newton Park, Sunridge Park, Fernglen and Fairview. The numerous members of the Berry family were well-known in the early days. John Berry’s sons, Richard John and Matthew, were personalities in their own right.

Parkin’s Party was a joint-stock party made up of small tradesmen and husbandmen. Although Parkin was its nominal leader, the party was organised and most of its correspondence with the Colonial Department conducted by another of its members, Robert Newcombe of Coombe Street, Exeter. Unlike many members of the Parker party in Ireland who had to trek long distances to Passage West, outside Cork, their embarkation port, the Parkin party hired a vessel to transport themselves and their baggage by sea to Portsmouth where they boarded HM Store Ship Weymouth.

This scale model of the Weymouth was built by Dr J.A. Pringle of the PE Museum and based on the only known plans of a settler ship that have survived

 The Weymouth sailed on 7th January 1820, reaching Table Bay at Cape Town on the 16th April 1820. They would ultimately only reach Algoa Bay on the 15th May 1820.

John Parkin was accompanied by his wife Elizabeth Abraham (nee Howard) and his first four children, William, John, Jane and Robert. Initially settling on the farm designated by the British Government to the Parkin party, some 14km south west of Bathurst in the Eastern Cape, he moved into Port Elizabeth soon afterwards during the early years of the town’s existence. He settled at Cradock Place. Interestingly his second wife was Maria Dorothea Ferreira whom he married on the 21st January 1839. One wonders whether Maria was related to one of the original owners of Cradock Place, then known as Ferreira’s Farm.  

Baaken’s River Farm

In 1826, Baaken’s River Farm was acquired by John Parkin, quickly acquiring a large portfolio of the Port Elizabeth real estate. Today, not much (if any) of his original land remains in the Parkin name, with only a few items in the city remaining as an acknowledgement of his input into the beginnings of Port Elizabeth, namely Parkin Street in North End and a memorial plaque in a park in Stella Londt Drive. Fernglen, close to where his original homestead was located.

In 1840, John Parkin built a house on what was later Council owned land. He was known throughout Port Elizabeth and the surrounding districts as the owner of extensive properties, in addition to being a noted cattle farmer, meat merchant and huntsman. He owned much land along Main Street as far as Peel Street, and down Jetty Street around to Strand Street. John Parkin also owned a town house in Main Street, built from bricks carried as ballast in Weymouth.

John Parkin’s Farm on the Baakens River Farm

On the 13th October 1856, John Parkin suffered a heart attack in Main Street as he was on his way to buy another property. His second wife, Maria died shortly afterwards. The family story goes – possibly apocryphal – that when John Parkin died, he was holding R800 in his hand with which to buy the land on the corner of Main Street and St. Mary’s Terrace.

The farm, with its typically English cottage, was left to George Parkin, one of his 16 known children. According to Mr. C. Scott PARKIN, George PARKIN and later his son, George Scott PARKIN, lived on the farm until about 1912. Scott PARKIN’s widow continued to live there until approximately 1930 when it was bought by the late Mr. W.E. Londt.

PE Hunt Club on Willowby Farm, now Glen Hurd, owned by George Parkin, one of the 8 sons of John Parkin

John Parkin married twice and had 16 children, eight sons and 8 daughters by his first wife. He married his housekeeper after the death of his first wife, and, it is believed, had several more children. John Parkin’s second wife is buried in the South End Cemetery.

Memorial to John Parkin in a small park in Fern Glen

Upon his death in 1856, his estate was never settled as a number of his children had moved on from Port Elizabeth and some thought to be dead. In the years that followed, some of his property was purchased from the estate by the government of the day for in order to build the Port Elizabeth Railway Station, where it still stands today. In the 1960’s, a descendant of John Parkin, (N.P. Sellick) interested in determining who still had a claim to the estate, researched the Parkin genealogy in conjunction with the HSRC and wrote a book “John Parkin of Baakens River farm and his family, 1820 to 1970“, which gave the basis for the family tree

John Parkin’s grave stone

John Parkin was originally buried on this farm, however when the suburb of Fernglen was established, his remains were exhumed and moved to St Georges cemetery in 1973. A memorial stone stands in the place of his grave in a park on the corner of Hackius and Janssens Avenues in Fernglen.

George Parkin senior and his wife, Mary, nee Scott. Hence George junior’s second name which became the hyphenated surname Scott-Parkin.
George Scott Parkin. All Scott-Parkin family members are descendants of George
Another property owned by John Parkin, corner of Main and Rodney Streets

One of John Parkin’s properties, cnr Main and Peel st Port Elizabeth. 
A current day map depicting the extent of the two farms owned by John Parkin at the time of his death in 1856, Baakens River farm (blue) and Hartebeesfontein farm (green)

Sources

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

Farmhouse stands for 130 years, (April 1970, EP Herald)

John Parkin of Baakens River farm and his family, 1820 to 1970 by NP Sellick (1975, HSRC)

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&ll=-33.94849640648031%2C25.52810700000009&spn=0.080029%2C0.154324&source=embed&mid=1zPfALEKkeznYYfdnx7BxB0p6hok&z=12

https://portelizabethdailyphoto.blogspot.com2017/01/british-settler-john-parkins-farm.html

https://www.eggsa.org/newspapers/index.php/newspaper-cuttings-from-the-eastern-cape/771-newspaper-cuttings-from-the-eastern-cape-p

http://parkinfamilysouthafrica.blogspot.com/


4 Comments

  1. Parkin: A fascinating account fleshing out the life of a settler after his arrival at the Cape. The 1820 Settler Party materiel is at times word for word as in Nash, perhaps a common source?

    Reply
    • Hi Bernard, Per the sources that I list, Nash is not amongst them but in all probability, one of those sources used Nash. What I have found is that original source data is scarce. Hence the same points are made in all articles on a topic

      Regards
      Dean McCleland

      Reply
  2. Many thanks for getting back to me Dean, I appreciate your time. I do not want to make a mountain out of the proverbial molehill but it was just that the wording was from Nash and unacknowledged. I am sure the content has been regurgitated many a time. Incidentally I was at Passage West earlier this year. More importantly your ‘PE of Yore’ is a great contribution to the historical record of PE. Much valued by me for sure, and no doubt many others. Bernard

    Reply

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