Port Elizabeth of Yore: Taking the Old Fishery Road to The Fishery

During the 1800s the area known today as Hobie Beach was originally called The Fishery. As the coast south of the harbour was rocky and inland of the shore was covered with fine, soft sand dunes into which ones feet would sink much like into a soft jelly, the direct coastal route was considered impassable. Instead, a circuitous route which bypassed this sand belt, was created. It was this road that was the improvised roadway known as the old Fishery Road which vended its way inland before making a sharp left turn towards the sea.

As The Fishery was the centre of a thriving fishing and whaling operation, its lifeline to civilisation was via this non-descript road for over half a century.  It should be noted that minor adjustments were made to this route, the Mark 2 version, which did reduce  its length. However, there was never access to the Fishery along the beach, but only by the overland “Fishery Road“.

Main picture: Map of the Fishery Road

Creation of The Fishery
On the 4th June 1821, Frederick Korsten was granted a piece of land on the beach adjoining Strandfontein for a whale fish­ery. Known as the ”Fishery”, the choice of this spot lies in the small cove there which was said to pro­vide safe landing for boats in all weathers. The exact location of this cove in which the fishing boats could be protected from atrocious sea and weather conditions cannot be ascertained. Perhaps with the construction of the harbour wall, the  whole coastline has been affected by the revised scouring motion of the seawater around the Bay thereby affecting its structure.

Capt. George Herbert managed the Fishery for Korsten in the early days. Two well-known members of the whaling team were Portuguese harpooner, Jose de Mell, and West Indian Coxswain, Jack Frost. Korsten offered the Fishery for sale more than once and the next owner was John Norton, followed in 1845 by Daniel Phillips and his brother, Robert. Then in about 1854, R.L. Crump bought it and ran a fish salting enterprise there until his death and in 1863 W.B. Frames purchased it. The house, cottages and other buildings were in due course engulfed by the encroaching drift sands. In 1909 there was still a fishery operating beyond the slipway known as the Kalk Bay Fisheries.

Initial route of the old Fishery Road
In those days, the approaches to the seashore and beach from the South End were covered with sand dunes interspersed with bush and scrub, and there was no road along the lower beach. Pedestrians were therefore forced to journey over the sand dunes and bush, or follow the old wagon path created by Piet Retief, known as Fishery Road, past the Lazaretto, an infectious diseases hospital, and down to the beach again to reach their bungalows. Piet Retief had built the Fishery Road after he had built his house where the Beach Hotel is located today. So, in effect, this road can be categorised as a farm road with all that comparison entails – wash aways in rainy weather, extremely bumping and continually “falling into disrepair”

This was the road used by the Port Captain and other harbour authorities whilst on their periodical visits to the Cape Receife lighthouse, and over which all supplies for the keeper and the maintenance of the light had to be conveyed. It was a hard journey of approximately 12kms to reach the lighthouse which has stood on Cape Receife since 1851.

W.F. Frames’ woolwashing in Humewood using the water from the stream known as Shark River

Revised route
At the time when Mr. Frames established his woolwashery on the banks of the Shark’s River, the route taken by the wagons plying between the town and the wool sheds was up Walmer Road, along Fishery Road, and over the hill down to the beach where the later Hotel Elizabeth would stand, then over the rocks and sand dunes to the woolwashery. Finding this a very difficult way, the services of the troops stationed in the Bay at the time were requisitioned to cut a road round the other side of the hill and down to the beach along the bank of the river at Happy Valley.

What was known in the early days as Happy Valley was the wooded area adjoining the harbour quarries where the Humansdorp railway line cuts across the Humewood Road. It was a great picnic spot where the towns­folk with their families disported themselves during the week­ends and on public holidays. Hence, the original location of Happy Valley should not be confused with its later version situated on Sharks River at Humewood. 

The Fishery under threat
In 1863 W.B. Frames purchased the Fishery from R.L. Crump. Frames had other ideas in mind for the area as he intended to establish a woolwashing business at the mouth of the Shark River. What Frames was unaware of was that the quantity of sand entering the Bay from the drift north of Beacon Point was slowly overwhelming the buildings at the Fishery. In due course they were buried and the future of the harbour was also cast in doubt. Perhaps as an overreaction to this situation, In 1870 Sir John Coode expressed his concerns regarding the future of the harbour with regard to the encroaching sand.

By Act 20 of 1872, the Harbour Commissioners were empowered to use funds to stabilize the dunes and buy up land affected by the sand. The reclamation of the driftsands was begun. William Webber was in charge of the Harbour Board’s scheme to cover the sand with brushwood and seeds. This method was only partially successful and in 1893 the work was taken over by the Forestry Department.

Ultimate solution to the connecting road problem
Even the revised route through the original Happy Valley was problematical. Instead of contending with impassible sand dunes of the direct route, the distance using the Fishery Road was double that compared to a direct route along the seashore. Pressures were mounting from other quarters to construct a road along the coast to Shark River. Included amongst the proposals was the suggestion to open up Humewood for development and to build a slipway at the Fisheries. The latter proposal would only be feasible if a railway connection was constructed. Perhaps this suggestion gained acceptance as the line could serve a dual purpose by extending it to Driftsands in order to dump the town’s refuse .

It was the mounting pressures from various parties which resulted in a railway line being constructed along the coast from the area adjacent to the new Customs House at the junction of Jetty Street and North  Jetty to the southern bank of the Shark River.  In due course, the original Fishery Road disappeared with portions being appropriated as suburban roads with the final descent to the coast probably becoming La Rochelle Drive.    

The Lazaretto or isolation hospital on the southern bank of the Shark River. Opened on 9th September 1882

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).
Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by J.J. Redgrave (1947, Rustica Press)

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