Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Little-Known Obelisk in Walmer

Most residents of Port Elizabeth are oblivious of the rich and varied history of this 200-year old town. It would be fair to say that they would be ignorant of many of its artefacts as well. Being unaware of this memorial would not be an exception except that in this case they could claim to possess a valid excuse: its location.

The description of this memorial is taken from Tong Longworth’s book simply entitled Walmer.

Main picture: Obelisk at the Walmer Golf Club

The more famous obelisk

For 58 years this obelisk would occupy a prominent place in the town; in the middle of Market Square.  

It was at an Exhibition held in London in November 1862, that John Paterson, the founder of the Eastern Province Herald, espied the beautiful granite obelisk on show. Without hesitation and thinking through the consequences, Paterson, while still mourning the loss of his friend, his business partner, and brother-in-law, George Kemp, purchased the obelisk. His intention was to erect it as a tombstone on the grave of George Kemp in St. George’s Park as an act of homage.

Market Square with obelisk and no cabs

Prior to his return to the Colony, Paterson arranged that the heavy, clumsy object be shipped out on the barque Rose of Montrose to Port Elizabeth on the 16th February 1863. Paterson himself arrived back in Port Elizabeth, some weeks prior to the arrival of the obelisk. Hardly had the obelisk arrived in Port Elizabeth on the 25th April 1863 than controversy arose. This stemmed from the raison d’etre for having the obelisk displayed in Market Square.

Hardly had Paterson been rebuffed by George’s father than the Rose of Montrose with the unwanted chunk of stone, would belatedly arrive in Algoa Bay. It was one matter to ship the huge lump of stone out on the Rose, but quite another matter to disembark it onto an unstable skiff in the Bay and then land it on the beach.

There it lay, unwanted on the beach. No one, including Paterson, wished to incur the expense of transporting it to a site in the town. It was the marriage of the Prince of Wales – Prince Albert – to Alexandra of Denmark on 10th March 1863 which came to the rescue. When the Council met to discuss the plans to celebrate this marriage, Paterson found a solution to the obelisk problem. Paterson magnanimously offered it to the town as a monument to commemorate this festive occasion. Mr James Wyatt was paid £105 to erect the obelisk.

On 2nd February 1921 the Council decided that the obelisk should be removed and replaced by a howitzer. On the 4th and 5th March 1921, the obelisk, its plinth and troughs, unwanted yet again, were placed in a Municipal yard, where they were gradually broken up. 

Ultimately the obelisk became a gate guard at Bayworld.

The obelisk’s final resting place without its plinth and water troughs

The less renowned obelisk

Unlike the obelisk in Market Square, this memorial would not face any opposition or resentment.

In his book, Tony Longworth describes the birth pangs of this obelisk as follows:  On the highest point of the Walmer Golf Course stands a concrete obelisk with “PAX 1918” inscribed on it. It is self-explanatory. After the armistice ending the First World War was signed on the 11th November 1918, the locals formed a Peace Celebrations Committee which was responsible for the construction of the obelisk and the brushwood fortress that surrounded it. The fortress measured 106 feet in diameter and the brushwood was stacked up to 12 feet in height. In the centre, reaching 27 feet total height was a brushwood effigy of a German soldier holding a sword in one hand and a torch in the other. On either side was a brushwood long range gun and behind was a large howitzer. The whole complex was the brainchild of William John McWilliams.

The peace treaty was finally signed and on the evening of Saturday, 19 July 1919, a cold night with a raw wind blowing, the crowds gathered around, many brought by a specially laid on train. The Mayor of Walmer , John Syme Neave, addressed the crowd. The torch in the soldier’s hand was then electrically lighted and at the same time, the whole fortress was set alight. As the bonfire burnt away, the concrete obelisk was revealed.

The obelisk remains standing on its own small holding enclosed by a wire fence being maintained by – nobody seems to know.

Every now and then you find a memorial that seems to have lost its context, or been vandalised to the extent that its meaningless, and occasionally you find one that has been forgotten.

The PAX Memorial In Walmer is one such memorial that was relevant in 1918, but which lost its reason for existence when when it was overtaken by the horrors of World War 2. Unlike many war memorials that recognises the sacrifice of those that lost their lives, PAX celebrates the outbreak of peace.

Over time the monument became forgotten and merged with the trees and undergrowth. Renewed interest in the memorial in 1982 did not result in the memorial being moved, and once again it disappeared into obscurity. Today it is probably only ever seen by golfers playing their obligatory 9 holes.

The PAX Memorial may be found at Google Earth Co-ordinates 33° 58.464’S, 25° 34.491’E.

Notes:

1.      McWilliams [b. 1873 in Ireland, d. 1950 in Walmer, PE] was a
distinguished local architect who teamed up with another well-known
architect, Victor Thomas Jones [b. 1864 in Cape Town, d. 1946 in PE], to
form the well-known architectural practice of Jones and McWilliams.
2.      The late Mrs Margaret Harradine, in her book ‘Port Elizabeth: A
social chronicle to the end of 1945′ (c 1996, E H Walton Packaging (Pty)
Ltd, Port Elizabeth), page 149, adds:

Jul. 19, 1919   The Walmer bonfire on the golf -course. “From November the
previous year, the citizens of Walmer had been collecting brushwood for this occasion…. The burning symbolised the destruction of German militarism and as the wood burned a concrete column emerged, inscribed with the single word “PAX”. The column remains as a permanent memorial, though now forgotten and neglected.”

…and the following entries from the same book ‘Port Elizabeth’, continuing
on from the above quotation and covering events in PE during the remainder of 1919:
“Aug. 2-5   The Peace Celebrations. Public holidays were declared to allow
everyone to participate.
Aug. 3     Services of thanksgiving were held in the churches and an
official one in the Feather Market Hall.
Aug. 4     The main event was the procession from the Market Square to the
Show ground. Led by the PAG, this was some two miles long, with 58
individual units. When the Peace Car reached the statue of Queen Victoria,
there was a halt while a laurel wreath was laid and the Last Post was
played. Deputy Mayor J.S. Young addressed the crowd at the Show Ground.
Aug. 5     A children’s day was organised in the parks. Each child received
a printed souvenir of the occasion, designed by F.  Pickford Marriott.
Aug. 14    A Grand Ball was held in the Feather Market Hall as part of the
peace celebrations.
Aug. 26 + 27  The P.E. choral Society gave two Peace Commemoration and
Memorial Concerts in the City Hall.
Oct.         The touring exhibition of war photographs was in Port
Elizabeth. Originally exhibited in London, these came from the Ministry of
Defence. Proceeds from the tour went to the Governor-General’s Fund. The
photos were of varying sizes, but all quite large: the biggest was 27 feet
by 14-15 feet [8.23 x 4.27- 4 57 metres]. After the tour, the Municipality
bought the pictures for 800 pounds and they were hung in the Feather Market Hall at the beginning of 1921. Later put into storage, they were sent to the National War Museum in 1957.
Nov. 11    On the first anniversary of the Armistice, at the request of the
King, at 11 am silence was kept. The Harbour Board authorities fired a
rocket and the town was silent for two minutes.
Dec. 23    The Mayor presented medals to 13 returned Port Elizabeth
servicemen.”

Note:  The conversions of sizes from feet to metres, in square brackets, are
by Richard Tomlinson.

Sources

Walmer by F.A. Longworth (1998, QS Publications, Port Elizabeth)

2 Comments

  1. I came across the Walmer Golf course obelisk while walking in the woodson the golf course. It was not visible at all to golfers. I even started a painting of it. Thanks for the information about the bonfire.

    Reply

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