Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Story of the Buffelsfontein Farmhouse

Officially this homestead is not accorded such a nomenclature. Nor is it recognised as one the houses which existed prior to the arrival of the 1820 Settlers. The reasons why such houses still exist – Draaifontein House is another exemplar – is due to the location outside the town environs itself but this house is unlikely to survive the tender mercies of the property developers ad infinitum as civilisation encroaches upon it.

Main picture: Buffelsfontein by EC Moore

Take Hartman’s farmhouse on Richmond Hill as an example. It encapsulates what happened to all these pre 1820 houses. Today it does not even rate a one-line mention in history books or even local memory. The growth of the town rapidly overwhelmed these houses, now no longer even a footnote in history.

The first place mentioned by the earliest explorers and travellers venturing through this area was not Port Elizabeth but Kragga Kamma. The reason for not even alluding to Port Elizabeth is due to the fact that it was a wind-swept stretch of bleak uninhabited land. But when it did gain prominence due to the British establishing a puny fort on a hillock overlooking the Bay, references to Kragga Kamma disappeared in toto and the name Port Elizabeth was substituted. Nevertheless, unless the travellers had to venture into town, it was still bypassed as Uitenhage was more prominent.

2022 Entrance to Buffelsfontein Farm

Early mentions & ownership

The farm mentioned by Sparrman on his travels in 1775 could have been Buffelsfontein. It was originally a loan place granted to Theunis Botha in 1776. He was one of the insurgents arrested with van Jaarsveld and died while imprisoned in the Castle at Cape Town. In 1816 the farm was inherited by his son Jacobus Theodorus Botha, the brother of Hermina Berry, nee Botha of Baakens River. On his death in 1854, George Wood took over ownership of it. In 1854 it was sold and then subdivided into eleven portions, including Mount Pleasant and Emerald Hill. Charles Lovemore purchased two plots, one of which was Heatherbank. Subsequently a Mr Clark rented it and later Mr. CW Clark, his son, took ownership of it. The best guess is that Charlie Clark acquired it is 1915 but his father must have acquired it some time prior to that as all of Charlie’s children were born in this house.

Charlie Clark and Ethel Frances Beckley

According to Ivan Clark, who was Charlie Clark’s youngest son, now deceased, in 1988 he was in possession of a title deed dated 1947 showing these subdivisions. Moreover he stated that in past times, scurvy-ridden sailors from sailing vessels were sent to this farm to recuperate. A small building which housed them has subsequently been demolished but is visible in a photo in his possession.  

According to H. Scott in Looking Back Volume VI No 1 dated March 1966, “This very beautifully situated homestead was framed by a giant Kaffirboom [how called coral trees] which cast an aura of peace with its shadow. The thick walls, yellow wood floors, adzed beams, the low loft told of bygone pride in craftmanship. Moreover, age has not detracted from the workmanship. During the Historical Society’s visit in 1966, Mr. Charlie Clark showed his treasures: the nautilus shells, Strandloper relics and Georgian coins found on the land. In the small family graveyard at the back of the house, lies the grave of Theunis Jacobus Botha who died at the age of 45 on the 18th August, 1854.

Map of the original farms in the Port Elizabeth area

Colourful history of a family farm

This section of the blog has substantially been based upon an article in the East London Daily Despatch, dated 9th April 1966. In addition this article was quoted it in entirety in the book A Brighter Tomorrow: Memories of a South Africa childhood by Edna May Walker

When Charles William Clark was a boy, the Port Elizabeth farm, Buffelsfontein, where three generations of his family had lived, teemed with snakes. The children were trained “to look where you walk.”

For the young Charles, this watchfulness paid dividends. He picked up many coins, Strandloper relics and shells that are now museum pieces. The coins are relics from the colourful history of the family farm which has supplied vegetables to Port Elizabeth since the early days. After Charlie’s passing, Mr. Clark’s two sons, Billy & Ivor, would carry on their third-generation task which the Clarks of Buffelsfontein set for themselves – supplying vegetables for the tables of Port Elizabeth.

Queen Victoria

Mr. Clark’s coins range from a Spade Guinea circa 1790 to a small 1½ d piece of 1843, half the size of a tickey. There are coins from George IV to Queen Victoria’s reign, plus some St. Helena and Mauritius coins. These he picked up on the land. Miss Wood, whose father owned the farm previously, told him that there was an old double-storey building on the farm which has since been demolished. The loft of this building was used as a recuperation centre for sailors sick with scurvy who were put ashore from sailing ships calling in the Bay. These sailors, while regaining health in the fresh air and by eating fresh vegetables, probably dropped the coins.

Buffelsfontein

Mr. Charles Clark was born on the farm Buffelsfontein in 1887. Seven of his nine children were born there. His life was bound to the land. Not for him the bright lights and fleshpots. Buffelsfontein, on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, meant peace, pleasure and permanence for him.

The farm reaches back into history. It was first granted to Theunis Botha d’Oude in 1776. Botha was one of the insurgents arrested with Van Jaarsveld during the troubles at Graaff-Reinet. He later died in prison at the Castle. Van Jaarsveld was hanged, and the others released when the Batavian Government took over after 1803.

Smallpox disrupts life

Theale, the noted historian, writing of this, identifies Botha and Buffelsfontein. When the British troops landed at Zwartkops Bay, Botha “who had his farm situated near the sand bay [Sardinia Bay], sent intelligence thereof by an express [indecipherable] stating “Dear brother, come quickly, the English have arrived at the Bay and intend to apprehend all the inhabitants.”

A hundred years later the Clarks came to Buffelsfontein. Mr Clark’s father, aged about 18, was brought to the Kragga Kama area by his mother after her husband had died of smallpox at Cambridge, England. He worked with H.B. Christiaan growing vegetables. An uncle, Robert [Frederick] Green, hired Buffelsfontein but in 1887 trekked to East London by ox wagon to farm at Bulugha [Smiling Valley Farm]. Mr. Clark’s father then rented the farm for 35 years before buying it.

Above: Charlie Clark & Ethel Florence Beckley

Charles was over eight before he went to school at St. Paul’s with the Rev. Mr Brooke, who had married his parents and christened him. His schooling was cut short by the death of his father in 1899. He then took over the farm.

Boer war

During the South African War, Mr. Clark drove an ox wagon laden with vegetables for John Fox Smith who was the buyer for the Concentration Camp for Boer women and children. This camp was considered to be situated “at the very outskirts of town” as it was located at a dam at the top of the present-day Mount Road. This camp was enclosed with barbed wire. He drove through the gates past the sentries to the kitchen. This had a row of stoves down the centre. From the beams hung sides of bacon, meat, sausages and biltong.

Above: Kemsley Park next to the SAP sports fields just off Mount Road was one of two Anglo Boer War concentration camp sites in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Family connection

In 1915, Charles William Clark married one of the Draaifontein sisters, Ethel Florence Beckley [1889-1962], my gran’s sister. That makes Charles, or Charlie as he was known to friends, my great uncle. They lived in a cottage on the farm while his mother occupied the homestead. This house with 3-feet thick walls, yellowwood floors and beams, a low loft, with many features of a bygone age architecture, is still sound and well-kept. In the living room, old fashioned candle brackets and still screwed into doorframes. Electricity came to Buffelsfontein circa1963.

The Driftsands Special

As a small boy, Charlie Clark used to go out with Mr Guthrie who drove the Driftsands Special through Humewood. This train carried the town’s rubbish, comprising mainly vegetable matter in that era, to the sand-dunes south of Humewood. This rubbish was used to stabilise the sand dunes which were steadily encroaching upon Humewood were anticipated to engulf the harbour as well. Charlie Clark was surprised one day when he was given a basket to pick some tomatoes on these former sand dunes. Sure enough, all the compost worked into the sands had borne fruit. There were melons, cucumbers, pumpkins and tomatoes growing in profusion on what was just barren sand.

The Sunken Gun

Though Charlie Clark modestly disclaims, “I am no historian,” he has assimilated much history of his land. Several years ago, he and his sons took part in the salvage of a 17th century naval gun of the Sacramento submerged in Sardinia Bay. This gun now guards the entrance to the museum and is known as the “Harraway Gun” for the part that Mr. Hal Harraway played in its preservation.

Charlie’s two sons, Billy and Ivan, carried on the third-generation task that the Clarks of Buffelsfontein had set themselves viz supplying vegetables for the tables of Port Elizabeth.

 Sources

Gazetteer of the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage Divisions of the old Cape Colony, compiled by Bartle Logie and Margaret Harradine (2014, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

The Algoa Gazetteer by C.J Skead (1993, Algoa Regional Services Council, Port Elizabeth)

The Society Outing to Farms in the Kragga Kamma Region by H. Scott from Looking Back Volume VI No 1 1966)

A Brighter Tomorrow: Memories of a South Africa childhood available to loan Archive.org, https://archive.org/embed/brightertomorrow0000boot

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9 Comments

    • Hi Jan,
      No, I don’t & I don’t think that there was ever an image of it because it was never considered to be significant in thse days
      Dean McCleland
      082 801 5446

      Reply
    • Hi Dale
      Thanks a million for this information. It is much appreciated.

      I am only able to access page 306 but does the commentary extend past that?

      I will include this section as part of my blog on Buffelsfontein

      REgards
      Dean McCleland
      082 801 5446

      Reply
  1. I loved reading this. I’m in the UK but was born on Kragga Kamma. Granddaughter of Charles and Ethel Clarke. Thank you for this wonderful read.

    Reply

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