Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Story of the Equestrian War Memorial

The Horse Memorial has been a feature of Port Elizabeth since the 11th February 1905 yet very few people are aware of the story of why the citizens deemed it necessary to erect it.

This blog sets this to rights as told by Tennyson S. Bodill

Main picture: The Horse Remount Depot in North End during the Boer War catered for over 30 000 horses

In 1901 a movement was started, its object being the erection in Port Elizabeth of a memorial to permanently commemorate the services rendered to the gallant soldiers during the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902, by that most faithful of all servants, the horse, and to provide for a number of  public drinking troughs throughout South Africa.

Loading horses at Port Elizabeth Harbour

During hostilities, the British Army’s War Office realised that mobility was of the utmost importance and therefore made a vigorous effort to mount its troops. Farmers at the Cape were unwilling to sell their horses and, as commandeering them could have resulted in political unrest, the Remount Department (which began its operations in October 1899) of the War Office decided to import horses and mules from Australia, Argentina, Canada, Hungary, Italy , Spain and the United States of America.

Animals drinking from the water troughs at the Horse Memorial

One of the principal reasons for the inhabitants of Port Elizabeth taking such an interest in the movement to erect a permanent equestrian memorial, was the fact that many of the horses and mules transported by sea to this country by the Remount Department during the campaign were landed at Port Elizabeth. The transport of horses and mules by sea during those turbulent days was by no means an easy matter. Each horse and mule transported to this country was secured with slings in the stalls provided in the holds of the ships and during the voyage hay and other fodder was hung in nets near the horses’ and mules’ heads to avoid waste.  Some of the noxious weeds which now flourish in abundance in South Africa were originally brought to the country from the Argentine in fodder provided for these horses (Mexican poppy, Khakiweed, “black jacks” and the onion weed being the worst offenders).

Horse Memorial – June 1926

A certain amount of space was allowed for in the holds of the ships where the horses and mules, during transport, were exercised on matting when weather permitted. Over 13 000 horses, as against 2 000 odd mules, died at sea and many times that number perished because they were often ill-suited to the rigorous demands of the South African veld and climate or were taken onto the battlefield before they had properly recovered from the effects of the voyage.

Hardly less important in its effect upon the condition of the horses and mules arriving at the front was the railway journey, especially when, as often happened in South Africa during the campaign, it was a journey lasting several days. Arrangements for watering and feeding had to be carefully planned and precautions had to be taken to prevent the horses and mules from injuring themselves or each other on the way to the various battle fronts. The latter difficulty was aggravated, especially in the   case of the large English horses, by the narrowness of the South African trucks. In the trucks the horses and mules stood parallel to the rails and in two lots, facing each other, with a space between them to allow for feeding and watering. Special fittings were fixed inside the trucks to keep the middle of the truck clear.

Horse Memorial – June 1926

At the Port Elizabeth harbour the sight of horses and mules being sling-hoisted ashore was a common occurrence remembered by the inhabitants of the town long after the war had ended. The horses and mules were gathered at the bottom of Jetty Street from where they were taken to the Remount Depots situated at the north end of the town (the old showgrounds site in Mount Road, afterwards the Municipal Market), where the remounts and artillery horses were corralled and stabled, and at Kragga Kamma where the mules and cobs were kept.

After landing, many horses were broken in and trained at the Remount Depot in North End. During the campaign, to be “Stellenbosched” became a derogatory term applied by the British to their officers who had proved incompetent and were removed from the battlefield to rusticate at a similar depot established at Stellenbosch. From the Remount Depots in Port Elizabeth, the horses and mules were transported by rail via Naauwpoort (and afterwards, Springfontein) or De Aar to the front.

Horse Memorial in Rink Street in 1955

On several occasions the inhabitants of the town were startled by the sight and sound of horses stampeding in all directions, from Jetty Street where the horses were gathered, down the Main Street of Port Elizabeth, often leaving behind a scene of destruction in the form of damaged shopfronts and broken shop windows, doors and scattered wares.

In an article which appeared in the local Advertiser during 1900, the reporter stated that “Towns people were startled just at the time they were wending their way to places of worship on Sunday evening (1 July 1900) by the sudden appearance of wild troops of stampeding horses which took possession of the streets in their mad career. The horses had broken from their kraal at the remount camp at North End, some 400 suddenly stampeding from one of the large kraals there and galloping into the town. The larger body went up the open hillside and then turned down Cape Road and Western Road into the town. The bulk came down Whites Road at top speed. People in the Market Square and the thoroughfares, naturally fairly full at the time, instinctively made for the sidewalks for safety as the mad cavalcade clattered past.”

Several people were knocked down, including an elderly lady, near the old Post Office, but we have not heard of any serious accidents. The riderless squadron charged down Whites Road at top speed and through the Square and Jetty Street where the jetty rails barred their progress and they divided, companies bolting again in several directions. One horse dashed into the rails guarding the culvert end by the Herald Office with such force that it bent the thick iron rail and broke off a post. This animal perished from the effects. Gangs of horses continued their career in different directions. Some got on the jetty by the passenger entrance, a great many were stopped and captured in the Market Square and by the Jetty, others got on the railway line and four of them were run into at the South Street crossing by the down mail train and killed. For some time the horses revelled in their newly found freedom and pursued the erratic courses to which their fears urged them. There would be a sound of clattering hoofs and suddenly a troop would sweep around the corner of the street somewhere, their hoofs flashing sparks as they swept along. They were valuable cavalry horses from North America, recently landed, and after their confinement on board made the most of their chance for a scamper. A large proportion were recaptured by the military during the night. It is fortunate there were no accidents to residents. The loss of five valuable animals is to be regretted.

Altogether the Remount Department, in England and in South Africa, provided for the purpose of war some 520 000 horses (Lord Kitchener purchased 41 000 horses in South Africa and the Remount Department supplied horses at the rate of 10 000 per month during the campaign) and 150 000 mules including an unspecified number of cobs. Of these, some 350 000 horses and 50 000 mules perished in the campaign. The Boers took the field with 50 000 to 60 000 horses which were renewed several times in the course of the campaign. Their loss of horses most probably exceeded 100 000. At Winberg in the Orange Free State the British slaughtered 1 500 horses to prevent them falling into the possession of the Boer forces. The carcasses of these horses were left where they were slaughtered and for a considerable time afterwards, soldiers, correspondents and the public, generally, witnessed a scene of stinking, rotting carcasses of these horses which littered the veld.

These staggering and at the same time remarkably significant figures of horses and mules which participated and perished in the South African War greatly influenced public opinion and it was through the zeal of committee of ladies comprising Mrs. G. Meyer, Mrs.  J. C. Kemsley, Mrs. W.H. Edwards, Miss J. Edwards, Mrs. A. Hall, Mrs. H. Mosenthal, Miss V. Pride and Miss Smith, all of Port Elizabeth, that the handsome equine war memorial was erected.

1905 02 11 – The unveiling of the Horse Memorial intersection of Rink Street and Park Drive

These ladies, while engaged in providing hospitality to the troops who landed at Port Elizabeth, had ample opportunities of seeing thousands of animals sent to the front. Mrs. Gustav Meyer (born Harriet Bun t o n of Kings Lynn, Norfolk, and residing at Mavisbank in Belmont Terrace) as    acting Honorary   Secretary and afterwards President of the Committee, moved that a permanent equestrian memorial    be erected, and the idea was apparently met with general enthusiasm by the Committee. Lady         Hely- Hutchinson, Mrs. Chamberlain and the Honourable Mrs. Wilkinson lent their patronage to the idea and these ladies knew that a monument such as they had desired to erect would only appeal to lovers of animals. A subscription list was opened by the ladies’ committee to finance the erection of an equine war memorial.

Horse Memorial in Cape Road

The sympathy of Port Elizabeth and up-country towns was not wanting and friends  in England and   the United States of        America were numerous. Mrs. Meyer, with   the   support   received   from    the local and leading merchants of the Colony, and assisted by the ladies of the Committee, speedily managed to   raise    a    sum    of     money    totalling    £500    through    collections    and public entertainments.

Another resident of the town, Mr. Albert Holt, on leaving Port Elizabeth for England in 1903, was appointed London representative of the Committee and was authorised to give out the necessary contract for the work estimated to cost £800 and to collect the outstanding portion of the money required  for the equine war memorial . The able assistance of Captain Simpson of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association was secured, and this organization donated a sum of £100 towards the erection of the memorial.                                                                         

Horse Memorial in Cape Road

This organization was also responsible for the design in every detail of the equipment of both horse and man of the memorial. The ladies persevered, cheered and supported by the sympathy of many highly placed officials in the Service and   the    ever-ready assistance of the soldiers who dearly loved their four-footed comrades and who generously contributed towards the scheme.

The support and untiring assistance of yet another influential and well-known citizen of Port Elizabeth, Mr. William Savage, was gained and eventually, in June 1903, after sufficient money had been collected locally and abroad, the contract for the equine war memorial was placed in the hands of Messrs. Joseph   Whitehead   and   Sons of   Kensington and Westminster, London.

Consummation of the scheme was reached on Saturday, 11 February 1905, when the Mayor, Mr. Alexander Fettes, officially unveiled the equine war memorial in the presence of Councillors and a large gathering of fashionable public dignitaries. The memorial, which was placed in position under the supervision of the Town Engineer, Mr. Arthur S Butterworth, AM Inst CE, originally occupied a site at the Rink Street intersection with Park Drive.

Among those present at the ceremony were lads of the Grey Cadet Corps, commanded by Captain W Chubb Meredith , who took up a position beside the memorial soon after the Mayor, Mr. Fettes, accompanied by several Councillors, the Town Clerk, Mr. Willoughby How and the Town Engineer, Mr. Butterworth, arrived at the memorial.

From a small stand provided for the speakers, the Mayor addressed the gathering by saying that “the unveiling of this monument marked the completion of what had been an arduous undertaking on the part of those ladies with whom the idea of raising a monument to the horses originated. To have succeeded in what, generally speaking, was not a very popular undertaking , required an amount of energy and zeal which must surely command our admiration and this is not only a monument to the horses, but it also commemorates the indomitable perseverance of those who initiated the movement and whose efforts are now happily crowned with success. To raise a monument to the ‘brutesthat perish is considered by many to be misplaced sentiment, while some are inclined to think with Louis Wain ··· that all animals have their season of happiness in a hereafter, before their final effacement, as a reward for the trialthey undergo in life, while under the dominion of man. But it must be remembered that a monument to a favourite animal is not, by any means uncommon, although this may be the first that is raised to commemorate the services of horses generally. In addition to the memorial proper, there is a drinking trough for horses and cattle and the wants of the thirsty wayfarer are also provided for. The design as a whole is an object lesson in kindness and may appeal to the cruel or careless driver and teach him that there are some who do not think it beneath them to attend to the wants of the animals placed under their charge.

The Mayor then pulled the cords which released the veiling, thus uncovering the statue and those present at the ceremony saw before them a massive structure, the rough granite base forming a drinking fountain and trough and serving also as the pedestal for the statue proper. This latter, which is of bronze and cast at the Thames Dillon Works, Surrey, represents a soldier with his horse, and the former was seen kneeling on one leg giving his equine friend a drink of water from a bucket. The horse stands sixteen hands two inches high and the figure of the soldier is life size.

The inscription upon the base of the memorial which was taken from an address given by the Bishop of Stepney, reads: “The greatness of a nation consists not so much in the number of its people or the extent of its territory as in the extent and justice of its compassion,” and on a lower panel: “Erected by public subscription in recognition of the gallant animals which perished in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902.”

The general comments from the public at the ceremony was that the attitude of the man was strikingly natural but that of his steed seemed to be too set or wooden. The opinion was that had the near foreleg been thrown forward, the effect would have been more pleasing and that the sculptor, Mr. Joseph Whitehead, was surely in error in his hanging of the sword … the hilt and scabbard are turned the wrong way around.

However, the design was generally found to be distinctly appropriate and the equine war memorial undoubtedly enhanced the appearance of a spot which, before the erection, looked somewhat desolate.

In a few further remarks the Mayor traced the history of the movement which had as its aim the erection of the memorial and pointed out that the idea originated with a small committee of ladies as far back as 1899. Mr. Fettes concluded his address by saying that “the efforts of those ladies were rewarded with a monument which was not only a work of art, but also an object lesson to the most thoughtless, and one which conveyed to every mind a sense of duties and obligations due to Gods dumb creatures.

Another speaker at the ceremony was Canon Wirgman who commented on the great interest in the movement by Mrs. Meyer, the President, whom, he declared, had been absolutely indefatigable. In his address, Canon Wirgman said that “as a work of art the unveiled memorial spoke for itself.” He mentioned that one of the great features of the towns of the Motherland and great States was that their streets were adorned with works of art and that Port Elizabeth had, until then (1905), been lacking in such memorials. The Canon referred to the lesson of kindness and consideration to which the statue pointed and, as an old citizen of Port Elizabeth, expressed his own personal thanks and likewise the thanks of all those present at the ceremony, to Mrs. Meyer and those who had assisted her in setting up the memorial.

Destruction of Horse Memorial by the EFF

Following Canon Wirgman’s address, Mrs. Meyer asked the Mayor and Council to take custody of the fountain so that it may be preserved for all future generations as a mark of appreciation of the services of dumb animals to mankind, both in the labours of peace and in the perils of war. She also recorded her Committee’s thanks to the Municipality for providing its assistance in the erection of the equine war memorial and also to Captain Simpson of the Metropolitan Drinking Trough Association, London. Mr. Albert Holt and Mr. William Savage were also thanked for their assistance.

The Mayor, in response to Mrs. Meyer’s request on that occasion and on behalf of the Town Council consented to take custody of the memorial which he maintained would be looked after by the Council for all   time. Other speakers at the ceremony were the Resident Magistrate and Country Councillor, Mr. H C Becker, and the Minister of the Queen Street Baptist Church, the Reverend Alfred E Hall. The day’s activities were concluded with a function held in a large   marquee in St George’s Park.

In 1922 the Port Elizabeth Branch of the National Council of Women had the name Harriet Meyer inscribed on the granite base of the statue as a tribute to her.

On 28 August 1957 the equine war memorial was moved to a location in the vicinity of Rink Street at the junction with Cape Road.

Port Elizabeth is fortunate in its heritage of this splendid equine war memorial which in many ways is one of our city’s most important landmarks. The memorial is worthy of preservation for future generations.


Narrative of the Equine War Memorial by Tennyson Smith Bodill

The Times History of The War in South Africa, 1899-1902 (Vol. VI) by Amery, LS

Panorama of Port Elizabeth by E.K. Lorimer

The Collegiate Church and Parish of St Mary, Port Elizabeth by Wirgman, AT & Mayo, CE

Looking Back, Vol V, No. 3, dated September 1965



  • The Cape Daily Telegraph
  • The Port Elizabeth Advertiser




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