Port Elizabeth of Yore: 1812

Comedians like to jest that the shortest book per the tome, Guinness World Records, is about Italian War Heroes. Undoubtedly, a book on Port Elizabeth in 1812 would be a close second.   

This extremely brief blog is a comprehensive description of the area which was yet to be christened Port Elizabeth. 

Main picture: A decade before the arrival of the 1820 settlers


When Frederick Korsten first settled in Algoa Bay in 1812 – the area did not yet bear the name Port Elizabeth – Korsten’s biographer classified it as a “dreary neighbourhood.” It could also have used adjectives such as isolated, dangerous or even alive with possibility but it was only an entrepreneur, such as Korsten, who could envisage this potential. Korsten had just won a contract to supply salted beef to Mauritius and various other places. With him, he brought various skilled personnel. Together with his family and staff, Korsten probably doubled the local population.

Frederick Korsten

On the Hill was the Fort, named after the Duke of York, a low building used as a barrack and as a store while in the ravine below were a few rooms constructed of wattle and daub which acted as the mess house.

Behind the sun-dial, in the rear of the Commissariat Building, stood the “Residency, a stone house, the abode of the officer in charge, and some outhouses, employed as a “lock-up.” To the south of this, between the pump and Slater’s Steam Mills, was the “block house,” a hideous square building of brick and wood. Where the original St Mary’s Church would stand with its ugly disproportions, the site was occupied by a mud hut used by the Commissary. In the rear of the future and original Phoenix Hotel, stood yet another house, also in the form of a mud ponok.

Settlement at Algoa Bay

Settlement at Algoa Bay

Behind the site of the future Wesleyan Chapel – old Russell Road Methodist Church – near the foot of Hyman’s Kloof, stood Hartman’s isolated farm house. Further north where Albany Road now lies was a mud hovel in which the Ferreira family resided. On the southern side of the Baaken’s River, there was only one farmhouse, a ramshackle dwelling near the beach.

From what is now Main Street, the sea was invisible owing to the lofty sand dunes lining the shore from the Fishery – current day Summerstrand – to the Zwartkops River. The white population consisted of two lieutenants and a handful of soldiers supplemented by a small number of coloured people.


Vessels visiting the Bay were few and far between. Generally these vessels were government schooners which came once per month. Trade was miniscule amounting to no more than a few kegs of butter and a small number of bags of salt.

From such auspicious beginnings, who could have predicted that this lonely stretch of coast would not become another Port Alfred or Kenton-on-Sea?


Old Times and Odd Corners: The Founder of Eastern Province Commence and his Frontier Home by John Centlivres Chase


  1. Thank you for this interesting site.
    I wonder if you can help me. I’m interested in the schooner Mazeppa whose home port was PE in the 1830s and 1840s. Her first captain there was John Tait (or Tate). Do you perhaps have any information about him, or any advice on how I might find out more about him.?
    All the best,


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