Port Elizabeth of Yore: Donkin Street

Painting of Donkin Street

The houses in Donkin Street add to the charm of the area bracketed by the Hill Presbyterian church at the top and Nedbank building in Main Street and bounded by the Donkin Reserve in the east.   

Main picture: Painting of Donkin Row, as it is called

Before the arrival of the Settlers, Donkin Street was an insignificant Kloof dwarfed by its larger siblings, White’s Road, Russell Road and Albany Road. What it did supply initially was water from a perennial spring. Apart from a well in Market Square, it provided the water for the town until Frame’s Reservoir on the Shark River was constructed.

Buildings abutting Main Street

Initially the “New Church” occupied the site on the northern corner of Donkin & Main Streets.


Main Street between 1853 and 1858 as there is no Town Hall. The church, known as “New Church”, on the right was built in 1853


The Independent or New Church

The Independent or New Church after the Town Hall was built



The New Church was converted into Auction Rooms and the clock was donated to the Town Hall. This photo shows an auction in progress in Donkin Street


The Auction house was then converted into offices for the Netherlands Bank

The Auction house was then converted into offices for the Netherlands Bank


In 1854, the Kloof was filled in. The only elegy was a poem written by a William Selwyn, a resident, entitled “The lament of the Donkin Street streamlet, on being entombed by an unpoetical municipality.”

On the 28th December 1955, the sale of the reclaimed land was sold in the newly created Donkin Street.

The other corner of Donkin and Main Street

The other corner of Donkin and Main Street


Donkin Houses

The Donkin Street houses were built between 1860 and 1880.

Donkin Row from Donkin Reserve

Donkin Row from Donkin Reserve


Donkin Row-Panoramic View from Donkin late 1890s

Donkin Row-Panoramic View from the Donkin Reserve in late 1890s





The whole site was declared a National Monument in 1967.

The first houses (Nos 29-55) appear to have been declared as National Monuments in 1967, whereas Nos 21-27 were only declared as National Monuments in 1984 per the NMC Report for that year.

The houses, and those around them, have recently been restored, making a great attraction for tourists interested in Port Elizabeth’s early housing. Not wanting to be labelled a Cassandra, but while the restoration might have vastly improved the houses, what I question is whether the original design was replicated meticulously in the process.




Across the road

Strictly speaking, the Hill Presbyterian Church is on the corner of Belmont Terrace, now renamed Athol Fugard Terrace, and Alfred Terrace. To me, however, it adds the sauce to the houses below.

View of the Hill Presbyterian Church from Donkin Reserve

View of the Hill Presbyterian Church from Donkin Reserve



  1. Hi Dean
    I am presently busy reading through your series of ‘Port Elizabeth of Yore’ articles and finding them fascinating. But, as I wrote to you earlier, I feel it my duty to draw your attention to any statements with which I disagree:
    Donkin Street Houses. The 1st Edition of ‘Donkin Heritage Trail’ booklet gives their building date as 1870. However we know they were built over several years and 4th Edition (1989, revised by Margaret Harradine) gives more reasonably “between 1860 and 1880”.
    Regarding the declaration as National Monuments, I researched this for the 9th Edition (2016). The first houses declared (Nos 29-55) appear to have been declared in 1967, but Nos 21-27 only in 1984 (NMC Report for that year.)
    Regards, Richard Tomlinson

    • Hi Richard
      I certainly appreciate the checks that you are performing. As I live in Joburg, all of these blogs are based upon what information that I have at my disposal. I will most certainly update my blog to reflect these corrections.
      Thanks again
      Kind regards
      Dean McCleland


Leave a Comment.