Port Elizabeth of Yore: A Gentleman in the latter 19th Century

Apart from his name and a few other biographical details, there is a paucity of information regarding Howard Mapplebeck (1847-1909). Despite appearances that he was a prosperous individual, I am unable to establish much apart from the fact that he lived in a plush house on Emerald Hill. Having uncovered these photos on Flickr, I was intrigued. They cast a light on an elegant milieu and a graceful lifestyle.

Main picture: Howard Mapplebeck (1847-1909) with family and friends, in Emerald Hill, Port Elizabeth, in 1886. Howard is in white with pith helmet. Seated in front of him are his children Sybil Mapplebeck (1875-1955) and Sydney Mapplebeck (1877-1904). Nanny Marie stands to the side. Photo taken in 1886 at the age of 39.

Apart from those threadbare facts, the one of the two other mentions that I can uncover about the mystery man is an entry in Margaret Harradine excellent tome: Port Elizabeth-a Social Chronicle to the end of 1945. The entry is dated January 1883 in which Margaret recounts that “The South African Kennel Club was formed. For many years dog shows were held at the Show Ground as part of the annual Agricultural Show. The first do show was held on 14 and 16 March 1883 with about 200 entries. The judge was H Mapplebeck. Breeds represented were pointers, setters, retrievers, greyhounds, foxhounds, harriers, beagles, spaniels, sheepdogs, newfoundlands, bull dogs, bull terriers, rough-haired terriers, pugs, toy terriers, Pomeranians, mastiffs and boar hounds.

Howard Mapplebeck in 1886 in his Emerald Hill home with an unknown person. Typically he is dressed in white with a pith helmet
Howard Mapplebeck in 1886 in his Emerald Hill home with an unknown person. Typically he is dressed in white with a pith helmet

Howard was born on the 1st January 1847 in Aston, Warwickshire. On the 13th May 1874 he married the 19 year old Mary Wilkes who was born in 1855. They had two children Sybil and Sydney. In 1881 they were still residing in England except that it was now in Worcestershire. Mary was to pass away two years later in 1883 and shortly thereafter in 1883 relocated to Port Elizabeth as attended the dog show at the Show Ground in North End.

What I have been able to establish is that by the age of 22 in 1867, Howard was a partner with a certain Mr Samuael John Calye in a Leather Manufacturing Company based at Number 44 Bradford Street, Birmingham. Howard must have been involved in the leather business from this point onwards as an advertisement in the New Zealand Evening Post of 1881 refers to saddlery of a Mr. H. Mapplebeck.

Mapleback’s interest in dog breeding must have developed during the period prior to his arrival in Port Elizabeth in 1881 as a number of books of the period make mention of various of his dogs especially his New Foundland. Many of these animals have been painted for posterity and are still being sold.

In the early years of the town, dogs which possessed some utilitarian value were favoured. In this regard, the most prominent role that they played was as hunting dogs with the most prominent such event being the almost week long hunt at Wycome Vale by the Easter Hunt Club. This was no more than a carnival of slaughter in which hundreds of animals were killed in an orgy of death.

As dogs were increasing acquired for their aesthetics for breeding rather their utilitarian value, members of the Easter Hunt Club founded the South African Kennel Club [SAKC] in Port Elizabeth in February 1883 imitating the British model. The club defined its intended audience through an annual subscription of £1 1s and garnered no fewer than 158 members among Port Elizabeth’s middle class within just a few months. This cash infusion and fraternal ties with the PEAS enabled the SAKC to mount the colony’s first dog show as part of the town’s annual agricultural show in March 1883 in a purpose-built shed in the show yard. The response exceeded all expectations, attracting more than 200 entries and 900 visitors in the two weekdays that it was open and the more than £300 invested by the Club in buildings and prizes was amply recouped by the windfall from entrance fees, gate money and catalogue, ensuring that the dog show became a permanent imperium in imperio in the town’s annual agricultural show.

A founding member of the SAKC, William Armstrong, put up a £5 5s prize for the best “bush dog”, which was awarded to a “half-breed Foxhound” in accordance with the prevailing consensus among the town’s hunting squirearchy. The decision was rudely and publicly rejected by another competitor

At the risk of being hoist by their own petard, the SAKC quietly dropped the “bush dog” category from future shows and relied upon committeeman Howard Mappleback who had “considerable experience in such Shows in England” to save them from any future embarrassment caused by unwittingly putting their backveld mongrel preferences on public display.

What this does indicate to me is that life in Port Elizabeth in 1883 was no longer in survival mode. Instead there was time to embrace the finer, more cultured things in life.  

Howard Mapplebeck, Birmingham, circa 1865
Howard Mapplebeck, Birmingham, circa 1865

In all of the photos in this collection, all taken in 1886, Howard is dressed in white with a pith helmet. Furthermore his children are also often included being his son Sydney Mapplebeck (1877-1904) and his daughter Sybil Mapplebeck (1875-1955). Their nanny Marie is also often shown. His wife Mary is not shown in any of these photographs as she had passed away three years previously.

Emerald Hill 1886. Howard in the background on a pony
Emerald Hill 1886. Howard in the background on a pony

As far as I can ascertain, Howard Mapplebeck was born in Birmingham in 1847. One of the photos of Howard as a young man is taken in 1865 at 18 years of age in Birmingham.

Howard with friends, children & their nanny, Maria
Howard with friends, children & their nanny, Maria

Whilst still residing in Birmingham, Howard had developed a passion for dog breeding. Howard had many of his prize breeds painted in water colour and these paintings are still extant. In fact he was extremely well known as a breeder of note even today.

A water colour painting of a Gordon Setter belonging to Howard Mapplebeck
A water colour painting of a Gordon Setter called “Blossom” belonging to Howard Mapplebeck
Howard with friends in Port Elizabeth in 1886
Howard with friends in Port Elizabeth in 1886

Howard with friend in 1886
Howard with friend in 1886

Without any additional information, it is possible that Howard only resided in Port Elizabeth for a short period and, as a minimum it must have been from March 1883 when he was a judge in a dog show until sometime in 1886 when all the other photos of Howard in Port Elizabeth were taken.

Howard with friends in PE in 1886
Howard with friends in PE in 1886

In his excellent book Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days, Redgrave makes mention of a Mr Mapleback [sic] who occupied a famous farm on Emerald Hill. Presumably, Mapleback and Mapplebeck are one and the same person. Redgrave records that a hotel licence was granted to Mr. Mapplebeck. In his article on Emerald Hill in the 2007 edition of Looking Back, Richard Tomlinson refers to the Emerald Hill Hotel  which a Mr. Eduard Steinmann opened in April 1883. He then goes on to state that Mr. Steinmann was succeeded by a Mr. Howard Mapplebeck as proprietor. Apparently eventually Mr. Mapplebeck’s extensive house became the property of the Dominican Sisters who rebuilt it in order to run it as the St. Dominic’s Priory. The photo used in the blog from the Bunstead Collection showing this house, confirms it size.

The Emerald Hill Hotel tea gardens in 1898
The Emerald Hill Hotel tea gardens in 1898
Howard Mapplebeck (1847-1909) by O. Bättenhaussen, Port Elizabeth, c. 1890
Howard Mapplebeck (1847-1909) by O. Bättenhaussen, Port Elizabeth, c. 1890

From the Emerald hill homestead, one is afforded a panoramic view of the entire coast line around Cape Recife and the Bushy Park Estate which stretches for miles along the coast towards Cape St. Francis. Whether Howard ever experienced the warm-hearted hospitality of Bushy Park’s first owner, Charles Lovemore, one can only speculate. The chances are good that these two neighbours did indeed socialise. Maybe Howard did not share Charles’ passion for game hunting.

after-a-good-days-hunting
Above: Hunting at Wycombe Vale

The final piece of information that I can uncover relates to a George Howard Mapplebeck who was admitted to the Holloway Sanatorium Hospital for the Insane, Virginia Water, Surrey for the period March 1901 – June 1902. According to Neville Dawson, George Howard Mapplebeck was Howard’s brother who died at Winsor in 1917.

Case notes of George Howard Mapplebeck Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org p.136 George Howard Mapplebeck, 1903 case notes and photograph 1903 Holloway Sanatorium Hospital for the Insane, Virginia Water, Surrey Case Book No. 11 Certified Male patients admissted March 1901 - June 1902: p.136
1903 case notes and photograph of George Howard Mapplebeck 1903 at the Holloway Sanatorium Hospital for the Insane, Virginia Water, Surrey.
PE in 1886. Howard with friends, c hildren & their nanny#02

Whoever Howard Mapplebeck was, he was certainly affluent and enjoyed the finer things in life.

Howard with friends in 1886
Howard with friends in 1886
A water colour painting of a Newfoundland dog named 'Leo' owned by Howard Mapplebeck
A water colour painting of a Newfoundland dog named ‘Leo’ owned by Howard Mapplebeck
Evening Post New Zealand 1881
Evening Post New Zealand 1881
Committee of the South African Kennel Club 1883 & 1893

According to Neville Dawson George Howard Mapplebeck was Howard’s brother who died at Winsor in 1917. Howard’s wife was Mary Wilkes (1855-1883) whom he married in Birmingham on 3rd June 1874. Both are recorded in the English census of 1881. In 1901 Howard was living at a boarding house on Redcliffe Road, Kensington, London and was listed as a financial agent. In 1909 Howard died in Kensington London and in his will he left all to his daughter Sybil Stephenson nee Mapplebeck. Sybil had married in 1895 to Charles Stephenson at London. Howard’s son Sydney died in 1904 at Singapore. Howard Mapplebeck was insolvent according to NAAIRS 1884 through to 1886. Sybil was widowed in 1907 and died in Berkshire UK 1963 (unconfirmed)

Sources

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the End of 1945 by Margaret Harradine
Port Elizabeth of Bygone Days by JJ Redgrave
Photos from the Bunstead Collection on Flickr
Emerald Hill: The Farm, the Hotel and St. Dominic’s Priory by Richard Tomlinson in Looking Back 2007
Class and Canicide in Little Bess: The 1893 Port Elizabeth Rabies Epidemic by Lance van Sittert
https://www.flickr.com/photos/bensted/15397206386/in/photostream/

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4 Comments

  1. I found your information online and found it very interesting as we believe he was my great grandfather. He wasn’t married to my great grandmother her name was Mary Masters, who when living with Howard Mapplebeck in Chelsea, London was known as Mrs Matthews. Her youngest son George Howard was my Grandad. My Dad is called Howard. Howard Mapplebeck is connected to the company Mapplebeck and Lowe makers of Agricultural equipment in Birmingham, UK.

    Reply
    • Hi Juliet, Do you by any chance have any additional information about him such as when he arrived in Port Elizabeth, what his occupation was, did he ever return to the UK and when he died?

      Reply
  2. What I should say also that before my great grandmother lived in Chelsea as a land lady with Howard Mapplebeck in Chelsea on a previous census she had worked in service in Solihull. I wonder if Mary Masters was actually Maria the nanny that are in the photos. Of course this is just a guess but why would you have a servant in photos?

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