Port Elizabeth of Yore: Redhouse

The original Red House on the the Zwartkops River

This quaint hamlet on the banks of the Swartkops River is well-known for yachting. This is the rather modest history of this village.  

Main picture: The original red house on the Zwartkops River

The origins of this village date back to a farm, Swartkopswagendrift which was originally owned by a Mr Van Rooyen. This must have been a loan farm as in October 1817, Colonel Cuyler  received a government grant of the farm Fishwater Flats the boundaries of which were Bethelsdorp, Cradock Place, Deal Party Estate, Fishwater Flats Saltpan (Hot Springs) , Amsterdamhoek and Mormonsheuwel.

Redhouse in 1902

Redhouse in 1902

The origin of the whimsical name, Redhouse, is probably more prosaic. Two alternative suggestions have been made. In the one explanation, it is claimed that in the very early days a Port Elizabeth businessman had a small weekend fishing hut made of reed and mud which the caretaker had coloured the outside with red ochre, making it a conspicuous landmark. Another equally plausible suggestion is it was merely a corruption of “Rooyen se huis.”

All of the loans farms in the Swartkops were ultimately given as government grants to the occupiers as quitrent farms. In 1813, the Governor, Sir John Cradock, issued an ordinance of quitrent. Apparently in the 1970s there were 67 house-owners who were quitrent holders.

Redhouse in the 1930s

Redhouse in the 1930s

In Colonel Cuyler’s Deed of Transfer, conditions were inserted prohibiting commerce in liquor. Even today some of the Amsterdam erven have this condition in their Deeds of Transfer dating back to 1817.

Social activities

The social activities of Redhouse encompassed mainly yachting regattas. The birth of this sport in Port Elizabeth, was in 1873 when the Port Elizabeth Boating Association was formed on the 2nd September 1873. At a meeting in the Algoa House Hotel, it was decided to build a boat house on the Zwartkops River, form clubs and order boats from England. Four arrive in December aboard the Windsor Castle. The clubs established were: the Zwartkops Rowing Club, The Southern Cross, the Ino and St. Georges. Annual regattas were held at Redhouse where Club houses were later built.

On the 6th October 1875, eighteen plots along the Zwartkops River at Redhouse were offered on a 10-year lease.  The railway line to Uitenhage and the growing popularity of sports such as rowing and sailing made popular and accessible to citizens of Port Elizabeth.

Yachting at Redhouse

Yachting at Redhouse

The stretch of river surveyed surveyed by Robert Pinchin in 1875 was at this stage named “Henley’s Reach” but this area was already known as “Red House” and the name stuck. The lot which contained this building was offered for sale again in 1876 along with a four-oared boat and three fishing nets. By the beginning of 1883, a new cottage had replace the red house. By May 1876, the Ino Club had erected a 60×15 feet galvanised iron club house on another lot.

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The Redhouse Village Hall was opened on the 4th November 1905 by William Macintosh. The hall satisfied a long-held need and was to play a major role in the life of the community in future years. The idea arose when the home of J.C. Chaplain became too small for the Sunday School class held there. The site was donated by the Zwartkops Valley Land Co and Hubert Walker designed the building which, though of wood and iron, was a substantial structure. Stage and scenic equipment were also provided.

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On the 16th February 1906, the visiting MCC played an E.P. XI. The evening’s entertainment was a enactment on the river of the Japanese warships attacking the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur.

The fact that Redhouse was part of the Zwartkops River estuary which implied that it was salty was proved in dramatic fashion to a local resident Mr Thea Toft was attacked a large shark whilst swimming in the river.

The men of the newly-formed local company of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve were formed attested on the 1st July 1921. In spite of their headquarters being the Drill Hall, training occurred at Redhouse.

Redhouse circa 1930

Redhouse circa 1930

On 2nd April 1930, Redhouse officially received electricity.

Redhouse in the 1880s

Redhouse in the 1880s

During September 1934, the Council decided to build a road linking Redhouse and Zwartkops.

Map of the lower Swartkops River

Map of the lower Swartkops River

Redhouse Hotel in the 1950s

Redhouse Hotel in the 1950s

Sources

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton Packaging Pty Ltd, Port Elizabeth)

The History of Swartkops and Amsterdam Hoek by Edith Maria Neethling (Looking Back, December 1974, Vol XIV, No 4)

 


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