Port Elizabeth of Yore: Scorey’s Hotel and its Antecedents

Today this little-known Hotel has escaped from the memories of even the oldest residents in Port Elizabeth. Yet in 1821, it was the very first hotel established in Port Elizabeth. 

Main picture: View from Scorey’s Hotel in 1835 – painted by Lt William Vernon Guise

Captain Fairfax Moresby

Fairfax Moresby who was born in Calcutta during 1786, entering the Royal Navy in 1799. In 1814, Moresby received an award for gallantry and was made a Commander of the Bath. In 1819, he was given command of HMS “Menai”, a 24-gun frigate which formed part of the naval force guarding Napoleon on St. Helena. In December 1819, he was sent to the Cape as the senior officer under the Naval Commissioner, Sir Jahleel Brenton. Moresby offered his services to Donkin and in March 1820, the HMS Menai sailed for Algoa Bay. Moresby supervised the preparations for the reception of the settlers, and his sailors, with the assistance of lighters, landed them safely. Moresby continued to provide any assistance in his power.

Captain Fairfax Moresby

Thereafter, Moresby surveyed the coast and river mouths from Cape Recife to the Keiskamma during 1820. The resultant report was published in the Government Gazette of 15th July 1820. He named the two islands near St. Croix, Brenton and Jahleel.

The slight survey – perhaps it should rather be called an inspection of the bay – was made in 1820 by Captain Fairfax Moresby, of the Menai, and, in his report states: Should Port Elizabeth ever become a place of commerce consequence (which there is no doubt it soon will), chain-moorings, or even anchors of a larger size, with chain cable, should be laid down for those ships that wish to approach near the shore, for the purpose of loading and unloading.

I do not,” adds he, “make the remark from the insecurity of the bay – for I consider it, at all times equal to Table Bay, and for six months, very far its superior.” And the gallant Commander goes on to say, “Had I my choice of trusting my ship for the year round to Torbay, in England – Palmero Bay in Sicily – or Algoa Bay, I should, without hesitation, prefer the anchorage of Port Elizabeth.”

To make this bay – what it deserves to be and must sooner or later become – a place of extensive.

Captain Fairfax Moresby

commerce, there are four improvements yet to be introduced, viz a landing jetty, a supply of water to the beach, a buoy on the Roman or Despatch Rock and a lighthouse on Cape Recife. It is satisfactory to state that arrangements have been made for the commencement of the latter immediately.”

In gratitude for his assistance in landing the settlers, a large piece of land in the Baakens Valley – later known as Rufane Vale – and a building erf facing the sea, were granted to him by Donkin. The erection of a house to be named Markham House, was commenced on the erf and Donkin laid the foundation stone while the labour was provided by Settlers still in Port Elizabeth. Moresby had little time in which to enjoy Markham House, for he was posted to Mauritius in February 1823 in connection with the suppression of the slave trade. Moresby named his house “Markham House” after Donkin’s late wife whose maiden name it was, and the name also echoed that section of the Baakens River called “Markham’s Cove“, down to whose banks the gardens of the house stretched.

A distinguished career followed, and Moresby died aged 90 having been knighted and having achieved the rank of Admiral of the Fleet. He never returned to live in Port Elizabeth.

Scorey’s Hotel being depicted as the large building on the left with the garden of Anne Scorey just below the hotel

A new era commences

Port Elizabeth’s very first hotel was established by Richard Hunt at the end of 1821. The building that he utilised was none other than Captain Fairfax Moresby’s house on its elevated site facing the Bay. With its wonderful view of the river and the sea, it was much commented on by later visitors.

In 1823, both of Moresby’s properties were purchased by Richard Hunt who had already by then established a hotel in Markham House and he also ran a store. The whole of Moresby’s grant is the Rufane Vale, part of the Baakens River Valley, and the piece on which Markham house stood, and which today is bounded by the river, Baakens Street, Military Road and Dalgleish Street, was taken over by Richard Hunt.

Baakens River and View of the Anchorage 1947 Artist unknown AN 094

In 1828, when Hunt was declared insolvent, the hotel passed to James Scorey, former captain of the schooner “Flamingo” and the valley land to Jonathan Board, a carpenter and builder. The “Flamingo” had traded between Port Elizabeth and the Cape. In January 1829 Captain Scorey erected a flagstaff for use of port and later in 1829 Scorey married Ann Robinson in Port Elizabeth. It is of interest that a traveller to these parts in 1832 commented that the best inn was kept by a Mrs. Robinson. It was only in 1834 that Captain Scorey retired from seafaring to run Scorey’s Hotel, thanks to its success. The hotel became known as “Scorey’s” and its popularity with visitors who admired its fine position and its gardens reaching down to the river, continued. In 1838 it was offered for sale.

Ann (nee Scorey) Falconer 1823 – 1891

After Ann’s death, James Pyboul Scorey (practically on his own deathbed) married Maria Rebecca Robinson (his late wife’s niece) on 4th February 1847. The South African Commercial Advertiser reported on 23 June of that year that he “DIED at his Residence at Rondebosch on the 21st inst Capt. Jas. Scorey, many years resident at Port Elizabeth, in the 56th year of his age, deeply and sincerely regretted.”

Rufane Vale in the Baakens Valley

Cornwallis Harris

Several reviews of this hotel were made in the journals and books of various travellers who passed through Port Elizabeth. One such comment was made by Cornwallis Harris

Arriving eventually at Algoa Bay after an uncomfortable voyage up the coast from Table Bay, Cornwallis Harris was not favourably impressed with what he found: ‘Algoa Bay is exceedingly open and exposed and the anchorage very insecure. During high winds ships not unfrequently go on shore, a tremendous surf often rendering it dangerous, and at times even impossible, for boats to land. We were fortunate in being able to prevail on the Port Captain to take us ashore in his barge … The town of Port Elizabeth, though rapidly increasing, does not consist of above one hundred and fifty houses. It is built along the sea-shore on the least eligible site that could have been selected.’

William Cornwallis Harris

In this unpromising spot Cornwallis Harris and party attempted to buy horses to continue their journey inland.

‘We understood (these could) be obtained in the adjoining districts in considerable numbers, and of an excellent quality. It was with inconceivable difficulty, however, that we at length succeeded in procuring two miserable quadrupeds, that appeared to have scarcely sufficient stamina to carry us to Graham’s Town. The recent (Frontier) war having trebled the price of everything, and of livestock, in particular, the demands upon us were exorbitant.’

Of greater interest than Cornwallis Harris’s opinion of Port Elizabeth and its available horseflesh is his casual remark, ‘We tarried a week at Mrs. Scorey’s fashionable hotel.’

This hostelry, previously the home of Captain Moresby and said to be the first private house built in Port Elizabeth, was called Markham House. It had changed hands and as a hotel had been run successfully by a lady named Anne Robinson. She had married in 1829 at Port Elizabeth one James Scorey, master of the schooner Flamingo. (Scorey is noted for having put up a flagstaff for the use of the port in 1829.) At the time of Cornwallis Harris’s visit in 1836 Anne was Mrs. Scorey and her inn with its elevated position and riverside garden continued to be popular. The open space in front of the hotel was known to local residents as Scorey’s Place. The hotel was doing well enough for James Scorey to retire from the sea in 1834.

James Scorey was the uncle of Mary Ann Caithness (b 1820). Mary Ann’s mother (confusingly another Ann Scorey, b 1796) had married James Caithness snr (Master Mariner) at Eling, Hampshire in 1814. James Ramsey Caithness jnr. (b 1815) following in his father’s footsteps and perhaps encouraged by reports sent ‘home’ by James Scorey, took up residence at the Cape and plied the coastal trade. He became captain of the brig Lady Leith (which met with disaster in 1848). Henry George Caithness commanded at various dates the vessels Louisa and Fame.

James Edward Alexander

Among the distinguished guests was James Alexander who 1835 participated in the 6th Cape Frontier War as aide-de-camp and private secretary to Sir Benjamin D’Urban.  In his 1935 book, Narratives of a Voyage of Observation, he recounts how the defence of Port Elizabeth was arrayed around the hotel.

James Edward Alexander

The Baaken’s River, with its high banks, forming a natural obstacle to an enemy in that direction. To command the fordable mouth and opposite bank of this stream, therefore, one gun was placed on the elevated plateau at Scorey’s Hotel. The eighth section with its gun, occupied a barricade of wagons across the road, near a toll, and the gardens and hedges and beach at the extreme right.

The remaining sections, numbered from two to seven, occupied the intermediate space between Fort Frederick, above the Baakens River, and declining towards the toll. ….. The guns were numbered from one to eight and manned by parties bearing corresponding numbers, who were to repair to their post the moment the alarm was fired at the quarters of the commanding-officer, and each captain of a section had two rounds of ammunition.

In 1839, James Alexander would again make acquaintance with the town which is preserved in his 1840 book Excursions in West Africa and Narratives of a Campaign in Kaffir-land.

Captain James Scorey of Port Elizabeth advises in September 1837 that debtors absconding without payment

From Uitenhage, we rode to Port Elizabeth where his excellency [D’Urban] occupied a suite of rooms at that good house of entertainment: Scorey’s Hotel. On arrival of the governor, there was a grand illumination of the town. Salutes were fired and a round of dinners and balls were given by the hospitable and spirited inhabitants of this thriving sea-port.”

Subsequent owners

After belonging successively to William Whybrew, Nathaniel Randall and others, the hotel now known as “Hope Hotel,” was sold to Joseph Jeffery, and ceased to operate as an hotel in 1848. The hotel was converted into tenements, finally being demolished well into the 20th century. A cottage, facing today’s Military Road, became known as Markham House and was the site of the later Markham Hotel dating from 1884.

It is possible that Hunt is the 1820 Settler of the same name who came out as a farmer in Mandy’s party on the Nautilus with his wife Ann and their children, George and Mary. Hunt was 50 when he died in 1843 and this agrees with the age of the Settler of 1820.

Sources

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

https://molegenealogy.blogspot.co.za/2013/08/ships-and-mariners-19th-c-cape-and.html

http://molegenealogy.blogspot.com/2013/06/coastal-ships-mariners-and-visitors_27.html
Narrative of a Voyage of Observation among the Colonies of West Africa by James Edward Alexander (1837, Henry Colburn, London)

Excursions in Western Africa & Narrative of a Campaign in Kaffir-Land by Sir James Alexander (1840, Henry Colburn, London)


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