Today this little-known hotel has escaped from the memories of even the oldest residents of Port Elizabeth. Yet in 1821 it was the very first hotel to be established in the town.
Main picture: View from Scorey’s Hotel in 1835 painted by Lt William Vernon Guise
Captain Fairfax Moresby
Born in Calcutta during 1786, Fairfax Moresby entered 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 acting Governor Sir Rufane 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. Thereafter, Moresby continued to provide any assistance within his power.
It was Moresby who christened the two islands near St. Croix, Brenton and Jahleel in honour of his after his Commander.
On completion of this task, Moresby surveyed the coast and river mouths from Cape Recife to the Keiskamma. The resultant report was published in the Government Gazette of 15th July 1820. Referred to as a restrictive survey – perhaps it should rather be called an inspection of the bay – the 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 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 tract 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. One wonders what building materials were utilised in its construction as none was available locally not even trees of any description.
Moresby had little time in which to enjoy Markham House, for he was posted to Mauritius in February 1821 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.
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 also ran a store. The whole of Moresby’s grant is the Rufane Vale, being part of the Baakens River Valley, and the piece of land 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.
In 1828, when Hunt was declared insolvent, the hotel passed to James Scorey, former captain of the schooner Flamingo and the land in the valley [Rufane Vale] 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 the 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.
Scorey sold the property to William Whybrew on 14 April 1839, then left for England, but returned again. 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 23rd June of that year that Scorey “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.” He was buried in the Wolraad Woltemade cemetery. In July of that year the E.P. Herald reported that the valuable property formerly known as “Scorey’s, lately Hope’s Hotel” would be put up for peremptory sale on August 30. Concluding the report with the remark that “Mr. Scorey, during the few years in which he was there, made a fortune.”
By the time of the disastrous wrecking of the first jetty in 1843, William O’Hara, late sergeant of 75th Regiment, was the landlord. Scorey’s was also offering an added attraction, a billiard table.
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.’”
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 in 1835 participated in the 6th Cape Frontier War as aide-de-camp and private secretary to Sir Benjamin D’Urban. In his 1835 book, Narratives of a Voyage of Observation, he recounts how the defence of Port Elizabeth was arrayed around the hotel.
“The Baaken’s River, with its high banks, formrd 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.
“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.”
After belonging successively to William Whybrew, Nathaniel Randall and others, the hotel now known as Hope Hotel, was sold to Joseph Jeffery, who ceased to operate it as a 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.
Proposed conversion into Barracks
During one of their periodic reviews of the military facilities in Port Elizabeth, the condition of the most buildings apart from Fort Frederick itself were considered abominable and not fit for human habitation, In his book Forts of the Eastern Cape, Colin Coetzee covers this topic comprehensively as follows:
“Lewis fully endorsed the proposal of Engineer Robert Thomson, who had received a detailed report from Captain C.J. Selwyn, Commanding Royal Engineer Eastern Frontier, that some sound and well-built property known as “Scorey’s Hotel” be bought from a hotelier and businessman, James Scorey, for the sum of £3 500. The property consisted of the main building measuring 3.8m x 8.5metres in two storeys and could be converted into barracks. A second building measuring 22.3 x 5.5 metres containing kitchens and a small dwelling house could be used for some cooking houses and a portion converted into staff sergeant’s quarters. There was also a spacious storehouse that could become quartermaster’s stores and a tailor’s and shoemaker’s shop. Adjoining this building was another range of buildings which at that time rented by the Commissariat Department. It could serve as officers’ quarters. lmmediately flanking these stores was a dwelling house with kitchen attached which could also be converted into officers’ quarters. The stable, built of brick, with a thatched roof and almost four years old, stood close to the Baakens River. Above the stable was a cottage rented by the Harbour Master. There was also a wooden building serving as a stable and a servant’s room which could make a good quarter for the Commandant of the district. Most of these spacious buildings were well built of stone or brick, had collar braced roofs, were pan-tiled or thatched and had real yellowwood or tiled floors. The premises had plentiful, permanent water supply from springs in the garden.
The site on which the main building stood was particularly suitable and as a barrack and as a position for the defence of the town and landing place. The terrace in front afforded a fine position for some field guns and a projecting point of rock rising from the Baakens River was an admirable site for a battery containing several pieces of artillery. The owner had two nine-pounder cannons mounted there which would be included in the price. Such a battery at that specific site would not only command the dense bush on the right bank of the river which could not be seen from Fort Frederick, but also the mouth of the river and the landing place on the left – an arrangement which could afford protection to the left flank of the town where most public stores and buildings were situated. An additional advantage would be that such a battery could deter possible hostile, marauding Xhosa from finding shelter in the considerable bush if they should plan such an attack.
In Selwyn’s opinion it would be a good buy, because to convert Scorey’s property into a barrack would cost about £2 100 whereas a new structure would cost Ordnance up to £10 000. At the asking price of £3 100, Scorey would be selling below market value. His reason for selling was that he was anxious to give up the hotel and he needed ready money.
In a communication to Government, Commanding Engineer Thomson gave it as his opinion that the ground under discussion should, because of its important position, never have been alienated and that it should be purchased. He was not so sure that the quality of the building materials and the skill with which they were constructed would not be the same as other buildings in the Colony which were generally put together with bad materials and little skill. The value of the place lay in its strategic situation and the excellent water supply. The Commander in-Chief concurred in every respect that the Board of Ordnance should grasp the opportunity of obtaining the place as a place d’armes and depot for stores.
He thought it preferable to convert Scorey’s premises into a hospital which was very much needed in Port Elizabeth for convalescent sick officers and men, as well as for the sick sent from the Frontier to Cape and to England. In his opinion the buildings of Scorey, although valuable, “did not seem equal to the wear and tear of a barrack.” The asking price of £3 500 was reasonable.
It seems as if nothing came of the purchase of Scorey, because the 1837/38 estimates drawn up by Captain Selwyn (10.2.1839) of the probable sums required to defray the expenses of the Royal Engineer Department, agreeable to General Order of 25 November 1836, only made provision for a sum of £4 000 “for the block of stores in hand for the Ordnance and Commissariat Departments which they already started building in 1836.
It is entirely possible that the Hunt referred to is the 1820 Settler of the same name who came out as a farmer in Mandy’s party with his wife Ann and their children, George and Mary on the Nautilus. Hunt was 50 when he died in 1843 and this agrees with the age of the Settler of 1820.
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)
Forts of the Eastern Cape -Securing the Frontier 1799-1786 by Colin G. Coetzee
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)