Schoenmakerskop: From Convict Station to Sleepy Hamlet

On the southern coast of Port Elizabeth lies a hamlet barely touched by civilisation. Comprising less than 100 cottages, it is partially a retirement village as well as a holiday resort. Unlike the endless sandy beaches of Algoa Bay, it comprises shingly gullies and rock pools. Instead of the perfect waves for surfers, theses gullies are safe even for toddlers. 

This blog chronicles the early history of this timeless hamlet with its Norfolk pines oblivious to the sea breezes.    

This is where I learnt to swim, to dive, to fish – which I never enjoyed – and to explore the inter-tidal zone and rock pools.

Main picture: Motor vehicles on the commonage in front of The Hut Tearoom at Schoenmakerskop. This photograph was originally hanging in my parent’s house at 57 Mowbray Street, Newton Park

The First Buildings

The exact date of the construction of the first buildings in Schoenmakerskop cannot be ascertained with certainty nor are they still standing but what they were has been recorded for posterity. These buildings were three structures representing the Main Convict Station with two houses, one for the Officer in Charge of Works and the other for the Superintendent of Convicts, while the third set of buildings comprised rough stone huts for accommodating the convicts. In addition an outstation had been established at Governor’s Kop.

The Convict Station were probably the only buildings erected for several years.

The Tanks and the Sacramento Cafe at Schoenmakerskop

Aerial photograph of the gully known as “The Tanks” and the Sacramento Cafe at Schoenmakerskop

The closest approximation of the date of their construction is sometime after October 1872 when the Harbour Board initiated a project to stabilise the sand dunes around the southern portion of Port Elizabeth.

William Stephen Webber was appointed to oversee this project. To assist him in the execution of his duties, he was allocated up to 300 convicts. It was for these prisoners, that this Conviction Station was constructed.

The convicts took part in the work of halting the driftsands that were menacing the town and harbour of Port Elizabeth. They erected a barricade at Gultchways, just west of Schoenmeakerskop. This channel acted like a funnel. It had been the main source of sand being blown inland for years, perhaps centuries. The threat was ended by Joseph Storr Lister who had a railway line built to carry the town’s refuse, which was spread over this area. Windbreaks were erected and Port Jackson willow, eucalypyus trees and Hottentot figs were planted.

Original map of Schoenmakerskop

Original map of Schoenmakerskop

 

The date on which this station was “abandoned” being 1893 is only known due to the fact that the Reverend P.R. Moffet of St. Phillips church had his services of ministering to these prisoners terminated during this year as the convicts had been relocated to the Lazaretto next to Shark River in Humewood.

Schoenmakerskop at twilight with Norfolk Pines to the left

Schoenmakerskop at twilight with Norfolk Pines to the left

During this period two other houses were constructed on the eastern side of the village; one was for Sydney Webber and the other for the Diedrichs family.

Map of Schoenmakerskop

Map of Schoenmakerskop

A diagram from a survey carried out in 1885 by Robert Pinchin, a Government Surveyor, indicates three underground springs on the Schoenmakerskop erf with the spring near the Convict Station being marked as having a particularly strong flow. This is probably the reason why this area was initially selected for the erection of the Convict Station. I am curious why all the literature describes this set of buildings pretentiously as a Conviction Station rather than the more mundane “prison.”

An example of the initial Deed of Sale of the Plots at Schoenmakerskop

An example of the initial Deed of Sale of the Plots at Schoenmakerskop

At the turn of the century, the only buildings were the convict station and the large wooden house of Mr Sydney Webber overlooking “Sandy Bay.”

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The only other building relating to this period, is a wool washery which lay to the east of the village. Apparently some of the walls are still visible.

 

However the area became a populace place for day drippers.

Road to nowhere

In the late 19th century, a track from Walmer to Schoenmakerskop was constructed. As limestone was readily available beneath the sand, this was used to construction a rough lime stone road with intermittent sandy patches. In the early years people ventured down this track in ox-wagons as well as on donkey and horse drawn carts. By about 1922, a gravel road was laid out and then finally, years later, it was tarred.

A view of Schoenmakerskop from the hillock behind Sacremento Restaurant

A view of Schoenmakerskop from the hillock behind Sacremento Restaurant in the 1920’s

Marine Drive was officially opened on 6th December 1922.

Road to Schoenmakerskop from Walmer

Road to Schoenmakerskop from Walmer showing where the “refuse train” crossed the main road

Camping site

According to Joan Shaw, Schoenmakerskop now gained prominence as a seasonal camping site with Christmas and Easter being the most popular times. These camp sites were mainly situated where water was available from hillside springs and where gullies suitable for swimming were situated.

Old drawing of the original campsite at the Tanks in Schoenmakerskop dated 1908 by Arthur Braidwood Gibbon.

Old drawing of the original campsite at the Tanks in Schoenmakerskop dated 1908 by Arthur Braidwood Gibbon.

Based upon these assumptions, probably the campsite in most demand would have been beside the pool known as “The Tanks” which still remains the most popular swimming pool along this stretch of coast.

The usual modus operandi would be for the campers to pitch their tents close beside the shingle beach near to a spring.

Camping at Schoenmakerskop in 1937

Camping at Schoenmakerskop in 1937

A simple water supply was constructed by the Longworth and McWilliam families. Water from the springs was stored in galvanised iron tanks and then piped to outlets as required. In later years, this water reticulation system had to be dismantled when the village of Schoenmakerskop was proclaimed as camping was no longer permitted on State owned land.

Schoenmakerskop in 1905

Schoenmakerskop in 1905

Birth of the village

In 1906, a Mr Gibbon requested permission from the authorities to erect a holiday shack above the high water mark on Crown Land as it was then known. Apparently, part of this original bungalow still stands in Periwinkle Lane.

Mrs Joy Neary avers that her father, Arthur Gibbon, used to camp there during the holidays. When he approached Mr Dwyer, the forestry officer in charge of the Driftsands area, and requested permission to rent a piece of ground on which to build a bungalow. Mr Dwyer agreed but felt that more people should be given the opportunity of renting plots as well. As a result, 15 plots of 75 square feet each were laid out.

The rent for plots was £1 per annum until the land was formally subdivided & sold in 1918. This was probably the beginning of the present residential area.

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In order to create a township at Schoenmakerskop, a portion of the Crown Land known as De Duinen had to be formally surveyed and proclaimed.

To this end, Mr George Oswald Smith, the government surveyor was appointed to do so. In October 1916, he surveyed the area, beaconed it, named it and drew up a plan for the village of Schoenmakerskop.

Schoenmakerskop-The path leading down to the Tanks Bathing Pool in 1907

Schoenmakerskop-The path leading down to the Tanks Bathing Pool in 1907

 

It is noteworthy that the blueprints of Architects Jones and McWilliams included the construction of a casino, promenade, restaurants et al received an unfavourable response from the public. They were of the opinion that the village would lose its charm as a picnic spot.

Finally, on the 17th October 1918, all the plots at Schoenmakerskop were auctioned for sale.

The Main Pool at Schoenmakerskop

The Main Pool at Schoenmakerskop

As all previous structures, being either fishing or holiday apartments, had been illegally constructed without formal permission, these were sold together with the plots on which they stood. Plots with pre-existing structures totalled seventeen, all on the western part of Schoenmakerskop. Prices ranged from £7 to £56.

Camping at Schoenmakerskop

Camping at Schoenmakerskop

Of these, my grandmother, Elizabeth Daisy McCleland, purchased three contiguous plots. On the middle one, she erected a Tearoom known as The Hut.

Schoenmakerskop

Schoenmakerskop

Marine Drive was officially opened on 6th December 1922. This was to be a festive occasion with Schoenmakerskop making its mark on the consciousness of the inhabitants of Port Elizabeth. On this day, it was arranged that a procession of cars would depart from the Town Hall, travel in convoy around Marine Drive and then stop at Daisy McCleland’s Tearoom in Schoenmakerskop for some homemade buns & cake. The Hut Tearoom, as it was inelegantly known, hosted the crème-de-la-crème of Port Elizabeth’s most prominent citizens to tea.

No 40 Marine Drive c1938

No 40 Marine Drive c1938

After the initial flurry

Pictures of the original shacks and houses, reveals them to be mainly wooden structures. Over the years, most of these buildings have been replaced with brick buildings.

Girl Guide Camp

Girl Guide Camp

In sleepy villages, nothing much stirs. Time treads its weary way not seeming to notice. On the 17th September 1930, the village was to be shaken from its slumber when the inhabitants heard the ghastly news that one of its residents, Francis Joseph Walker McCleland, had been shot by an intruder to his mother’s tearoom and was in a critical condition in the Provincial Hospital in Port Elizabeth. Two days later on the 19th September, he was to succumb to his injuries.

schoenmakerskop02

Apart from this excitement, not much else has changed over the years apart from drinking water now being piped in and the “Long Drop” and “Bucket” toilet system being supplanted by septic tanks.

No 76 Marine Drive c1930's

No 76 Marine Drive c1930’s

By 1974, there were seventy houses at Schoenmakerskop. In 1962/3, “Sappershoek” was erected to house retired servicemen.

Over the years, Schoenmakerskop has only been able to claim one noteworthy resident, the playwright Athol Fugard.

 

The Sacramento

In 1977, Schoenies came into the limelight again. In that year, one of the great feats of marine salvage began. David Allen and his partner Gerry van Niekerk, having established the site of the wreck of the Santissimo Scaramento, began work on the site just west of the village.

The Sacramento, a highly prized man o’ war with 60 fixed cannon, was heavily loaded with a cargo of brass cannon destined for the Portuguese-held districts of India. In fact, one of the cannons carried an inscription from its maker (famous gunsmith Antonio Backer) bearing the name of Antonio Telesdemenez, the Portuguese governor of India at the time.

Cannon from the Sacramento

Cannon from the Sacramento

The ship was sunk in 1647 on a voyage from Goa in India to Portugal, carrying a cargo of cannons from the famous Bocarro Foundry in Macoa, China. Meeting heavy weather on the east coast, she was wrecked on the rocks at Gordon’s Bay, now renamed Cannon Bay. By the time she hit the rocky coastline, she had a badly damaged rudder and her sails were in tatters. David and Gerry recovered forty bronze cannons, one of which was in pristine condition. This one was declared a national monument.

The legend of the wreck of the Sacramento has many dramatic parts, one of which is the march of the 72 survivors up the coast towards a port in Mozambique, from where they hoped to be transported back to Portugal.

The distance from Algoa Bay (site of the modern-day Port Elizabeth) to the haven in Mozambique was nearly 1400km. The Sacramento survivors stayed on the beach near the wreck site for 11 days before beginning their pathetic trudge up the coast. Along the way, their numbers dwindled to 9 souls.

As they walked, they came across two other wreck sites of ill-fated Portuguese vessels: the Nossa Senhora de Belem and the Atalaya. More than four weeks into their trek, they met up with a large contingent of survivors of the wreck of the Atalaya. Eventually, 127 people from the wrecks of the Sacramento and Atalaya made it to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo).

Derivation of the name

The one remaining mystery relates to the origin of the name Schoenmakerskop – literally Shoe Makers’ Hill.  The genesis of this name has been lost in the mists of time but various theories exist, none of which can be substantiated. Of one thing there is unanimity. The word Kop must have been derived from the highest hill behind the Sacramento Restaurant but whether a cobbler ever resided in the area is pure speculation.

The one suggestion which is eminently plausible but has not yet gained credence was provided by the late Mrs Pamela ffoliott, an eminent Port Elizabeth historian. She averred that the name derived from a Mr J. Schumacher, a Batavian soldier who was also an artist. The name was erroneously misspelt “Schoenmaker”. In 1776, Hendrik Swellengrebel, son of the Governor of the Cape, travelled through the Colony as far as the Fish River. Schumacher accompanied him and made sketches along the way. Mrs ffoliott believes that Schoenmakerskop was named in his honour.

A cobbler of yore at work

A cobbler of yore at work

The one theory that has proved to be false was that convicts from the station that was established there in 1889, made shoes and that fragments of leather that have been found, conform this. However a letter from the Secretary of the Attorney’s office of the Cape Colony indicates that the name was already in existence. The text of the letter is as follows:

 

Convict Service

No. 1116                                                                                                                           Attorney General’s Office

Cape Town

22nd August 1888

Transfer to Port Elizabeth

Sir,

I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated the 12th instant reporting that you have inspected the new buildings intended for the accommodation of the convicts at the Kowie and at Schoenmakerskop. I am directed to inform you that the Attorney General did not consider that with the diminishing number of convicts at the Kowie, the Government was justified in maintaining an expensive establishment there. For this reason, it was decided to send you to a locality where a larger station was to be established.

In assuring you that you will receive every consideration with regard to this transfer, I am directed to enquire on what date you will be prepared to remove to Port Elizabeth.

I have the honour to be

Sir

Your obedient servant

John Abrahams

Secretary to the Law Department

To Superintendent of Convicts

Kowie

Another explanation for the name was advanced by the Mr Harold Baydon Smith, former owner of No. 7 Castle Hill. He stated that in his youth at the turn of the century, it was generally agreed that Schoenmakerskop took its name from that of a fugitive seaman who had his dwelling in a shallow cave at the side of the hill. Mr Werth claimed that history made mention of a fugitive seaman who had been detained in Namaqualand but was subsequently pardoned. However no dates are given in connection with these statements. The name is not listed in Colin Graham Botha’s “Place Names in the Cape Province”. In the book, “The Story of the Port Elizabeth Divisional Council 1856-1956″, by JJ Redgrave, the name is mentioned only once in the list of seaside resorts established by the Council.

 

 

Sources

Schoenmakerskop by Alfred Porter in Looking Back dated September 1993

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Sources:

Looking Back dated November 2002

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the End of 1945 by Margaret Harradine

Darling..would you like a string of pearls or a house at Schoenmakerskop?  By Joan Shaw

Recent photos of Schoenmakerskop are by Luc Hosken off the Friends of Schoenmakerskop Facebook page


4 Comments

  1. Love this blog! Enjoyed this post on Schoenies and was delighted to see our family pic – the campers in 1937. Jimmy McNamre and the Williams girls, Dorothy, Gwen and Jean. The man in the right is Teddy Gamble and one in the front Ginger, Jimmy’s best mate, can’t recall his surname.

    Reply
  2. Hi Dean
    Loved this article! Was also delighted (like Sue) to see the camping pic – my grandmother and grandfather were Gwen & Ted as featured in the picture! Where did you obtain the image?- I am sure I have a similar one in one of the old family albums and I recognise the writing too. If I find any Schoenies pictures I will get in touch again

    Reply

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