The Eastern Province Herald of Friday 21st November 1908 carried a report on the Great Flood of the 16th November 1908.
Following a cloudburst in the Hunters Retreat area, the Baakens River came down in Flood, causing tremendous damage in the valley and around the mouth and then subsiding again very quickly. Previous river floods had caused little damage because there were then no buildings on the flood plain, but after the lagoon was filled in the reclaimed land had been built upon. Some of those affected by flood damage brought an action against the Council and the Commissioner of Public Works in September 1909. Some of the downpour flowed down the other side of the watershed, and the Cradock Place area also suffered.
Main picture: The Great Flood of 1908 – Inside the Harbour Board Yard
Not all vessels lost in
Algoa Bay up till 1847 were as a result of high winds and rough seas. HMS
Thunderbolt was one of those exceptions. This is the saga of that catastrophe
and how this treacherous reef off Cape Recife obtained its name.
Main picture: HMS Thunderbolt en route to beaching at the mouth of
the Baakens River
Port Elizabeth was renowned for
its severe floods having experienced periodic flooding with the most notable
being in 1867 and 1897. Previous river
floods had caused little damage in the valley and around the mouth of the
Baaken’s Valley as there were no buildings on the flood plain. But this time it
was different. In the period subsequent to the previous floods, the lagoon had
been systematically reclaimed and buildings had been injudiciously built on the
flood plains. This was to exacerbate the effect of the flood waters.
The moniker for this catastrophe
would forever be The Great Flood.
Main picture: Debris accumulated against the main bridge across the Baaken’s River forcing the water down Commerce Road to the Harbour Board building
Prior to the establishment of woolwasheries in Port Elizabeth, there were no industries in the town. The salient feature of economic activities was a focus on merchanting and activities related to the harbour. Activities such as house construction, shoe and bootmaking were prevalent but they were not undertaken on an “industrial scale.” Instead they were all undertaken on a “made to order” basis on the owner’s property rather than for stock in a factory.
With the burgeoning wool trade, various entrepreneurs sensed a business opportunity. Thus commenced the woolwashing industry for which Port Elizabeth is still renowned.
Main picture: Woolwashing in Humewood
From a pristine lagoon in 1820 to a commercial area in forty years, is how long it took to destroy this once virgin wilderness. Unlike the Settlers, the previous inhabitants of this area, the Khoisan, without any discernible talent at building permanent structures, left no detectable evidence of their presence in the area over eons.
As my blog entitled “Port Elizabeth of Yore: What Happened to the Baakens Lagoon? deals with the why and how the lagoon was reclaimed, instead this blog will focus on the various attempts at bridging this normally placid waterway and the development of commerce and industries within the restricted confines of the valley floor.
Main picture: The bridge across the Baakens in 1866 before the flood showing the lagoon
South End has experienced a tumultuous past. From devastating floods in 1867 to the destruction of a culturally diverse community through forced removals in terms of the Group Areas Act in the 1960s, South End has experienced it all.
The focus of this blog is the early beginnings when the Baakens River isolated South End from Port Elizabeth and its subsequent transformation from a huge farm into a residential area.
Main picture: Port Elizabeth from an agrarian South End in 1830
Like many of the rivers in the Eastern Cape, the Baakens River also originally possessed an impressive lagoon. Old photographs and paintings show it being used for leisure activities such as boating.
What eventually happened to this splendid lagoon?
Main picture: Baaken’s River looking up from the mouth in 1860 with Fort Frederick atop of the ridge
Swimming in the 19th century must be understood against the backdrop of the conservative mores of that era. This resulted in a flurry of rules to prevent men and women swimming together. By the end of the century, attitudes towards “mixed swimming” were more relaxed.
This blog chronicles the saga of sea swimming in Port Elizabeth from its first attempt at the breakwater in 1866, the construction of the first swimming pool in Port Elizabeth and finally to swimming at Humewood.
Main picture: Swimming facilities just north of the mouth of the Baakens River