Port Elizabeth of Yore: Cape Recife’s “Mary Celeste” Affair

The Mary Celeste, which is often erroneously referred to as Marie Celeste, was an American merchant brigantine discovered adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean off the Azores Islands on December 4, 1872. The contents of the vessel, including the cargo, was still intact and useable. All that was missing was the lifeboat.

Eight years prior to this mysterious occurrence, Port Elizabeth bore witness to a similar incident which occurred off Cape Recife when a full-rigged sailing ship named Scindia was spotted drifting. For historical accuracy purposes, should the Mary Celeste not be referred to as the Scindia redux instead of vice versa?  

Main picture: An 1861 painting of Mary Celeste (named Amazon at the time), by an unknown artist

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Thunderbolt Reef claims another Victim

One would have thought that the denouement of the age of sail would have brought the menace of the Thunderbolt Reef to a close. Instead, it was not to be. Perhaps as a belated swansong, on a calm winter’s afternoon on Monday 29th July 1985, yet another vessel would attempt to traverse the treacherous inner route between the rocky shore at Cape Recife and Thunderbolt Roof. With few exceptions, they would learn a sobering lesson about its dangers. In the case of the Kapodistrias, a Greek bulk carrier of 29,185 tons, it would not be an exception.

How was it possible that a modern vessel equipped with all the latest navigation equipment, could run aground on a  calm morning?

Main picture: This was the last photo taken of the Kapodistrias wreck at Cape Recife. The next morning she was gone.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Memoirs of James Alexander on the 1835 Frontier War

Having obtained a commission from the Royal Geographical Society to explore and investigate Africa west of Delagoa Bay, James Edward Alexander was thrust into the Kafkaesque world of the 1835 Frontier War for which he might not have purchased front row seats, but they were not the cheap seats from which the action is barely visible. Port Elizabeth itself might not have been engulfed in the war but the hordes of African warriors knocked on its front door, the Zwartkops River.

This blog details the defensive lines constructed, military plans drawn up and other martial actions undertaken

Main picture: Port Elizabeth’s Defence Lines during the 1835 Frontier War

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Cape Recife Lighthouse

The entrance to Algoa Bay from the west was treacherous with  Thunderbolt Reef being especially hazardous. In spite of the authorities being cognisant of these dangers, for decades no progress could be made in convincing the Cape Government to erect a lighthouse at Cape Recife.

However, the struggle was finally successful, and that saga is covered by this blog. 

Main picture: Cape Recife Lighthouse

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: A Town at War during World War II

Maybe the battlefields were thousands of kilometres distance, yet far-off Port Elizabeth was affected in numerous ways from the mundane to the deadly. Apart from the direct effect on the town, numerous of its citizens, such as my father and many of my uncles, volunteered for active service.   

The focus of this blog is on Port Elizabeth itself, both as regards military establishments, training and enemy actions. 

Main picture: The Fortress Observation Post at Seahill, Cape Recife

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