Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Unbelievable Secret of Dr James Barry

Amongst the parade of dignitaries making the pilgrimage to Frederick Korsten’s country estate 5 miles from Port Elizabeth, was Dr James Barry, one of the most highly respected surgeons of his day. He had risen from hospital assistant to become the top-ranking doctor in the British Army and was known as a zealous reformer who had served in garrisons from South Africa to Jamaica. Accompanying him on his visit to Frederick Korsten at Cradock Place was the governor Lord Charles Somerset.

Barry’s secret life would almost certainly have been taken to his grave if the hospital staff had obeyed his last wish that he be buried in his night clothes. This would have hidden the fact that Dr. James Barry was in fact a female.

How had this been possible?

Main picture:   Dr James Barry

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Settler Family called Damant

Most settler parties conformed to the rules of the Emigration Scheme that they would be settled in the frontier districts. Having been stationed at Fort Frederick for seven years prior to the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, Captain Damant had already decided that the Gamtoos valley area would be the new family home.

This is the saga of the Damant family of Hankey

Main picture: A farm in the Gamtoos Valley

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Cradock Place: A Barometer of Oscillating Fortunes

In its day Cradock Place ranked in beauty with the most beautiful of the old Dutch houses in the Western Cape. Senior officials and other dignitaries were treated to banquets and walks in the splendid gardens. Now it is a merely series of foundations, forgotten and unknown by the current generation. Of all the historical buildings that Port Elizabeth has unconscionably lost, this one perhaps rates as the most significant. On the threshold of the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, a Dutch immigrant by the name of Frederick Korsten, had made his mark prior to the establishment of Port Elizabeth. Perhaps for this reason alone, aside from any architectural merits of the buildings, these deserved to have been preserved for posterity. 

This blog comprises two sections. Firstly, it briefly mentions its initial founder, Thomas Ignatius Ferreirs and then it sketches the journey undertaken by Korsten to arrive at Algoa Bay and what he did whilst in Port Elizabeth. In the second section, it provides an account by the final tenant of this property. He gives an insight into the treasures that were hidden therein. Finally, the real reason for its reprehensible destruction is revealed.

Main picture: Cradock Place

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Frederick Korsten: Founder of Eastern Province Commerce

Of all the early inhabitants of the nascent Port Elizabeth, Frederick Korsten, probably more than anyone else, deserves to be recognised and remembered. Yet there is no real tribute to him. The most fitting monument would have been the preservation of his former magnificent home, Cradock Place. But even that now lies in ruins. 

A comprehensive biography would have sufficed. But that also failed to materialise. John Centlivres Chase did make an attempt in 1868, yet in length it is little more than a eulogy. What he fails to mention or even allude to is that Frederick Korsten was his father-in-law. Nor does he provide any insights into what exactly made Korsten tick. 

Such disdain for history reflects poorly on the denizens of Algoa Bay.

Main picture: Frederick Korsten

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: John Centlivres Chase – Father of the Eastern Cape

Often spoken of as the “Father of the Eastern Cape,” John Centlivres Chase, friend and son-in-law of Frederik Korsten, one of Baillie’s Party aboard the Chapman, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, he was one of the most prominent and influential settlers of the early town of Port Elizabeth. 

Despite setting foot initially on the sands of Algoa Bay, Chase’s southern African odyssey would not begin in Port Elizabeth. But that is where it would end, after an adventure filled life during which he contributed substantially to the body of knowledge about his adopted homeland.

Main picture: John Centlivres Chase

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