Port Elizabeth of Yore: From Sandy Hills to Tent Town to Sandy Hills Once Again

For the Settler, this voyage would be the quintessential destination to a terra incognito, not only from a location perspective but also from a livelihood point of view. Most had not been selected psychologically with the criteria of the rugged pioneer in mind nor did many possess any farming skills or aptitude. Apart from the tiny Deal Party, Port Elizabeth, or “landing place with fresh water” as it was shown then on the maps, was merely a waystation en route to the Albany District. As such, their initial impact on this hamlet was minimal; more like that of any itinerant or peripatetic soul. 

Yet their impact would ultimately be immense as those without the requisite farming skills would drift back to the area to apply their skills and their trade. It was only then that the hamlet would be converted from sandy hills into a vibrant fast-expanding town vying with Cape Town as the Colony’s largest city. 

This is the story of this transient herd, their travails and their experiences whilst in Port Elizabeth. By now, the story of the 1820 Settlers is well known and does not form part of the history of Port Elizabeth per se. As such, this blog will focus on the salient facts but not the minutiae of the Settlers’ experiences.

Main picture: Arrival of the 1820 Settlers

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Early Hotels

The initial accommodation of the 1820 Settlers left much to be desired: rows of tents in the sand dunes where Strand Street is now located, with Algoa Bay’s incessant wind whipping sand into all the exposed orifices. Some might even have been told shameless falsehoods about their future accommodation to lure them to the Cape. But once they stepped off their vessels, they would have to don the mantle of self-motivating, independent pioneers. The unspoken reality is that they would have to turn a pipe dream of a new life into reality. Perhaps they encountered dispiriting moments, but most would batten down the hatches and endure. 

But what the Colony lacked was proper temporary accommodation in the form of hotels especially for visiting colonial officials. 

With their keen enterprising spirit, many would swiftly erect buildings with more than a passing resemblance to hotels. As Port Elizabeth was the entrepot to the Eastern Cape hinterland and later to the Diamond Fields, it rapidly upgraded these Spartan dwelling into respectable establishments.  

This is the story of that evolution. 

Main picture: Scorey’s Hotel being depicted as the large building on the left with the garden of Anne Scorey just below the hotel

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