Port Elizabeth of Yore:  1835 – Under a Dark Cloud with several bright rays

Port Elizabeth commenced the year on a bright optimistic note with the appointment of Henry Green Dunsterville as Harbour Master and Port Captain with effect from the 1st January 1835. This appointment was only confirmed on the 7th June. Immediately after this announcement, the imminent threat of a Xhosa invasion of the town set the town on edge. This was followed in late September by a disastrous storm which resulted in the loss of several vessels in the Bay.

Among the bright rays which barely penetrated the dark, dank clouds was the appointment of the town’s first civilian doctor. Another spark was an extended stay of the Cape Governor during which the residents were able to address their frustrations about the lack of a lighthouse at Cape Receife.  

Main picture: A blustery day in the Bay

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Untimely Demise of the First Jetty

When the elements defeat ingenuity and determination

The first practical scheme to improve Port Elizabeth’s harbour facilities was mooted barely ten years after the arrival of the 1820 Settlers. This reflects the stunning growth of Port Elizabeth as a harbour. Notwithstanding the determination of the local residents, politics and other considerations would intrude to prevent the hopes and aspirations of this dream being realised.

Nine years after being mooted in 1831, construction of the First Jetty commenced in 1840. The maxim, “The past we inherit and the future we create,” was now validated. This blog covers the cycle of this project from its initial conceptualisation to its unfortunate, untimely and unexpected destruction in 1843.

Main picture: The first jetty

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: In the Era of the 1837 Royal Engineer’s Map

What can be learned from examining a map in detail? Plenty. But in this case not so much. Being a military map, it does not include all the non-military buildings. This does have an advantage as it eliminates all the clutter. Hence it provides an overall perspective

Main picture: The complete 1837 military map of Port Elizabeth as drawn by the Royal Engineers

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Restoration of Verandah of No 7

Per se, the restoration of the verandah of No. 7 Castle Hill should not be a major issue. Yet on several levels it encapsulates the problem. The one stance that I have taken in accordance with best practice with regard to restoration is to maintain not only the integrity of the structure but its look, feel and texture. Secondly in the case of national monuments, who will ensure that maintenance is performed timeously but also in keeping with the character of the structure.  This requires personnel with competence, interest and integrity.

This blog underscores the efforts of the erstwhile curator of this museum to ensure the faithful restoration of this priceless settler artifact and is largely drawn from an article in 1985 by Mrs. Rosemary Trehaeven.

Main picture: Portion of WA Harriers’ drawing showing Castle Hill

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Slavery-Born Free, Life of Servitude

Whilst the Cape Colony might well have possessed slaves, the establishment of Port Elizabeth came at the culmination of the emancipation efforts by the British government. Hence the prevalence and practice of slavery was not of such great importance as it was closer to Cape Town. 

In 1807 the British government banned the sale of slaves to all her colonies, including the Cape. This meant that no more slaves (from any destination) could be sent to work in the Cape. However, those who were already in the Cape continued to work as slaves until 1834 when all slaves in the British Empire were to be emancipated. Many of the slaves chose to remain on with their owners while some started a new life in and around Cape Town working as tradesmen. Gradually these people became absorbed into the Cape community.

Main picture: The reality of slavery

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Criminal Justice System

Any criminal justice system, apart from the Wild West, comprises several independent components: the constabulary, the magistracy and the prisons. This chapter deals with all three elements during the early years of the town’s development.

Main picture: Commercial Hall which housed both the Magistrate’s Court and the Police Offices before their relocation. Ultimately this site became the public library.

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Reverend Francis McCleland: A Life in Port Elizabeth 1825 – 1853

At best the Irish 1820 Settlers in Clanwilliam eked out a precarious existence. The settlement could not have been called a resounding success either by the settlers generally or the McCleland household in particular. After a number of unseemly quarrels, Francis was granted a transfer to the newly created hamlet of Port Elizabeth which was meant to have been their original disembarkation point. 

It was here that Francis and Elizabeth would spend the rest of their lives. This chronicles the lives of my great-great-grandparents in Port Elizabeth.

Main picture: Castle Hill in 1851 painted by engineer Henry Fancourt White of White’s Road fame. Number 7 Castle Hill is the commodious double storey house on the right on top of the hill

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: St. Mary’s – The Mother Church

Given that there are no longer any residents who live in close proximity to the church, there are few parking facilities in the area and there are hardly any parishioners who attend regularly, what is the future prognosis of this icon of Port Elizabeth? Naturally, I am biased because my great-great-grandfather was its first pastor but is society in general not able to appreciate that this building is integral to the history of Port Elizabeth. 

It will serve Port Elizabeth well to remember that it is not a church, probably in dire financial difficulties, that has to be saved, but a treasure of the city itself. 

This blog is the history of this institution.

Main picture: St. Mary’s after being reconstructed in 1896 but before the construction of the UBS building in Main Street

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