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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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: Hobie Beach. From a misnomer to a sobriquet

Officially Hobie Beach is called Shark Rock Beach. But even that name is incorrect for two reasons which will shortly be explained. Notwithstanding the fact that the origin of the name and its derivation is inaccurately attributed, why would the sailors in their billowing Hobie Cats, the gaily coloured visitors on the Shark Rock Pier or the sun-blistered sun tanners on the golden beach care about such historical inaccuracies?

Of course, they don’t care a fig! But I do. Because I am interested in history but not to needlessly pick an unwinnable verbal brawl.

This is the saga both of the naming of this area from a misnomer to a sobriquet to uncovering its long-lost use prior to the establishment of posh suburbs in the area and the construction of the Shark Rock Pier.

Main picture: This is the oldest extant photograph of the mouth of Shark River with Hobie Beach on the tight

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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: Its Inhabitants in 1822

Port Elizabeth is fortunate in having somebody who prepared a list of its inhabitants at the inception of the town itself. Without a functioning civil authority, nothing is recorded, let alone a population register.  

This blog lists Port Elizabeth’s inhabitants in 1822 together with a biographical sketch of some of them. 

Main picture: Port Elizabeth in 1823

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