Port Elizabeth of Yore: The creation of a Port without a Harbour.

For the majority of the 143 years from 1652 to 1795 during which the Dutch occupied the Cape, Algoa Bay and its potential use as a Harbour can be likened to a black hole. Nothing was known about it and the Government authorities were ignorant of its existence. The raison d’etre of the use of Cape Town was that it served as a replenishment station en route to the Dutch East Indies. Nothing more and nothing less.  

It took more than a century after 1652 before the Dutch authorities displayed a modicum of interest in this Bay. This blog deals with that unhurried awakening of interest and its gradual adoption as a harbour. If the truth be told, without the British occupation of the colony, the recognition and adoption of Port Elizabeth would possibly not have arisen and some other river mouths such as the Zwartkops, Buffalo or Kowie would have snatched the prize.

Let it be crystal clear: It was not a foregone conclusion that the harbour in Algoa Bay would be situated at the mouth of a paltry stream such as the Baaken’s River.

Main picture: Blockhouse on the Baakens River in 1803

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Captain Moresby of the HMS Menai

Normally when critical civic events occur, it is highly unusual for lower ranking military officers to not only offer their services but also to willingly partake in those activities. In the case of Port Elizabeth, it was the actions of two Captains, one a military officer, Captain Francis Evatt,  and the other a naval officer who expedited the disembarkation of the 1820 Settlers.

This blog will deal with the selfless actions of the latter, Captain Fairfax Moresby of HMS Menai.

Main picture: Captain Sir Fairfax Moresby

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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 original 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: 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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