Port Elizabeth of Yore: A Brief History of the Main Public Library

What the saga to establish a library in Port Elizabeth indicates is the civic mindedness of its citizens. This is a case in point in which the denizens of the town understood that to improve society, education in general and libraries specifically had a significant role to play in this process. Unlike today’s public libraries which offer a free service in those days it was a “subscription” service.

Main picture: Library

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Lake Farm in Kragga Kamma

Initially the area known as Kragga Kamma stretched all the way from the Van Stadens River to the headwaters of the Baakens River. Included in this vast portion of land was a lake then called Klaas Niemand’s Lake but now renamed Lake Farm. Replenishing the lake is a short feeble stream called grandiosely Klaas Niemand River. Correctly speaking such a lake can be referred to as an “endorheic” lake, id est, that is one with no outflow.

Main picture: Lake Farm. The picture was obviously taken many years ago as the Lake has sadly not looked like this for years.  The probable reason for this is the curtailment of the water flow due to the building of farm dams for their cattle.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Kragga Kamma-Once an Animal Eden

Up until the late 1700s, this area was teaming with wild game with large herds of elephants abounding. Various explorers and adventurers attested to the fact that this part of the country once boasted incredibly dense populations of most of the species encountered in South Africa. Until recently, none of these animals could be seen in this area anymore. Now, a recently opened game park has put this to rights. Originally the area referred to as Kragga Kamma extended from the Van Stadens River across to the headwatersof the Baakens River.

This blog has been largely based on the Heritage Impact Assessment by Jenny Bennie, the Gazetteer by Logie and Harradine and the assistance of Erica Clark.

Main picture: The focal point of Kragga Kamma is the homestead of Henry Bailey Christian from 1889 to 1892 

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The First Sources of Water

As David Raymer points out in his excellent book on the water supply to Port Elizabeth entitled ‘Streams of Life’, “until 1880 the greatest problem [that] the settlement of Port Elizabeth faced was the question of a dependable and adequate supply of fresh water for the residents”.

This blog covers the first attempt to address this challenge.

Main picture: One of the original wells in Port Elizabeth

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Islands in the Bay

Algoa Bay contains six named islands in two groups of three. These islands are of considerable importance as they are the only islands along a 1,777 km stretch of coastline between Cape Agulhas and Inhaca Island in Mozambique. The combined surface area of these islands is said to be 40 ha i.e. 99 acres. 

Close inshore, near the new Ngquru harbour development at Coega, on the north-eastern outskirts of Port Elizabeth, is the St Croix group, consisting of a main island of that name and two lesser islets, Jahleel Island just off the Ngquru breakwater and Brenton Island on the seaward side. The second group consists of Bird, Seal and Stag Islands. All six islands and their adjacent waters are declared nature reserves and form part of the Addo Elephant National Park. The islands are closed to the public.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Chinese Settlers Arrive

Providing part of the cosmopolitan mix of Port Elizabeth was the Chinese community. They were scattered throughout Port Elizabeth, particularly in the city centre as well as Sidwell, Korsten, South End, Sydenham, Perkin Street and Dassie Kraal. Their status in South Africa of yore was ambivalent; not black enough yet not white.

This is their story in Port Elizabeth. 

Main picture: Chinese School in North End

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