The paddle steamer Phoenix had more than one connection with Port Elizabeth, apart from operating between Cape Town and Algoa Bay, but the other associations are more tenuous. However, it is perhaps for the nebulous reason that the name Phoenix will forever be remembered in Port Elizabeth albeit for the wrong reason.
Main picture: The paddle steamer Phoenix
Needless to say, but when the 1820 Settlers arrived at Port Elizabeth, there was nothing awaiting them and that included a harbour. In fact, the sum total of the population of Port Elizabeth in 1819 was 35 souls, mainly men. Yet despite exponential growth in population and port activities, Port Elizabeth never possessed a proper harbour for the first 110 years of its existence.
How did the town handle the veritable flood of imports and exports until the first permanent jetty was constructed in 1870 and the first quay in the 1930s?
Main picture: Settlers landing in unstable flat bottomed boats
Many of the buildings constructed nowadays have little to recommend them. Being merely rectangular blocks, they do not enhance life through their aesthetic appeal. Maybe this is acceptable for industrial buildings but for structures along a beachfront, the bar needs to be set higher. Two buildings of yore met that criterion: the Octagon Café and the Bathing Pavillion. Sadly both are no more.
Main picture: The Octagon Cafe on the Elizabeth Promenade
Being in such close proximity to one another, I have often considered this lighthouse and the adjacent pyramid as being contemporary structures. Nothing could be further from the truth. This blog, largely based on the 1986 thesis by Jon Inggs, provides the historical detail from the conceptualisation to the erection of the Donkin Lighthouse.
Main picture: Signal Ball at Donkin Lighthouse in 1860s
Swimming in the 19th century must be understood against the backdrop of the conservative mores of that era. This resulted in a flurry of rules to prevent men and women swimming together. By the end of the century, attitudes towards “mixed swimming” were more relaxed.
This blog chronicles the saga of sea swimming in Port Elizabeth from its first attempt at the breakwater in 1866, the construction of the first swimming pool in Port Elizabeth and finally to swimming at Humewood.
Main picture: Swimming facilities at the harbour breakwater beyond the surf boats
In its final form, the Opera House might have only been opened in December 1892 but Port Elizabeth was not deprived of entertainment as its predecessor, the “New Theatre” operated from 1862.
Main picture: Engraving of the Opera house soon after it was built in 1892
More modern does not necessarily equate with better. In this regard, the Mutual Arcade in Main Street, Port Elizabeth comes to mind. From 1900 to 1958, it graced Main Street to be replaced with an insipid rectangular building.
Main picture: The Mutual Arcade circa 1904 showing shops at ground level in Main Street
From the Donkin, one has spectacular views of not only the harbour but all the way from Summerstrand to the shore at Deal Party. Amongst one of the exquisite views of Port Elizabeth, is that of an old gem, St Augustine’s Cathedral.
At best the Irish Settlers in Clanwilliam eked out a precarious existence. The Settlement could not have been called a resounding success both for the Settlers generally and the McCleland household in particular. After a number of unseemly fracases, Francis was granted a transfer to the newly created hamlet named Port Elizabeth which was supposed to have been their original disembarkation point.
It was here that Francis and Elizabeth would spend the rest of their lives. This episode, the final one, is the chronicle of that life.
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
In all likelihood, school learners who take history as a subject would be aware that Piet Retief, a descendant of French Huguenot extraction, was a renowned Voortrekker Leader who was ultimately killed by the duplicious Dingane.
What the school history books do not teach the learners in Port Elizabeth, is that he owned substantial land in well-known parts of what was to become the City of Port Elizabeth.
Main picture: The Piet Retief Monument in Summerstrand