South End, as we know it, was a farm, Papenbiesjesfontein, extending from the Baaken’s River to about the S-bend at Humewood. According to J.J. Redgrave in Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days, it was granted by Lord Charles Somerset in 1820 to Gerhardus Oosthuizen. His widow bought the farm from the joint heirs for £135 sterling and subsequently married a tall, bearded Hollander named J.A. Rudolph. When he died, she married William Gardner and only after her death in 1859, was the estate sub divided into building allotments.
Main photo: Baakens Valley. C1881. In the background are three cottages (now Harris Street). Below them the old homestead of the Board family. To the right the steam laundry, opened May 1877. In the centre theproperty of John McWilliams (at one time a hotel). In the foreground the property of John Harrison Clark
Was it a Comedy of Errors or Merely a Dose of Reality?
With the rapid growth in exports from Port Elizabeth, incessant demands arose to build a proper harbour in the form of jetties and a breakwater. The initial attempt at harbour building was the construction of a jetty using the wreck of the vessel Feegee as its base. Its usefulness was short-lived as a sudden gale drove several vessels through it, irreparably damaging it.
Various configurations of a breakwater were later proposed and the design that was adopted was constructed just south of the Baakens River. This was the start of a town’s nightmare as first the sea and then a flood were to silt the harbour up, posing a threat to the operation of the landing beaches. Instead of a crowning achievement, this episode resulted in not only the necessity of dismantling the breakwater but even more disconcerting, it caused the postponement of the construction of the breakwater and quays by 60 years.
If successful, it would have been a transformative change for a town in no small measure defined by its primitive method of discharging cargo onto flimsy lighters out on the roadstead.
Main picture: The breakwater south of the Baakens River – a fatal design flaw