Port Elizabeth of Yore: The S.S. Western Knight-The Death Shriek of a Ship’s Siren

So far, 1929 had proved to be a disastrous year for shipping on the South African coast. To add a liberal dose of salt to that wound, at 8:30 on a foggy Monday morning, the American freighter, the 5,779-ton SS Western Knight, would be added to that tragic total.

In the impenetrable fog and along this treacherous coastline, the vessel blindly groped its way past Schoenmakerskop, a disaster waiting to happen. Then my grandmother, Elizabeth Daisy McCleland, granny Mac to us, heard the death shriek of a ship’s siren.

Main picture:  Salvage operations underway on the SS Western Knight

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Schoenies: A Very Special Place

Mom hated Schoenies, or Schoenmakerskop, to give it its full name.  Maybe that’s a bit strong, but she was bored, bored, bored with the place.  Dad was seldom adventurous and since he grew up there in the early 1900s, he kept returning to it like a homesick baby desperately trying to return to the womb.  Saturday afternoon, summer and winter, would invariably find us there.  Maybe Mom had a spirit of adventure after all.  I, however and I think my siblings, loved the place.  We kids knew that place like our own backyard as we explored every little bit of it – multiple times.

Main picture: Main gully at Schoenies showing the two islands at mid tide and how the obliquely running rocks form a natural breakwater

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Schoenmakerskop: From Convict Station to Sleepy Hamlet

On the southern coast of Port Elizabeth lies a hamlet barely touched by civilisation. Comprising less than 100 cottages, it is partially a retirement village as well as a holiday resort. Unlike the endless sandy beaches of Algoa Bay, it comprises shingly gullies and rock pools. Instead of the perfect waves for surfers, theses gullies are safe even for toddlers. 

This blog chronicles the early history of this timeless hamlet with its Norfolk pines oblivious to the sea breezes.    

This is where I learnt to swim, to dive, to fish – which I never enjoyed – and to explore the inter-tidal zone and rock pools.

Main picture: Motor vehicles on the commonage in front of The Hut Tearoom at Schoenmakerskop. This photograph was originally hanging in my parent’s house at 57 Mowbray Street, Newton Park

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Saga of the Drift Sands

The fact that the whole tip of the peninsular formed by the southeastern part of Port Elizabeth comprised a huge swathe of sand dunes is now totally lost to its current inhabitants. Commencing in the late 1800’s, a scheme was instituted to prevent the further northern spread of these dunes. 

This was their death knell. Today some dunes, a remnant, are still visible at its extremities of Sardinia Bay, the western extent of this dune field, and around the Cape Recife area whilst the driftsands incubator itself, lost its battle for primacy.   

This is the story of their demise. 

Main picture: Sardinia Bay, a remnant of a once vast sand field stretching inland through Bushy Park to Humewood

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Bryce Beckley McCleland – A Second Chance at Life

Bryce was the proverbial laat lammertjie. By being born on the 24th August 1922, meant that he was the youngest of the six McCleland children of Harry & Daisy McCleland of Schoenmakerskop. In what can only be described as a tumultuous few years, first his elder brother Francis accidently shot himself during an attempted break-in at his parents Tea Room, then at the age of 8 his father succumbed to Black Water Fever which he had contracted fighting in German East Africa. 

Main picture: Bryce and Auret McCleland – most probably taken at their 40th wedding anniversary in 1986 when Mom was 65 yrs old – Dad was 68.

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The Sea can be a Dangerous Place as I Learnt

Being brought up by the sea brought us boundless joy as children. From a very early age we all learned to swim proficiently. As my father was brought up at the coast, he took us to the beach every weekend irrespective of what the weather conditions were like. Due to our competence, we were left unsupervised and unattended on the beach from an early age. Instead of the current generation frequenting the malls, we led an active life.

Even as a competent swimmer I twice almost did not see another day. On both occasions it was a spring tide which was the cause of my near fatal mishaps. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt as I did not treat the sea with the caution it deserves.

These are the chronicles of those events still seared in my memory.

Main picture: This is a view of the main sand dune at Maitlands River Mouth  Continue reading

A Sunday Drive to Schoenmakerskop in 1922

After losing all their possessions in a great flood of the Gamtoos River in 1906, my paternal grand- parents purchased 3 plots in an isolated hamlet called Schoenmakerskop during July 1918. On erf 17 – what was to become Number 32 Marine Drive – they constructed a wooden restaurant, which in its early years was called “The Hut”. With only a limestone and sand road from Walmer, their customers must have been paltry. Against the odds, luck was their side. On Wednesday 6th December 1922, Marine Drive was opened. It became a magnet for the rich and well-heeled in Port Elizabeth. Soon  The Hut was overflowing with customers and the whole family was impressed into service catering for this demand.

This blog is a pictorial replication of that drive on Sunday 10th December 1922 with contemporary photographs and drawings.

Main Picture: The start of the drive was at the Port Elizabeth Town Hall. One hundred and fifty model T Fords line up to make the journey around the Marine Drive. This is the actual photograph of the vehicles lining up.

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Harry Clifford McCleland [1911 to 1982]: A Life Recalled

Known by all and sundry as Clifford or Cliffie by those closer to him, he was never to be called Harry apart from on his birth certificate. Having never been close to him, the song “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics has resonance with me. An intensely quiet, introverted but humble person, he was not somebody that would readily admit other people into his life. This was the person who was my father.

Amongst the many abiding memories of my father was that I never ever engaged in a discussion with him. Blaine on the other hand would rise early and share coffee with him in the kitchen. Naturally Cheryl was the apple of his eye until there was a falling out when she reached puberty. At that point both our relationships with him were platonic with no love or affection displayed.

Main picture: During WW2 in Egypt
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