Port Elizabeth of Yore: Pinchin’s Ascent of the Cockscomb

Robert Pinchin was born in England in 1824 and died in Port Elizabeth on the 9th May 1888 at the young age of 64 probably due to overwork. He arrived in Port Elizabeth from London in 1849, marrying Mary Ann Burton on the 13th September 185., Pinchin was a land surveyor, civil engineer and architect from the end of 1849. During the period 1863 to 1868, Pinchin was in partnership with G.W. Smith. Pinchin laid out much of the first streets and properties in Central, Port Elizabeth and became a respected consultant. Robert negotiated a supply of water from the Shark River Co. to the municipality. In 1881, G.W. Smith again joined Pinchin in partnership, at Port Elizabeth, and on Pinchin’s death in 1888, took over the practice.

Pinchin’s interests were astronomy and geology. In 1862 he released his treatise in which he advocated the construction of the Van Stadens Water Scheme which would alleviate the water supply difficulties of Port Elizabeth which did not yet possess domestic plumbing. In 1870 Robert led a party which climbed the Cockscomb Peak and hence would be the 3rd successful party to do so as far as they were aware. Pinchin lived with his daughter in his mother-in-law’s house in Baakens Street and then in 1877 built a house in Park Drive. 

The Story of Pinchin’s Ascent

This narrative has been largely based upon the report that Pinchin drafted for the Herald and was published on the 20th April 1870.  Excluded are irrelevant comments and minor adjustments have been made to spellings and flow of sentences. Long sentences have also been truncated to enhance readability. Apart from these changes, the narrative is true to Pinchin’s original article in the Herald. 

Main picture: Cockscomb Peak from the north

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Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: The Bathing House at Humewood

Of all the artefacts along the southern beaches, the Bathing House at the mouth of the Shark River was the most prominent landmark. Opened in 1913, it was demolished shortly before the great flood of 1968. Controversially its demolition has been conflated with the flood and has even been stated in publications that the flood was its downfall yet in fact it was demolished in 1966.

Main picture: The unusual design of the Bathing House is highlighted in this night time shot

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Railway Line to Humewood and the Driftsands

Of all the Branch Lines in Port Elizabeth, this one appears to be the least known. Initially it was laid as part of the project to tame the supposedly deadly driftsands which would encroach and smother the site chosen for the harbour. To prevent this apocalypse, it was decided to cover this moving sea of sand with the garbage generated by the residents of Port Elizabeth. The garbage was required as fertiliser for the planting of the chosen species of grasses, bushes and trees, the sand being further stabilised by spreading tree branches and erecting wooden fences at intervals as required.

This standard-gauge railway line was constructed in late 1892 or early 1893, and the use of the coastal section of this railway for passenger traffic followed the sale, on 30 May 1893, by the Harbour Board of 20 marine villa sites between the original Happy Valley (where the Apple Express railway line now runs) and Klein Shark River.

Main picture: The platform adjacent to Customs House to embark on the journey to Humewood

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Frame’s Reservoir – The Unlikely Dam

The saga of how Port Elizabeth acquired an unsuitable dam on a trickle of a river as its first primary water supply in the 1860s, is explained in this blog. Sadly after a few decades the water became saline and no longer potable. Perhaps this venture was emblematic of the era where vision was limited by parsimony and where, despite the Council’s laudable motives, was doomed to failure. 

For all that, the Town Council did protect the interests of its residents by not financing the project itself. So, when bankruptcy did occur, no losses were borne by the denizens of the town. 

Main picture: Opening the valve at the Frames Dam in 1863

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Happy Valley: Trip the Light Fantastic

Happy Valley was a magical place for young kids and probably still is even for the jaded visual palates of today.  In the daytime it is a pleasant stroll alongside the babbling brook that is the lower reaches of that misnomer, the Shark River, where it spills out under the bridge into Humewood Beach.  There are lily ponds, rockeries, gigantic palms and peaceful retreats in which to sit. Every few meters there is another delightful interpretation of a fairy tale or nursery rhyme scene to consider.  

Main Street: Aerial view of Happy Valley with Humewood beach on the upper right

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What happened to the Shark River in Port Elizabeth?

Today the Shark River is a non-descript stream – more of a trickle really – that tinkles its way through Happy Valley. Being no more than 15kms in length with its source in the location marked Drinking Place on the maps, yet this self-same river was once the earliest water supply of Port Elizabeth. How was this miniscule river together with the Donkin Stream next to the Donkin Reserve capable of supplying the Town’s needs? Logically the water from the Baakens River should have been the preferred source being not only closer but more reliable with a perennial water flow.  The other mystery to me is how this docile placid stream is able to increase by the extent that it does during flooding despite having such a minute catchment area.

Main picture: The Shark River on 1st September 1968 and recently. How could such a docile placid stream be transformed into such a violent raging torrent, sweeping all before it.

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