Port Elizabeth of Yore: A Description of the Town in 1861

This blog is a verbatim copy of an article of unknown origin or authorship. That begs the question of who indeed wrote it. As a best guess it was Tennyson Bodill as it came from his files.   

Notwithstanding vigorous growth during its first forty years, Port Elizabeth was still a dinky-sized town in 1861. From a scruffiness in its early years, which was unbecoming, it was the debut of the Town Hall which ushered in a whole array of elegant buildings such as the original Standard Bank building. What the town lacked then, and the city does now, was greenery. This paucity of vegetation has deprived its inhabitants of its aesthetic beauty, which would have enhanced the attractiveness of the town.

Main picture: The original St Mary’s Church before it was burnt down in 1895. Never an object of beauty, it was a plain unadorned box of a building.

Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Development ignited by the Saltpans

In a manner of speaking, the salt pans which span over the northern areas of Port Elizabeth, are its mineral wealth. Unlike the mines in the north, their minerals are easy to extract without expensive machinery or underground excavations. Furthermore their lifespan is measured in millennia and not decades.

It is thought that in all likelihood, these salt pans have been used for millennia but not on an organised basis by the local Khoikhoi. The saline deposits of this district have long been famous, but until the foresight of Frederick Korsten, that there had been no attempt at systematic development. It was the entrepreneurial spirits of this one man that turned this untapped resource into an asset for the area.

Main picture: Swartkops salt pans

Continue reading

Reverend Francis McCleland: A Life in Port Elizabeth 1825 – 1853

At best the Irish 1820 Settlers in Clanwilliam eked out a precarious existence. The settlement could not have been called a resounding success either by the settlers generally or the McCleland household in particular. After a number of unseemly quarrels, Francis was granted a transfer to the newly created hamlet of Port Elizabeth which was meant to have been their original disembarkation point. 

It was here that Francis and Elizabeth would spend the rest of their lives. This chronicles the lives of my great-great-grandparents in Port Elizabeth.

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

Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Mad Pyromaniac

Some people gain fame, and possibly fortune, through charity, good deeds and hard work whereas Miss Francis Livingstone Johnston only gained notoriety through setting fire to numerous buildings in Port Elizabeth in the mid- 1890s. The reason for burning down churches was an apparent irrational hatred of altars. 

The blog covers the wayward and abnormal career of this atypical female.

Main picture: The Cleghorn, Harris and Stephen’s building, next to where the present Port Elizabeth Public Library was later built, burnt down on Wednesday night 6th May 1896.

Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: St. Mary’s – The Mother Church

Given that there are no longer any residents who live in close proximity to the church, there are few  parking facilities in the area and there are hardly any parishioners who attend regularly, what is the future prognosis of this icon of Port Elizabeth? Naturally, I am biased because my great-great-grandfather was its first pastor but is society in general not able to appreciate that this building is integral to the history of Port Elizabeth. 

It will serve Port Elizabeth well to remember that it is not a church, probably in dire financial difficulties, that has to be saved, but a treasure of the city itself. 

This blog is the history of this institution.

Main picture: St. Mary’s after being reconstructed in 1896 but before the construction of the UBS building in Main Street

Continue reading