Will the Bicentennial of their Arrival provoke Vilification or Celebration?

Being of 1820 Settler Stock, the year 2020 looms large in my mind. The bicentennial represents a time when our family can reflect and rejoice on our time in South Africa and how much that hardy band of Settlers have contributed to South Africa’s development. Will any form of large scale celebration merely bring opprobrium to those celebrating it or will it bring mutual rejoicing as everybody shares in the commemoration? I fear the latter response.

Main picture: The Campanile was constructed between 1920 & 1922 in order to commemorate the arrival of the 1820 Settlers a centuary before

Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but what I would envisage is not some ostentatious display or Stalinesque type of monument erected to commemorate the Settlers, but rather some heartfelt appreciation that Port Elizabeth would not exist in its current form without the strenuous endeavours of this resilient group of people.


Consider what they faced on arrival. There was no welcoming committee with refreshments and hot meals on hand. Instead there were some flimsy tents on a wind-swept beach in the vicinity of where the current Campanile with its 204 steps is situated. It would take no more than five years before these resourceful people had started the process of building a permanent settlement. There were no International Relief Agencies deploring their plight on this god-forsaken non-fertile piece of land; they accepted the task at hand. Like a manifest destiny, without criticism, fits of pique or temper tantrums, but with cheery optimism, they tamed the land.

The Campanile#3-1

What could have been a fool’s errand, instead they were instrumental in the laying out and constructing the core of a new City.

When the centenary of their arrival eventuated, they sought to mark that event with something ostentatious like a coming of age function. A huge symbol of their triumph was erected. This was the Campanile, built on the same location where the first settlers had landed.


Gone are the days when even something one thousandth of that magnitude would be acceptable as a tribute. Even a tiny plaque on the Campanile would in all likelihood provoke an emotional counter reaction from the likes of the C in C – the Commander in Chief – of the EFF, Julius Malema.

View of the Campanile from the seafront, towering over the Customs House
View of the Campanile from the seafront, towering over the Customs House

In no small measure the ANC’s response will be maladroit, dictated by the fact that they have underperformed combined with a burning desire to adopt some form of counter measure or one-upmanship against the EFF’s vituperative response. Like the Nazis before WW2, they will cast hurtful aspersions on other races in order to deflect their own shortcomings. More ominously, Zuma will probably cast the 1820 Settlers in the same mould as Jan van Riebeeck viz the cause of South Africa’s current problems.

The Campanile under construction
The Campanile under construction

For the most part I attempt to articulate a kinder nobler world where I never generalise about other races. In viewing people in a sanguine light, without prejudice and preconceptions, one can build a gentler more selfless world and a more harmonious and inclusive South Africa.

Perhaps that is pie-in-the-sky, an illusion, but it is my abiding passion.

Nonetheless given the current political milieu of denigration, demeaning one’s opponent and besmirching their good intent, there is scant regard of another’s views, heartfelt hopes or even their rights.


In the light of that reality and surrendering to the altar of expediency, the only solution is to hold one’s own private ceremonies to acknowledge our forefathers, their perseverance and their suffering.

Nothing else will be acceptable in the modern South Africa.

The Campanile in 1924
The Campanile in 1924

The Campanile

The Campanile was erected to commemorate the landing of the 1820 Settlers and is situated at the entrance to the railway station and docks in Strand Street, the spot where it is said the settlers landed in Port Elizabeth. The architects were Jones & McWilliams with construction starting in 1920 and it was completed in 1922.

The bells in position
The bells in position

The Campanile Memorial has a climb of 204 steps that takes one to the Observation Room, offering a magnificent view of the harbour and surroundings, more than 52m above the city.  The Campanile contains the largest carillon of bells in the country in addition to its chiming clock. When it’s song time, the tower tops ring out with a carillon of 23 bells, conjuring nostalgic cries of history.


  1. Hi Dean,
    Great reading like always…

    Both sides of my wife’s ancestors were 1820 Settlers descendants (Adelaide’s Webster’s & Rennie); but that interests me more than her. Her g.g…grandmother was Thomas Pringle’s wife.

    As a 4y.o. kid In the late 1940’s I went on regular long walks, from the Red Lion hotel in NE, past the Campanile to the end of the pier with my Grandfather (Stanley Brockett). We watched harbor cranes unloading cars & goods from the docked ships & to see what the pier fisherman had caught. On the walk back it just took a ice cream, new comic, or matchbox car, to forget I was tired, thirsty, & hungry…

    Thanks for sharing your extensive PE history with us all!


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