Port Elizabeth of Yore : Volume 1 – Defying the Odds – Now Available

This volume is now available as follows: Soft cover = R 250, hard cover R475 plus shipment costs to SA destinations at R100. Copies of the book can be collected in Joburg from Dean [082 801 5446], Cape Town from Blaine [074 103 7137] and at Port Elizabeth from Alan [084 981 8491 oe 041 368 1304]. Alternatively email Dean at deanm@orangedotdesigns.co.za.

Banking details:

Bank: Standard Bank Branch: Clearwater Mall Account number: 00 294 451 0 Swift code for overseas payments: SBZAZAJJ Reference: Will be provided before EFT is performed

As Port Elizabeth celebrated its bicentenary in April 2020, this event has to be celebrated for not only was it the birth of a new town, but it was also home to many of our ancestors. This four-volume set of books records those birth pangs and well as the people and events which over the next 150 years made Port Elizabeth what it is today.

Comments on the back cover

Initially Port Elizabeth was only earmarked as a landing place for the British settlers and not as their destination. Yet in the thirty-year period from 1820 to 1850, contrary to expectations it experienced a tremendous growth spurt. So prodigious in fact was its expansion that it even overtook Cape Town in terms of the volume of exports.

This is the story of the people and events that form the basis of this incredible journey.

This book forms part of a four-volume series which takes the reader on the fascinating odyssey from the original inhabitants – the Khoi – through the town’s development into an entrepôt, wool processor and exporter to its pinnacle as the Detroit of South Africa.

Flip van der Merwe: With Tongue firmly in his Cheek

After 50 years the old Flip, or is that young Flip, instantly makes his presence felt. Within 30 seconds the serious tone belies a flippant comment meant to amuse and sometimes confuse the real from the unreal. Then comes the warning to me as I commence the interview: All replies must be taken with a boulder of salt. To expose the real Flip, I might have to interview “the girl”, now his wife of 50 years, Renée.  

Personally for me, three attributes define Flippie. If one could capture the essence and bottle it, they would be the car, the girl and witty tongue-in-cheek over-the-top statements and mannerisms.

Instead of a formal style I have adopted Flip’s flippant style. But in order to obtain a measure of balance, I have allowed Flip to write the captions to the photos.

Main picture: Na 36 jaar. “I have lost my class”

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Disorderly Haphazard Development of Embryonic Town

“Much like a latter-day squatter camp” best describes how Port Elizabeth commenced. Without a master plan or even a local government, houses and other buildings were built willy-nilly. Without standards anything was acceptable. Moreover, embodying this spurt of development was an entrepreneurial vibrancy which engulfed the populace endeavouring to cloth, feed and house themselves. Apart from the Rev. Francis McCleland, the Colonial Chaplain, who was paid a stipend of £150 per annum by the English government, the rest had not only to build their own homes but also to earn sufficient to sustain themselves.

The blog highlights the chaotic initial development of the town.

Main picture: 1822 Sketch by S.E. Hudson showing the shambolic layout of the town

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: From Commandant’s Quarters to Wool Market

Like many other sites in Central Port Elizabeth, this site has undergone a veritable melange of uses and buildings over the years. Originally it was the quarters of the Commandant of the Fort, Captain Francis Evatt. It was then used as the Court House, Jail and Police Station until August 1854 when it was burnt down. Subsequently it was used by a breakaway faction of St Mary’s Church to build their own church. That building was replaced by the Wool Market and in its final iteration, it became part of the market building.

Main picture: 1850 Castle Hill by H.F. White, better known for his construction of Whites Road, with the Commandant’s Quarters on the extreme left. The stand-alone building is the lock-up or jail.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Union Castle Corner

In the early days, the area was simply known as the Corner of Main and Jetty Streets, descriptive but unimaginative and boring. The name Union Castle Corner only arose once the Union Castle Steamship Company occupied these premises in 1901. From 1820 until it was demolished in 1978 to become a bus terminus, it had effectively only had two buildings on this site but with multiple tenants over the years and one major upgrade. With the harbour being the centre of the town’s focus, this area was prime real estate.

This blog covers the buildings and their major tenants which occupied this site over the years.

Main picture: The original multi-storey building before the extension of the building down Jetty Street

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Class of 1971: What did they do after school?

This blog was written by the pupils of the Class of 1971 themselves. It would be great to hear from everybody. Two photos of Then and Now would also be super. There are no rules about how much or how little you would like to share or indeed what you would to include. The latest submissions will be included at the top of the blog thereby making the unread entries at the top of the blog.  

Main picture: Montage of Class of ’71’s Assembly & Service Program as well as the Valedictory Address and Signatures [Thanks to Sonia Slement (Venter)]

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Commissariat Building

In military parlance, the Commissariat is the department for the supply of food and equipment. Being a resupply point during the Frontier Wars, a Commissariat had to be established in Port Elizabeth. Initially the military rented premises in the town but in 1837 they constructed their own buildings.

Main picture: In the foreground is washed wool being dried. Main buildings in the area are annotated

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Alex of Yore: Bob Welsh – One of the Originals

In the photograph of the original staff of Alexander Road High School, is the visage of the lanky teacher of Geography, Bob Welsh in the front row. Bob never demanded respect from his pupils but rather he earned it. In many ways Bob was a more progressive teacher and the antithesis of certain senior teachers at the time. By evoking an interest in the subject, pupils responded in a like manner enabling Bob to teach with a light touch seldom if ever submitted the pupils to tirades of screaming.   

That is my enduring memory of Bob Welsh, a kind and gentle man, never given to histrionics.

Main picture: Alex staff members in 1956 [front row 2nd from left]

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