Port Elizabeth of Yore: Loton Tipper of Amsterdam Hoek

Loton Tipper will forever be associated with Amsterdam Hoek. With no bridge close to the river mouth, Amsterdam Hoek was effectively isolated from Port Elizabeth. Notwithstanding that impediment, Loton must have betted on the area becoming a weekend retreat away from the hustle and bustle of Port Elizabeth by purchasing a significant number of stands. In sporting circles, his contribution to its development in the early is recognised, ranking second only in significance after that of Howard Sherman.

Thanks to Jenny Rump for providing me with all the articles and other information enabling me to write this blog.

Main picture: Weekend and holiday cottages along the Swartkops River

Early life

Loton Tipper was born in Peckham, London of a family of six, the last child, managing only just to be born on landing in Port Elizabeth after a particularly bad storm had delayed the docking of the ship. Loton Senior started business in Port Elizabeth in 1877 in a premises in Main Street as a General Merchant. In 1879 Lotan Junior took over management of the shop under the name of Tipper’s Furnishing Warehouse.

Main Street with horse drawn trams. Loton Tipper’s Furnishing Shop is on the right after the auctioneering business

In December 1879 the 21-year-old Loton married Elizabeth Harness. Ten days before the wedding Loton wrote to his fiancé as follows: ”Dear Lizzie. I want you to change the day of the wedding until Friday as Jess Arnold could get off to mind the shop on Saturday, so that it will enable us to get away. Tell your mother that I wish it and also I cannot see that it would make the slightest difference to your arrangements. Send a decisive answer by … as I must ask the shop men whether they can come in on that day as there may be some doubt about it being mail day. Yours faithfully, L.T” Presumably Lizzie’s answer was a decisive affirmative!

Land purchases

In 1880 plots at Amsterdam Hoek were offered for sale and in 1891 they were sold to Loton Tipper, James Green & Nelson Pearson. In 1895 Loton Tipper built two wood and iron houses One was called Halcyon at Tippers Creek where the Scout Hall was situated [only foundations remain now] and Buffalo Lodge at the bottom of Tippers Creek. It is still extant today and is the oldest house here. Loton had a garden up top in the present-day Aloe Reserve. During 1898 most of the river front plots were transferred in Tipper’s name, but by year end they were transferred to others.  He kept the land which is now used as an Aloe Reserve.

1898 James Green lived at Buffalo Lodge. Loton returned to live there permanently when he retired. He lived here from 1913 to 1933. The rest of Tipper’s property was purchased by Sid Wells who called it Wells’ Estate. Later it was purchased by the Council. The house on the other side of Tipper’s Creek belonged to the Roman Catholic Diocese was used it as a holiday home for nuns. It was subsequently demolished.

Athletics, rowing and yachting

Loton enjoyed athletics all his life and excelled at middle distance and walking races. He trained by running around St. George’s Park in a heavy overcoat followed by a rub down by Elliman’s Embrocation and eating half a pound of raw steak daily. He, together with Howard Sherman, was a leading spirit in the foundation of the P.E.A.A.C. and it is chronicled later “that it is owing to the spadework of these two gentlemen that Port Elizabeth and, in fact, South Africa, have attained their present high standard of Athletics”. On the 26th June 1880, the first committee meeting of the new Port Elizabeth Amateur Athletic Club took place. Early stal­warts included George Farrar, Loton Tipper, Howard Sherman and T.W. Harvey. The first President was A.C. Wylde.

Rowing was another of Loton’s interests and the directory of 1892 lists him as a member of the rowing committee (there was also a yachting committee) of the Zwartkops Boating Association with its Clubhouse at Zwartkops. (Note: It used to be spelt with a Z in those days). He was the Rowing Captain of the P.E. Rowing Club. He was also the proud owner of a yacht and donated a trophy to the Zwartkops Yacht Club called the Tipper Trophy. It is recorded that this Trophy was competed for in 1898 and is still competed for today at the Zwartkops Yacht Club.

In the sheltered side valley leading off what is now Tipper’s Creek Road, where the only sounds were the calls of the curlews and the whimbrils, Loton and Lizzie settled and brought up their family, hunting and fishing and cultivating the soil. Loton built a garden on the top of the ridge above the house. He also attempted, unsuccessfully, to cultivate oysters in the river opposite Buffalo Lodge. The posts marking the beds were still to be seen a few years ago. Mounds decorated with seashells marked the graves of Hottentot servants who died in the 1918 Flu Epidemic, and in another spot were the graves of his hunting dogs.

On his hunting trips in the bush he was only armed only with a “catty”. In the evenings, after supper the family would gather around the fire in the living room and listen to his music box, a device consisting of a brass drum driven by clockwork with spikes which plucked at a comb-like keyboard or listen to stirring tales of early days hunting buck, bushbuck and even elephants further north at Addo.

Little Bess locomotive used at the opening of line to Swartkops.

In 1913 two Hunting Clubs were advertised. They possessed shooting rights on Tipper’s Amsterdam Hoek land.

Eric Vos remembers Lotan Tipper as a slightly built but lithe man with a white beard, wearing a battered trilby hat, a scarf knotted around his neck, inconspicuous bush clothes, a haversack over his shoulder, a double-barrelled shotgun and his faithful beagle “Khaki”. There was a long flight of steps leading up to the house and one of the family gave a vivid description of Lotan setting off on a trip to town and stopping after a couple of steps to tum and call further instructions to Lizzie, “Now Lizzie don’t forget …” and the reply came “Yes Lotan, yes Loton“. Times have not changed!

Lotan owned a horse and carriage and it was said that on approaching the Zwartkops Hotel the old horse automatically stopped and turned in! As a sideline, Tipper sold oysters from the river.

The offspring of Tipper were Louise, the mother of Donald and Alan MacIntosh, Nellie and Mable. At one time, two of the Tipper girls were being courted by two young men, Bert Armer and Percy Knight, who spent weekends with the family. The girls were milliners and worked at a shop not far from the North End station.  The shop closed very late in the evening, and this meant a rush to the station to catch the train, accompanied by their fiancés. From Zwartkops Station, they walked to the riverbank when Loton waited in a boat to row them to Amsterdam Hoek. There were no outboard motors in those days. Imagine the occasional row against a south-easter and the incoming tide! Lizzie would be standing on the opposite shore with a lantern to guide them. Bert Armer built a cottage adjacent to the Tipper’s house where the family spent weekends and holidays.

After WW1

In the years preceding the First World War the Tipper saga gradually drew to a close. The shop in Main Street was closed and the business moved to Strand Street. Lotan retired in 1913 to live permanently at his beloved Amsterdam Hoek. He died on 18th July 1933 and was buried at the North End cemetery. The Armer house was demolished· and the creeping bush has overgrown the site. The Tipper’s house, built in 1918 above the present Scout Hall, was demolished, but the foundations, although overgrown by grass are still visible; the grassy area of the garden where the bush has not yet taken over is still evident. One can still see the area above the Tipper’s house where they had donkey paddocks and a vegetable garden. Only Buffalo Lodge remains.

The remaining Tipper land eventually was bought by Sid Wells and became known as the Wells Estate, finally being bought by the City Council. Standing there in this quiet place in its sheltered valley, away from the bustle of Amsterdam Hoek, one can sense the peace and the infinite vastness of the surrounding bush. One trusts that this unique environment with its abundant wildlife will be preserved for all time.


Jenny Rump

Loton Tipper – Pioneer by Eric Vos

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