Port Elizabeth of Yore: Rietheuwel aka Balmoral aka Amanzi

For at least 70,000 years, if not more, humans have passed through here. Evidence of human presence at this location is visible in the form of large hand axes, cleavers, cores, and flake tools. These are the tools of the Acheulian culture. No other evidence of their existence can be traced. With primitive shelters constructed of natural vegetation by peripatetic people and soil of high acidity which eroded the bones, all traces and signs of human presence were swiftly obliterated.

This blog covers the estate in the Coega River Valley from its initial “owners” 70,000 years ago through its more civilised iterations as initially being Rietheuwel, then subsequently Balmoral and most recently Amanzi Estate owned by Sir Percy FitzPatrick.

Main picture: Original house on Rietheuwel

The original “owners”
Let us briefly consider these people, the San, migrating from one known water and food supply to another never constructing formal shelters but rather concocting extemporised structures barely able to prevent the ingress of moisture during an afternoon rain shower or the egress of warmth into the chilly Stygian darkness of the night sky with its pinpricks of light plastered as if my hand in eternity. In the chill of a still winter night, the skein of frost would sap the body of heat. Between shivers they would draw closer together around a guttering fire now no more than a fragment of its former self. Once the vegetation had been consumed, these people with their clicking language would vacate the area and travel to another which had been used by their forefathers for millennia.

This trek was arduous. From their despoiled former living area, they would cross the country with coal-like heated sand underfoot and stifling heat clogging their lungs. But for their survival, the San would be compelled to endure this hardship.

The place which these people had vacated was in an area later to be called Rietheuwel by the Trek Boers of the 18th century. Ignorant of the vital role that the area with its abundant perennial water and flourishing vegetation played in the life of the San, they would call themselves the original discoverers of this land. Even the later discovery of the rudimentary tools of the original San and the later Khoikhoi people would not shake their belief in their right to this land.

In the mind of these original San, this was their land. Even if a mere ten dozen San people crossed the land from the Fish to the Gamtoos Rivers, this was their land. Nothing but the occasional rudimentary tool which had been cast aside could substantiate their presence but not their right to ownership. No contract, certificate of ownership nor any form of title deed would confirm or establish their right to this land. These people conferred that right to themselves through the verbal communications of their desires.

Passing the baton of ownership
The names of first Trek Boers to “discover” the strong natural spring on Rietheuwel is not recorded. The existence of this hot spring was recorded in full for the first time by John Barrow, the Colonial Secretary, when he was taken there by a local farmer during August 1797. This was probably the first written account of this phenomena although the guide had seen it fifteen years previously before in 1782. This spring’s historical, ecological and later, its agricultural influence, is significant if not profound.      

Above: The Hartman family bought Albyn Balmoral and were neighbours to Sir Percy FitzPatrick.

In 1801, Barrow wrote as this warm spring as follows: “This was on the side of a small hill down which ran a stream of chalybeate water from a spring situated about midway to the ascent. Immediately below the spring, the stream ran through a chasm of 5 or 6 feet deep in the midst of a mound of black boggy earth which seemed to have been vomited from the spring. The mount was completely destitute of any vegetation and so light and tumefied that it could scarcely support the weight of a man. The water was clear but the bottom of the channel was covered with a deep orange-coloured sediment of a gelatinous consistency, void of smell or taste. In every part of the bog was oozing out a substance in some places yellow and in others green which was austere to the taste like that of aluminium. When exposed to the flame of a candle it swelled out into a large hollow blister of which the external part had become red friable clay and the interior surface was coated over with a dark black glassy pellicle. The smell given out was at first slightly sulphurous and afterwards bituminous.

Great quantities of a dark red ochraceous earth were thrown out from the bog in small heaps like molehills. This, when taken between the fingers, became oily and adhesive and the colour brightened to vermilion.  Both the red, the green and the yellow substances when boiled in water deposited a smooth clayey sediment, unctuous to the feel, tasteless and colourless. The water had imbibed a strong acid and had dissolved part of the copper kettle in which it had boiled, as appeared by this metal being brought down on pieces of polished iron. The impregnated water changed the colour of the blue paper. The want of chemical tests prevented any further experiments, but I imagine the substances were sulphuric acid in union with iron, composing green vitriol, or copperas, which the mixture of bituminous or other heterogeneous matter had prevented from forming itself into regular crystals.

The water of the spring was of the same temperature as the surrounding atmosphere but a farmer who was with us asserted positively that 15 years ago id est 1782, when last he was at the spot, the water was thrown out warm to a considerable degree. His assertion was however liable to some doubt. Periodical hot streams were not as a phenomenon in nature are not frequently, if ever, met with. It is possible that a portion of unsaturated sulphuric acid coming in its disengaged state in contact with the water might occasionally raise its temperature. The information of the peasantry in any subject, and in all countries, should be received with a degree of caution.

Before I ascend the hill in question, I was told that the suffocating smell of sulphur constantly given out was scarcely to be supported and that there was always a prodigious smoke, both of which were palpable falsehoods.

Professor Vernon S. Forbes in his book Pioneer Travellers in South Africa (1985) comments on Barrow’s account: “Guided by a farmer, Barrow visited the well-known thermal spring on the farm Amanzi, formerly Balmoral, and provides the first known account of it. It lies some 7 miles {11.2 kms] northeast of Uitenhage and was once the property of Sir Percy FitzPatrick. Barrow cast considerable doubt upon the reliability of the guide’s statement that the spring had been hot when he had visited it 15 years earlier, for Barrow had found it to be the same temperature as the surrounding atmosphere. Since the water issues at about 90°F [32.2°C], this observation may have been correct for the time of his visit, but had he seen the spring on a cold winter’s morning, its thermal character would have been immediately apparent. It is therefore probable that it was under such circumstances that his guide had made his previous visit to the spring.

From Rietheuwel to Balmoral
In 1839, the German botanist, Ferdinand Krause, visited the spring. He recorded that the flow from the spring was so great that he was swept from his feet when attempting to cross it. In 1847 the property was known as the Mineral Baths and was owned by James Bevan, the assistant field-cornet in the area. He also acted as Postmaster in 1863 being succeeded in 1865 in both capacities by John Bevan. In 1854, James Bevan offered 300 erven for sale, noting that it was now to be named Balmoral. In 1860 an insolvent Mr. J.G. Steytler de Villiers sold the Balmoral part of the “Mineral Baths farm. In 1861 the Balmoral Post Office commenced operations but ceased operations six years later in 1867. In August 1863 General John Pigott Nixon purchased two subdivisions of the old Mineral Baths Farm and this portion was sold under the name of Alwyn Balmoral.

Above: Amanzi after the alterations. JJ Cecily nee FitzPatrick and Jack Nivan

Born in 1822, Major-General Nixon was a colourful and eccentric character. Born on the Isle of Wight, he ran away from home at the tender age of 15 and jumped ship in Algoa Bay, where he befriended a Mr Human of the farm Papiesfontein near the Gamtoos River mouth. His parents directed enquiries to the Governor of the Cape regarding the whereabouts of their son. He was traced and returned to his parents in England. Nixon never forgot the kindness bestowed so uncomplainingly and selfishly on him. He would never forget these friends and their acts of kindness and kept in touch with them for the rest of his life.

According to the Chris Linga African Blogspot, “Nixon was commissioned in the British Army in 1841 and landed in Bombay in the same year. He saw active service in various campaigns in the East. He must have been on leave at the Cape when he bought Balmoral in 1863. Many British officers serving in the East spent their furloughs at the Cape. He was back again in 1868 as J.C. Chase records that he visited Cradock Place on several occasions. In 1869 he married Georgina Bean of Nanaga at St. Mary’s Church, Port Elizabeth.

Nixon returned to the Cape in 1872 and the following year he purchased more land, thereby enlarging his Balmoral estate. In 1877 he was British Agent in Baghdad and two years later he retired with the rank of Major-General and settled at Balmoral. From then onward Nixon holidayed there and after his retirement in 1879, prior to settling there for a while on the farm. In 1890 he ran into financial difficulties and his farms were put up for sale. It was during 1890 that Balmoral was put up for sale and it was purchased by a Mr. Arthur Waithman. It is probable that General Nixon and his second wife Maria Georgina Bean left for India circa 1883 never to return. Nixon died in Bombay in 1906 at the age of 84.  

Harradine speculates that “perhaps because of a regal lifestyle, Indian Army connections and local prominence, (he became field-cornet for Coega from 1881 to 1884), he was known as the “Raj of the Eastern Cape”.

From Balmoral to Amanzi
Balmoral then became the property of Hugh de Renzy Magennis. In 1908 Fred Harvey purchased part of Balmoral and in 1909 another portion was acquired by a Mr Haywood. It was noted that there were two fast flowing boreholes on the farm. In 1913 Sir Percy Fitzpatrick bought Glen Hay, part of Balmoral, from I.J. Ferreira and 743 morgen of the same farm from Mr F Haywood. Sir Percy used the estate, which was then named Amanzi, as an experimental citrus farm in connection with his grand scheme to develop the Sundays River Valley. In 1913 the property was acquired by Sir Percy FitzPatrick and at his wife’s suggestion renamed it Amanzi. In “Amanzi: A Personal Record of the First Decade” FitzPatrick wrote: The most striking feature of Balmoral, the name by which Balmoral was then known, was the Castle. It was a miniature copy of a portion of Balmoral Castle.

Above: Sir Percy FitzPatrick

James Peter Fitzpatrick was born in King William’s Town. He was the son of an Irish-born judge of the Cape Supreme Court. Percy, as he preferred to be named, began his career as a clerk in the Standard Bank in Cape Town in 1880. Four years later he left for the Eastern Transvaal where alluvial gold had been discovered and worked there as a storekeeper and a transport rider between Delagoa Bay and the interior. In later years we find him as a journalist, author, politician and company magnate until he began to turn his attention to farming, concentrating on citrus. It was at this time that he purchased Amanzi, 15km east of Uitenhage. As the name implies the farm had an ample supply of good quality artesian water derived from boreholes to irrigate the citrus orchards.

Sir Percy pioneered the citrus industry in the Eastern Cape and fathered what became known as the Citrus Board and the Deciduous Fruit Board which to this day market their exports through the Perishable Products Export Control Board.

The now ruined Amanzi Homestead that was once home to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick

Storage dam
The decision to build a storage dam to conserve the flood waters of the Sundays River and irrigate the valley was announced by Parliament in June 1917. There is no doubt that this move was due to the incessant efforts of Sir Percy FitzPatrick, Chairman of the Cape Sundays River Settlement Company, which had been formed in 1914. Sir Percy had tremendous faith in the ultimate success of this project and envisaged that it would eventually support some 10 000 people, mainly in the citrus industry.

The Algoa Gazetteer by CJ Skead (1993, Algoa Regional Services Council, Port Elizabeth)
Gazetteer of the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage Divisions of the old Cape Colony, compiled by Bartle Logie and Margaret Harradine (2014, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)


Petulant convert
In the correspondence columns of the E.P. Herald dated 5th February 1858 contains an attack on Mormonism by “Tammy Coofit” written in the Scottish dialect. The address given is Balmoral so the correspondent was probably the eccentric General John Nixon, who set up the estate Balmoral which later became Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s estate Amanzi.

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  1. Another fascinating article. ‘Fitz’ like Charles Coghlan was of course a contemporary of my grandfather (A. B. Tancred, ‘AB’) at St Aidan’s, Grahamstown.


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