Port Elizabeth of Yore: Walmer Heights

Walmer Heights is a residential area of Walmer and according to Redgrave, “Mr. Geard purchased in Walmer 100 acres [40 ha.] of the estate known as Walmer Heights which he converted into a magnificent country residence”.

Main picture: Walmer Heights

It was in 1859 that Geard purchased one of the Walmer smallholdings on the boundary of Buffelsfontein / Emerald Hill. Sixteen years later in 1875 Geard purchased a portion of John Miller’s property, Emerald Hill and rebuilt the house, described as having wonderful views. According to Harradine, “the name of the house was given as both Walmer Heights and Manor Heights but was probably in todays Walmer Heights.” As a matter of interest the name Walmer Heights did not originate from the Lovemore family as is supposed by many people.

Dr. Ensor’s description
In the book, Memoir of The Hon. John Geard by the Reverend A. Hanesworth, which was kindly supplied by David Geard whose great great uncle was John Geard, Hanesworth provides a detailed description of this estate which appeared in the Eastern Province Herald. In writing a biography it is highly unusual to obtain such an elaborate description but in this case the details were obtained from this article by Dr Frederick Ensor. In his writing, Hanesworth also draws from letters sent by Geard to his wife. This description is largely a redacted version [in italics] of Hanesworth’s book.

Walmer Heights was John Geard’s country residence. The hundred acres of estate attached to which it was the favourite recreation in his later life to plant and beautify. He rebuilt the house and in the following years made a very delightful retreat of this rustic home, overlooking the sea, with its gardens, avenues and woodlands.  It was an easy drive of five miles [8 kms] from Port Elizabeth. Initially the journey into town must have been via the original route id est before New Road [later Target Kloof] was constructed This would have down Heugh Road and through South End.

I can imagine that Geard would only use this house over weekends and holidays as the family slept on the first floor of the ironmongery in Main Street. Initially all shop proprietors would use the first floor as their home and the Geards were no exception.

At first the estate merely comprised sandhills, covered with scrub and bush. It was this drab area that Geard would convert into a show place, as regards scenic and sylvan attractions. It should be remembered that in this era that the area, extending from the Glutchways / Sardinia Bay across to what was then called the Fisheries, today’s Hobie Beach, in Humewood, was covered in rolling sand dunes. In all probability Walmer Heights must have been situated on the very perimeter of this vast mobile sea of restless sand. Later Weber and Lister would be employed to stabilise it using convict labour housed in a convict station at Schoenmakerskop.

The best description of Walmer Heights is that of Dr. Ensor, published in the Eastern Province Herald. I have drawn liberally from it.


‘No tears Dim the sweet look which nature wears.’

In the flowery verbose manner of writing of the period Dr Ensor describes what an elixir it was for John Geard. He also infers that he must also have been recovering from some ailment or disease but does not specify or identify what it is. Skip the first paragraph if uninteresting.

1891. “The Ridge”, Walmer, the property of John Geard. Now Walmer Heights. Geard bought part of Emerald Hill in 1875

Weary with the routine of professional work, physically unstrung by the lingering weakness of an attack of the prevailing epidemic, dissatisfied with the inert weapons which an empirical treatment suggests against one of the most protean of diseases, a lull in the attack allowed one to lay aside one’s armour, and reply to a kind note of invitation from the owner of Walmer Heights to spend an hour at his homestead and refresh one’s senses with the colours and scents of his beautiful flower garden; ‘the blossoms of the sweet peas, your favourites seen at their best,’ to quote the words of his letter, and remembering.

                                  How small a part of time they share,  

                               Who are so wondrous sweet and fair,

accompanied by my daughter and her lady friend, not forgetting the baby-‘herself the fairest flower’  – a few days ago, on a pleasant cool afternoon, I drove out to Walmer Heights. The road, a smooth well-kept one, branches off to the left of the village of Walmer, and a short drive brought us to the avenue of trees and wild bush, which leads up to the house, which stands at a considerable elevation and commands a very fine and extensive view over land and sea. Welcomed in his usual gracious manner by Mr. Geard and his daughter, we strolled about the grounds, and after a cup of delicious tea made our way to the flower garden. To the left of the house, sheltered on all sides by trees of different kinds of pine and other ornamental growths, the beauty of the spot seemed to me to be enhanced by the absence of any attempt at design. It looked as if Flora had scattered with a lavish hand all her treasures of colour and scent.

About the centre, on a double row of trellis work some eight feet high, were the chief object of our visit. As you enter they catch the eye at once. ‘The Aristocratic Ladies of the Garden,’ adorned with every variety of colour, from pure pale white to rose-tint and rich purple, their beautiful butterfly forms swaying in the gentle breeze and filling the air with incense distilled by the dew and the sunshine. Separated by a narrow path on either side, were beds of poppies in full bloom, more glowing in colour, if less graceful in form. It was a scene in which to forget all the pain and ugliness of disease – ‘a very land of drowsihead it was.’ The scent of the sweet-peas and the rich, heavy aroma of the poppies,[would have been evident] had we lingered longer, I think would have laid us asleep in this enchanted garden. Leaving this, our host took us to another terraced slope facing the sea. A charming little fountain played by the entrance gate, and again we strolled midst parterres of Flora’s gifts-pansies, daisies, geraniums, fragrant garden herbs, beds of mignonette, where ‘busy bees,’ in their usual fussy way, are having a good time in nectar gathering.

Before returning home, we must climb the well-built look-out stage and survey the wide expanse of veldt and sea. It was well worth the climb. The eye takes in one glance a grand sweep of sea from Cape St. Francis, round the deep curve of Algoa Bay, to Point Padrone. It happened to be quite calm, but when the old ‘Earth Shaker,’ as Homer calls him, ‘ gets on the spray ‘ I can imagine he can make his sea-horses go in a way to astonish even the Cunie and Union Leviathans of the deep. Turning landward, the view is bounded by the ever-pleasing outline of the Winterhoek mountains, the pointed tops of the Cockscomb standing out in lofty solitude. In the near foreground lies Walmer, and little ·white farm houses scattered here and there, the whole veldt of a refreshing green under the influence of approaching summer and late autumn rains. We had drunk deep draughts of beauty from Nature’s chalice, and felt stimulated and refreshed. But this cup of pleasure is also to be marred.

Just on leaving and bidding good-bye, a coloured man approached, and, with anxious expression, told us his wife was lying very ill in a little house close by. ‘Would the Baas ask the doctor to see her?” Duty calls, and following a little bush path, I came upon a very rustic edifice, and in a stuffy little room, off the voorhuis, there lay a coloured woman, prostrated by the demon with which I had been fighting for the last few weeks. She seemed grateful for my attention, and I suggested to her master means which I hope will relieve her of the tearing explosions of the influenza cough.

It seems ‘rien est sacre pour cette nialadie,’ he knocks with equal violence at the remote hut in the bush and the dainty boudoir of the richest lady in the land. I am not aware if our only bacteriologist has succeeded in catching the South African variety, but if he does I hope the wretch will meet the fate of ‘Belinda’s careless sylph,’

                            And feel sharp vengeance soon o’ertake his sins,

                            Be stepped in vials, or transfixed with pins,

or imprisoned in Canada Balsam ‘for the term of his natural life,’ so that poor humanity may once more breath an atmosphere devoid of microbes of such pernicious nature. By a smart drive back we just escaped a pursuing dust and rain storm. On retiring early, a poppy-winged dream fanned us to sleep, and faint visions of Flora and her attendant nymphs passed and repassed in the enchanted garden of Walmer Heights.-F.E.”

According to Redgrave, “behind the residence Geard erected a tall wooden structure called the ” Look-Out” from which was obtained a lovely panorama of the surrounding land and i a. Great excitement prevailed in April, 1869, when from the “Look-Out” the famous steamer Great Eastern was easily recognized whilst making her maiden voyage to Natal. This quaint ship with its five funnels and six masts was then the world’s largest merchant vessel, but as her engine was not powerful enough for her size, she earned the name of “the white elephant of the ocean ” and was a long series of mis-fortunes.

Comments by David Geard

His recollection of what he was told or read is that the Geards lived in a house on Park Drive during the week and went to their country home in Walmer Heights from time to time. His parents pointed out to him the block of flats built on John Geard’s Park Drive House site. Furthermore, a shipping chart of the coastline apparently shows the twin Norfolk pines which John Geard planted at the Walmer Heights house and which are now regarded as a shipping landmark.

Dr Frederick Ensor
Dr. Ensor was born in Dorchester, Dorsetshire in England. He was a medical practitioner (MRCS 1856) first in Uitenhage, then Hope Town and later he settled in Port Elizabeth becoming the District Surgeon in February 1878. As a hobby he took a keen interest in nature and was an amateur botanist. By all reports he possessed an excellent bedside manner being kind and having a sympathetic nature. Being a senior medical practitioner in South Africa, he was a very notable figure in the colony. Ensor married Frances Wyatt and died on the 18th December 1905 in Dorchester, England, aged 72.

Memoir of the Hon. John Geard Rev A. Hanesworth (1904, Fort Beaufort Printing and Publishing Company, 1904)
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton (Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).
Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by J.J. Redgrave (1947, Rustica Press)
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)

Rate this post

Leave a Comment.