Port Elizabeth of Yore: Water Supply from the Sand & Bulk Rivers

Port Elizabeth’s earliest water supply came from the Shark River at Happy Valley and the Donkin Stream next to the Donkin Reserve.  As the city started to grow in its early days of development the demand for water far exceeded this meager supply.  After a competition held by the Port Elizabeth city council in 1862 to find proposals to supply the city with water, a weir and small dam was built in the Van Stadens River.  This was later followed by the Bulk River (1903) and the Sand River (1907) dams in the Elands River Valley, both which can be seen driving along the Elands River Road.  Of course these dams have since been replaced as the main supply dams by the Kouga, Churchill and Mpofu dams.  Both the Sand River and Bulk River are tributaries of the Elands River which in turn at its concourse with the Kwazunga River forms the Swartkops River.  

This blog is a photographic gallery of the construction of the dams on these tributaries of the Elands River based upon photos supplied by Robert Pringle.

Main picture: Junction of the Sand & Palmiet Rivers – Flood in October 1904

John Chambers Kemsley

Mr John Chambers Kemsley MBE was Mayor of Port Elizabeth at the time of the construction of these dams and was instrumental in raising funds and seeing the project to completion of the Sand and Bulk River Water Supply to Port Elizabeth and the building of the dam. These pictures are from the album that was presented to him on completion of the dam in December 1905 by the PE Municipality.

On the 24 September 1904 J C Kemsley, Esq, JP and Mayor of Port Elizabeth officiated at the foundation stone laying ceremony. J.C. Kemsley was a Ward Councillor for Ward 3 for 36 years. Elected Deputy Mayor in 1898, he served two terms as Mayor in 1901 and again in 1915. His services being recognised after the Great War and was declared a Member of the Order of the British Empire. He played a significant role in the development and infrastructure of Port Elizabeth in those years and served on many committees until his passing in 1934. He was the son of Mr J C Kemsley who established J C Kemsley & Co Ltd, Men’s Outfitters Estd 1852 in Main Street and also served as Mayor in 1881

Caretaker’s House, Meter House & Filer Plant at Bulk River
Flood in March 1905 looking upstream
Kloof crossing No. 18 showing 15.75 inch pipe & wash out
Looking along dam. Water tower in foreground May 1905
Petrol motor crossing the trestle bridge
PIpe line from PE end of tunnel
Side cutting looking South – Sand River Dam April 1904
Site of the Sand River Dam – July 1904
Foundation Stone Ceremony
Junction of the Sand & Palmiet-Flood-Oct 1904
Flood 1904
Sand River Dam. Flood, Sept 1905
Site of the Bulk River dam looking downstream
Site of the Sand River Dam in July 1904
Bulk River temporary intake above the site of the dam
Flood right bank Mar 1905
Flood through left culvert Mar 1905
Lattice girder foot & pipe bridge Length 240 feet span 60 feet
Looking along dam showing displacers Mar 1905
Looking upstream Apr 1905
Mackay’s siding, Gedultz River
Municipal traction engine
Offices, Cement testing shed, stables, workmen’s quarters Sand River
Sand River Dam Showing culverts May 1905
Sand River Dam, completed Dec 1905
Site of the Bulk River Dam



Photographs supplied by Robert Pringle, the great great grandson of Mr John Chambers Kemsley MBE

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