Comedians like to jest that the shortest book according to the Guinness Book of World Records is about Italian war heroes. Undoubtedly, a book on Port Elizabeth in 1812 would be a close second. This extremely brief blog is a comprehensive description of the area which was yet to be christened Port Elizabeth.
Main picture: A decade before the arrival of the 1820 settlers
When Frederick Korsten first settled in Algoa Bay in 1812 his biographer classified it as a “dreary neighbourhood”. He could equally have used adjectives such as isolated, dangerous or even alive with possibility but it was only an entrepreneur, such as Korsten, who could envisage this potential. Korsten had just won a contract to supply salted beef to Mauritius and various other places. With him, he brought various skilled personnel. Together with his family and staff at Cradock Place, Korsten’s entourage probably doubled the local European population.
On the Hill at the time stood Fort Frederick, built by the British in 1799 and named after the Duke of York and a low building used as a barracks and store. In the ravine below were a few rooms constructed of wattle and daub which acted as the mess house.
Behind the sun-dial, in the rear of the Commissariat Building, stood the “Residency”. This stone house was the abode of the officer in charge. There were also some outhouses, employed as a “lock-up”. To the south of this, between the pump and Slater’s Steam Mills, was the “block house”, an unattractive square building of brick and wood. The site where the original St Mary’s Church with its ugly disproportions would stand was occupied by a mud hut used by the Commissary. Behind what would become the original Phoenix Hotel, stood yet another house, also in the form of a mud ponok.
To the rear of the site of the future Wesleyan Chapel – the old Russell Road Methodist Church – near the foot of Hyman’s Kloof, stood Hartman’s isolated farm house. Further north where Albany Road now lies, was a mud hovel in which the Ferreira family resided. On the southern side of the Baaken’s River, there was just one farmhouse, a ramshackle dwelling near the beach.
From what is now Main Street, the sea was not visible owing to the lofty sand dunes lining the shore from the Fishery – current day Summerstrand – to the Zwartkops River. The white population consisted of two lieutenants and a handful of soldiers. They were supplemented by a small number of khoikhoi people.
Vessels visiting the Bay were few and far between. Generally these were government schooners which came once a month. Trade was miniscule amounting to no more than a few kegs of butter and a small number of bags of salt.
From such inauspicious beginnings, who could have predicted that this lonely stretch of coast would not become another Port Alfred or Kenton-on-Sea?
Old Times and Odd Corners: The Founder of Eastern Province Commerce and his Frontier Home by John Centlivres Chase