Port Elizabeth of Yore: Kragga Kamma

Up until the late 1700s, this area was teaming with wild game with large herds of elephants abounding. Various explorers and adventurers attested to the fact that this part of the country once boasted incredibly dense populations of most of the species encountered in South Africa. Until recently, none of these animals could be seen in this area anymore. Now, a recently opened game park has put this to rights.

This blog has been based almost exclusively on the Heritage Impact Assessment by Jenny Bennie. 

Main picture: Homestead of Henry Bailey Christian from 1889 to 1892 

Origin of the name and early history

The name Kragga Kamma is of Khoikhoi origin and stems from the Gonoqua tribe. Its earliest form it was called // Kraxa/kamma (// kara – meaning pebbles in the river and kamma being a corruption of the Khoi word // gami – meaning water). It is also surmised that it might have meant “fresh” or “sweet” water, comparing the valuable fresh water lake in the area with the salt pans some distance away.

The fact that water was to be found at a given locality was of utmost importance in a country where it was so sparsely distributed. In the 1700’s the whole area between the Van Staden’s River and the headwaters of the Baakens River was known as “Kragga Kamma” (now restricted to the land between Surrey Hills and Kabega). A number of travellers passed through Kragga Kamma e.g. Beutler (1752) -“Cracha Camma”; the Swedes Thunberg (1773), and Sparrman (1775) who mentions “passing through several dales or bogs of different sizes just south of Kraggakamma”;  Swellengrebel (1776) – “Kraggakamma”; and governors Van Plettenberg (1778), Paterson (1779) – “Krakakamma”; and Sir John Barrow (1797).  The area was described as an excellent extent of land between the Van Staden’s and Swartkops Rivers.

Close to Cow’s Corner. The cottage was a former settler cottage and was at one time in the late 40’s early 50’s was occupied by a Zimmerman family.
Snippet from the Port Elizabeth Telegraph, 1883 05 24, page 1 via Jon Inggs

The route followed by the travellers was along a line from the Gamtoos River, through the Van Staden’s River to the ‘seashore”, there being no settlement at Port Elizabeth at that time. Fort Frederick was built by the British in 1799. Kragga Kamma, “sweet water” was occupied as a farm as early as 1776. By 1790 it is recorded that farms in existence in the area included those of Cornelius Kok at Kragga Kamma and Adolf Landman and Theunis Botha at Buffelsfontein.

Lake Farm

The ‘farms’ in the district were subject to invasions and Van Reenen in his journal gives a list of 470 farms from the Langkloof and Gamtoos River to the Swartkops River that were “burnt, destroyed and deserted”. A band of Xhosa reputedly invaded the Kragga Kamma area during The War of the Axe in 1846. Well-known botanist, William John Burchell’s field notes recorded finding interesting specimens at “Krakakamma” – near the farm-house in  31/1/1814”. This was the property of Daniel Potgieter, just beyond Van Staden’s River. After 1814 travellers no longer mentioned Kraggakamma, as Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage had become developed towns and it was not a point of reference.

Kragga Kamma Game Park

In 1845 Mary and John Niblett settled on the farm now called Theescombe in Kragga Kamma, the original dwelling of the old loan-farm Nooitgedacht (only about 7 miles from Port Elizabeth). It was originally owned at the end of the 18th Century by Cornelius van Rooyen, a renowned frontier fighter. The farm was later in the possession of the Frames family and after them, Bob Parker Nance.

Near Cow’s Corner

By 1849 it belonged to John Owen Smith & William Titterton. Henry Bailey Christian, who was in business with his father-in-law, J Owen Smith, and the first Vice Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Port Elizabeth, owned and farmed Kragga Kamma from c1860 onwards. He was also involved with the Harbour Board, Horse Racing, the Jockey Club and the Agricultural Society. It was only after Titterton’s death in 1881 that H.B. Christian, Smith’s son-in-law that Henry Christian purchased William Titterton half share. The old homestead was built of stone. Also known as Lake Farm. In 1899 mules arriving at Port Elizabeth for the Anglo-Boer War were taken to H B Christian’s farm at Kragga Kamma for a time before being sent inland as part of the war effort (hence the carving on the tree at Farm 23 Cragga Kamma).

Main road through Kragga Kamma

In the 1930’s the family of H B Christian sold the farm when the Cape of Good Hope Bank failed and Charles Clark of Buffelsfontein, and his brothers, bought parts of Hillside, The Gums and The Flats. Mrs Bunny Clark recalls going to Kragga Kamma in 1946. The old homestead on the property reputedly had gardens that rivalled St George’s Park. The floods of 1968 caused huge damage as an alluvial stream in the garden compounded matters. The farm ran the “Kragga Kamma Ayrshire Dairies” and delivered milk to the public. 

Milk bottle of Ayrshire Dairies

Was it a church, a school or a storeroom?

Anybody driving westward along Kragga Kamma Road towards Cows’ Corner, would have noticed the husk of a burnt-out building protruding through the trees. Thanks to Erica Clark, I now been enlightened about its origins. The farm, Goedemoedsfontein, on which the building is erected, has been owned by the Flanagan family since 1832. Mr JJ Flanagan donated the land for the erection of a church which was designed by George Storey. The family itself built the church which opened its doors on the 15th October 1877.

Like the Beckley family church at Draaifontein, this church never had a resident priest. Instead the incumbent priest at St Augustine’s Church in central Port Elizabeth would periodically pay a working visit on horseback or a wagon. Often this would entail  an overnight stay presumably at the Flanagan’s household.

Later the church was converted into a school under the tutelage of the teacher, Miss Weisbekker. The school was subsequently relocated to a building to area just above Cow’s Corner known as Spyskop. At the point, the former church was converted once again. This time into a storeroom by the father and uncles of James Flanagan. The place of honour when to the motorbikes. More lowly items such as lucerne, animal feed and farm implements as well as the original pews were stored beside the bikes. This storeroom met its end in the 1960s when a group of locals attempted to rob a beehive in one of the vents above the door. Instead they set the building alight and in the ensuing mayhem escaped.  Today only shards of this once proud and historic building are still standing

Family connection

In this case, the main connections are on the distaff side of of the family. One of my mother’s friends, before she was married, was one of the Clark girls. In addition, her brother Redvers Dix-Peek, owned a small holding, Dixie, in the main Kragga Kamma Road.

Front to back – My mother, Eunice McCleland, and friends Ruth Jacobs and Rona Clark in Cape Town


Heritage Impact Assessment by Jennie Bennie:


Harradine, Margaret. 1996 Port Elizabeth E. H. Walton Packaging (Pty) Ltd Port Elizabeth South Africa

Lorimer, E.K. 1971 Panorama Balkema, Cape Town

Maingard, L.F. 1961 KraggaKamma – Origin of the name and early history. Africana Notes and News 14:8

Pettman, Reverend Charles South African Place Names Lowry Publishers Johannesburg

Scott, Helene 1966 The Society Outing to Farms in the Kragga Kama Region Looking Back Vol 6

Skead, C.J. 2004. The ALGOA Gazetteer : Rural Place names in the NINE East Cape districts of Albany, Alexandria, Bathurst, Humansdorp, Port Elizabeth, Steytlerville, Uitenhage, Uniondale (in part), and Willowmore … revised edition. Port Elizabeth: DTP Revision by Bluecliff Publishing.

Looking Back, 1980 Vol 20:22, 26

EP Herald 1946 May 4 Odd Spot Kragga Kamma

EP Herald 24 April Unknown “Steyr served family well” by Gavin James Flanagan.

Shooting Party for John X Merriman in Kragga Kamma in 1908


  1. Interesting thanks. My GGGrandfather Titterton had something to do with this farm. Do you have any more information on the Titterton Family? Thank you. Sandy

    • Hi Sandy,
      I have found nothing substantial over the years.
      Do you perhaps have any photos or info which you could share with me?
      If so, I would appreciate if you could email it to me at deanm@orangedotdesigns,co.za
      Dean McCleland

  2. Thank you for this interesting piece. My great great grandfather was one of a community of Irish settlers who farmed at Kragga Kamma. These included the Flanagans. The following is an extract from J.J. Redgraves “Port Elizabeth in by gone days” pg 82 Published in 1947:
    The beautiful farm Kragga Kama with its picturesque lake, its hills and dales, still claims admirers from all parts. The old homestead many years ago was converted into the Grand Hotel by its then lessee. In its early history, its garden was a paradise of choicest blooms. On the arrival of the Trappist Community in our city a few decades ago, this large property was offered to them for sale but the area was found to be insufficient for the requirements of the new comers who subsequently purchased the Dunbrody estate in the Sundays River Valley. (They tried Dunbrody at Addo unsuccessfully and moved to Natal where they flourished for decades). Large portions of Kragga Kamma were also owned and farmed by the late Messers Murphy, Weldon, Flanagan, Mullen, Cornell and other well-known Irish families that hailed from the Emerald Isle. In later years, this district became known as the Irish Colony on account of the preponderating Irish nationality of its inhabitants. Nowhere was there to be found greater hospitality than that extended to all and sundry by those warm-hearted Irish men and women. Most of them are no longer here, but their kindness and generosity have been passed down in history.
    My ancestor was Richard Weldon who farmed there from 1845 to 1867. The Catholic Archivist in Port Elizabeth said the little church was known as a chapel of ease – a private chapel – and as your article says, was serviced by the priest from St Augustine’s.


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