Port Elizabeth of Yore: Early History of South End

South End, as we know it, was a farm, Papenbiesjesfontein, extending from the Baaken’s River to about the S-bend at Humewood. According to J.J. Redgrave in Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days, it was granted by Lord Charles Somerset in 1820 to Gerhardus Oosthuizen. His widow bought the farm from the joint heirs for £135 sterling and subsequently married a tall, bearded Hollander named J.A. Rudolph. When he died, she married William Gardner and only after her death in 1859, was the estate sub­ divided into building allotments.

Main photo: Baakens Valley. C1881. In the background are three cottages (now Harris Street). Below them the old homestead of the Board family. To the right the steam laundry, opened May 1877. In the centre theproperty of John McWilliams (at one time a hotel). In the foreground the property of John Harrison Clark

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: From Temporary Jetty to Focal Point – The North Jetty

The erection of the North Jetty was the second attempt at constructing a jetty in Algoa Bay. The first one had been unceremoniously destroyed in a ferocious gale on the 26th August 1843 when three ships were driven through it. Until the construction of the South and the Dom Pedro jetties almost 30 years later, this small extemporised jetty would serve as the focal point of the harbour.

As it turned out, this temporary jetty would fulfil the starring role as the main jetty until the Charl Malan Quay was built, some 63 years later.

Main picture: An early view of the North Jetty probably from the 1870s

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Grandiose 1905 Harbour Scheme That Never Was

At the turn of the 20th century, Port Elizabeth still did not possess a harbour. For fifty years no progress had been made in spite of a barrage  of requests. In 1905 the Cape Government submitted three proposals to a commission of engineers in London to adjudicate them.

The commission recommended the submission by Coode, Son and Matthew but would this proposal be the plan to eventually be executed?

Main picture: Proposed new dock at Port Elizabeth with the outer wharf at North End

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: One Not-So-Fine-Day in September 1869 in Algoa Bay

In the age of sail, the South-Easter in Algoa Bay could be treacherous, driving vessels onto North End beach. Saturday 18th September 1869 was to be no different. At 2:15 p.m. on this fateful day, the officials at the Algoa Bay Port Office put out the signal “wear cables” for the benefit of shipping lying in the roadstead. 

The only unanswered question was whether some or all of these vessels would survive the impending storm. Later during the age of the steamship, riding out a storm was often gut-churning but never fatal. During the age of sail, it was quite another matter. 

After suffering a tragic flood in 1867, this gale was to once again test the mettle of the town

Main picture: Ships in Algoa Bay

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Day the Sky Impoded during November 1867

Port Elizabeth periodically experiences floods. Amongst the most devastating was the flood from Tuesday 19th November to Thursday 21st November 1867.  During 11 hours on the Wednesday and Thursday, 161.5 millimetres of rain fell bringing the total for the three days to 225.5 millimetres. While only two lives were lost, damage to roads and houses was estimated to be as much as £30,000. 

Perhaps its effect was exacerbated by the fact that the roads were not tarred and the flood waters gushed down the natural water courses, formally kloofs or streams, causing mayhem. But the most catastrophic effect was the silting up of the harbour. As a consequence, the recently completed breakwater had to be demolished.

Main picture: Rudolph Street, South End after the floods of November 1867

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Swimming Practices and Locations

Swimming in the 19th century must be understood against the backdrop of the conservative mores of that era. This resulted in a flurry of rules to prevent men and women swimming together. By the end of the century, attitudes towards “mixed swimming” were more relaxed.

This blog chronicles the saga of sea swimming in Port Elizabeth from its first attempt at the breakwater in 1866, the construction of the first swimming pool in Port Elizabeth and finally to swimming at Humewood.

Main picture: Swimming facilities just north of the mouth of the Baakens River

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Harbour prior to the Charl Malan Quay

With the expansion of industry in Port Elizabeth, the need to enlarge the port had by the 1920s become pressing and urgent. Up until then, goods and passengers had  to be loaded onto lighters at sea which then conveyed them to a tiny jetty known as North Jetty. What was proposed was to convert this jetty into a quay able to accommodate large ships alongside it. 

Main picture: Landing through the surf

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