In all likelihood, this is the oldest hotel / bar/ drinking hole bearing the name The Red Lion in Port Elizabeth, yet none of them has any connection to the others apart from the name. Of the three, the first has the most interesting history but even then, it almost disappeared under the swirling sea of history to be forever lost to the predator called progress.
It an attempt to revive that history, I have written this blog
Main picture: Cornfield’s 1823 sketch of Port Elizabeth with the Red Lion Tavern in the distance next to High Street as Main Street was known in the early days.
For the Settler, this voyage would be the quintessential destination to a terra incognito, not only from a location perspective but also from a livelihood point of view. Most had not been selected psychologically with the criteria of the rugged pioneer in mind nor did many possess any farming skills or aptitude. Apart from the tiny Deal Party, Port Elizabeth, or “landing place with fresh water” as it was shown then on the maps, was merely a waystation en route to the Albany District. As such, their initial impact on this hamlet was minimal; more like that of any itinerant or peripatetic soul.
Yet their impact would ultimately be immense as those without the requisite farming skills would drift back to the area to apply their original trade. It was only then that the hamlet would be converted from sandy hills into a vibrant fast-expanding town vying with Cape Town as the Colony’s largest city.
This is the story of this transient herd, their travails and their experiences whilst in Port Elizabeth. By now, the story of the 1820 Settlers is well known and does not form part of the history of Port Elizabeth per se. As such, this blog will focus on the salient facts but not the minutiae of the Settlers’ experiences.
Main picture: Arrival of the 1820 Settlers
The first order of business when the Settlers landed in Algoa Bay was to establish some sort of permanent roof over their heads. As such, schooling was not a priority. Nonetheless the residents desire for schooling for their children remained strong. To this end, a meeting of the inhabitants of Port Elizabeth was arranged for Friday 20th February 1824 at the Red Lion Tavern which at the same time was being used as the Custom’s House and as Public Offices.
Main picture: Algoa House serving as Mrs. Harriet Joanna Eedes’s School for Young Ladies
Regardless of how and why Captain Evatt came to be stationed there, his civic-minded mien ensured that he would forever be feted as the “Father of Port Elizabeth.” For that reason he deserves to be recalled and commemorated.
Main picture: Captain Francis Evatt
Port Elizabeth is fortunate in having somebody who prepared a list of its inhabitants at the inception of the town itself. Without a functioning civil authority, nothing is recorded, let alone a population register.
This blog lists Port Elizabeth’s inhabitants in 1822 together with a biographical sketch of some of them.
Main picture: Port Elizabeth in 1823
It is fair to say that the establishment of Fort Frederick was more a response to political tensions in Europe than to local enmity between Dutch frontiersmen and Xhosa tribesmen. While the later upheavals arose as the vanguard of the Dutch boeren [Afrikaans boere] approached the advancing Xhosa tribesmen, the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 had plunged the western world into a protracted period of war.
This blog traces the fascinating history of Fort Frederick from its inception until the present time.
Main picture: Fort Frederick dated 12 March 1905