Port Elizabeth of Yore: From Sandy Hills to Tent Town to Sandy Hills Once Again

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

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Paddle Steamer Phoenix

By any measure, sea travel in the age of sail was tedious being of long duration and of indeterminate time span. Furthermore it was dangerous. Relying on a variable sporadic factor such as wind would forever impede progress. For instance, the travelling time from Britain to the Cape by sailing ship varied between 65 and 85 days. The development of steam power in the early eighteenth century would take over a century before it was utilised for the propulsion of ships. Initially the propulsion was by means of side paddles and later on rear paddles and finally screw propulsion.

Ushering in the age of steam for Port Elizabeth would be the steamer named “Hope” which was not noted for its longevity. Two years after being commissioned, it was wrecked in heavy fog at Cape St. Francis. A replacement was urgently required. This would be the 240 ton paddle steamer, the “Phoenix”.  

Main picture: The paddle steamer Phoenix

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