Port Elizabeth - Encyclopedia

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PORT ELIZABETH, a seaport of the Cape province, South Africa, in Algoa Bay, by which name the port is often designated.

It lies in 35° 57 S ., 2 5° 37 E. on the east side of Cape Recife, being by sea 436 m. from Cape Town and 384 m. from Durban. In size and importance it is second only to Cape Town among the towns of the province. It is built partly along the seashore and partly on the slopes and top of the hills that rise some 200 ft. above the bay. The Baaken's River, usually a small stream, but subject (as in 1908) to disastrous floods, runs through the town, which consists of four divisions; the harbour and business quarter at the foot of the cliffs, the upper part, a flat table-land known as "The Hill"; "The Valley" formed by the Baaken's River; and "South Hill," east of the river.

The Town. - Jetty Street leads from the north jetty to the market square, in or around which are grouped the chief public buildings - the town-hall, court-house, post office, market buildings, public library, St Mary's church (Anglican) and St Augustine's (Roman Catholic). Several of these buildings are of considerable architec tural merit and fine elevation. The library, of Elizabethan design, contains some 45,000 volumes. The market buildings, at the south-east corner of the square, and partly excavated from the sides of the cliff, contain large halls for the fruit, wool and feather markets and the museum. Feather-Market Hall, where are held the sales of ostrich feathers, seats 5000 persons. The museum has valuable ethnographical and zoological collections. Other public buildings include a synagogue and a Hindu temple. Leading west from Market Square is Main Street, in which are the principal business houses.. Between Main Street and the sea is Strand Street, also a busy commercial thoroughfare. Behind the lower town streets rise in terraces to "The Hill," a residential district. Here is an open plot of ground, Donkin Reserve, containing the lighthouse and a stone pyramid with an inscription in memory of Elizabeth, wife of Sir Rufane Donkin, described as "one of the most perfect of human beings, who has given her name to the town below." A fountain, surmounted by the statue of a war-horse, erected by public subscription in 1905 commemorates "the services of the gallant animals which perished in the Anglo-Boer war, 1899-1902." Farther west is a large hospital, one of the finest institutions of its kind in South Africa. At the southern end of The Hill is St George's Park, which has some fine trees, in marked contrast to the general treeless, barren aspect of the town. Port Elizabeth indeed possesses few natural amenities, but its golf links are reputed the finest in South Africa. The town, apart from its transit trade and the industries connected therewith, has some manufactures - jam and confectionery works; oil, candle and explosive works; saw and flour mills; tanneries, &c. It has an excellent water supply.

The Harbour. - There is no enclosed basin, but the roadstead has. excellent holding ground, protected from all winds except the southeast, the prevailing wind being westerly. No harbour or light dues are charged to vessels of any flag. The port has three jetties of wrought iron, respectively 1162, 1152 and 1462 ft. in length, extending to the four fathoms line. These jetties are provided with hydraulic cranes, &c., and railways connect them with the main line, so that goods can be sent direct from the jetties to every part of South Africa. In favourable weather vessels drawing up to 21 ft. can discharge cargo alongside the jetties. In unfavourable conditions and for larger steamers tugs and lighters are employed. Rough weather prevents discharge of cargo by lighters, on an average, seven days in the year. The customs-house and principal railway station are close to the north jetty. The port is state owned, and is under the administration of the harbour and railway board of the Union.


Port Elizabeth has a large import trade, chiefly in textiles, machinery, hardware, apparel and provisions, supplying to a considerable extent the markets of Kimberley, Rhodesia, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The exports are mainly the products of the eastern part of the Cape province, the most important being ostrich feathers, wool and mohair. Skins, hides and maize are also exported. In 1855 the value of the imports was £376,000; in 1883 £2,364,000; in 1898 £6,248,000; in 1903 £10,137,000. Depression in trade brought down the imports in 1904 to £6,855,000. In 1906 they were £6,564,000 and in 1907 £6,004,000. The export trade has been of slower but more steady growth. It was valued at £584,000 in 1855, at £2,341,000 in 1883, £2,103,000 in 1898, £2,010,000 in 1903. Indicative of the fact that the agricultural community was little affected by the trade depression are the export figures for 1904 and 1906, which were £2,044,000 and £2,627,000 respectively. In 1907 goods valued at £3,150,000 were exported.


The population within the municipal area was at the 1904 census 3 2 ,959; that within the district of Port Elizabeth 46,626, of whom 23,782 were whites. Many of the inhabitants are of German origin and the Deutsche Liedertafel is one of the most popular clubs in the town.


Algoa Bay was discovered by Bartholomew Diaz in 1488, and was by him named Bahia da Roca, probably with reference to the rocky islet in the bay, on which he is stated to have erected a cross (St Croix Island). After the middle of the 16th century the bay was called by the Portuguese Bahia da Lagoa, whence its modern designation. In 1754 the Dutch settlements at the Cape were extended eastwards as far as Algoa Bay. The convenience of reaching the eastern district by boat was then recognized and advantage taken of the roadstead sheltered by Cape Recife. In 1799, during the first occupation of Cape Colony by the British, Colonel (afterwards General Sir John) Vandeleur, to guard the roadstead, built a small fort on the hill west of the Baaken's River. It was named Fort Frederick in honour of the then duke of York, and is still preserved. A few houses grew up round the fort, and in 1820 besides the military there was a civilian population at Fort Frederick of about 35 persons. In April of that year arrived in the bay the first of some 4000 British immigrants, who settled in the eastern district of the colony (See Cape Colony: History). Under the supervision of Sir Rufane Donkin, acting governor of the Cape, a town was laid out at the base of the hills. In 1836 it was made a free warehousing port, and in 1837 the capital of a small adjacent district. To overcome the difficulty of landing from the roadstead a breakwater was built at the mouth of the Baakens River in 1856, but it had to be removed in 1869, as it caused a serious accumulation of sand. The prosperity which followed the construction of railways to the interior earned for the port the designation of "the Liverpool of South Africa." Railway work was begun in 1873 and Port Elizabeth is now in direct communication with all other parts of South Africa. At the same period (1873) the building of the existing jetties was undertaken. Port Elizabeth has possessed municipal government since 1836. Its predominant British character is shown by the fact that not until 1909 was the foundation stone laid of the first Dutch Reformed Church in the town.

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