Driving through the Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet as a tourist, the dam wall just north of town does not seem worthy of attention, yet a number of historical photographs recently collated confirms the significance of this engineering project which took just short of five years to complete (between 1920 and 1925).
Occasionally South African swop shops (pawn shops) have some historic photographic gems on offer, as was the experience just prior to Covid-19 lockdown at one such Cape Town based swop shop. The owner of the shop went scratching when asked for old photographs by the author.
Out came a box with some significant historical images, amongst them four photographs relating to a single South African maritime catastrophe.
1) Catastrophes photographed
The town of East London, located in the South African Eastern Cape Province, received its name on 14 January 1848 when Sir Harry Smith proclaimed the Buffalo mouth area as the “Port of East London”.
The British Royal Family, His Majesty King George VI, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, visited South Africa in the year 1947. At the time South Africa was known as the Union of South Africa and was a member of the Royal Commonwealth. After a turbulent Second World War had just ended, countries celebrated, looking for new futures filled with positivity and excitement. It was with this spirit in mind that the South African Government engaged in discussions with the British Government.
This article is based on the combined resources of the two authors. Carol Hardijzer has an avid interest in 19th Century photography in South Africa and his research and collection of Carl Bluhm photographs compliments the fairly extensive family research conducted by Margaret Addis, great-great granddaughter of Carl Bluhm, an early photographer based in King Williams Town (Qonce today).
In the beginning, the economic power was the Afrikaner ox, which adapted to the natural conditions, the vagaries of the climate and the stern masters of nature. Indeed without this breed of cattle the coming into being of a new nation in South Africa may probably have been delayed for quite an age.
In the article below, journalist Lucille Davie reveals the discovery of a wonderful piece of maritime heritage in the Eastern Cape. The article was first published on the Brand South Africa website on 10 July 2013. Click here to view more of Davie's writing.
It’s not often that a historically valuable item washes ashore at Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. But on a lazy Sunday in mid-February this year, an octant appeared on the beach.
Towards the end of 2013, veteran sheep farmer, Hilson Shuman of Grey Craig farm, near Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, made South African Merino history when he delivered his 60th wool clip to Lappersonne Wools broker in Port Elizabeth. In 2016, he broke the World Wool Clip record with 63 clips behind his name. In 2018, Hilson continued his record streak with a 65th Wool Clip. The National Woolgrowers Association (NWGA) and all affiliated sectors joined together to congratulate Hilson on this unique achievement.
Photographic research, which includes the use of original photographic images, transcends disciplinary borders and combines fields of visual history, visual studies, visual anthropology and art history.
Herein lies an ethical responsibility – the avoidance of stereotypical or abusive representations of people portrayed in these images. Readers, of course, bring their own knowledge, emotions, and imagination, thus no author can fully control how their work is going to be interpreted (Gordon & Kurzwelly, 2018).
Barville Park 1820 settler estate, located to the west of Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape, has a long tail to its history. It was one of the largest properties allocated to a settler in the region. A portion of it touched on Port Alfred itself. It included well known farms, obviously subdivided off now, however, these were all part of the original farm.
The demolition of Central Buildings has brought about a massive response from both citizens of Port Elizabeth, the wider national Heritage bodies and ex Port Elizabethans, internationally. The shock and sadness still continues.
I was devastated to witness this demolition as I have been fighting; for these buildings since 2005.
We have now lost not one, but two buildings along our Donkin heritage trail in Port Elizabeth. A sad week for tourism in PE. These documents of the past are gone, especially when seen in relation to number 7 Castle Hill museum, a provincial heritage site.
Does anyone remember Pyott Biscuits? They were the makers of Salticrax, Romany Creams, Iced Zoo and many other SA favourites. Today they’re all branded under the Bakers label and the Pyott name has largely been forgotten.
As a child my gran used to take me to walk through the gardens of the famed Old Word Concretes that have in existence since 1919. This place was my place of enchantment. The little fat cherubs and elves. I still have their pots in my garden. Well I had... I think my landscaper son has taken them away. He too is an artist and, how bizarre never having told him this story, his sculptures are in the category of outside art.
There are not many South Africans who have been honoured by having a statue of themselves erected in London. Only two come readily to mind and they are Jan Smuts and Nelson Mandela, whose statues stand proudly in Parliament Square, Westminster. However, there is a lesser known South African who has a statue which stands outside Bank Station; he is James Henry Greathead (1844-1896), the grandson of an 1820 Settler of the same name. So why is it that a boy from Grahamstown should be so honoured and what was his achievement?
In 1811 Joseph de Maistre wrote that every nation gets the government it deserves. By extension then, it also get the heritage it merits, and as building after building in our city centres continue to fall before the demolisher’s hammer, many South Africans have been left wondering exactly what they have done to warrant the destruction of so many of their memories.
In a recent article published by the author (click here to view), reference was made to a modern photographic phenomenon, namely “found photographs”. In short: “Found photographs” are discarded vintage photographs typically found at charity stores, car boot sales, flea markets or antique fairs. As a single image, any “found” or the converse thereof, “lost” photograph, has sadly lost its original context when viewed by a total str
Below is Part 3 of Mel Baker's extraordinary account of being a Prisoner of War during World War II. Click here to read Part 2 and here to download the full account including detailed footnotes. The photo above shows the main gate of Stalag XVIII A (Prisoner of War Camp in Southern Austria).
“Located at the end of a winding road overlooking a verdant valley, Healdtown was far more beautiful and impressive than Clarkebury. It was, at the time, the largest African school south of the equator, with more than a thousand learners, both male and female. Its gracefully ivory colonial buildings and tree-shaded courtyards gave it a feeling of a privileged academic oasis, which is exactly what it was.” Nelson Mandela - Long Walk to Freedom.
Situated in the Kayser’s Beach Area, Eastern Cape, South Africa the church was built in 1862 to serve the needs of the settlers who made this part of the country their home.
The church was built by the farmers of the area between the Keiskamma River in the west and the Buffalo River in the east. Frederick R Goddard, donated ten acres of his land for the church. Church records of 1862 describe the event as follows:
“At a time when the government took no interest whatsoever in our education, it was the church-founded schools who educated us, and conscientised us to the unjust realities of South African society” – Nelson Mandela
When Sobukwe left Healdtown Mission Institute for the next stage of his education, he found that most of the country’s universities were closed to blacks. Only the universities of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand gave limited access to black students. The premier institute for blacks was near Alice – the South African Native College at Fort Hare.
By the end of March 2018 the 14-member Africa Media Online team resident in Alice, Eastern Cape and working in the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre (NAHECS) at the University of Fort Hare, had completed the digital capture of all the material assigned to them in the current phases of the ANC Archives digitisation project.
In the piece below, Miss E Dankwerts provides a short description St Michael and All Angels in Queenstown. The details appeared in the 1978 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was born on 5 December 1924 in Graaff-Reinet, a small town in the Eastern Cape known as the gem of the Karoo. He was the youngest of six children and, as was normal at the time, he was given an English name (Robert) as well as a Xhosa name, Mangaliso, meaning ‘it is wonderful’. His brothers who survived were Ernest, born in 1914, and Charles, born in 1922. His only sister was Eleanor.
The first thing I did when researching this piece of writing was to look at a modern physical map of South Africa and envision that the urban areas and the modern road network shown thereupon were on a thin film that could be peeled away. What remained on the under layer were the physical features such as the coastline, rivers, escarpments and mountain ranges. It was a clean canvas on which I could put settlements on, but before I could do this I had to determine a date in history.
Established during 1786, Graaff-Reinet is the fourth oldest magistrate district in South Africa. At the time, this town was also the most important Eastern Cape based interior centre of trade in South Africa in that it was on the route of many travellers, mainly to and from the Algoa Bay harbour.
As a callow teenager, Joseph Kirkman left an indelible mark on the annals of early Natal history. He is remembered for his efforts in assisting the American missionaries to establish a bridgehead in Zululand and his subsequent heroic exploits in assisting the evacuation of those missionaries following the turbulence consequent on the Retief massacre.
About four years ago I popped into the premises of Cannon & Cannon (auctioneers in Hilton) and, whilst looking around for nothing in particular, came upon a rather battered, leather covered box on which was embossed, if you looked very carefully, ‘His Excellency The Governor’. I asked the attendant if they had a key to the box and was told that they did but were having difficulty in opening it but duly handed it over. After several attempts, I found that if you pushed the key, turned it and then turned it back on itself again, the lock opened.
Once, a train ran from Port Alfred station every day: the 11.10 to Grahamstown, 68km away. In the early 1900s the train used to steam up through the valleys towards Bathurst and Grahamstown taking farmers, farm workers, holidaymakers and commercial travellers, especially on stock-fair days, when the atmosphere was festive and the coaches were full. It is no longer possible to go on the train. One must walk the line or take the road that loops and meets, strays from and returns to it.
A few years ago, Bev Young compiled this article on the spectacular Cock's Castle in Port Alfred. The piece was originally published in the newpaper Eastern Cape Today on 21 January 2010. Bev is one of the Eastern Cape's most prolific and passionate researchers.
Enoch Mankayi Sontonga was born in Uitenhage, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape) around 1873 as a member of the Xhosa-speaking Mpinga clan of the Tembu tribe. He trained as a teacher at the Lovedale Mission Training College, after which he was sent to a Methodist mission school (unnamed) in Nancefield, near Johannesburg in 1896. He taught here for nearly eight years.
Morley House is an exquisite historic home. I first went there in the late 1980s, when it was a home and antique shop. Oh my... the yellowwood woodwork, red baked floor tiles, crooked passages, low doorways. It was all just so perfect! There is an oldish rondavel in the backyard, which I am convinced might have been the original kitchen. Since there are no known plans, it is difficult to be sure. The bathrooms, would have been added, possibly in place of the old pantry.
In the vale of Clumber in the Eastern Cape, 5 km from Bathurst just off the Shaw Park road, lies Clumber Church. Situated on a knoll, this is the third Church to be built on this spot by the Nottingham Party and descendants of the 1820 Settlers. This knoll was given the name of Mount Mercy by the Nottingham Party in thanksgiving for their safe arrival here on a journey which had taken them over 6 months to complete.
On a recent journey through the Karoo, the author obtained more than 1500 unusual photographic glass plates – just imagine the total weight of all these photographs.
We South Africans live in a polyglot society, which under our Constitution, has 11 official languages that “must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably”. Mother tongues range from Afrikaans to IsiZulu, from isiXhosa to Setswana, however to stop us being a modern Tower of Babel we largely use one language to communicate between each other and that is English. In doing so we are reflecting a world wide trend. In today’s world English has become the “Lingua Franca” replacing French as the language of diplomacy and German in the field of science.
The Africa Media Online team was on site at Kingswood College in Grahamstown for two weeks in June 2016 to capture over 4,700 photographic prints, paintings and building plans. A significant number of the photographic prints were framed prints hanging on the walls of the school.
In the article below, first published in the Gold Fields Review 1992-1993, Eris Malan tells the story of the discovery of a remarkable set of documents that filled a significant gap in the priceless Gold Fields Collection. She also traces some of the history behind the Collection including the process that led to the Cory Library at Rhodes University becoming the custodian. The article has been shortened by The Heritage Portal Team.
The last few years have not been kind to the Gately House Museum in East London. Due to ongoing security problems the museum is no longer open to the public and artefacts have been relocated for safekeeping (click here for details). Despite the depressing current situation it is fascinating to look at some of the history of the house and the battle to save it a half a century ago.
Below is an absorbing and practical article looking at lettering on buildings. It was compiled by Dennis Radford for the October 1988 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.
We are honoured to publish this wonderful archive piece on the early history of Uitenhage. It was compiled by well known heritage practitioner Albrecht Herholdt and apperared in the 1988 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.
One of the most striking buildings in Port Elizabeth is the famous Campanile. In the article below, Tennyson Smith Bodill reveals the history behind the creation of this remarkable structure. The piece was originally published in the April 1989 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.
The following article on the history of the Victoria Bridge near Fort Beaufort appeared in the 1985 edition of Restorica, the old journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish. Although the bridge is still in existence, local activists are concerned that it may not survive for long as it is being used by very heavy trucks and stress cracks have started to appear.
The following article, looking at the history of the Old Rectory in Plettenberg Bay, was written by Patricia Storrar and appeared in the 1981 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). For current details on the structure and more history of Plettenberg Bay contact the local historical society (click here for details). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.
Below is another gem of an article from the Restorica archive. The piece highlights some interesting aspects of the history of the landmark Cape St Francis Lighthouse. Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) and the Heritage Association of South Africa (HASA) for giving us permission to publish.
In 1996 the Christian Science Church in Port Elizabeth was illegally demolished. City Councillor Rory Riorden was furious and penned an article for Restorica which we have republished below. Restorica was the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.
The following article on the history of the Port Elizabeth Railway Station was originally published in the October 1986 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). It formed part of a larger piece titled "The coming of the Railway to the Cape". Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.
Below is an incredibly powerful and detailed case study compiled by Dennis Radford in 1986. It looks at the restoration of 4 Anglo-African Street in Grahamstown and the creation of the Eastern Star Museum. The article was first published in Restorica, the old journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria for giving us permission to publish.
[Originally published in 2013] When Elizabeth Anne Greyvensteyn first started selling rusks to her local community over seventy years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that her humble business would grow to become one of South Africa’s most iconic brands. Now employing over 250 people, the Ouma Rusks factory in Molteno is the lifeblood of the town’s small economy, owned by South Africa’s third largest food producer Foodcorp.
We found the following article by B.I. Spaanderman in the 1991 edition of the old Johannesburg Historical Foundation's journal Between the Chains. It looks at a number of South African mills with a particular focus on Millbank, the closest to Johannesburg.
A few years ago we were involved in a battle to save historic Nedbank documents that were being thrown away by the company. For a while the future of the documents looked bleak but thankfully the story had a happy ending when top Nedbank executives got involved. The documents were moved to the Sandton head office and the execs committed to hire an archivist to go through the collection. The execs also committed to let the community know what was found and what would then be done with the documents.*
A poor education, broken family structures and little hope of the life they wished for themselves and their families are what colonization and apartheid bestowed upon South Africa's black population in the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth century.
It is hard to imagine that the magnificent Port Elizabeth City Hall was almost demolished. The article below, first published in the Evening Post in January 1973, describes a meeting organised by the Port Elizabeth Historical Society where arguments on both sides of the preservation versus development debate were presented. We stumbled across the article in Bulletin, the old journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa).
A few years ago a wonderful collection of old documents was found in the basement of a Johannesburg inner city building while the tenant (Nedbank) was moving out. One of the boxes we looked at contained details of Nedbank's 50th anniversary celebrations (circa 1938). It was here we found a remarkable set of images of a few Town / City Halls around the country. It appears as though the photographs were taken in the late 1930s. Enjoy...
The following article appeared in the 1998 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Jonathan Mercer, then Assistant City Engineer Planning for Port Elizabeth, posed some tough questions about planning and enforcement in our cities. Many of his points are still relevant today. Thank you to the University of Pretoria (Restorica copyright holders) for allowing us to publish the piece.
The Settlers Park Monument is in fragments, the Horse Memorial is missing its Soldier, and Queen Victoria has a green dress. All across the nation, monuments are covered in graffiti and paint. The bronzes are corroding, the marbles are stained, and the iron is disappearing everywhere, but this is all in a day’s work in the life of an art conservationist.
[Originally published in July 2015] A week ago Doug and Janet Drysdale reported that the old farmhouse, outbuildings and cemetery at Hougham Park, Coega were in danger. They brought the matter to the attention of the Coega Development Corporation (CDC) and we are very happy to report that action is being taken. The CDC Project Manager: Operations has arranged for the cemetery to be cleaned and has proposed various security measures to protect the site while plans for a new use are considered. This certainly is good news.
[Originally published 30 May 2014] Bathurst Primary School is running a campaign to raise funds for much needed restoration work. The campaign's tagline is 'Restoring the Oldest School in South Africa'. The cause is undoubtedly a worthy one but is the claim of 'oldest school' legitimate? Ms Sigi Howes (Head: Education Museum, Wynberg, Cape Town) provides some answers in this open letter.
Very little remains of the historic Richardson's Mill in the Trappes Valley 10km north east of Bathurst in the Eastern Cape. Well known local enthusiast Bev Young first saw the structure in 2000 and described it as 'wrecked but visible and the grounds still accessible'. Over the years she has documented what is left of the mill and has watched as things have deteriorated to the point where there is almost nothing left today. The short article below, written by A S Basson, is very tough to read.
In the late 1980s Dr Nic Woolff compiled the article 'Lessons Learned from Restoring the Donkin Row Houses'. It was published in Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). If sentiment on the ground at the moment is anything to go on, the current developer has not learned any lessons and therefore this piece might make depressing reading for members of the heritage community. Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish the article.
[Originally published 5 August 2013] The following update and call to action regarding Canterbury House, Port Elizabeth is in the form of an open letter written by Andrew Reed of the Mandela Bay Heritage Trust (MBHT).
When we visited the Eastern Cape in 2013 we were very sad to see the state of Grahamstown's second oldest building - the Old Gaol (pic above). There has been talk for some time of millions being invested and SAHRA using the site as a flagship heritage training facility. We certainly hope these plans come to fruition quickly. While digging in the archives we come across this short but fascinating piece on the restoration of the Old Gaol in 1984.
Below is a short but interesting article about German mercenaries who settled in the Eastern Cape in the 1850s and left behind some fascinating relics. The article appeared in the August 1976 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.