Port Elizabeth

posted in: Home, South Africa | 2

The area around Algoa Bay, now known as Nelson Mandela Bay, was already inhabited 100,000 years ago by the Bushmen who were hunter-gatherers. They were gradually chased out by the Xhosa and other tribes. Europeans first found the site when Bartholomew Diaz landed on an island in the bay in 1488, and it was the Portuguese who named it Algoa Bay (on the way to Goa). The British established a fort, Fort Frederick, on a hill overlooking the bay in 1799, a city structure was laid out in 1815, and in 1820 the first British Settlers arrived. Sir Rufane Donkin was the Acting Governor of the Cape Colony at the time and he named the City after his late wife, Elizabeththe daughter of the Dean of York. (Sir Rufane’s cousin, interestingly, was Charles Michell, the man who built Michell’s Pass.)

We followed part of the Donkin Heritage Trail but in a rather desultory fashion – it was the hottest, most humid day of our trip and our energy was rapidly exhausted. The photographs are not good and this is only a very small taste of the historic area – I apologise.

The Donkin Memorial remembers Lady Elizabeth Donkin‘..one of the most perfect of human beings..’.

We walked up Bird Street, passing St George’s Club (1906), with a Australian (?) fig tree outside which is at least a century old; Cora Terrace (1831), built as houses for settlers and named after a girl who was lost at sea; and the former Holy Rosary Convent (1853), set up by six Dominican nuns from Ireland as a girls’ school. The school closed in the 1980s and the building is derelict – what a pity. I had a friend who was in the Convent – she would be sad to see the neglect.

I wanted to visit the art gallery at the entrance to St George’s Park because I remembered some wonderful exhibitions there; in particular, this was where I first saw Käthe Kollwitz. However, it was firmly closed – why? It was the weekend when people have more time, and summer time, with lots of tourists in the town. What a pity. The Cenotaph commemorates the dead of both World Wars.

The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum

The Cenotaph

St George’s Park is situated on level ground on top of the hill in PE. It is home to the Cricket Club which was established in 1859, the second oldest in South Africa, and shortly afterwards the City Council set aside and enclosed a large area adjacent to the club for various other sporting activities.

The Tennis Club was established in 1878, the Athletics in 1881, Bowls in 1882, and the Rugby Club in 1887. The Swimming Bath was built in 1937.

In the Park there is also the Mannville Outdoor Theatre, a beautiful greenhouse – the Pearson Conservatory which opened in 1882, a war memorial – the Prince Alfred Guards’ Memorial, and a cemetery. And of course it is a park filled with plants and trees. I will post more photographs on the gardening site.

The Cemetery on the edge of St George’s Park is also known as the ‘Scotch Cemetery’ and was in used from 1864-98. I wondered if I would find some hint of the 1820 Settlers, and I am sure there are many interesting stories, but it was so hot! Mary Keogh was, I believe, the daughter of Patrick Keogh who emigrated to South Africa in 1819/20 and would have been one of the early settlers. She was only 37 years old when she died, having recently given birth, and the baby died two weeks later.

St George's Cemetery, Port Elizabeth

We noticed a few more sights as we walked back to the car, desperate for a gallon of ice cold ginger beer! Holy Trinity Church dates back to 1898; elegant houses around the square near Holy Trinity Church and alongside the Donkin Memorial; and the King Edward Hotel was closed for renovation.

The Grand Hotel Hotel supplied the ice cold ginger beer and then we retreated into the air conditioning!

Further information
Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism
Lady Elizbeth Donkin’s grave
Geogypsy’s visit to PE
Port Elizabeth of Yore
– excellent blogs on the town
The Holy Rosary Convent and other schools in PE
Prince Alfred’s Guards




2 Responses

    • Candy Blackham

      Thank you – the Eastern Cape is very beautiful but, like all places, you need to linger for the sense of the place to sink into your senses.

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