port elizabeth history

Port Elizabeth - a City of History

Port Elizabeth's history as a city was foreshadowed during the Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars with France. When the French invaded Holland and established a puppet regime, the British occupied the Dutch possessions at the Cape to forestall any French move upon the shipping route to India. In 1799 the British established a fort and garrison on the escarpment overlooking a fresh water lagoon at Algoa Bay and named it Fort Frederick after Prince Frederick, the "Grand Old" Duke of York, then commander-in-chief of the British army.

history - Fort Frederick

Also in 1799 there took place in Algoa Bay South Africa's only naval battle. The French frigate La Preneuse tried to land arms for the van Jaarsveld rebels at Graaff-Reinet who had rebelled against the Dutch authorities at the Cape but was engaged by the British sloop-of-war HMS Rattlesnake and the storeship Camel.

The battle was indecisive but the French were thwarted in their purpose and La Preneuse was sunk soon afterwards off Mauritius by HMS Adamant.

history - naval battle
The sinking of La Preneuse by Auguste Mayeur

Prior to this, the only European presence in the area had consisted of farmers but a hamlet came into existence on the foreshore, beneath the guns of the fort.

It was here that in 1820 the British settlers landed who were intended to populate and stabilise the turbulent border area in the region of the Great Fish River.  This has to do with the history of the Frontier Wars.

Some of these settlers returned to Algoa Bay to live and work and the hamlet started to become a town. The governor at the Cape, Sir Rufane Donkin, named the place Port Elizabeth after his late wife.

This little bit of history is commemorated by the well-known pyramid on the Donkin Reserve while the landing place is marked by a tall campanile.

history - Donkin Reserve history - Campanile

Since then, Port Elizabeth's history has never looked back, growing in both size and importance and bequeathing much fine architecture to us.

During the history of the Anglo-Boer War both Port Elizabeth itself as well as it's dam about 40 kms away were entrenched and fortified. Although Jan Smuts and his commando came within sight of the sea not far from the city during a raid, Port Elizabeth was not attacked.

It was, however, an important logistic base and many of the British remounts were shipped through the port. A memorial, believed at the time to be unique, was subsequently erected to the horses who suffered during the war.


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