The building blocks of a fine tradition

Ivor Markman

NELSON Mandela Bay has many heritage buildings. Some are humble buildings which have earned their place in our history because of their age, others because of their physical beauty and others because of events which occurred there.

Some, but not all, of Nelson Mandela Bay’s historic gems include:


This farm was settled in 1776 by Thomas Ignatius Ferreira and was originally named Paapenkuilsfontein (Bulrush Fountain) after the bulrushes growing in the Paapenskuil River, a nearby stream.

The name was later changed to Cradock Place and is one of the few places in the city where slaves were kept.

In 1782, six sailors, survivors from the Wreck of the Grosvenor on the Pondoland coast, found sanctuary there after walking nearly 500km in four months.

A search party was immediately sent and a further 12 seamen were found. None of the passengers was able to withstand the hardships and all died along the way.

In 1909 the farmhouse burnt down under suspicious circumstances and today only a “footprint” of it remains.


On the outskirts of Uitenhage is the once attractive farmhouse, Cuyler Manor, built by Landdrost Jacob Glen Cuyler in 1814.

Built in Cape Dutch style, the house, now a museum, was restored and furnished with period furniture, but is deteriorating again.


To raise funds to help the survivors, much of the salvaged wreckage, including a cannon, was put up for sale by public auction. Cuyler bought the cannon and it found its way to the observation post on the hill behind the Drostdy in Uitenhage.

This position was used from 1799 to 1810, when conflict between settlers and indigenous people was high and later acquired the name Cannon Hill.


On the 25th anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, March 21, 1985, police shot dead a number of mourners, estimates vary between 20 and 43 victims, on their way to a banned funeral, during an incident which became known as the Langa Massacre.

The memorial tombstone, erected in the KwaNobuhle Cemetery, was vandalise a year after the shootings, but in March, 1994, a new monument was erected at the spot where the police opened fire in Maduna Road.


Nestled on a sparsely vegetated hillside on the north-west side of the city is the old settlement of Bethelsdorp, founded in 1803 by Dr Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp from the London Missionary Society, assisted by Rev James Read.

Bethelsdorp was Port Elizabeth’s first organised settlement.


The oldest structure still standing in the city is Fort Frederick, built to house a contingent of troops sent out to prevent a possible landing of French troops who were suspected of wanting to assist the Graaff-Reinet rebels and named after Frederick, Duke of York, commander-in-chief of the British army.


The Campanile was completed in 1923 at the same spot where the 1820 English Settlers set foot on African soil for the first time. The red-brick structure is 51.8m high, has 204 steps to the top viewing platform and has a carillon of 23 bells.


In the vicinity of Market Square, renamed Vuyisile Mini Square, there is a cluster of heritage buildings.

These include the City Hall, built from designs by Robert Archibald, later the first town engineer, between 1858 and 1861 and the Main Library, designed by Henry Cheers and opened in 1902. The old Post Office, opened in 1900, the old Courthouse and the old Baakens Street Police Station, all of which are in a sorry state, are nearby.


 ANC member Raymond Mhlaba, later to become Premier of the Eastern Cape, was arrested on June 26, 1952, after he led a group of 30 protesters, in defiance of apartheid laws, through the “European” entrance of the station and deliberately broke the law. He was locked up. During his trial, he said he was defying “the unjust law”. Mhlaba was found guilty and sentenced to a fine of £10 or three months imprisonment, suspended for six months.


This Regency-style residence was the home of the merchant and member of the Legislative Assembly, William Fleming.

 Now part of a university, the house has a magnificent wood and cast-iron circular staircase and fine wood wainscoting (interlocking panelling below the dado rail) and bay windows. Prince Alfred stayed in this house during a visit in 1860.


One of the most beautiful of the palatial mansions built by the Port Elizabeth’s merchants in Park Drive is Knockfierna, since 1935 the home of St George’s Preparatory School. It was built in 1899-1900 for John Daverin.


The recently restored Pearson Conservatory, the restored Prince Alfred’s Guard Memorial, Prince Alfred’s Grove with its collection of walks, ponds, exotic and indigenous plants, the Master Harold tearoom and kite sculpture, the tennis, bowls, rugby, squash, soccer and cricket clubs, can all be found in St George’s Park.

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