One of Port Elizabeth’s favorite museums is No 7 Castle Hill. The history of the building goes right back to the early days of Port Elizabeth with Rev. Francis McCleland building it as his parsonage and family home in 1825. The house is one of the oldest remaining dwelling houses in Port Elizabeth and is furnished as a mid-Victorian period family home. A lot of the furniture and items in the house comes from the 1840–1870 era to show visitors what life was like back then. The house was declared a National Monument in 1962 and became a museum in 1964.
On a walk along Route 67 the other day I popped into St Mary’s Cathedral and was reminded that the original gravestone of Captain Francis Evatt was located in the entrance area of the church. Something a lot of people probably didn’t know.
Captain Evatt was commander of Fort Frederick from 1817 until his death in 1850 and is often called the Father of Port Elizabeth because of the role he played in the early years of the town’s development. Among the things he did was to oversee the landing of the British Settlers in 1820 and he laid the foundation stone of St Mary’s Church in 1825. After his death on 21 March 1850 he was given a military funeral in the Congregational Cemetery in Russell Road.
Evatt’s remains were moved to a spot outside the Fort in 1956 and a replica gravestone was erected, with the original being placed in St Mary’s Cathedral.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality recently (yeh ok, some months ago already) renamed three of the streets around the PE Opera House to celebrate three of Port Elizabeth’s theatre legends. John Kani, Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona are truly three world icons and worked together on Sizwe Banzi is Dead in 1972 and The Island in 1973. Ntshona and Kani went on to win Tony awards for best actor for both plays while the names of all three have become synonymous with a phenomenal theatre legacy in South Africa.
Belmont Terrace was renamed as Athol Fugard Terrace, Whites Road to John Kani Road and Chapel Street was changed to Winston Ntshona Street.
Wedged in between City Hall and the Old Post Office building with the Feather Market Centre on the other side of the right is the Cross of Prester John. The monument has no significant link to Port Elizabeth other than the fact that it was a stop en route to the East for Portuguese explorers who, in addition to looking for a way around Africa to the East, were also hoping to make contact with Prester John as a Christian ally. A local philanthropist paid for the monument which was unveiled by the Portuguese Ambassador to South Africa in 1986.
The story of Prester John is a mysterious one. In some circles he was believed to be a descendant of the Three Wise Men, some believed he was a crusader-era Christian king based in Ethiopia or possibly a high-born Mongol from the time of Genghis Khan. Then there were those who said that he watched over the Holy Grail, never growing old but wiser and wiser as the years went by. Whoever this mythical king-priest Prester John was, it was the quest of the Portuguese explorers not just to find a sea route around Africa to the East, but to also find and make contact with Prester John as a Christian ally.
Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes) is a legendary Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and tradition from the 12th through the 17th centuries. He was said to rule over a Nestorian (Church of the East) Christian nation lost amid the Muslims and pagans of the Orient, in which the Patriarch of the Saint Thomas Christians resided. The accounts are varied collections of medieval popular fantasy, depicting Prester John as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures.
At first, Prester John was imagined to reside in India; tales of the Nestorian Christians’ evangelistic success there and of Thomas the Apostle’s subcontinental travels as documented in works like the Acts of Thomas probably provided the first seeds of the legend. After the coming of the Mongols to the Western world, accounts placed the king in Central Asia, and eventually Portuguese explorers convinced themselves that they had found him in Ethiopia.
You can read more about Prester John on Wikipedia where I got the above information.
Imagine my surprise when I found an Afrikaans inscription on a plaque behind the baptismal font in the St Augustine’s Catholic Cathedral. Very unusual.
I got to see the inside of St Augustine’s Cathedral for the first time a few weeks ago while on a tour of Route 67. The church isn’t generally open like St Mary’s on the other side of the Public Library, so if you want to see it you need to make special arrangements or alternatively just attend a service.
When the first Catholic priest, Father George Corcoran, set foot in Port Elizabeth in 1840 it wasn’t just a case of getting off the boat and taking up his position. No, he was shipwrecked in Cape St Francis and had to travel the last 100km to town on horseback. Once he arrived here he found that there were only 42 Catholics in the town. But the show had to go on and in the ensuing years the Catholic community in Port Elizabeth started to flourish. It meant that the congregation needed a church and Father Corcoran obtained a plot for a church on Prospect Hill / Castle Hill in 1844. By 1847 a new two-storey building was erected on the site on which the MacSherry hall stands today.
In 1847 Dr Devereux who was based in Cape Town at the time was appointed as the First Bishop of the newly formed Vicariate of the Eastern Cape. Father Corcoran died of yellow fever in South America in 1852 and Dr Devereux transferred Father Thomas Murphy from Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth. Father Murphy was responsible for the building of the church as it is today although he first extended the then existing building which became known as St. Augustine’s Hall. This served as school, church and hall.
The design of the church was apparently based upon the style of a church in Selbridge near Dublin, Ireland with the plans being formulated by a Mr McCarthy but executed by the local architect and first Town Engineer of Port Elizabeth, Robert Archibald. The Foundation Stone was laid in December 1861 and construction took place under the watchful eye of Father Murphy. Five years later on the 25th April 1866, with the steeple almost completed, St.Augustine’s was opened and solemnly consecrated by Bishop Patrick Moran. It’s very interesting to mention that this magnificent building was built as a parish church, not a cathedral. Apon his death Father Murphy was buried beneath the high altar in the cathedral.
The bronze statue of Christ the King which can be seen above the door was donated by the Frost family in 1931.
The parish church of St Augustine’s became the bishop’s church and cathedral some 54 years later but was only formally declared and consecrated as a cathedral in 1939.
Information courtesy of http://staugustinespe.co.za/history/
My fondest memory of the Edward Hotel was having our matric farewell dance in the back hall. And eating there a couple of times. The hotel has been closed for a number of years now and have undergone a revamp and upgrade with plans to reopen later this year. Since the announcement the management group has pulled out again and we’re yet to hear what will happen next. But regardless of what is going on behind the scenes, the majestic old gent still stands overlooking the Donkin Reserve.
The King Edward’s Mansions was built in 1903 by Rochelle & Smith and was owned by Palace Buildings, Ltd. in the early days. There were 120 bedrooms and sitting rooms and while the ground floor contained suites for doctors and dentists as well as restaurant. The hotel was first called the King Edward’s Mansions, later the King Edward Hotel and Edward Hotel. Now i’s back to King Edward Hotel.
I was taking a couple of pictures on the Donkin Reserve the other day and noticed this plaque on the stone wall by the Great Flag. I don’t know if it is a recent addition or if I’ve just never noticed it. Weird, but anyways. The plaque marks the 150th anniversary (as on 16 November 2010) of the arrival of the first group of Indians to South Africa as indentured labourers. Although the arrival was in Natal and not Port Elizabeth, the plaque was probably put up by the Port Elizabeth Indian community. Worth a bit further investigation me thinks…