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.
One of the things that really interested me when I visited the North End Cemetery
the other day was the walled off Jewish Cemetery. I didn’t get to explore it though as the sign by the entrance says, “Code of Conduct. Please note that all visitors to the cemetery must wear appropriate dress. Men and women must cover their heads”
. Turned out I didn’t even have a cap in my car so I went no further than the door. I did do a bit of a search on the net for more info and found some interesting info.
The first interesting tidbit I discovered was that the cemetery was referred to as the Creek Jewish Cemetery. Looking at an early layout diagram of the cemetery the creek next to it is quite prominently indicated. Now I’m wondering, was the North End Cemetery not perhaps referred to as the Creek Cemetery in the early days? Something to look into a bit more.
Land for the North End Cemetery was set aside in 1861 and the cemetery was laid out in 1863. As early as 31 July 1861 the Council received a letter of application for a piece of land in the newly granted North End Cemetery. At that stage the Jewish community had to go to great expense to convey bodies to Grahamstown for burial in the Jewish Cemetery there.
A report in the “Eastern Province Herald” dated 31 July 1863 states: “The Jewish Burial Ground at Creek has been used for the first time on the occasion of the burial of the child of Mr. E.H. Solomon on Wednesday, 29 July 1863.” The grave of this child, Aaron Solomon aged 8 years, is to be found in Row 4 of Section A. The other graves in that row cover the period up to 1871 and include one for 1903. This indicates that burials did not take place in a specific order and that they seem to have worked from the “center” out which is usual for all cemeteries of that period.
Over the years my interest in cemeteries has taken me to most of the cemeteries around town with the notable exception being the North End Cemetery. Not because I didn’t want to but rather a case of never really being in that part of town with time to go. A week or two ago I found myself there though in search of information I needed as part of a Geocache multi cache put together by Commaille. I was really surprised at how well maintained and neat the cemetery is plus I didn’t feel unsafe at all. My quest for the necessary information took me, among others, to the pauper section of the cemetery. A section that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the cemetery.
I found the following about the history of the cemetery. With the exception of the individually walled and accessed Jewish and Muslim sections at North End, only interior carriageways separated the various Christian denominations. Subsequent extensions to the North End Cemetery made provision for the members of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Chinese community in the early twentieth century, as members of the two groups migrated to the town. The arrival of the Indian community, late in the nineteenth century, necessitated comparatively little adjustment, as the majority were Hindus. A crematorium for their use was duly built at North End on the seashore. The unused Moslem section of the cemetery was then adopted as the site for scattering ashes. Indian members of the Christian and Moslem faiths joined their co-religionists in death. A special isolation cemetery was laid out at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in the 1890s and named after the bubonic plague outbreak of 1901. These days the crematorium is no more with only foundations and a concrete slab remaining.
The Russell Road Cemetery is another of Port Elizabeth’s historic grave yards dating back to the early days of Port Elizabeth. As the town grew the increased demands on the St Mary’s Cemetery next to the Baakens River became too much and a solution had to be found, not just for another cemetery but also to accommodate the different religious affiliations. Small pieces of land was allocated to the various Christian denominations on the town margins in the late 1830’s and 1840’s with the Wesleyan Methodists, Catholics and Congregationalists each getting their own burial grounds to the north west of the settlement in what became known as Burial Kloof. This kloof, a rocky area which created a natural stream when it rained, is the kloof down which Russell Road runs today. Back then the three cemeteries were adjacent to one another and were separated by walls with each church having their own entrance.
Today there isn’t much left in the Russell Road Cemetery. The cemetery became very run down many years ago, and most of the graves were badly vandalised. In an effort to preserve as much of the remaining stones as they can, the municipality laid them flat and cemented them to the ground.
One grave stands out from the rest. The white grave in the centre of the cemetery belongs to James Langley Dalton who was a survivor of the Battle of Rorkes Drift and the recipient of a Victoria Cross. Unfortunately Dalton dies while visiting a friend in Port Elizabeth and was buried in this cemetery.
In the early days of Port Elizabeth the St Mary’s Cemetery was used, first by the military based at Fort Frederick, and later for civilians with the cemetery being under the control of St Mary’s Church. As the town grew more burial areas were required by the various Christian denominations and in the 1830’s and 1840’s the various churches were granted small pieces of land adjacent to each other on the edge of town where Russell Road is today. A further Nonconformist cemetery, mainly for the Church of Scotland, was also set aside in 1854 on the western edge of town, which was later incorporated into the extensive St George’s Park.
Last week I stopped by the Scottish Cemetery to collect some information needed for a Geocache I’m doing and was glad to see that the municipality has cleaned up most of the creeper plants that has been covering a big part of the cemetery.
The old Scottish Cemetery at St George’s Park was established way back in 1854 on what was the western edge of town back then. These days the western edge of town is all the way over at Baywest.
Probably the biggest maritime disaster that ever took place on the Port Elizabeth coastline happened way back during the Great Gale of 1902. On Sunday, 31 August 1902 there were 38 ships at anchor along the then North End Beach. Rain and a south-easterly wind started to lash the bay and by midnight the storm turned into a hurricane. By the end of the storm on 2 September 1902, 18 of the ships had been stranded on the beach, while the rest all had major damage. The dead were buried in the South End Cemetery and thousands lined the route to the cemetery as the funeral processions went by with surviving ship-mates carrying the coffins of those that died during the storm. A memorial stands in the South End Cemetery with all the names of those who died during the storm.
I stopped by the South End Cemetery last week to check up on my Geocaches in the area and took a slow drive around the cemetery. It’s really sad to see how much vandalism has taken place in the cemetery. Pity the municipality can’t put aside a bit of budget to restore a lot of these pushed over and broken historic grave stones. Anyhow, I was looking for an interesting angle to photograph and settled on this one, converted to sepia.
Bethulie in the southern Free State is one of those places not many people pass through as it’s not really on any of the main thoroughfares going south (or north, depending how you look at it). On my last trip up to Johannesburg I deviated off the normal route to see what this town on the banks of the Orange River is all about. One of the things I found out was that Bethulie was the site of one of the most notorious concentration camps of the Anglo Boer War of 1899 to 1902. I was shocked by the size of the Concentration Camp Cemetery Memorial and even more so when I saw all the names on the remembrance wall.
It turns out that even the English called the Bethulie camp “the hell camp” because of the shocking conditions Boer men, women and children were being held in. The ravages of disease, starvation and extreme temperatures, enhanced by the bad administration of the camp, meant that the camp saw a death toll of 1 737 prisoners among its population of about 5 000 over the 13 months it existed between April 1901 and the end of the war in May 1902. At one stage about 30 people a day was buried in the camp. Truly shocking and it literally had me speechless as I stood reading the info around the memorial.
The original camp and cemetery was located much closer to the river back in the days but all the graves were relocated to this position when the Gariep Dam (called the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam back then) was constructed in the 1960’s.
At the top end of the cemetery is an enclosed area containing all the original hand-carved sandstone headstones which were removed from the old cemetery. They’ve all been set into three walls and having a closer look at the information on them you suddenly realise how many children were among those who had dies in the camp. Unfortunately the gate was locked tight so I couldn’t get a closer look at all of them,
I drove away deeply touched. The Anglo Boer War was such a significant event in the history of South Africa and yet so many of us never get to visit sites like this because it’s often off the beaten track. So next time you’re on the main drag down to the beach fro your summer holidays, why not set a day aside and take some of the back roads. You will come away the better for it.