Plaatbos forest and Storms River Pass

The Tsitsikamma is one of my happy places. It is where I go to recharge my soul and get close to nature and that is what we as a family did a couple of week ago. It wasn’t a comprehensive charge, but a quick visit one just to breath in the fresh Tsitsikamma air and get away from lockdown at that stage.

One of our stops for the day was the Plaatbos Forest section of the Garden Route (Tsitsikamma) National Park next to Storms River Village. The nice thing about Plaatbos is that it’s right by the village so you can take an easy stroll from your accommodation, it offers free and easy access, and there are various beautiful walks in the indigenous forest. 

You can either follow the different marked trails (green – 5km, red – 7.5km and yellow – 8km) through the forest or just walk along the historic Storms River Pass. 

The Tsitsikamma (or Zitzikama as it was known back then) was first surveyed by the famous pass buyilder Thomas Bain in 1879. He found it consisted of almost impenetrable forests and steep gorges eastwards of Plettenberg Bay, but he followed the ancient elephant trails through the forests to find the best way to traverse these gorges. Using convict labourers, the pass through the Storms River gorge was completed by 1884. By then the village was surveyed and laid out around the Duthies of Knysna’s hunting lodge which became an inn for travelers using the pass and still exists as the Tsitsikamma Village Inn today.

Walking through Plaatbos is more than just enjoying the indigenous forest with its trees and streams. If you keep your eyes open you will spot the little things. New growth on a fern, a little frog in a stream, fungus and mushrooms growing under a dead branch, a butterfly making its way from flower to flower or a Knysna loerie overhead in the treetops.

Suddenly I feel like hopping in the car to go and plug in my soul.

Capt Francis Evatt’s gravestone

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 history of St. Augustine’s Cathedral

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/

Captain Francis Evatt’s grave at Fort Frederick

Captain Francis Evatt was born in Ireland in 1770 and arrived in the Cape Colony in 1806 with the 21st Dragoon Guards and served together with his brother for a number of years on the frontier.  In 1817 he was appointed as Commandant of Fort Frederick at a salary of 90 pounds a year (only half the pay he should have been receiving as Captain), a post he occupied until his death.
Captain Evatt played a huge role in the landing of the 1820 British Settlers and his assistance and the concern he showed towards the 4000 British settlers that arrived didn’t go unnoticed.  By 1825 Port Elizabeth was fast becoming an area of increasing importance and the Governor decided that a higher official power to be resident was necessary. Captain Evatt was appointed “Government Resident” whose function was to preside over court proceedings.
Captain Evatt was very prominent in the development of Port Elizabeth and always guarded the town’s best interests as best he could.  He was also instrumental in ensuring a place of worship was built in the town and laid the foundation stone of St Mary’s Church in 1825.  
After a brief illness Captain Evatt died on the 21st March 1850 and was given a military funeral in the Congregational Cemetery in Russell Road.  His original tombstone can be seen in the porch of St Mary’s Cathedral while his remains were moved to a spot outside the Fort in 1956.

The King Edward Hotel by the Donkin Reserve

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.  

Then and Now – Cradock Place

Frederick Korsten, a Dutch entrepreneur, came to Algoa Bay in 1810 and over the following years established himself as a merchant, farmer and owner of a whale fishery.  In 1812 Korsten purchased a farm called Papenkuilsfontein from Thomas Ignatius Ferreira and named it Cradock Place after Sir John Cradock who was the Governor of the Cape Colony from 1811 until 1814.  The farm changed the commercial landscape and economic future of Algoa Bay dramatically during the 1800’s.  It also became the social centre for well-to-do visitors to Algoa Bay with some of the guests including Cape Governors of the day, French scientists, a Zulu delegation sent by Shaka, as well as the well-known traveler-artist Thomas Baines.
Frederick Korsten passed away on 16 June 1839 at the age of 66 years and bequeathed the farm to his daughter who was married to John Centlivres Chase.  Chase wrote a book called “Old Times and Odd Corners” that documented the history of the estate.  Korsten was buried on the farm and it is said that the cemetery and family mausoleum were at some considerable distance north-west from the house, roughly where Stanford Road and the Papenkuils River run closet to each other today.


Unfortunately the farm was later ravaged by misfortune and sorrow.  The end of Cradock Place started with a devastating flood followed by a fire that totally destroyed the homestead on 13 March 1909.  At that stage the farm was no longer owned by the family.  
Urban expansion which has accelerated in the area and extensive vandalism means very little is left of Korsten’s commercial legacy.  Today only the foundations of the buildings remain next to the road between Algoa Park and Young Park.  At least it seems the municipality is keeping the grass cut around the foundations.

Then and Now – The Campanile bells

The Campanile, wedged between the Port Elizabeth Railway Station, the PE Harbour and the Settlers Freeway, was built to celebrate the centenary of the landing of the British Settlers in 1820.  The tower was built on the landing beach where the Settlers came ashore with the foundation stone being laid in 1921.  It was officially opened in 1923, the clock was installed in 1925 (started at noon on 28 April of that year) and the bells hung in 1936.  The Then photo shows one of the carillon of 23 bells being hoisted up.

Now, 80 years later, the bells were removed from the Campanile for the first time to allow for restoration to the tower as well as the bells.  I was there when two of the bells got lowered and had the privilege to take photos of it happening.

The wedge building in Central

A couple of years ago I got an inquiry to find out if I had any information on the “wedge building” near the Donkin Reserve in Central.  After doing a bit of research and not finding much, I posted the question on the ExPE 60’s 70’s and 80’s page where I received a wide range of opinions and answers.  And then it happened, first hand information.  Elizabeth Wilson Botha gave the following answer.

This block of four flats (two at street level & two upstairs) is called Pineview on the corner of Ivy Street & Alfred Terrace. It was built in 1928. Our family owned it for 39years from 1968 – 2007. My late parents occupied the top corner flat. The bay window is the bedroom area, fitted out with dressing table & built-in cupboard along the back wall with the bed situated behind the dividing wall separating the bedroom & lounge. The passage, kitchen & bathroom are at the front door. Incidentally, my Dad made the two Edinburgh lamps at the point & entrance to the flats. My folks were from Edinburgh, Scotland! Unfortunately no mention of architectural style is mentioned in the plans, we still have!

I saved the reply but totally forgot about it till stumbling on it last week.  Had to go and grab a picture or two and share it with you.