PORT  ALFRED.

Historically speaking.
In attempting to write up the history of Port Alfred, we are at no stage, minimizing the part played in our history, by the 'Stranloopers' or any folk who played a part in the growth.  This is a 'social' history, giving a few of the relevant facts, some of the interesting stories, and on another page, some of the 'urban legends and myths.'
ALBANY (or Lower Albany) is a district on the Eastern frontier of the Cape Colony. The
area, roughly is from Grahamstown, down to the sea, between The Great Fish,  and
Bushmans River.  This is a very "glib" guide, as the areas surrounding, and branching off,
are all part of the history of "The Kowie".  It is an area, with a harsh climate,(temperate
climate)  which you can see by the natural growth, as you travel, not only along the coast,
but up to Grahamstown, and the surrounding villages.  Water is scarce, and there is a lot of
sourveld in the region.   In all cases, there are exceptions, and one can travel through the
most glorious valleys....find waterfalls and kranses, and  the flora and fauna, whilst not as
prolific as in days past, one finds magical areas of vynbos, lilies, and aloes, found and the
indigenous trees are spectacular!
One of the many problems faced by the 1820 Settlers was poor accessibility to the outside
world. The mouth of the river known to Europeans as the Kowie seemed to be an answer.
It was wide and deep enough to allow the entrance of fair-sized sailing ships. In 1821 the
first coaster entered the river and this was the start of Port Alfred, first known as Port
Frances, after the daughter-in-law of the governor Lord Charles Somerset, but in 1860
renamed in honour of Prince Alfred, who was then visiting South Africa.

For years attempts continued to develop the port. Many ships visited the place but the
river mouth was difficult to enter and several ships were wrecked, In 1881 a railway was
built connecting Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth. The construction of the railway put Port
Alfred into decline as a harbour.

Today the mouth of the Kowie is a holiday resort. Small craft meander in land through a spectacular wooded valley. The beaches at the mouth are safe for swimming. Among remnants of settler times is the Settler Church built by the
Methodists in 1826 and used as a place of refuge in troubled times as well as a place of worship. Alongside it is settler cemetery. The churchbell comes from the wreck of some forgotten ship. The town's Cock's Castle was built in 1840 by William Cock, a man involved in the early attempt to develop a port. He built his home in romantic Gothic style,with strong crenelated walls and a flat roof reinforced to support a cannon. Over 1800 different types of seashells, including rarities, have been collected on the beaches. Such shells as the perlemoen, phasignella, nautilus and turbonilla are often found. The Port
Alfred golf course is reputed to be one of the best in South Africa. Tennis and bowls are also played.


Port Alfred, which has undergone numerous name changes, i.e
PORT-O-GRAHAMSTOWN, PORT ALBANY, (later the Port was dropped),
KOWIE TOWN, PORT KOWIE, PORT HEATHCOATE, RICHMOND,
VICTORIA,   in 1825 PORT FRANCES, (the east bank), 1860, PORT ALFRED,
(combining the two villages),   nestles between rather steep hills, and there is a great deal
of land, known as the "flats", which makes up the bulk of the centre of town.   The most
prominent feature of Port Alfred is the glorious KOWIE River,which has its beginnings in
the hills around Grahamstown, meanders through the countryside, and  eventually rushes
out to sea between man-made breakwater, and pier..............this is the new river mouth as
in 1825;  The Honourable William Cock, decided to re-route the river to aid in the harbour
project which he was instructed to investigate.  Mr Dyson, had previously done the
investigative work to the rerouting  of  the original river.

For years attempts continued to develop the port. Many ships visited the place but the
river mouth was difficult to enter and several ships were wrecked,  (86) In 1881 a railway was
built connecting Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth. The construction of the railway put Port
Alfred into decline as a harbour. Today the mouth of the Kowie is a holiday resort. Small
craft meander in land through a spectacular wooded valley. The beaches at the mouth are
safe for swimming. Among remnants of settler times is the Settler Church built by the
Methodists in 1826 and used as a place of refuge in troubled times as well as a place of
worship. Alongside it is settler cemetery. The churchbell comes from the wreck of some
forgotten ship. The town's Cock's Castle was built in 1840 by William Cock, a man
involved in the early attempt to develop a port. He built his home in romantic Gothic style,
with strong crenelated walls and a flat roof reinforced to support a cannon. Over 1800
different types of seashells, including rarities, have been collected on the beaches. Such
shells as the perlemoen, phasignella, nautilus and turbonilla are often found.

The development of a seaport at the mouth of the Kowie River, was a measure
commended itself to Somerset, notwithstanding the fact that Donkin had previously given
the scheme his active support!  The Elizabeth  having been wrecked shortly after
Somerset's return from England, he ordered two other small ships to be procured for the
purpose of conducting  coastal trade and provided for the erection of a customs house and
other necessary buildings for the harbour master and customs officer.  A township was laid
out on the East bank of the river, building plots were sold and houses soon began to
spring up.

A romantic look at Port Alfred, it's beginnings and struggles, tells of the 1820 settlers, who after having landed in Algoa Bay, trekked up towards their destinations Grahamstown.  As in all history, the time it took, the illnesses and disasters that over took them on their journeys, is left to historians. Some settled in Alexandria, some broke away and went North, but the ones who eventually arrived here, their road long and fraught with danger of the unknown, their journey was nearly over.

The West Bank of the settlement, the road, which can still be seen, went through what was known as "Hope farm" a vast spread of land that belonged to the Keeton family.   This land stretched from the farm as it is now, to the banks of the river.

Called at the time, Port Kowie, the people camped, out spanned their stock and as is the nature of man, some built huts, bought land, planted crops and set up trade, in the area around Wesley hill, alongside the home known as Richmond House, or Cocks castle.

Some landed at the out span, known as MEDOLINO, which is now a caravan park, and this is where the first market was developed.

Simultaneously, there were people who had landed on the shores on this side by ship.  Their were sailors who jumped ship and traders who were looking for a new way of life.  The first hotel or inn here, was 'THE COVE" now known as Ferrymans Hotel.  This famous old hotel, which has undergone changes over the years, was a place where fresh water had been found, and where is you ask permission, you may still view the bubbling well at the back of the hotel.

At the top of the hill, directly above the old mill, is the Grand Hotel, which was built as a 'stopover' for visitors.  This was a little later, but almost as old.

Now one must picture the buildings at that time, not as we see them today, but as 'daub & wattle' buildings, tents, tin shacks and wagons.

The mill, which was used by Captain Cock, was the main attraction to the area.  He in turn, used to climb the 'zig zag stairs' which are still there, and go up to the tiny house, which he shared with Mr Henry Norse. (Richmond House).   He had, so they say, built himself another house, not as high up, which was known as 'the Captains cottage."  Evidence of this structure is visible today.

One must picture too, that all the land known as the 'hospital' was land covered in water. Water which was all the way into town.

The settlers in the meantime, some who had decided to go onto Grahamstown, crossed over the river, in front of the Ferrymans hotel, and made their way to the East Bank, which too was showing signs of a development. They trundled up the road, stopped over to greet the harbour master, Mr Dyson.,who was living alongside the old customs house, which is now known as the Royal Alfred Estate. (not the marina).

People had begun to land on this side from ships and with the settlers, started off the village (Port Francis).  Up High Street, and towards the VICTORIA HOTEL, (this was the first inn on this side, known then as Berringtons).  Those that decided that this village best suited their needs, started up their businesses, churches and schools.  Others, who were determined to go on, made their way to BATHURST, which was then, and still remains the 'Drosdty' of Port Alfred.

Bathurst, because of it's wonderful climate, attracted many of these settlers, who abandoned the idea of Grahamstown, and started life in this village.  There were those too, who wanted to farm, and in 18..... farm land was allocated to many of the settlers.  Names of these may be seen at the 'toposcope' in Bathurst, and many of the families, generations later, still own and farm in the area.



So in conclusion, we have intrepid brave settlers who started from thousands of miles across the sea, and built out of a raw dangerous land, two towns, which eventually became one as it is known today.

Some of the old hotels, a few which are still here, and some that were either demolished or changed.
East Bank.
Killarney.  Invernetti.  Seaview. Victoria.

Westbank.
Central.  The Cove.  The Grand.  The Langdon.  Links.  St. Andrews. Holgate. Kimberly.
Coles.  Schulze.
 



                                                    Brave pioneers!
They left their northern island homes and sought
The freedom of the veld 'neath Afric's sun.
'Midst Nature's virgin wilderness they wrought
And strove, until in this great land they won
A noble place.       finis


We are currnetly planning maps and informations for our 'Settlers tours' and 'Strandloopers tours.'
Do pop back or come into the T.i.C office. We would love to speak to you and help you discover the wonerful town as we see it.
 

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