Encounter the Eastern Cape Travel Mailer – June 2024


Winter is here. Days may be shorter and colder but the Eastern Cape continues to be a place begging to be explored.  Welcome to the June 2024 issue of Firefly the Travel Guy’s Encounter the Eastern Cape Travel Mailer. I hope you learn at least one new thing about the province this month.

This month we look at the following:

  • Walk through the South End Museum in Port Elizabeth

  • Find the ancient elephant migratory route in the Tsitsikamma

  • Visit the Great Fish River Museum in Cradock

  • Cross the historic Mackay Bridge over the Sundays River

  • Lear about the Battle of Grahamstown of 1819

If there is something that you would like to see featured in our monthly travel mailer or have any suggestions, please drop us an email at jonker@fireflyafrica.co.za

The South End Museum
Port Elizabeth

South End Museum

South End, as a suburb in Port Elizabeth, was once a cosmopolitan community. Men, women, children and families lived harmonious lives in the epicenter of cultural diversity. Coloureds, Whites, Indians, Chinese, Blacks, Jews, Greeks and many more were united in their attitude towards family values, faith and morals, despite the diversity of religion, language and race.

It was home to generations of families who lived in houses that today is only recorded in drawings and paintings. This microcosm of Port Elizabeth life was destroyed during the 1970’s under the infamous Group Areas Act, one of the main legislative pillars of the then Apartheid government.

South End Museum map

The primary aim of the Museum, housed in the historic Seamen’s Institute building, is to keep the memory of erstwhile South End alive and to depict the brutality, tragedy and sorrow that resulted from forced removals as a consequence of the Group Areas Act and other Apartheid legislation. The museum offers glimpses of this lost past, from its walk-on street map to historical photographs and displays of the life and times of the people of South End.

The Museum provides a living memorial to the victims forcibly removed from South End.

Elephant migratory routes in the Tsitsikamma

The elephant migratory route through the Storms River gorge

Elephants were historically found in the Southern Cape and migrated between present-day Mosselbay and Port Elizabeth as the seasons changed.  The arrival of European settlers and big game hunters meant that the elephants started pulling back into the forest. The Tsitsikamma area was first surveyed by the famous pass builder Thomas Bain in 1879.  He found impenetrable forests east of Plettenberg Bay with access made even tougher by deep gorges.  During the planning process of building a pass through the Storms River gorge, Bain followed the ancient elephant migratory routes down to the river and as elephants find the easiest way down, decided to build his pass along those routes.

One section of this ancient migratory route is still visible along the Storms River Pass and SANParks have built a viewing deck for visitors to see it.

Great Fish River Museum

Great Fish River Museum in Cradock

The Great Fish River Museum in Cradock is dedicated to showcasing the history of the hard lives led by pioneer settlers in the area dating back to the early 1800s.  The museum is located behind the town hall / municipal buildings and is housed in the second Dutch Reformed Church Parsonage, built in 1849. The building was declared a national monument in 1971.

The museum collection dates from 1630 – 2000. An Ox wagon, different horse carts and old hearses are on view. Displays in the main building show the history of Cradock, the 1820 Settlers and Voortrekkers while a new addition to the main building is a photographic display of Nelson Mandela and his life in the struggle. Also on the premises, The Cradock Four Gallery comprises a text and photo display on the history of these well-known activists.

The museum houses the organ played at Paul Kruger’s baptism and copies of his christening certificate. Copies of the Midland News (Cradock’s local newspaper) printed on silk dating back to 3 September 1912 are also found here.

The historic Mackay Bridge over the Sundays River

Mackay Bridge over the Sundays River

Back in the early 1800s the first river crossing across the Sundays River going east from Algoa Bay was a drift situated near Addo. As traffic increased there was an urgent need for a more direct route as the route via Addo was a bit of a detour to Grahamstown and the Albany District
By the mid-1800s the Colchester area was a very busy spot as it had the only punt over the Sundays River on this main route between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown. In 1874 the original punt washed away and they started looking at plans to build a bridge.

The Mackay Bridge was opened on 5 March 1895 and constructed entirely of steel and iron brought from Sheffield in England. It was named in honour of John Mackay whose efforts resulted in its construction. The original bridge was destroyed in a flood in 1932 and the construction of a replacement Mackay Bridge, costing £25 000, was expedited. The bridge as it stands today was officially opened on the 5th July 1938.

This bridge acted as the main road across the Sundays River until the construction of the N2 bridge. The Mackay Bridge has formally been closed to traffic and is only accessible on foot or by bicycle. It has become a very popular spot to watch and photograph sunset.

The Battle of Grahamstown – 1819

Historic Battle of Grahamstown

The Battle of Grahamstown was one of the most bizarre and significant military clashes from the 9 bitter Frontier Wars that wracked the Eastern Cape between 1779 and 1878. In essence, the Frontier Wars were all about territory, dispossession, ownership of cattle, and treaties and alliances made and broken between the Boer settlers, the Xhosa and the British colonial authorities.

When a British-led force commanded by Colonel Thomas Brereton seized 23,000 head of cattle from the AmaNdlambe in 1819, Makana (also spelt Makhanda), a Xhosa prophet, urged all the Xhosa to unite to try to drive British forces out of Xhosaland once and for all. Makhanda advised Ndlambe that the gods would be on their side if they chose to attack the British garrison in the settlement of Grahamstown, and promised that the British “bullets would turn to water”.

A great force of between 6,000 and 10,000 Xhosa warriors gathered during the daylight hours of 22 April 1819 on the northeastern hills facing Grahamstown. They were led by Makana who said to have mystic powers, variously known as, Nxele or, simply, Links – which means left-handed in Afrikaans. 

By 1819, the frontier settlement of Grahamstown had been in existence for 7 years. It consisted of about 30 buildings, including a military barracks. Apart from a few hundred civilians, there were about 350 soldiers from various regiments stationed in Grahamstown under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Willshire. 

Because of their vast numbers, the Xhosa seemed assured of victory. As the battle began and 3 divisions of Xhosa warriors attacked various points around Grahamstown, it became clear that the ordered fusillades of the British and the devastation caused by their artillery pieces would win the day over spears that were generally hurled far short of their mark. The garrison forces were also buoyed by the arrival of a Khoi buffalo hunter called Jan Boezak and his 130 sharpshooters.

Elizabeth Salt - Battle of Grahamstown

One of the enduring legends of the Battle of Grahamstown is the story of Elizabeth Salt, one of the soldiers’ wives living in the settlement. The Xhosa, loath to harm women in battle, apparently allowed her to walk through their ranks carrying a keg of gunpowder to the troops besieged in the barracks.

The main battle lasted no more than an hour, leaving at least 1,000 Xhosa and 3 British soldiers dead. Makana later surrendered to the British and was imprisoned on Robben Island. On Christmas Day of that year (1819), he tried to escape but drowned when his boat capsized.

Within a year of the Battle of Grahamstown, the 1820 Settlers arrived from Britain in a massive bid to shore up the colonial presence in the Eastern Cape. But the Frontier Wars would continue for another 60 years before relative peace reigned in the Eastern Cape.

Special offers in Storms River Village