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TThe Donkin Heritage Trail in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro city of Port Elizabeth is mainly based around the Central district, and consists of a large collection of historic Victorian buildings and monuments that tell the story of the first British colonial settlers to arrive on the shores of Algoa Bay.
Before you embark on the Donkin Heritage Trail in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape province, there’s a great love story you should hear.
Port Elizabeth, or “PE” as South Africans prefer to call it, was named after the beloved wife of Rufane Donkin, who was once the acting governor of the Cape Colony. Elizabeth and Rufane were true star-crossed lovers in a time of arranged marriages, and shortly after they were wed, she accompanied her husband when he was called to India for service.
She died soon after giving birth to their son, George David. A grief-stricken Rufane left for England, with his baby son and his wife’s embalmed heart. On his stopover in Cape Town, he was informed of his new position in South Africa and sent to Algoa Bay to supervise the new 1820 settler arrivals.
HHe named the site of the settlers’ landings after Elizabeth and built a pyramid of remembrance to her on the hill that is now called the Donkin Reserve. Just 20 years later, back in England, Rufane took his own life – on the anniversary of Elizabeth’s death.
Donkin Heritage Trail, Eastern Cape
TThis sad love story is the centre pivot of the Donkin Heritage Trail, which actually begins below the hill in Govan Mbeki Avenue. There’s a collection of truly marvellous mid-1800 buildings that include the Main Library, City Hall and the more recent Feathermarket Centre. Ask your guide about the Prester John statue and spend a minute below the stern gaze of Queen Victoria outside the library, forever frozen in Sicilian marble.
If you’ve been to PE before, you’ll remember that the Central area, though grand, was losing some of its elegance due to inner-city neglect. That’s all changed. Central is being uplifted in a dozen different ways. Besides getting a much-needed “lick of paint”, the historic heart of Port Elizabeth is being restored and brought back to life.
The stylish, terraced houses, 18 identical Victorian-era dwellings, are being repaired at last. The Donkin Reserve itself has an auspicious new resident in the form of a metal cut-out statue of a jubilant Nelson Mandela, part of the Voting Line sculpture. And the friendly folk at Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism now have their offices at the base of the Donkin Lighthouse and are awaiting your visit.
Around the reserve itself, some of Port Elizabeth’s most popular green spaces are Fort Frederick (the city’s first structure); Prince Alfred’s Guard Drill Hall; a number of cathedrals and churches; the London-like Havelock Square; and a series of settler cottages and classic old hotels, some of which are still open for business.