The area around Algoa Bay was settled by
indigenous tribes many centuries ago, firstly by
San and Khoi and later by
The first Europeans to visit the area were
Bartolomeu Dias, who landed on St Croix Island in
Algoa Bay in 1488, and Vasco da Gama who noted the
nearby Bird Island in 1497. For centuries, the area
was marked on navigation charts as "a landing place
with fresh water".
In 1799, during the first British occupation of
the Colony during the Napoleonic Wars, a stone Fort
was built, named Fort Frederick after the Duke of
York. This fort, built to protect against a possible
landing of French Troops, overlooked the site of
what later became Port Elizabeth.
Port Elizabeth was founded as a town in 1820 to
house British settlers as a way of strengthening the
border region between the Cape Colony and the
warlike Xhosa tribe.
In 1820 a party of 4,000 British settlers
arrived by sea. Port Elizabeth was founded by Sir
Rufane Shaw Donkin, the Governor of the Cape Colony,
who named it after his late wife, Elizabeth.
The town expanded, building a diverse community
comprising European, Cape Malay and other
immigrants, as well as African and Coloureds. Growth
was particularly rapid after the railway to
Kimberley was built
During the Anglo-Boar War on 1899-1902
the British built a concentration camp here
to house Boer women and children.
Forced relocation of the non-white
population under the Group Areas Act began
in 1962, causing various townships to be
built in the surrounding area. The whole of
the South End district was forcibly
depopulated and flattened in 1965; forced
relocations under the apartheid regime
continued until 1975.
The Donkin Reserve is on a hill
overlooking PE. Created in honour of Sir
Rufane Donkin's wife, after whom the city is
named, it has a lighthouse and a small stone
pyramid inscribed with, "To the memory of
one of the most perfect of human beings who
has given her name to the Town below." The
lighthouse, built in 1861, is now the
tourist information office.
Horse Memorial was erected to honour the
many horses and mules which died during the
Anglo-Boer War between 1899 and 1902.
On 18 August 1977,
Steve Biko was arrested while
travelling home from a political meeting with his
friend Peter Jones. He was detained in Port
Elizabeth for 26 days under the Terrorism Act.
In 2001 the Nelson Mandela Bay
Municipality was formed and includes Port
Elizabeth as well as the neighbouring towns
of Uitenhage and Despatch.