Port Elizabeth to Cape Town on a bicycle – 1899

While doing research on the families that once owned Trinity Cottage, I found the ‘Diary of a cycle tour to Cape Town from Port Elizabeth’ by Messrs J.J. Storey, G. Jenkins, W. Hann and R Cronau., written in 1899.

J.J. Storey is a descendant of George and Maria Storey that lived in Trinity Cottage from 1864.  The cyclist’s started their journey on Sunday the 3rd of September 1899 and reached Cape Town ten days later on the 13th.     

This 14 page diary can not be copied entirely but here are some of their stories,  as it was written by J.J. Storey in 1899.

Sunday, September 3rd 1899

We left Port Elizabeth in the face of a fierce North West gale, accompanied by about ten cyclist who were seeing us a part of the way on our long ride;  it took a solid hour and a half to reach Greenbushes, where I was unfortunate enough to bite the dust, bringing Hann down on top of me.  Upon examining our machines I found my rear wheel had received a bad buckle, which necessitated my return to Port Elizabeth for repairs, while the rest of the party kept on, promising to wait for me along the road.

I left Port Elizabeth again at 3.15pm., wind still blowing a gale; met Wright and Ramsden at Vaal Vlei, they had accompanied the other three as far as “Fitches”, and were now returning to town.  I also met S. Westgate and A. Parkin about six miles further on.  They told me they had met the Advance Guard at the top of the Pass, having bid them a long fond farewell, I pushed on with all speed, refreshing myself at the Drift in Van Staden’s by eating about 18 oranges, more or less, which I purchased form a Kind-hearted Dutchman at a pretty stiff price.

Arrived at Berry’s Hotel, Thornhill, at 5.50 pm (30 miles) and found the rest had just arrived.  We had enough for one day, especially Hann and myself, who were carrying about 15 lbs in luggage on our bikes.  However Mr. Berry made us very comfortable, we often had cause to regret that there where not more of his sort along the line of route.

Monday, September 4th 1899

We were all up and away at 7.30 am and pushed on to Gamtoose river where we breakfasted.  After leaving Gamtoose the wind came on again and soon rose to a gale, but we kept our spirits up by hoping for a stiff South Easter the next day.  We reached Humansdorp at one o’clock, and put up at the “Farmers’ Friend” kept by Mr. Smith.  We had hardly got under cover when the rain came on and kept us prisoners in the Dorp all the afternoon.  We began to despair of getting to Cape Town at this rate, as we had only done 60 miles in two days.

Tuesday, September 5th 1899

We left Humansdorp at 6.10 am and finished up that night at Reed’s Farm the other side of the Storms River Pass, having taken fifteen and a half hours to cover 60 miles; we had hardly got clear of Humansdorp when to our horror the wind again came up from the North West, and got stronger and stronger till at 12 o’clock it must have been blowing through our whiskers at the rate of about 50 miles an hour . . .

We were now in the Zitzakamma proper, and found the roads nothing to boast of, in fact it was fortunate that none of us possessed false teeth, or we would most certainly have dropped them . . .

We were now getting retarded by muddy roads, also by the streams flowing from the mountains. They cross the road about every 400 yards, and as a rule are too deep to ride through, so there was nothing for it, but to put the machines on our backs and cross the drifts by jumping from one stone to another.  After you have done this about thirty times a day, the novelty begins to wear off, and it becomes slightly tiresome . . .

. . .  we expected to reach Sheppard’s bush in time for dinner, but only got there at 2.40pm, feeling as if we had not eaten for months past.  We had some trouble finding the place and had to retrace our wheel-marks for about three miles.  When we did find it, we put in some good sprinting, in fact some of the party were riding a durned sight faster than they were going, as the Yankees say.  Jenkins, for one, rode clean over his handle-bars, but fortunately no damage was done . . .

Thursday, September 7th 1899

. . .  We rode along the edge of this river about 4 miles as we were going out of Knysna.  Hann had a fall on the road.  His bicycle shied at a horse, or the horse shied at the bike, either of the two.  He nearly rode over the bank into the water, bike and all.  I don’t think there would have been much harm done if he had, as a bath would not have come amiss to any of us by this time.

The road about here are fair demons, we had to walk about 25 miles out of the 43 we did that day.  It is nothing but one long Pass after another; splendid rivers flowing through them.  We put up for the night at Wallace’s Store (206 miles).  I don’t know where his customers come from, as we could see no life for miles around.

Friday, 8th September 1899

. . . George is a very pretty little town, but very Dutch, it has no railways anywhere near it.  Here as elsewhere we found the chief topic of conversation was the Transvaal situation.  We left George as soon as the rain cleared up a little and covered the three miles to Blanco in nine minutes.  Jenkins was making pace he always rides like a demon after meals, but makes up for it afterwards.  I nearly caused the sudden death of an old monkey this morning coming down one of the hills.  I turned a rather sharp curve at full speed and the poor old chap just had time to dodge my wheels, I don’t think he was any more frightened than I was.

Their journey came to an end on Wednesday, 13th September 1899 in Cape Town, where they got “took” in, in more ways than one.

We stopped at the first photographers we came to, and got “took” in, in more ways than one, as it afterwards turned out.  We paid him 45 shillings and he promised to send the photos down East to us when ready.  But alas they have never come, and are not likely to from what I find out now; but if ever I run against the son of Isaac and Jacob, I’ll – I’ll sell the wretch a cheap bicycle and make him ride it too !!

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