Armoria civica

Province/state: Eastern Cape (until 1994, Cape Province/Cape Colony).
District council: Western District Council (previously Port Elizabeth Divisional Council; then Dias Divisional Council; later Algoa Regional Services Council).
Additions: Korsten (1924), Swartkops and Newton Park (1931), Bethelsdorp and Redhouse (1965), Walmer (1967), Ibhayi, KwaMagxaki, KwaDwesi, Motherwell (1995).
Incorporated: into Nelson Mandela Metropole, 2000.

1861 arms

Port Elizabeth

Arms granted 6 August 1958 by the College of Arms, London, the grant formally described as being a grant by letters patent:

Gules on a Chevron Argent between two Cinquefoils in chief and a Bugle Horn stringed in base Or three Buckles sable a Chief embattled of the second thereon an Elephant statant between two Anchors proper.

Crest: Issuant from a Mural Crown Gules charged with three annulets Or a three Masted Ship in full sail proper flying from the mainmast a Pennon of the first.

Motto: Tu Meliora Spera.

The wording is characteristic of the College of Arms, which in its blazons almost entirely avoids the use of punctuation and makes excessive use of capital letters.

The grant of 1958 was not published until the following year, when on the advice of a visiting delegation from the College of Arms it was published in the Cape Province Official Gazette on 1 May 1959.

The arms were registered under the Heraldry Act by the Bureau of Heraldry on 25 April 1986.

Arms of 1861:
Port Elizabeth (old)

This grant placed on an official footing the arms previously used (without official sanction) by Port Elizabeth:

Arms: Gules, on a chevron argent between two cinquefoils in chief and a bugle horn in base or, stringed or, three buckles sable; upon a chief embattled argent an elephant statant.

Crest: A three-masted ship in full sail proper, flying from the mainmast a pennon gules.

Motto: In Meliora Spera.

The chief differences are that in 1958 the heralds added a pair of anchors for difference (almost as if the city were a younger son of its founder) and a mural crown.

The anchors signify the safe haven of Algoa Bay and specifically the busy harbour of Port Elizabeth. However, they are also a reference to the symbolic lady Hope and the anchor she holds in the crest of the Cape Colony.

The mural crown not only signifies civic authority, but allows the addition of the arms of Jan van Riebeeck (gules, three annulets or), first Commander of the Dutch settlement in Table Bay, thereby signifying that the arms are South African.

In addition, the College of Arms has corrected the wording of the motto. In the corrected wording, Tu Meliora Spera, the use of the word “tu” (“you” or “thou”) is an injunction to seek out better things.

Port Elizabeth had previously used the motto with the wording In meliora spera, which has a rather lackadaisical ring of merely hoping for better things.

The elephant is an Indian elephant (Elephas maximus), not an African elephant (Loxodonta africana). However, other coats of arms imitating those of Port Elizabeth use an African elephant.

Background to Port Elizabeth:
Both the grant of 1958 and the arms previously used are based on the arms of General Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, who in 1820-21 was Acting Governor of the Cape Colony. It is possible that he gave permission for his arms to be used, but no certain evidence of this has yet emerged. He was, at any rate, the founder of what in 1820 was no more than a village on the shores of Algoa Bay, nestling under the protection of the guns of Fort Frederick, a stone-and-mortar fortification with a wooden superstructure, which commanded the landing at the mouth of the Baakens River.

The fort, the oldest permanent structure in the city and one of the oldest in the Eastern Cape, was built in 1799 to forestall a French landing in Algoa Bay, which would have linked up with the rebellious Boer republicans of Graaff-Reinet. (Until 1804, Algoa Bay was part of the Graaff-Reinet district.)

Sir Rufane (who landed at the Cape a major-general, left it a lieutenant-general and later became a full general) spent much of his time as Acting Governor in the Eastern Province of the colony (as it later became), supervising the settlement of British settler parties on the eastern frontier of the colony, chiefly in the Albany district.

The village of Port Elizabeth grew up along the beach where the settler groups were landed from longboats.

Donkin named the village after his wife, née Elizabeth Markham, who had died of fever in India in August 1818, two months before he was gazetted as Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB). (The dates of these two events also mean that Mrs Donkin was never known as Lady Donkin.)

He also proclaimed a substantial public open space, the Donkin Reserve, on a bluff overlooking the bay, and on it had erected a pyramid in memory of his wife.

For many years the Port Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce used the city’s crest as a badge. The chamber has, however, been amalgamated with other business organisations and the present body uses a logo. The Port Elizabeth Divisional Council also used the ship crest in its arms (the colours altered), and an (African) elephant also appears in those arms.

Port Elizabeth attained municipal status on 1 January 1861 and was proclaimed a city in 1913.

Following the municipal elections of 2000, Port Elizabeth became part of the Nelson Mandela Metropole.

Xhosa name of the city:
The Xhosa name Ibhayi first came into use when Xhosa- and other Nguni-speaking labourers went to work in the village of Port Elizabeth in the 1820s and ’30s. Their homes were far from the area, and they adopted the Dutch byname “Die Baai”, by which Algoa Bay was known, adapting its sounds to suit their own language.

However, Ibhayi only became an official name of the City of Port Elizabeth in 1994, when Xhosa became an official language of South Africa.

In 1995 local government was reorganised, and the apartheid municipalities of Ibhayi (the black townships previously part of Port Elizabeth) and Motherwell (a new development north of the Swartkops River), as well as the middle-class black residential areas of KwaMagxaki and KwaDwesi, were incorporated into Port Elizabeth.


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This is largely taken from an article by Mike Oettle, published as “The Arms of Sir Rufane Donkin and the City of Port Elizabeth” in Arma, journal of the Heraldry Society of Southern Africa, Vol 5 No 1.
Scan of the 1958 grant courtesy of the Eastern Province Herald; photograph of older version of arms on the façade of the Feather Market Centre, Port Elizabeth, by Ivor Markman, who also scanned and edited the picture.

  • Educational institutions in Port Elizabeth listed in Armoria academica: University of Port Elizabeth, Alexander Road High School, Hoërskool Andrew Rabie, Cape Recife High School, Chinese High School, Lawson Brown High School, Merryvale School, Moregrove Primary School, Morningside High School, Newton Technical High School, Laerskool Newtonpark, Pearson High School, Summerwood Primary School, Sunridge Primary School, Westering High and Primary Schools.

  • Port Elizabeth in Armoria ecclesiastica: Diocese of Port Elizabeth (Anglican), Bishop Michael Coleman (Roman Catholic), St Mary’s Cathedral (Anglican), All Saints’ Church (Anglican).

  • Port Elizabeth in Armoria corporativa: Livingstone Hospital.

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    Comments, queries: Mike Oettle