Jeffreys Bay History
How Jeffreys Bay acquired its name.
The town is named after Captain Jeffreys who sailed his cargo ship up and down the East Coast of South Africa on trading expeditions in the 1840’s. During one of these trips an epidemic of scurvy broke out aboard his ship. He was forced to land his vessel and soon he realized the potential of the place where he had landed and built a primitive port on what is now the main beach. He erected the first house, a huge double-story mansion that was always known as “The White House” in 1850 and his family became the first White family to settle in the town.
In 1852 Captain Jeffrey bought erf numbers 1,2,9 and 10 for a total of 79 British pounds.
Jeffreys Bay’s early years
The Reilly family were a prominent family who first came to Jeffreys Bay in 1928 and Ken Reilly explained that, “Much of the building material for this house actually came from the timbers of Captain Jeffrey’s ship.” Mr Reilly showed me an original carved balustrade from the White House, together with the original ship’s barometer, now 150 years old.
Ken’s father, John Reilly, bought the White House, which is situated at the corner of Woltemade and Jeffreys streets, opposite the present police station. For many years John Reilly ran the house as a shop, known as the White House Tea Room. After the war, the government forced him to demolish the building and he built another big mansion and shop on the same site, which became known as Reilly’s General Dealers. Later he sold this to an orphanage, but after many more years bought it back into the family. These days Travellers Trading occupies the site.
In his youth Ken’s father bought the land on which the Country Feeling Corner Shop now stands, stretching right down to the beachfront, where the old Wimpy bar was sited in the 1960’s. Ken built a big double-story mansion known as the Bar-B-Q Restaurant there. The family traded from the Bar-B-Q until 1964 when they demolished the building and built an improved double story house with a tearoom, flats and gift shops on the same site.
The old Savoy Hotel was built shortly after the White House and constructed of brick and corrugated iron. It was run by Mrs. McGuire and at first was known as the Jeffrey’s Bay Hotel. In 1937 it was renamed The Savoy and finally demolished in 1968 to make way for the new hotel we know today.
Ken Reilly has so many interesting stories to tell of the sea because he took over several fishing boats from his father. Apparently there were no motorboats until the early 1960’s. Prior to this all the boats had been big, double-ender rowing boats with sails. Ten-men rowing crews powered them and they used to fish for cob, steenbras, redfish and kampion. No one fished for chokka in those days; in fact, they used chokka as bait for other sea creatures.
“We used to see the boats coming in so heavily laden with fish,” said Ken, “that there was no more room on board. They had to tie the extra fish to the draglines and tow them behind the boats. Man! It was hard to row a boat with all that weight, even with ten people at the oars.
“We used to get the huge equinox spring tides which turned the sea into a raging monster and when the mist came down in the howling offshore wind, the people on the boats couldn’t see the land and didn’t know where to come in. So all the families used to gather on the main beach and light huge bonfires for the ships to see. We would all sing hymns and pray throughout the night. Sometimes the boats would capsize because the wind turned them broadside on to the huge waves. In a big, ugly South East swell many fishermen would drown and we would hunt up and down the shore for the bodies. The current was so strong after an equinox tide that the families of the drowned men would find their bodies washed up way down beyond Kabeljous River Mouth, sometimes as far down as the Gamtoos. And that is about 12 km away. One learns to have a lot of respect for the sea.
“I can remember during the war years, long before there were street lights and roads, when I would go for a walk at ten o’clock at night in Jeffreys and would see no more than ten houses with lights on. The population was only a few hundred people. Just compare that to what we see today!”
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