Stories and Traveltips

ID #1223

History of the Killarney Hotel, Port Alfred, Eastern Cape.

My grandfather, Edward John Myhill, was born in Strood, Kent, in 1883. My grandmother, Harriet Collingham, was born in Seaford, Sussex in 1886. She was very proud of the fact that her family had been landed gentry for centuries, noting that they were mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1066. 

Edward John emigrated to South Africa in 1906 shortly after the end on the Anglo-Boer War to join other members of the Myhill family. My grandmother followed him and they were married in St Peters Church (Anglican), Krugersdorp on April 17 1911. Initially they lived at 65A Von Brandiss Street, Krugersdorp (where the library is situated today). Afterwards they moved to Burger Street Krugersdorp (where the Old Mutual offices are today). In about 1933 they moved into the Baantjies Mine managers home in Florida, which they called Florida Lodge. In 1941 they moved to a house in Cemertery Road, Randfontein now occupied by Randfontein High School. The reason they moved about so frequently  was because he was a master builder whose principal claim to fame was that he built the steeple on the Town Hall in Krugersdorp. My grandparents went to the Kowie on holiday, fell in love with it and bought the Killarney Hotel (a boarding house) in 1944. Unfortunately I have not been able to find out who built it or from whom they bought it.

My father, Arthur William McIver, and mother, Beatrice (Betty) produced two daughters Myrle and Deirdre before the war. He spent the war in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), North Africa, Palestine, Italy and Germany before returning to South Africa where he qualified as a mine captain on Randfontein Estates. His ancestry is documented in a file in the database. Moira and I were born shortly after the war. Unfortunately Arthur was tragically killed in an underground accident in December 1948 and Betty and the children moved to Port Alfred to live with her parents at Killarney shortly thereafter. Myrle and Deidre went to boarding school at VG in Grahamstown. My mother returned to Krugersdorp in 1960 and I returned to boarding school at Graeme College, graduating in 1965. My grandparents sold the hotel in about 1962. Myrle married Trevor Findlay and now lives in Park Drive, Port Elizabeth. Deirdre married Trevor Pitchers and lives in Howick. Moira married Darryl Gething and lives in Knysna, where she is an estate agent.

All of us remember our childhood in Port Alfred with fondness. Odd bits and pieces I have gleaned include:

o    Bathurst Show: Myrle was a particularly beautiful girl and was crowned “Queen of the Bathurst Show” during the 50’s. I remember her being driven around the showgrounds in an ancient Rolls Royce.
o    Port Alfred Market. We never owned a motor car – I can remember a trusted servant by the name of Khaki pushing a wheelbarrow up the hill from the market with my grandmother and I walking beside him.
o    Myrle and Deirdre clearly remember the floods of 1954, when people were able to canoe down Main Street.
o    43 Air School: RAF pilots were trained on Avro Ansons at the airfield in Bathurst. My uncle, Richard John Myhill tells me there were 50 such aircraft and, at the end of the war, they were sold at an auction. Apparently the auction was held when the weather was particularly bad and only one bidder materialized. He bought all of the aircraft for 5 pounds each and promptly sold the undercarriages for 20 pounds apiece. The aircraft were disassembled and bits and pieces were left scattered around Port Alfred for years afterwards.
o    Moira, who was mad about animals, was friendly with Joscelyn Randall, whose father Avro owned a poultry farm on the road to Southwell. She came back horrified from a weekend at their farm because Avro had apparently wrung the necks of several day-old chicks that were on their last legs.
o    The name Avro is unusual and I have always wondered about it. I have since learned that he was named after the aircraft at 43 Air School because one flew over when he was born.
o    Tubby Stewart was the headmaster of Queen Alexandra Secondary School at the time – a short stout man who peered over his glasses at you. He gave me one hiding in his office – for putting the plait of a girl sitting in the desk in front of mine into the inkwell in my desk. I clearly remember being frog-marched along the corridor to his office by Miss Bartlett, the Standard 2 teacher. Miss Maberley taught the Standard 3 class. I returned to Port Alfred years afterwards and was surprised when she came running up to me at the market to give me a sixpence. Apparently when I left the school I left behind a half-used exercise book. She tore out the used pages, sold the remainder for a sixpence and had waited for years for the opportunity to return it to me. How times have changed! Mrs Coombes taught the “Special Class” at the end of the building. Miss Larson ran the kindergarten class where I first met Basille Glanville. It was our very first day at school and I was sitting in the corner with a dunce cap on when his mother brought him into the class.
o    Reverend Cory was minister in St Paul’s Anglican church where I served as a choir-boy. I went to a service there recently and it does not appear to have changed in the slightest.
o    Graham Grindley’s father had lost both legs – I never found out how it happened. Occasionally we would meet him at the lagoon in his wheelchair, throw him a tennis ball and challenge him to try to hit us with it. When he succeeded it was no laughing matter!
o    People I remember include Mrs Powell, who ran a preschool on the corner of XXXX and XXXX roads, Basille Glanville’s mother who owned the delicatessen in Main Street, Kevin Heny and his sister Wendy, and parents Joyce and James who owned Heny’s Hardware, Danie Smuts, Bobby Robbins, as well as the Port Alfred legends – Pixie John and Ronnie Samuels. Also Claude and “Njoffie” Pittaway. Lastly Mrs Moppett, who played the piano at the lagoon. She hit the keys so hard I thought it was going to collapse.
o    John Harris. He had a remarkable talent -- even as a small boy he was able to draw an elephant in the wink of an eye. He lived in a galvanized iron and wooden house behind the Catholic nunnery in XXX Street. I will never forget one afternoon when we were playing in their garden. His mother came out of the house and called: “John, where are you.” To which he replied: “I have gone to town mommy”
o    Bioscope in Wharf Street. Mr. Kemp was the projectionist at the bioscope, which was held in the Town Hall on Wharf Street. The price to sit on the hard wooden benches was 6d but if you chose to sit on the padded seats in the centre the price was a shilling. I remember being scared out of my wits when going to see Jules Vernes’ 20000 Leagues under the Sea. Mrs Powell once held a concert on the stage. I was dressed in a beautiful silk chinese outfit complete with pigtail and seated on a horse. Danie Smuts, who was covered by a grey blanket, was the horse. I sang the following song: "Ching chong chinaman, muchie muchie sad". I could not, for the life of me understand why everyone thought the song was so amusing. On another occasion we went to a concert in the bioscope. One of the performances was by a church choir, one of whom had had a stroke so one side of her face was paralysed. My uncle, Dick Fitch, laughed so much he was escorted out of the building.

o    I remember fishing for flatties on the riverbank with prawns outside the town hall. I caught 36 in a few hours. One got a bite before the sinker hit the bottom. I wonder when last the river was in such pristine condition.
o    To get across the river to the West Beach one would walk across the flats (where the marina now stands) and call Wally the ferryman who would row the ferry across from the west bank. I still remember his face – lined and creased like beautifully oiled old leather. The charge to cross was one penny. Danie Smuts and I used to catch frogs in the swamps. And the dune forest was alive with birds of all descriptions. Incidentally there is what appeared to be old slave pit under a milkwood tree on the east side of Beach Crescent just before it reaches the dunes of the East Beach. I know of no-one who knows about it other than Basille Glanville and myself.  I have tried to find out about its history without success.

If judged by contemporary standards we would doubtless have been seen as poor. Yet we were both happy and proud – at least insofar as I was concerned. Another remarkable feature was the virtual absence of any friction between the various races and language groups, which was and is not the case elsewhere in the country and the world. I remember being shocked when I lived in New York – everyone I met was of the opinion that growing up was an awful experience they never wished to repeat. Having grown up in Port Alfred, I did not share this opinion. It was and is a very special place.

Incidentally if anyone reading this knows the whereabouts of Danie Snuts, John Harris and Winnie and Phyllis Randall, please ask them to contact me at

Alan McIver

Port Alfred is on the R72 west of East London, which is at the intersection of the N2 with the N6. Alan McIver NFHistory

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Last update: 2014-02-28 22:29
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.9

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