Port Elizabeth owes its origin and development to the arrival of British settlers in 1820. Sir Rufane Donkin was the Acting Governor of the Cape at the time, and he changed the name of Algoa Bay to Port Elizabeth in memory of his deceased wife, Lady Elizabeth Donkin, who had died at Murat, in Upper Hindustan, on 21 August 1818, before his secondment in South Africa. Shortly after the arrival of British settlers in the Bay, Donkin had a pyramid of stone built on the hill above the harbour, and established a reserve of about 4 hectares around its base. It was declared a National Monument under old NMC legislation on 8 July 1938.
The life of Sir Rufane Donkin is a remarkable and honourable one. Sir Rufane Donkin was born in 1773 and died in Southampton England in 1841. He was born of a military family, his father Robert Donkin was a greatly respected General.
Sir Rufane Donkin Joined the army at the age of five under his father's command and later served in the 11th Light Foot and the 44th Light Foot Regiment. In 1793 he received the rank of Captain, 1776 Major and at the age of 25 was promoted to the rank of Lt General.
He lead a Battalion with distinction and received the KCB. Later the British government deployed him in India. He was in active service in the West Indies in 1794 and in the Ostand expedition. He honoured his country and served wherever they required him.
His life is also one of romance and undying love. He married Elizabeth Markham in Yorkshire under a traditional organised marriage which was the custom in those times for the social upper classes. But Sir Rufane Donkin truly fell in love with his beautiful young wife. In most cases the wives of high ranking military officials stayed at home while their husbands were abroad. However Elizabeth Donkin chose to be with her husband and traveled with him to India where she was to become seriously ill, and died in August 1818 after their first son George David was born.
The effect on Sir Rufane Donkin after her death was immense, and to such an extent was placed on leave from his post, however he was given the task of organising the 1820 Settlers in Port Elizabeth. He was officially the first governor of PE from the 6 June 1820 - 1821. His wife Elizabeth was buried in Meerut in India but her heart was embalmed at his request.
On his return to England he married Anna Maria Elliot in 1832, but the loss of his first love lay heavily on his soul, and in August 1841 he committed suicide. His father died the same year in March just before the death of his son. Sir Rufane Donkin was buried along with the embalmed heart of his wife. Love it is said is as strong as death!
Sir Rufane Donkin built a memorial to his wife Elizabeth known as the Donkin Memorial atop a hill above the city center and named the city, Port Elizabeth, in her memory.
The Donkin Reserve is open to all in perpetuity according to his will.
At the end of his military career he spent his life in political and literary work. He became a member of the Royal Society and other learned bodies. He became a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society to name just a few of his achievments. Port Elizabeth is proud of the heritage passed on to us by Sir Rufane Donkin from which all PE's citizens have benefited.
www.sahistory.org.za › Biographies