You Set my Heart Alight

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Monday, 1st February 2021

Article by Marguerite Smit


Valentines Day Mosaic

“You set alight, in my heart and mind the most beautiful chaos”. ~ Atticus


While Romeo and Juliet may think they’ve cornered the valentine-couple’s market, there are other closer to home love stories to be found. One of which has some significance to the Bay, but we have to go back in time a little, to the early 1800’s.

Our hero was a distinguished chap, a Captain at the age of 20, Major at 23 and Lieutenant-Colonel by just 25! Sir Rufane Donkin was a respected bloke with a bright military future!

In 1815 Donkin married his sweetheart, Elizabeth and the couple departed for India where Donkin was to be stationed. 3 years later, Elizabeth gave birth to their son George David, who was born in December 1817. Unfortunately, their happiness is short lived, and in August 1818 tragedy struck. Elizabeth, who had never fully recovered from the birth of their son, fell ill and died of a fever. Donkin was absolutely devastated and, in his despair and grief had Elizabeth’s heart embalmed, vowing to carry it with him always.

Donkin and his toddler son George, left for England shortly after the burial. He was then offered the role of Governor of the Cape Colony between 1820 and 1821. His main responsibility was to oversee the landing of the 1820 settlers at Algoa Bay. Donkin renamed the bay after his beloved Elizabeth and that people is how Port Elizabeth got her name!

Donkin’s love for Elizabeth didn’t stop there, he walked out onto a hill overlooking the ocean and commissioned a stone pyramid be built in that exact spot. He inscribed the pyramid with a message; “To the memory of one of the most perfect of human beings, who has given her name to the town below.” – Quite ironic that a town be named in her honour, a town she would never see, a continent she would never visit, only her heart was privy to that joy.


Port Elizabeth Donkin Memorial


Although Donkin later remarried, he never recovered from Elizabeth’s death. On May 01, 1841 he committed suicide on what would have been their 26th wedding anniversary. He was buried with Elizabeth’s embalmed heart. They were finally reunited in death.

Urban myth would have you believe her heart is buried beneath that pyramid cast from stone, sitting up on that hill. Fitting also, considering how sad her short life had become. The melancholy of a mother forced by fever to give up her son, could only leave a heart cast from stone. No matter which story you believe, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to visit one of our most iconic features. Pack a picnic basket, take in the view and think of the journey Elizabeth’s heart embarked on when marrying Donkin.

The iconic Donkin Reserve forms an integral part of Nelson Mandela Bay’s attractions, and the story of Rufane and Elizabeth is not its only attraction, but head on over and explore, it has even more to offer.


The chair lady of the Donkin - Port Elizabeth


Pyramid and mosaic in the Donkin Reserve Port Elizabeth