The Settlers’ Church: Some History in the Hills

Port Alfred has a lot of history just waiting to be explored. You could very easily sit and read books containing the old settler’s tales whilst relaxing at Green Fountain Farm Resort, or why not take a drive into town and see it for yourself! You might just come across this National Monument that is the 1820 Settler’s Church.

Amongst the thick bush and sand hills on the east bank of the Kowie River at Port Frances (now known as Port Alfred) this historic church was opened, only six years after the landing of the 1820 settlers. It was constructed by James and Alexander McPhail, who were two 1820 settlers from Edinburgh.

It is said to be the only church that has been continuously used ever since the first stalwart settlers built it. The first service was preached by the Reverend William Shaw and one can still attend the services held there, although not by the original Reverend clearly! The original roof was constructed of thick thatch, the walls were built of rough stones and the floor was made of dried mud.

The Settler’s Church – This image is courtesy of

This small house of prayer, being the only church for a great many miles, was at first used by all denominations and the settlers came long distances to worship here. They called it the “Bush Church”. During the turbulent times of the Frontier Wars some of the settlers used it as a place of refuge, but it was devastated by fire. The church was burnt out on 25th December 1834 during the Sixth Frontier War. It was re-built and re-opened in November 1840 when Reverend Shaw again preached the first sermon. Six years later on 1st May 1846, during the War of the Axe, the church was again burnt down. It was restored in 1850, the building was now roofed with iron, the walls were strengthened and for a while a portion of it was used as a dwelling. During the Anglo Boer War it housed a refugee family from 1900-1901. Then in 1974 it was named a National Monument where it stands today in perfect condition.

Between the picturesque old church and the neatly kept Settler’s Cemetery alongside, stands the ancient church bell, which came from a long forgotten shipwreck. The adjoining cemetery contains, apart from those of early settlers, the six graves of servicemen from the Second World War and more recent graves of citizens from the local community.

The Settler’s Church is about 2km from Port Alfred and it is a gem of history that the whole family can enjoy and if you get there early enough on a Sunday you may find your place at one of their weekly services.