Chapter 3 - Sales Campaign
The only visible signs of progress in the first half of 1902 was the completion of the railway track as far as Jan Biesje's Kraal and the planting of 10 000 blue gums and 2 000 tamarisks on each side of the line. Yet the decision was taken to hold the first sale of Milnerton plots, 1 160 in number.
Hitherto the ordinary Cape Town public had known little of the enterprise; now a policy of intensified publicity was inaugurated. Not only were there announcements in the newspapers, involving, by January 23, 1903, the then substantial expenditure of £261 12s, but, at least one very unusual other channel was attempted, the secretary being instructed to "approach the manager of the Operatic Company with a view to obtaining an advertisement on the curtain on the night previous to the sale".
Typical of the methods used is an entry on January 30, 1903, in the "Cape Register", a local weekly.
"UNDER THE HAMMER. . .
THE MILNERTON ESTATES LIMITED.
"The difficulty of obtaining sites for warehousing the rapidly-growing import trade is being generally realised. Ground space at pounds per foot is a handicap under which the Cape commercial importer cannot be expected to prosper. But as wholesale warehouses demand peculiar positions for transport and railway conveniences, it is becoming daily more difficult for merchants to acquire suitable sites. Consequently the sale of 119 splendidly-situated business stands along a quarter of a mile of frontage to the Main Road between Salt River and the Maitland Bridge is an event of some importance. Directly parallel to the main line of Railway and the new siding accommodation contemplated on the Outspan* opposite, the Milnerton Estates property occupies a distinctly advantageous position for the erection of warehouses for the storage of imports for the upcountry trade.
"The size of the stands ranges from 100 feet by 50 feet and upwards, and keen competition may be expected. Messrs. J. J. Hofmeyr & Son will wield the hammer at 10.30 a.m. next Thursday, February 5, on the spot, and a big attendance of the investing public is expected."
On February 4, the “Cape Argus”, in an historic article, announced: “Perhaps the finest and best-situated estate in the suburbs is that lying between the main line of railway, beyond Salt River Station, and known as the Milnerton Estates. Looking at the property from a distance, or form a passing train, it appears to be quite infertile waste, in fact, marshy, but on closer inspection, such as was afforded the representatives of the Press yesterday morning, this impression is altogether dispelled and, instead of a vast stretch of barren land, one finds an expanse of rich soil, planted advantageously with abundant trees, and irrigated by the river, which cuts right across it, a land capable of and eminently lending itself to cultivation, development and improvement.
"The phrase, 'capable of development' may perhaps suggest a vague indefiniteness, but there need be no uncertainty about its development, for many a large sum has already been expended by the proprietor in effecting improvements.
"The extent of the estate may be judged by the fact that on the Main Road from Maitland it has a frontage of four miles, on the Diep River a frontage of five miles, and it sweeps round the shores of the Bay for a frontage of four and a half miles, beginning a little beyond Woodstock, reaching out to a point beyond where the wreck of the "Hermes" now lies. The estate also possesses, or rather will, when need requires it to possess, excellent facilities for reaching town.
"The proprietors have already laid a railway line, branching off from the Cape Government Railways at Woodstock, and running right through the property. This line has been laid up to about the centre of the Estate and three miles more are required to complete it. The Railway Department will work the line, and, as soon as ever building commences, trains will be run for the transportation of supplies according to requirements. When the houses have been finished and they have begun to be occupied, Morning, Lunch and Evening trains will be run, and this service will be further improved, as necessity demands.
"The Diep River runs through the estate and it is intended to pile the river banks and, by erecting a weir, to exclude salt water from the sea, while providing an outlet for the stormwater, thereby keeping the water in the river entirely fresh, and rendering it particularly suitable for boating. When it is remembered that nowhere in the vicinity of Cape Town have we a fresh river, or indeed one which is in any way suitable for boating, the advantages afforded by this scheme will be readily appreciated.
"These, however, are but a few of the contemplated developments of the property, as the whole estate has been mapped out in roads, public parks, municipal offices etc. with all the adjuncts of a modern model township.
"As regards the view afforded by the situation, seldom, indeed, is one so striking and artistic. Looking seawards, the ocean, dotted with craft, stretches far away, until the skies, as it were, fall down as a screen and shut out a further expanse of rolling, heaving and tossing seas, which one knows is there, yet cannot see. Turning towards Cape Town one beholds a beautiful panorama of the city, snugly nestling at the foot of the mighty Mountain, which in its stern grandeur forms a striking background, lovely in its natural ruggedness. In the far corner one sees the Docks, the masts of the shipping scarcely discernible in the distance, and by them rise the tops of the higher and more prominent buildings. Looking backwards along the road travelled from Maitland, the Mountain again presents itself to view, gently led up by the rising slopes, and now standing alone and unrelieved, its jagged tops lined bold behind the fleecy clouds that dot the blue sky.
"As a residential quarter the Estate possesses the exceptional advantage of being within easy reach of the city, while lying at the shores of the Bay, almost fringing the ocean, from which the healthy invigorating and cooling sea breeze is wafted up."
Then came the climax of the article:
"For the first time the proprietors of the Milnerton Estate have decided to place a portion of it on the market, as an initial step, and on Thursday next, February 5, Messrs. J. J. Hofmeyr & Sons, auctioneers, Hout Street, will put up 119 plots, suitable for business or residential sites, for public auction. These plots possess the additional advantage of being, of the whole Estate, the nearest to the railway, situated as they are on the Main Road, just beyond Salt River Station. Their value is further enhanced by the fact that the Government have acquired all the land in the immediate vicinity for railway works and extensions, so that stores may be transported direct from the Docks, almost to one's door with the utmost facility.
"It will be seen from the above remarks that a great future lies before the Milnerton Estate as a township, and the plots to be offered next Thursday, situated as they are so near the town and affording such convenience, present an excellent opportunity to the investor, who may one day wake up to find a large and populous township surrounding his holding, and, needless to say, enhancing its value."
The first actual bid was received, a fortnight before the event, from Carl Jeppe personally, when he offered to buy a block of stands at £200 each, provided that he be allowed the choice. Unfortunately for him his colleagues of the Board decided that his proposition "be not accepted".
What might be described as a matter of conscience also came into the picture, when somebody suggested the sale plan should show the "old roads", indicating a denser system of communications. A compromise was reached - they should be shown "but marked as being disused and abandoned". On the other hand there was at least one private road, officially opened by the Maitland Municipality and running from "the bridge at Salt River to the house at Paarden Island", indicating how empty the neighbourhood still was.
Stimulated by these and other pieces of propaganda there was a good turnout at the auction, which took place still under the effects of the prevailing wartime boom.
Out-of-hand offers were now also coming in, including a request for at least one enterprise not likely to be regarded as an amenity, namely a guano store. Prices quoted ranged from £160 to £200 per lot, but it does not appear that any business resulted.
Behind a transaction in March 1903 lay a remarkable piece of South African commercial history. Messrs Weil & Co. purchased two blocks of land on Paarden Island on which they proposed to erect "a pier for the discharge of goods". These goods turned out to be petroleum, and it so happened that Julius Weil, head of the firm, was the nephew of Mr Marcus Samuel in London, the future Lord Bearsted. In closing the deal it was specially recorded: "The Company will give all the assistance it can to promote the interests of the Shell Oil Company". This step marked the advent of the great corporation in South Africa.
Encouraged by the commencement of actual sales, E. R. Syfret, on behalf of Sammy Marks, placed additional funds at the Company's disposal, thereby enabling Milnerton Estates to pay, among other things, for the provision of water from Cape Town, for the construction of roads, and for the building of a retaining wall along the Diep River. So too, in the realm of communications it was decided, apart from the railway to the completion of which everyone was looking forward, to acquire from a Mr B. Gunn, for the reasonable sum of £15, a pont measuring 10 feet by four feet by two feet, "complete with oars, chain and padlock".
* The Outspan referred to in this write up has been identified. It is the present parking area in Maitland, beside the Salt River and under the Black River Parkway viaduct. The Siding was probably the one formerly called Montagu Road Hall.