Did you know?
The Port Elizabeth Museum provided snake serum for World War II Allied Forces serving in North Africa.
The Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld had decidedly lacklustre beginnings back in 1856 when few of the town’s 7000 residents could be bothered with historical collections. However, 50 years later, a firecracker museum director called Mr FW Fitzsimons turned it into a dynamic space.
Suddenly, the formerly fast-asleep and run-down museum was offering intriguing exhibitions of live snakes and something called a ‘magic lantern show’ – silent movies in their early stage, complete with a piano player providing the sound track from the side of the room.
In fact, the snakes were so popular that a dedicated Snake Park was built on the new museum grounds and the first handler became a bit of a legend. Snakes bit him at least once a year and yet he stayed in that job for three decades until old age claimed his life.
Then it was decided that a seal pool should be built on the premises. But, as lovely and sleek as a moustachioed seal can be, he is also a bit of a smelly fellow – and likes to bicker and bark a lot. The locals living around the museum objected so bitterly to the noise and smells coming from the Seal Pool that they went to court and had the creatures ousted from the museum.
Today, the Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld is no less intriguing. Its exhibits include 1908-era dinosaur models and 1928 human anatomical models, one of the cannons brought up from the wreck of the Sacramento, bones of whales, an array of smoking pipes, historical outlines of the San and the Khoi and a memorable recreation of the very large herbivorous dinosaur called the Algoasaurus.
Outside is a Dinosaur Park where the exhibits occasionally move and groan, to the delight of the children playing around them. And then there’s the Snake Park section, ever popular, complete with turtles, terrapins, a large array of safely stored snakes and a rather baleful-looking crocodile in its enclosure.
Behind the scenes at the Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld is probably where the real action is. That’s the rather impressive series of research projects constantly on the go, ranging from investigations in various aspects of marine life to snake studies to projects focusing on marine archaeology, including the many shipwrecks along the coastline of the Eastern Cape province.