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The Town Council:
A brief history

An overview from 1873 to 1914

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The East London Town Council went through three distinct phases between the years 1873 and 1914.

First, there was a triennial Municipal Board from 1873 to 1881, during which time there were two wards: Ward 1 -- West Bank and Ward 2 -- East Bank.

Then followed an incorporated Municipal Council as initiated by the East London Incorporation Act of 1880. This would last from 1881 till 1896. There were now three wards, with Ward 2 splitting in two -- the division being at Union Street.

The East London Municipal Act of 1895 ushered in yet another era from 1896 through to 1914. During this period, Ward 3 was divided into North End and Ward 4, being Southernwood and the Quigney.

In 1914, East London surrendered its current municipal status in favour of the new Municipal Ordinance of the Cape Province. At the same time, the town was promoted to the status of a city.


Proclamation No. 37 of 1873 created a municipality with a Board consisting of five commissioners: three for the West Bank (the original East London, now forming Ward 1) and two for the East Bank (formerly the village of Panmure, now forming Ward 2.

These commissioners served on a triennial basis. After three years in office, all the commissioners retired en bloc and new elections were held.

The elections were conducted at a public meeting. Nominations would be called for, and the voting held by a simple show of hands.

At first the Chairman was also chosen for the duration of the triennial period but, in 1877, an alteration in the regulations made the chairmanship an annual office.

Elections under the triennial system were held in May 1873, February 1877 and February 1880. In 1877 the number of commissioners was increased to ten, with five representing each ward.


The Incorporation Act of July 1880 altered the triennial system to allow for greater continuity. The Council no longer retired en bloc but individual councillors retired on the basis of one per ward per year.

The number of wards was increased to three. West Bank remained unchanged but East Bank was divided in half, the boundary being Union Street.

The southern ward kept the title "East Bank" while the northern ward was called "Panmure" -- not to be confused with the original village by that name.

The wards had four councillors each. In the third year, therefore, two councillors per ward retired. The elections themselves were now conducted by secret ballot and the Chairman was from henceforth to be known as the Mayor.


The Municipal Act of 1895 increased the number of wards to four: West Bank, East Bank, North End, Southernwood / Quigney). Each had three councillors.

The system of staggered elections was maintained but, because of the reduction of one seat per ward, a uniform triennial election could be held with one member per ward retiring each year.

The introduction of an extra ward meant that all councillors had to retire in February 1896 and fresh elections were therefore held.

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