When I first saw the photograph with this prominent sign on the building in North End, presumably Queen Street, advertising “Richardson’s Wool Washery and Carbonising Works”, I was perplexed. How does the process of carbonising operate and why is it performed?
I sent my ever-willing technical editor scurrying off to answer another inane question and this is the result.
After badgering the authorities since the mid-1850s, finally a dream would come true for Port Elizabeth, the quintessential triumph of the human spirit over adversity. An enclosed harbour would finally be constructed instead of cargo being transshipped in fragile surfboats to and from ships in the roadstead. Churning wind-swept seas prevented transfer of cargo for days at a time and in the windy October month, weeks could be lost. Despite the primitive nature of this method, Port Elizabeth held records as the most productive roadstead “port” in the world. Like the hansom cab being supplanted by the car, so the roadstead would be replaced by quays, breakwater and the accoutrements of quayside loading and unloading.
To celebrate this transition, a festival entitled Harbour Day was organised for Saturday 28th October 1933.
Main picture: Ceremony on the opening of the Charl Malan Quay. The H.M.S. Dorsetshire was the first vessel to dock at this quay
Large quantities of rock and stone are only required for extensive civil engineering projects. The first project to require such quantities was the construction of the abortive breakwater in the 1860s. Even greater quantities were required for the new breakwater and quays in the 1920s and 1930s.
With the second and third wave of buildings on the southern side of Main Street, copious quantities of rock were generated. As this construction did not coincide with harbour construction and an alternative use could not be found for this material, it was merely dumped into the Baakens Lagoon, converting the lagoon into a narrow canalised stream.
Main picture: Thomas Bowler’s painting the railway line ferrying stone from the quarry in St. Mary’s cemetery to the breakwater being constructed south of the Baakens River. Interestingly, the painting shows the rail link running through the graveyard.
In the era prior to the introduction of income tax, the major source of revenue for the fledgling town and colony, apart from the levying of tolls, was derived from the collection of customs duties which were levied on all incoming sea freight.
Probably in an effort to thwart corruption, but also to reflect their status, customs officials eventually earned the highest emoluments of all civil servants during the early colonial era.
Main picture: The Customs House on reclaimed land in Jetty Street
Whatever else could be said about the British Settlers, one could not denigrate them for lack of initiative, determination and drive. By nature John Centlivres Chase, an original 1820 Settler, was an entrepreneur who explored all opportunities of advancement. On a recent trip to Cape Town, he had paid a visit to the recently completed Simon’s Town patent slipway. Being impressed by it, he had taken the opportunity in 1860 to approach the marine engineer involved, Robert Mair, with a view to replicating this slipway in Port Elizabeth.
One aerial photograph taken in 1935 shows how the construction of the new harbour was progressing and the sequence of operations. This blog examines this photo in detail with explanations provided by Blaine McCleland.
Main picture: Aerial view of the harbour with the breakwater almost complete, stub jetty and the construction of the Charl Malan just commencing
Clearly the construction of the breakwater had commenced many years previously given the fact that it was largely completed already. In fact it had been commenced in 1922 and was largely complete by 1935. Note the huge Titan crane, also known as block-setting cranes, still in operation placing gigantic cement blocks into the water. The Titan block setting crane is parked at its spot on the breakwater after finishing its back breaking task of building the breakwater. Apart from possibly moving a few times to assist in various building projects on that side such as the ore terminal, tanker berth, etc, it remained an iconic feature until 1973.
More interestingly, Blaine notes “how the breakwater was built offset from Dom Pedro so as not to interfere with wharf operations as it would be critical having lost the cranes on the north side of the North Jetty.”
Lastly, in ten years very little sand had accumulated against the breakwater. This is probably a consequence of the fact that the first portion of breakwater was in fact an extension of the Dom Pedro jetty which permitted the flow of the northerly current through this area. Only once the jetty was replaced with a concrete breakwater, did the accumulation of sand commence.
The “stub” jetty
This curiosity arose during the construction of the quays. The only plausible explanation for its erection according to Blaine, is to serve as a passenger landing jetty given the loss of the North Jetty whose prime function was the offloading of passengers.
With the completion of the first full berth on the Charl Malan quay, the stub jetty (red ellipse on the photo 2 below) was surplus to requirements and they just built the approaches to No. 2 Quay right over it. Quite rude of them. They must have salvaged the decking but left the pilings to rot as they were too must trouble to extract. Knowing that it was temporary they probably used untreated wood of inferior quality, after all, they had lots of experience with that problem when the built the original jetties.
The South Jetty
While the North Jetty served as the passenger terminal and hence garnering all the attention and limelight, the workhorse jetties viz the Dom Pedro and the South, went unnoticed. In the more than 50 photos of the jetties that I possess, less than half a dozen photos relate to these two jetties. From an economic perspective, these two jetties and the landing beaches were the main income generators of the harbour until the Charl Malan Quay was completed.
Charl Malan Quay
There was another block setting crane (blue ellipse) used on the Charl Malan Quay. It has been labelled as the Goliath crane to distinguish it from the Titan crane. They were both built by Stothert and Pitt and the names have been used interchangeably for both of them. A crane of this type was supplied for construction in the Table Bay Harbour in the mid 1920’s. The cranes were highly specialized and once the construction was completed, they were often broken up and moved somewhere else. It is possible that it ended up in Port Elizabeth.
Finally, one has got to feel for the lighters huddled between the South Jetty and the Breakwater. Just like the dinosaurs, they experienced a cataclysmic environmental change and became superfluous overnight.
What struck me about the pandemic in the UK is that the infections in their 2 nd wave are running at roughly 10x the 1st wave yet their daily death rates are only slightly higher. I don’t wish to theorise about why that is so, but what I did find significant is how their death rate visually correlated exceptionally well to their hospitalization rate.
North Jetty served as the principal jetty of the Port Elizabeth harbour from 1870 to the early 1930s. A quick view of this jetty reveals a minute useable working area supported by 10 cranes. How did this jetty handle all the passenger cargo especially during the first 3 decades of the 20th century and how does its size compare with that of a modern ship tied up alongside it?
Instead of merely adding some minor technical detail to my blogs, my brother, being the Technical Editor, has ventured out and written a whole article. He always has the knack of examining the minutiae of photographs and in doing so, discovers unnoticed anomalies or points of contention or interest.