Port Elizabeth of Yore: Harbour Day on Saturday 28th October 1933

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

Modern supplants the archaic

Whether the 1820 Settlers embarked on their 3-month voyage to Algoa Bay from Deptford docks in London or Passage West outside Cork in Ireland, it was always via a gangplank from the jetty to the ship. Little did these adventurers realise that their litany of woes in their adopted homeland would commence when they disembarked at the wind-swept sandy hamlet of Algoa Bay, then a sub-district of Uitenhage. From bobbing ships, they were compelled to scramble down into unstable surfboats. From there they were taken to the shore and “transferred” onto the shoulders of Captain Evatt’s men on the final passage to the shore. These soldiers were later replaced by half-naked khoi. After nine years, the port acquired its first piece of equipment when in January 1829, a flagstaff was lent to the Port Captain for use in the port.

1822 PE Algoa Bay Cape of Good Hope by William John Huggins with buildings specified

The challenges arrayed against the townsfolk were manifold. Foremost amongst them was the lack of any form of accommodation or sustenance. The whole of the area from the Glutchways west of Schoenmakerskop to Shark River in Happy Valley was covered with swirling uninhabitable driftsands. The “national road” to the Mother City clawed its way up the shallowest gradient with the least kloof-like attributes being Donkin Street, then a stream. Reaching the plateau, travellers would report that the journey to Van Stadens was desolate.

Despite a poor prognosis for survival, the hardy inhabitants persevered and thrived. By 1855 the requirement for protection for the shipping had become paramount. Various proposals had been raised and rejected and towards the end of 1855 a commencement was made with the construction of a breakwater on the northern side of the reef which runs to the south of the Baakens River.  

Fate of this scheme

According to the SAR&H Magazine dated November 1933, the fate of this scheme was as follows:

The breakwater was not intended to be a very large affair and the commissioners “did not apprehend that the entire structure would exceed twenty to twenty-five thousand pounds.” The original scheme was, however, augmented from time to time, and in 1867, when the work was finally completed, the breakwater extended 1,400 feet seawards with a shield 370 feet long running in a northerly direction from its extremity. This protection provided a safe harbour for two or three vessels up to 600 tons. Unfortunately, the idea proved a complete failure owing to sand silt, and the heavy flooding of the Baakens River in September and November 1867, rendered the harbour useless. There was no option, therefore, but to remove the breakwater. The sand drift mentioned subsequently became an important factor in giving consideration to later schemes.

In other words, it did not end well. If one casts a cold light on it, it is apparent that what the project lacked was managers with proper project management skills. If that cold light had been cast even briefly by a qualified maritime engineer, might not the complexity of the various water flows have been unmasked and an appropriate solution offered?  Compounding the misery was the fact that it took ten years in which to demolish this breakwater. Removal of all the rock and stone quarried in the St. Mary’s cemetery was infinitely more backbreaking that tipping a load of stone from a railway truck. Much irate gnashing of teeth must have been heard over those years as countless tons of rock had to be removed one at a time.   

First breakwater

The grim irony of this desire for haste on this project was a political establishment in Cape Town which refused to be tarnished by these travails for another fifty years. World renowned maritime experts such as Coode were employed to provide a solution. Given carte blanche in an effort to obviate further travails, money and scale was no objective until the Cape Parliament baulked. The preposterous proportions of the proposed scheme which would encompass an area from North End to Humewood put a spoke in the wheel. According to the SAR&H Magazine, “In 1897, Messrs. Coode, Son & Matthews prepared a harbour scheme which was destined to play a very important part in the discussions and plans of later years. It comprised a south pier, 4,600 feet long, starting from the end of the Dom Pedro Jetty with an eastern breakwater 2,700 feet long in continuation of the pier, the pier to be equipped on the inside with wharves, sheds, cranes, and railway lines. Opposite to this was to be a northern pier 5,300 feet long equipped similarly to the south pier, with a breakwater 1,700 feet in length. The breakwaters converged and gave an entrance 1,000 feet wide with an enclosed area 800 acres in extent.”

Interim solution

In the 1870s and 1880s various harbour schemes were projected and discarded, after due consideration of their merits. The dismal failure of the first breakwater had been a sobering lesson for all parties concerned. Instead of developing a harbour with all the bells and whistles, it would now be developed piece-meal. However with no precise goal in mind the end result would never incorporate components which were ultimately critical to the ultimate solution such as a breakwater to create an enclosed basin. What these solutions did address were certain short-term problems without addressing the larger issue of transshipment of cargoes in the roadstead using lighters. As this method precluded the shipment of bulk items such as fruit, the Port Elizabeth harbour would lose such freight to more suitable harbours in the Union.

North Jetty in 1893

The cheap and nasty solutions advocated included three open pile-work jetties, the North Jetty (1,162 feet long), the South Jetty (1,152 feet long), and the Dom Pedro Jetty (1,462 feet long).  All were equipped with cranes and railway lines but were designed to accommodate lighters plying to vessels anchored in the roadstead and not for ocean-going vessels to dock alongside them.

By the 1920s, this solution was rightly regarded as totally archaic and that realisation was the endorsement or shot-in-the-arm which would vaccinate the politicians against further angst regarding harbour development. Further delay would be a serious indictment on the political masters as by then all South African harbours except insignificant ones such as Port Nolloth had been upgraded.

North Jetty in 1893

The Final Solution

In an article entitled Improvements in the Harbour, the SAR&H Magazine of September 1932 describes what the final version of these plans were. Instead of addressing all the aspects simultaneously, a more cautious approach was adopted.   

Going out to the Mail Boat in a south-easter

In 1929, as the result of repeated requests for something to be done in order to assist in the handling of the growing traffic, the Chief Civil Engineer recommended that the Dom Pedro Jetty should be closed in with steel sheet piling and the foreshore between the Baakens River and the Dom Pedro reclaimed and approximately 2,000 feet of quayage constructed in that area. The objects of closing the Dom Pedro Jetty were two-fold. Firstly, owing to a northward drift of sand on the south side of the jetty, sand would accumulate and form an area of still water which would be a protection for the jetty and, secondly, the piling would obviate the heavy expenditure in connection with repairs to the jetty, which repairs were becoming very necessary.

It was considered  that the provision of the quayage mentioned and its equipment with cranes, warehouses, etc., would relieve the position until such time as a complete new scheme could be undertaken, and at the same time would be so located as to form part of the harbour basin.                                                                         ·

These recommendations were agreed to, and operations were commenced accordingly, good progress being made with the closing in of the jetty, dumping of concrete blocks on the south side being resorted to instead of the sheet piling referred to above.

Queen Mary 2 compared to the North Jetty

Meanwhile the breakwater was gradually nosing its way further and further into the bay, and an argument was put forward that it was uneconomical to continue with its construction unless at the same time a commencement was made with the north pier and harbour basin itself.

Many schemes were prepared, and much consideration was given to each plan and idea that was conceived, but every scheme mean the expenditure of a tremendous amount of money, and, naturally, the Authorities required to be satisfied that the expenditure was justified.

Aerial photo showing the completed breakwater, Charl Malan Quay

At the beginning of this year, however, a revised scheme was submitted to Parliament, and this was after due consideration agreed to and permission given for work to be commenced.

The illustration published herewith gives a general idea of the proposed scheme, but several amendments have been made thereto. these, however, have not altered the general layout to any very great extent.

In brief, the scheme consists of the provision of an enclosed basin to be constructed under the shelter of the existing breakwater. The works, which are proposed to be carried out, immediately, will provide 4,300 feet of quayage and a dredged basin of 109 acres, but if quays are provided parallel to the foreshore and the Eastern Arm, ultimately the basin will provide 10,000 feet of quayage and 65 acres of water area.

Quays 1, 2 & 3 under construction

The construction of the North Arm will be the largest item in the building of the new harbour basin. The present North Jetty will be turned into a solid structure and will form the commencement of the North Arm. The construction of the North Arm will provide three deep-water berths and a total quayage of 2,200 feet. The quay will be equipped with three sheds 500 feet long by 70 feet wide, 16 electric wharf cranes, railway and road facilities, arrangements for the supply of water to ships, etc.

Titan crane laying concrete blocks

Opposite the quay an area of 80 acres will be dredged to 3.5 feet below L.W.O.S.T. [Low Water Ordinary Spring Tides] for the manoeuvring of vessels to these berths – this can ultimately be dredged to 36 and 40 feet if required. In order to protect this arm a, rubble mole will require to be constructed.

The Eastern Arm of the basin will be formed by a mole composed of rubble and five­ ton concrete blocks built inside the breakwater and extending towards the North Arm, thus forming the entrance to the basin. If it is found necessary at some future date to provide more berths, a quay wall can be built parallel to the west side of this mole, thus providing 2,000 feet of deep-water berths inside the basin. In addition, if desirable, an oil tanker berth could be built on the outside of the mole.

Titan Crane on Charl Malan Quay

The South Arm of the basin will be constructed parallel to the   Dom Pedro Jetty, and will provide one berth 500 feet long with a depth of 80 feet and l ,6i00 feet of deep-water berths. The whole quay will be equipped with four sheds, 360 feet long by 70 feet wide, 16 electric wharf cranes, railway, road and other facilities. An adjoining area of 29 acres for handling ships will be dredged to a depth of 30 feet below L.W.O.S.T.

Portion of the foreshore is to be reclaimed between the Dom Pedro and South Jetties in order to permit of the rearrangement of the existing road and railway facilities and also to provide suitable approaches to the South Arm.

Constructing the Charl Malan Quay

It is proposed to build the North Arm and Eastern Arm as the first portion of the scheme, and this will be followed by the construction of the South Arm and foreshore approaches.

Whilst the improvements are being  carried out, all lighterage work will be handled at the present South Jetty, and this jetty will continue to be used for this purpose until the handling of cargo by lighters ceases altogether. The completion of this revised scheme will, of course, take years, but the programme will be so arranged that benefit will be derived from the work as each definite stage is reached. It is totally unnecessary to emphasise what his protected harbour will mean to Port Elizabeth. Apart from the extra revenue it will derive from. wharf dues, etc., there is also the further field of traffic which will be created. In the past Port Elizabeth has lost much trade in commodities which are shipped in bulk, such as maize, oil, ore which cannot be handled by lighters.”

Construction of the Charl Malan Quay only just commenced

Harbour Day

With the Herculean task of constructing an enclosed harbour ab initio underway, the authorities elected to celebrate the docking of the first ship in the harbour. Public celebrations had been in vogue in the English enclave which was Port Elizabeth. The appearance of any British royalty, however low-ranking, or other prominent persons would devolve into a celebration with bunting attached to pillars, posts and between buildings. So why not organise a Harbour Day to celebrate the most consequential event in the town’s history.

HMS Dorsetshire on 28 10 1933 opening of Charl Malan Quay

The SAR&H Magazine of November 1933 describes this celebration as follows: Lavish preparations were made to ensure the ceremony being worthy of the occasion. The City, and in particular, Jetty Street which leads to the new quay, was transformed with bunting and greenery and fairy-like electric lights. The immediate approach to the quay was lined with specially cut green trees, and two triumphal arches were erected, one at the entrance to Jetty Street and one on the quay.

In 1933 the harbour was completed and the Opening of the Charl Malan Quay sees the Mayor addressing the crowd

The festivities began with a battle of flowers which culminated  in a procession of floats symbolical of the history and development of Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Province. Many were of beautiful design and execution and included an almost perfect replica of the sailing vessel Chapman which brought the first detachment of the 1820 settlers. Among the “settlers” on board was a young child wearing the actual clothes worn by a baby who arrived on the Chapman in April 1820. The streets were so thickly lined that at times the progress of the procession was held up. Many thousands of people came by road and train. The Administration had authorised   special one-day excursions, a facility which was availed of to such an extent that special trains had to be run on the local sections.

Precisely at 1.45 p.m., detachments of the Defence Force, Cadets, Boy Scouts, Voortrekkers, Red Cross and St. John Ambulance took up positions on the quay. Shortly afterwards the mayoral party including the Hon. Oswald Pirow, Minister of Railways and Harbours, arrived in motor cars which proceeded to the entrance of the new quay, the party being received by the System Manager, J.D. White. After inspecting the guard of honour, the minister was escorted by His Worship the Mayor to dais from which the opening ceremony was to be performed. Meanwhile H.M.S. Dorsetshire was steaming majestically towards her moorings under the guidance of the tug Sir David Hunter. The scene was thrilling and will long remain in the memory of those who were fortunate enough to witness it. As the greats ship came alongside, she was escorted by three aeroplanes of the South African Air Force.

The appearance of Vice-Admiral E. R. G. R. Evans, C.B., D. S .0., Commander-in-Chief of the Africa Station on the bridge of his flagship as greeted with loud cheers from the crowd. His Grace the Archbishop of Cape Town, was on the dais, as were Mrs. C W Malan, the widow of the late Minister in whose honour the quay was named, Mr. T.H. Watermeyer (General Manager of Railways), Mr. J. D. White (System Manager), Mr. John Dock (Chairman of the Harbour Advisory Board), and other prominent persons.

To the accompaniment of the ships’ bugles, Admiral Evans came down the gangway thus being the first person to step from a ship onto the new quay. The men of the Dorsetshire were drawn up in line on the decks. After inspecting the guard of honour of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the admiral walked to the dais, amidst cheers.

The Mayor in his speech of welcome to the distinguished visitors reviewed the history of Algoa Bay. The Minister of Railways and harbours and defence, the Hon. O. Pirow was greeted with loud applause on rising to reply.

Summary

Margaret Harradine provides a summary as follows: On the 28th October 1933, Harbour Day was celebrated by the City – truly a dream come true. The Saturday began with a carnival procession, then the flagship of the Africa Station, HMS “Dorsetshire” tied up at No 1 quay. Guards of Honour and local dignitaries awaited Vice-Admiral E.R.G.R. Evans, and the new No 1 quay was offi­cially opened and named “Charl Malan” after the Minister of Railways and Harbours. There was a banquet at the Hotel Elizabeth, a ball in the Feather Market Hall and a fireworks and searchlight display. Further celebrations followed. On Sunday there were services of thanksgiving in St Mary’s and the Feather Market Hall and the cruiser was open to the public. On the Monday Vice-Admiral Evans gave a lecture on Scott’s Antarctic Expedition, in which he had taken part. He also signed the Golden Book. On 2 November 1935 a commemorative tablet was unveiled on the Charl Malan Quay.

Sources

https://railways.haarhoff.co.za/issue/447/page/3
https://railways.haarhoff.co.za/issue/413/page/28
https://railways.haarhoff.co.za/issue/456/page/63

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton (Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).

Thesis of Jon Inggs, “Liverpool of the Cape: Port Elizabeth Harbour Development 1820-70“, MA thesis, Rhodes University, 1986

Opening of the Charl Malan Quay – Article in the SAR&H Magazine dated November 1933.

In the presence of a distinguished company and thousands of citizens and visitors, the ceremony of tying up the first ship at the Charl Malan Quay on 28th October, brought to fruition the first stage of a comprehensive scheme which will change the Port of Algoa Bay from an open roadstead into a modern enclosed harbour.

Lavish preparations were made to ensure the ceremony being worthy of the occasion. The City, and in particular, Jetty Street which leads to the new quay, was transformed with bunting and greenery and fairy-like electric lights. The immediate approach to the quay was lined with specially cut green trees, and two triumphal arches were erected, one at the entrance to Jetty Street and one on the quay.

The festivities began with a battle of flowers which culminated in a procession of floats symbolical of the history and development of Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Province. Many were of beautiful design and execution and included an almost perfect replica of the sailing vessel Chapman which brought the first detachment of the 1820 settlers. Among the “settlers” on board was a young child wearing the actual clothes worn by a baby who arrived on the Chapman in April 1820. The streets were so thickly lined that at times the progress of the procession was held up. Many thousands of people came by road and train. The Administration had authorised               special one-day excursions, a facility which was availed of to such an extent that special trains had to be run on the local sections.

Precisely at 1.45 p.m., detachments of the Defence Force, Cadets, Boy Scouts, Voortrekkers, Red Cross and St. John Ambulance took up positions on the quay. Shortly afterwards the mayoral party including the Hon. Oswald Pirow, Minister of Railways and Harbours, arrived in motor cars which proceeded to the entrance of the new quay, the party being received by the System Manager, J.D. White. After inspecting the guard of honour, the minister was escorted by His Worship the Mayor to dais from which the opening ceremony was to be performed. Meanwhile H.M.S. Dorsetshire was steaming majestically towards her moorings under the guidance of the tug Sir David Hunter. The scene was thrilling and will long remain in the memory of those who were fortunate enough to witness it. As the greats ship came alongside, she was escorted by three aeroplanes of the South African Air Force.

The appearance of Vice-Admiral E. R. G. R. Evans, C.B., D. S .0., Commander-in-Chief of the Africa Station on the bridge of his flagship as greeted with loud cheers from the crowd. His Grace the Archbishop of Cape Town, was on the dais, as were Mrs. C W Malan, the widow of the late Minister in whose honour the quay was named, Mr. T.H. Watermeyer (General Manager of Railways), Mr. J. D. White (System Manager), Mr. John Dock (Chairman of the Harbour Advisory Board), and other prominent persons.

To the accompaniment of the ships’ bugles, Admiral Evans came down the gangway thus being the first person to step from a ship onto the new quay. The men of the Dorsetshire were drawn up in line on the decks. After inspecting the guard of honour of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the admiral walked to the dais, amidst cheers.

The Mayor in his speech of welcome to the distinguished visitors reviewed the history of Algoa Bay. The Minister of Railways and harbours and defence, the Hon. O. Pirow was greeted with loud applause on rising to reply.

This ceremony, said Mr. Pirow, marked the concluding stage of a struggle that had gone on for fifty years – a struggle between sound local opinion on the one hand and departmental and ministerial caution on the on the other. I want to congratulate Port Elizabeth very heartily on its victory”, continued the Minister. “In a way it is a pity to give Port Elizabeth these harbour facilities because I understand there was a time when Port Elizabeth held the world-record for tonnage handled by lighter in a single year. However, I understand that the people of Port Elizabeth prefer to have a safe harbour than to hold a world record. Many officials and many Ministers have handled this question of facilities for the harbour of Port E1izabeth, but there was one man who really brought matters to a head and to whom we all here pay tribute today and that is my late friend and predecessor, Mr. C. W. Malan. I personally am glad, and I know it is a source of deep gratification to all who knew him, worked with him, and loved him, to know that his name will be permanently associated with these harbour works in that No. 1 Quay has been named the Charl Malan Quay. I voice my appreciation, and I think I may say that of the Government for the brilliant way in which he handled the affairs of the South African Railways and Harbour during the whole period of his office, but especially are we appreciative of what he did for us all during the time of depression. Thanks to the sound foundation laid by him, the earnings of our railways are today on the upgrade and we can face the future once more with every degree of confidence.

I hope that the new facilities afforded by the creation of a harbour at Port Elizabeth will assist our increasing earnings. In fact, I feel sure they will assist us substantially. We all know that this matter is very largely in the hands of the Government itself, and if we can only believe the old motto of Union trade for Union ports railway earnings will increase very substantially indeed.

‘On an occasion like this, the opening of a new harbour, our thoughts turn in the direction of increased trade, but it is as well that we should bear in mind that this increased trade, which has taken years to develop and build up, may be jeopardised ‘in a very short time if war should break out. As the Mayor has referred to coastal defences, I think that it is appropriate that I should say a few words in that connection.”

After informing that gathering that the Cabinet had decided to put the coastal defences of the Union on a sound footing, the Minister described what steps would be taken and made particular reference to the redistribution of the South African Air Force with bases at Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Durban. In addition, he explained, training flights would be established to afford an opportunity to the youths of this country to qualify as Air Force officers. It would interest Port Elizabeth, as an industrial centre, to know that the aeroplanes to be put into service under the new proposal would, except for two models; be built in South Africa. The engines would still have to be imported, but the Minister hoped that the time was not far distant when this country would build its own aero engines, and perhaps Port Elizabeth may then be in a position to lay a claim to have these engines manufactured there.

In conclusion, the Minister stated that he had dealt with the matter of coastal defences in case there should be war, but we are all grateful, he said that as far as can be seen, war is further away than ever. At the same time, it would be foolish of us to rest on that assurance.

Speaking in Afrikaans, the Minister said that Port Elizabeth had received its harbour facilities after a great battle, and he wished the port every success in its efforts to establish itself as one of the great harbours, not only of South Africa but of the world. (Applause) He had pleasure in declaring the new quay open. After prayers had been offered by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Admiral Evans made his response to the Mayor’s welcome.

Opening in humorous vein, the Admiral said this was his third visit to Port Elizabeth and he had brought with him on this occasion H.M.S. Dorsetshire and her splendid company of nearly 700 seamen. He did not wish to say much about this visit, except that they were all looking forward to it because “the hospitality of you Elizabethans is traditional to those who go down to the sea in ships.”

At sea that morning he had felt very happy because the people of Port Elizabeth had allowed him to choose this day – his birthday – for the opening of the new quay. He would like to say that this was previously suggested to him by Mr. White, the System Manager. Continuing the Admiral said: “I need hardly remind you that the Navy is the cement which binds our Commonwealth of Nations together and without this cement the Empire would crumble, disintegrate and fall. We of the post-war Navy study trade problems and economics and do all in our power to assist progress and prosperity in every corner of the Empire. I hope that Harbour Day will cause South Africa to appreciate how much she owes to her harbour masters and their staffs, to the harbour engineers, and to all those quiet, efficient men who despatch her produce overseas and unload the imports which make your lives real lives worth living instead of uncomfortable existences. I am particularly glad that your principal guest, is Mr. Pirow, Minister of Defence and Railways, because his virility, energy, ability, and understanding promise so much for union and progress. Vice-Admiral Evans then read a message in Afrikaans, extending his best wishes to the city in the knowledge that, if large boats can moor at the quayside, the work of the port will be greatly facilitated, and its progress ensured. Port Elizabeth always heartily welcomed the naval marine, he stated, recognizing the value to the Merchant marine of co­operation with the Navy. South Africa possessed few harbours, and any improvement of the position was a step in the right direction.

(Loud applause)

In a short and most interesting speech, Mr. John Dock, the Chairman of the Harbour Advisory Board, accepted, on behalf of Port Elizabeth, the trust which has been laid upon them in the form of this splendid new harbour. He took the opportunity of expressing the thanks of the Board to all who had assisted towards the success of this great day, second only in importance to the day on which the 1820 settlers landed on our shores.

Miss     Heather White, daughter of the System Manager, presented a bouquet to the Mayoress, while the two daughters of the Mayor presented bouquets to Mrs. Malan and Mr. Watermeyer. The Mayoress, on behalf of the City made Mrs. Malan the recipient of a beautiful ostrich feather fan. Mr. Pirow expressed Mrs. Malan’s thanks to the City for the gift, which he accepted as a tribute to the memory of her late husband.

The ceremony concluded with a march past of units of the Defence Force and the other bodies on parade, the Minister and the Admiral taking the salute.

The arrangements made by the officials of the Administration for the berthing of the Dorsetshire and for the conduct of the ceremonies on the quay were perfect, and the officials concerned were the subjects of hearty congratulations in this regard.

HISTORICAL

The berthing of the first ship at No. l Quay is a pointer towards the goal towards which the city fathers of Port Elizabeth have striven for many decades. It does not mean, of course, that the harbour scheme is completed, or even nearing completion; there is much still to be done, and a brief review of the happenings at the port, insofar as harbour works are concerned during the past 100 years or so, is not without interest.

To-day Port Elizabeth ranks as one of South Africa’s premier ports and despite the fact that ships have been required to discharge their cargoes in an open roadstead, it has held its own in the handling of traffic to and from this country. In fact, it had on occasion held the world’s record for the amount of traffic handled in one year in an open roadstead.

As a port of call, Port Elizabeth’s beginnings dates back to before 1800, but it was not until the 19th century that its career as a port for the discharge of cargoes commenced. It was in 1809 that the first Collector of Customs was appointed, together with a Deputy Captain, who was sent for the purpose of “the better collection of revenue and the prevention of illicit traffic.” ln January 1829, a flagstaff was erected and ”lent” to the Port Captain for the use of the port.

Until July 1830, goods were landed in ordinary boats and the port authorities trusted to luck and the favour of Neptune for a safe landing. After this date surf boats were attached to the Commissariat Department.

The first mention of landing facilities for ships using the port seems to be the proposal made in 1847 to build a pile jetty extending for 100 feet beyond low water mark and protected by a transverse breakwater. The proposal was put forward for the purpose of effecting the safer and more expeditious embarkation of troops, stores and passengers. (Troops are frequently mentioned in the early records of Port Elizabeth, for it must be remembered that the first settlers in this part of the country were in continual conflict with the kaffirs. Apparently, this jetty did not eventuate for we are told that in 1858 ”there was no jetty or landing place except the shoreline. The waves broke up on the sands that now represent reclaimed grounds. There were no trees, no vegetation, sand dunes met and hurt the eye.” Passengers arriving at the port at that time were taken ashore on the backs of half-naked savages of whom it is mentioned by way of explanation that they were very adept at wading the surf.

Mariners of the old days were inclined to shun Algoa Ray as a stormy coast, and their antipathy was not easily overcome. To guide ships to safety, the first lighthouse at Port Elizabeth was erected on Bird Island in 1852. This was a wooden structure, and it was replaced by the present building in 1873.

The year 1855 marked the first definite effort to build some protection for shipping in Algoa Bay. In this year it was decided to make some endeavour to improve the harbour and there was considerable discussion as to what form these improvements would take. It must be borne in mind that there was no question of consulting any eminent engineer on the subject of a harbour scheme. However, towards the end of 1855 a commencement was made with the construction of a breakwater to provide protection for boats only, on the northern side of the reef which runs to the south of the Baakens River. The actual point was located somewhere between the present North and South Jetties.

The breakwater was not intended to be a very large affair and the commissioners “did not apprehend that the entire structure would exceed twenty to twenty-five thousand pounds.” The original scheme was, however, augmented from time to time, and in 1867, when the work was finally completed, the breakwater extended 1,400 feet seawards with a shield 370 feet long running in a northerly direction from its extremity. This protection provided a safe harbour for two or three vessels up to 6OO tons. Unfortunately, the idea proved a complete failure owing to sand silt, and the heavy flooding of the Baakens River in September and November 1867, rendered the harbour useless. There was no option, therefore, but to remove the breakwater. The sand drift mentioned subsequently became an important factor in giving consideration to later schemes.

In the ‘seventies and ‘eighties various harbour schemes were projected and discarded, after due consideration of their merits. Subsequently three open pile-work jetties, the North Jetty (1,162 feet long), the South Jetty (1,152 feet long), and the Dom Pedro Jetty (1,462 feet long), all equipped with cranes and railway lines, were built for the accommodation of lighters plying to vessels anchored in the roadstead. As a point of interest, it may be mentioned that the Dom Pedro Jetty was named after a Portuguese vessel, the Dom Pedro dugue de Porto, which was wrecked near the spot where the jetty was subsequently built.

In 1897, Messrs. Coode, Son & Matthews prepared a harbour scheme which was destined to play a very important part in the discussions and plans of later years. It comprised a south pier, 4,600 feet long, starting from the end of the Dom Pedro Jetty with an eastern breakwater 2,700 feet long in continuation of the pier, the pier to be equipped on the inside with wharves, sheds, cranes, and railway lines. Opposite to this was to be a northern pier 5,300 feet long equipped similarly to the south pier, with a breakwater 1,700 feet in length. The breakwaters converged and gave an entrance 1,000 feet wide with an enclosed area 800 acres in extent.

Two years later Mr. Alexander Brebner also submitted a proposal on similar lines to that of Messrs. Coode, Son & Matthews. In this report Mr. Brebner states, “I found that there appeared to be a general consensus of opinion that while the great desideratum for the amelioration of the natural harbour was protection from the south-east, there were other evils, mainly three, which must receive careful attention, namely, northerly currents, north-west gales, and sand travel.” These remarks helped considerably to visualise the chief factors which influenced the preparation and discussion of the various schemes projected.

Messrs. Coode, Son & Matthew’s scheme, along with a proposal by Mr. Methven to build a harbour at the mouth of the Zwartkops River, and the project prepared by Mr. Brebner were referred to a special commission of engineers consisting of Sir John Wolfe Barry, Sir William Matthews, and Mr. A. G. Lyster. The report of this commission turned down the proposals of Mr. Methven and Mr. Brebner and recommended the main proposals of Messrs. Coode, Son & Matthews, the stipulation being made, however, that both the north and south piers and breakwater should be constructed simultaneously. With their report the commission submitted two alternative projects: (1) a scheme with shed and berth accommodation on the south pier only, in the first instance, and the provision at some future date of accommodation on the north pier, in addition to well-euipped jetties for sea-going vessels projecting into the harbour between the north pier and the existing North Jetty; and (2) another proposal showing no accommodation for vessels on the south pier, and one jetty projecting into the harbour north of the existing North Jetty, whilst sheds and berthage on the north pier were to be provided in the future. Nothing, however, eventuated immediately from this report.

Then in 1911 Mr. Methven submitted a further proposal to build tidal docks at the north end, with a southern breakwater and small northern arm. Two years later there was still another scheme put forward by Colonel Nicholson. He proposed to build a south breakwater of solid sloping concrete work, starting at the end of the Dom Pedro Jetty. The discharging and loading of ships were to continue to be done by lighters behind the protection of the south breakwater. The question of providing a north breakwater and berthage for sea-going vessels were left for a later date.

The commission of engineers was again asked to report in the light of subsequent proposals, and they held, in the main, to their original recommendation.

At last, in 1914 the papers were placed before Parliament and authority was obtained for a commencement to be made with the south breakwater. The work seemed, however, to be fated, and construction was delayed by the outbreak of the European War. Operations were, of course, again continued as soon as circumstance permitted.

The complete harbour scheme, however, made very little real progress until many years after the cessation of the World War.

In 1929, as the result of repeated requests for something to be done in order to assist in the handling of the growing traffic, the Chief Civil Engineer of the S.A.R. & H put forward a scheme which would relieve the position until such time as a completely new plan could be undertaken, and recommended, as a first step, the closing in of the Dom Pedro Jetty.

Meanwhile the breakwater was gradually nosing its way further and further into the bay, and the argument was put forward that it was uneconomical to continue with its construction unless at the same time a commencement was made with the north pier and harbour basin itself.

Early in 1932, after much discussion and scheming, a complete harbour scheme was drawn up and submitted to Parliament, and approval was given for work to be commence d on the lines of this amended layout.

In brief, the scheme consisted of the construction of an enclosed harbour basin in the shelter of the south breakwater, the northern side to be formed by a quay with a protective rubble mole on the alignment of the North Jetty and rubble mole on the same alignment extending westward from the south breakwater, leaving· a wide entrance for shipping. Berthage for ships was to be arranged on all four sides of the enclosure, providing an approximate maximum quayage of 10,000 feet. It was proposed that as a first instalment 4,300 feet of this quayage should be completed and equipped.

This proposal was approved of early in the year, but in July, as the result of reports from the Harbour Engineer on difficulties experienced in dredging, and also questions raised by the nautical authorities as to whether the greatest possible safety for ships entering and leaving the harbour was provided by the accepted design, the whole internal layout was re-examined by the Chief Civil Engineer.

The re-examination revealed that by re­modelling certain features of the scheme it would be possible to effect certain improvements, the immediate advantages of which would be: (a) improved factor of safety for ships entering and leaving the harbour, (b) more comfortable berthing arrangements, (c) improved traffic facilities on shore, (d) cheaper construction costs, and (e) an increased area for manoeuvring and anchorage of vessels together with an increased area for future development. It was accordingly recommended that the revised scheme be adopted, and work is now proceeding to this plan.

Externally the revised scheme is similar to the original proposal, that is, an enclosed harbour bounded on the south and east by the breakwater and on the north by a tremendous arm with a protective rubble mole. It is inside the basin that the layout has been altered.

The main feature of the amended scheme is the provision of two quays inside the harbour basin, one along the north arm with four berths, and another, with two berths, projecting out into the harbour parallel to it. The north arm quay (No. 1) will provide deep-water berthage to the length of 2,000 feet, complete with modern facilities, and is capable of further extension, giving a total berthage of 3,400 feet. The second quay (No. 2) will be built from a reclaimed area and will provide 1,250 feet of wharfage and deep-water berths. The complete proposal provides for pre- cooling storage for the export of perishable products from this quay, but these facilities have still to be sanctioned. No. 2 quay is designed so that it can be widened at some future date should the traffic warrant it.

The layout of the harbour is modelled on modern lines so far as rail communication with the quay is concerned, and the marshalling yard and share facilities at the base of the two quays as designed will simplify traffic movements and thus reduce operating expenses to a minimum. The narrow-gauge line from Avontuur will terminate to the east of the railway station, where it will be quite as conveniently situated as at present, and a much more improved approach will be provided to the new No. 2 Quay. All transshipment of export fruit will be avoided, which will reduce handling costs considerably.

The plan published herewith shows the details of the complete scheme and gives a very clear picture of the magnitude of the undertaking and the excellent harbour with which Port Elizabeth will finally be provided. The estimated time to complete all the work, if carried through without interruption is five years. The various berths will, of course, be brought into commission as soon as the progress of the work permits. It is anticipated that cranes and shed accommodation will be available on No. 1 Quay about June 1934.

Improvements to the Harbour from SAR&H Magazine dated Sept 1932.

In the annals of South African history, Port Elizabeth is probably only second to Cape Town in historic importance, for just as Table Bay was the commencing point for the colonization of South Africa, so was Algoa Bay, through the landing of the 1820 Settlers, the first stepping-stone in the occupation and development of the Eastern Province.

When the British Settlers arrived in Algoa Bay in 1820, their ship was anchored in the roadstead and a landing was made in flat­bottomed boats. That was over a hundred years ago, and yet to-day, although Port Elizabeth has grown from strength to strength, ships still have to anchor in the roadstead and discharge their cargoes into lighters. Of course, jetties and cranes and other cargo handling facilities have appeared as the harbour grew in importance, but nevertheless the handicap of ships having to stand out in the open roadstead has remained. As traffic has increased, the magnitude of this handicap has become more and more apparent, and for many years now the commercial people have striven for the construction of a harbour wherein large ships could tie up alongside a wharf. To anyone familiar with Algoa Bay, the immensity of constructing such a protection is at once apparent. There are no protecting eminences in the Bay behind which to shelter, and in order therefore to provide a safe anchorage for ships with protection from the open sea, there is no option but to build artificial buttresses and construct the harbour behind them.

The growth of traffic during recent  years has stressed the necessity for carrying through a definite scheme and, if possible, devising such a programme as would enable facilities to be brought into use as progress was made.

A further matter which has stressed the urgency of improvements is the fact that the jetties will shortly require heavy repairs, and it is desirable, if at all possible, to avoid this expenditure.

There are three jetties at present in use at Port Elizabeth, namely (commencing from the south), the Dom Pedro Jetty, the South Jetty and the North Jetty. The breakwater commences from the end of the Dom Pedro Jetty and curves in a northerly direction.

In principle, all schemes devised in connection with an enclosed harbour for Port Elizabeth have been the same i.e., a basin formed by the breakwater on the south and east side and a pier or arm on the north side.

In 1929, as the result of repeated requests for something to be done in order to assist in the handling of the growing traffic, the Chief Civil Engineer recommended that the Dom Pedro Jetty should be closed in with steel sheet piling and the foreshore between the Baakens River and the Dom Pedro reclaimed and approximately 2,000 feet of quayage constructed in that area. The objects of closing the Dom Pedro Jetty were two-fold. Firstly, owing to a northward drift of sand on the south side of the jetty, sand would accumulate and form an area of still water which would be a protection for the jetty and, secondly, the piling would obviate the heavy expenditure in connection with repairs to the jetty, which repairs were becoming very necessary.

It was considered    that the provision   of the quayage mentioned and its equipment with cranes, warehouses, etc., would      relieve the position until such time as a complete new scheme could be undertaken, and at the same time would be so located as to form part of the harbour basin.                                                                        ·

These recommendations were agreed to, and operations were commenced accordingly, good progress being made with the closing in of the jetty, dumping of concrete blocks on the south side being resorted to instead of the sheet piling referred to above.

Meanwhile the breakwater was gradually nosing its way further and further into the bay, and an argument was put forward that it was uneconomical to continue with its construction unless at the same time a commencement was made with the north pier and harbour basin itself.

Many schemes were prepared, and much consideration was given to each plan and idea that was conceived, but every scheme mean the expenditure of a tremendous amount of money, and, naturally, the Authorities required to be satisfied that the expenditure was justified.

At the beginning of this year, however, a revised scheme was submitted to Parliament, and this was after due consideration agreed to and permission given for work to be commenced.

The illustration published herewith gives a general idea of the proposed scheme, but several amendments have been made thereto. these, however, have not altered the general layout to any very great extent.

In brief, the scheme consists of the provision of an enclosed basin to be constructed under the shelter of the existing breakwater. The works, which are proposed to be carried out, immediately, will provide 4,300 feet of quayage and a dredged basin of 109 acres, but if quays are provided parallel to the foreshore and the Eastern Arm, ultimately the basin will provide 10,000 feet of quayage and 65 acres of water area.

The construction of the North Arm will be the largest item in the building of the new harbour basin. The present North Jetty will be turned into a solid structure and will form the commencement of the North Arm. The construction of the North Arm will provide three deep-water berths and a total quayage of 2,200 feet. The quay will be equipped with three sheds 500 feet long by 70 feet wide, 16 electric wharf cranes, railway and road facilities, arrangements for the supply of water to ships, etc.

Opposite the quay an area of 80 acres will be dredged to 3.5 feet below L.W.O.S.T. [Low Water Ordinary Spring Tides] for the manoeuvring of vessels to these berths – this can ultimately be dredged to 36 and 40 feet if required. In order to protect this arm a, rubble mole will require to be constructed.

The Eastern Arm of the basin will be formed by a mole composed of rubble and five­ ton concrete blocks built inside the breakwater and extending towards the North Arm, thus forming the entrance to the basin. If it is found necessary at some future date to provide more berths, a quay wall can be built parallel to the west side of this mole, thus providing 2,000 feet of deep-water berths inside the basin. In addition, if desirable, an oil tanker berth could be built on the outside of the mole.

The South Arm of the basin will be constructed parallel to the  Dom Pedro Jetty, and will provide one berth 500 feet long with a depth of 80 feet and l ,6i00 feet of deep-water berths. The whole quay will be equipped with four sheds, 360 feet long by 70 feet wide, 16 electric wharf cranes, railway, road and other facilities. An adjoining area of 29 acres for handling ships will be dredged to a depth of 30 feet below L.W.O.S.T.

Portion of the foreshore is to be reclaimed between the Dom Pedro and South Jetties in order to permit of the rearrangement of the existing road and railway facilities and also to provide suitable approaches to the South Arm.

It is proposed to build the North Arm and Eastern Arm as the first portion of the scheme, and this will be followed by the construction of the South Arm and foreshore approaches.

Whilst the improvements are being carried out, all lighterage work will be handled at the present South Jetty, and this jetty will      continue to be used for this purpose until the handling of cargo by lighters ceases altogether. The completion of this revised scheme will, of course, take years, but the programme will be so arranged that benefit will be derived from the work as each definite stage is reached. It is totally unnecessary to emphasise what his protected harbour will mean to Port Elizabeth. Apart from the extra revenue it will derive from. wharf dues, etc., there is also the further field of traffic which will be created. In the past Port Elizabeth has lost much trade in commodities which are shipped in bulk, such as maize, oil, ore which cannot be handled by lighters.

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