Port Elizabeth of Yore: Operation of the Fishing Industry in the 1800s

Each industry develops its own modus operandi based upon experience over centuries. So it was with the fishing industry but each area has its own operational nuances. Port Elizabeth without jetties or indeed a harbour of any description operated in a nuanced manner.

Main picture: Warehouses on Algoa Bay, 1886 by George Otto Battenhausen AN H082

A spot south of the warps and the landing beaches and south of the Baakens River is where the fishing boats had selected to land their catch. After the boats had been unloaded of fish, they had to be carried up the beach for safety reasons. This was done by sixteen men. A pole would be passed through an iron ring built into each end of the boat for that purpose.

Hawkers would be patiently awaiting the arrival of the fishing boats with their carrying rods made from bamboo poles. These rods with fish hanging at each end would be placed on their shoulders. The tricky part for the hawkers was to ensure that the pole was always in balance. The fish were the property of the catchers but the hawkers, in turn, had to pay so many bunches of fish for the use of the boat.  Four men would stand at each corner. By the unwritten fishermen’s code, these men would always assist one another. However only person, a Finn, who did not hue to this rule. Instead he would take a corner, replacing four men, and carry it himself.

Overnight charade
The hawkers would parade through the town calling out, “Fish. Fresh fish.” As darkness slowly descended, so would the prices of the fish decline. Any fish left over at the close of day would have wet sacks placed over them for the night. In the early morning the fish would be taken down to the sea for a final soaking and refreshing before the hawkers once more went parading and calling out “Fresh fish,” falsely claiming that the fishing boats had been out all night.   

The Bay of Living Memories-Part 1 by Voullaire (Looking Back, Volume 55, 2016)

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