Port Elizabeth of Yore: Slavery and the Dom Pedro Jetty

The last of the jetties to be built in Port Elizabeth, before the construction of the harbour in the 1930s, was this jetty. The story of how this jetty obtained its non-English name is fascinating as it conjures up images of an era when the scourge of slavery prevailed and the endeavours to eradicate it were in progress.

Port Elizabeth played its part in its elimination in the person of Captain Francis Evatt, commander of Fort Frederick. But that is another story.

Main picture: Dom Pedro Jetty being used to build the breakwater in 1923

Even though this jetty was constructed in 1898, the name of the jetty harks back to events at the death knell of slavery. According to Colin Urquarnt in his book Algoa Bay in the Age of Sail 1488-1917A Maritime History, “in 1839 Queen Victoria passed the Slave Suppression Act. This meant that the trading of slaves was forbidden. In the Mozambique Channel, Her Majesty’s brig the CURLEW, was hunting down the slave traders who were violating the recently passed act. The commander of the brig. Lieut. ROSS had seized the ship YARUGA when he came upon another suspicious-looking vessel. He sent a party over to question the Arab skipper as to his cargo and destination. The vessel in question was the DOM PEDRO. On board 19 slaves were discovered. She was taken over by the British brig and together with the YARUGA set sail for the South African station.”

Furthermore per Urquart, “it was soon discovered that the YARUGA was unseaworthy and she could never have made the voyage. The crew and cargo were transported to the DOM PEDRO. The second officer in charge of the CURLEW, Mr H.C. LEW, was promoted to captain of the DOM PEDRO. The next day, the YARUGA was sent to the bottom of the sea.”

“As they were travelling, the DOM PEDRO lost sight of the CURLEW which was a superior ship. It eventually took 49 days to make it to Algoa Bay. The reason for this was that she struck a severe storm and lost all her masts and sails. She drifted into Algoa Bay on May 20th, 1840. There she lay for three months at anchor awaiting the decision of the Prize Court at Simonstown as to her ultimate fate. News came through that the slaver was not worth repairing for passage to Simonstown. Orders were given that all it carried was to be sold by public auction. Her motley cargo was disposed of by John Owen Smith on 10 Aug 1840. The ship did not fetch a bid, so it was decided to beach her near some protruding rocks near the mouth of the Baakens River. Her timbers must have been strong for she lay there over 40 years. The outline could still be seen when the jetty due to bear her name was being designed in 1898. On the site of the remains the Dom Pedro Jetty was erected.

This jetty might not have won a prize for its longevity, but it can claim a stake in the future forming part of the breakwater. On the 2nd November 1922, the first block of the breakwater was laid by the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Henry Burton KC. The 360-ton Titan crane, brought here for the project, lowered the concrete block at the Dom Pedro Jetty site. The outer works scheme as the breakwater was referred to was only sanctioned in 1914 and although the need of a sheltered deep water harbour was desperate, progress was painfully slow and there were to be difficulties before the harbour became a reality.


Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth) Algoa Bay in the Age of Sail 1488-1917A Maritime History by Colin Urquhart (2007, Bluecliff Publishing, Port Elizabeth)

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