Port Elizabeth of Yore: The South Jetty

Of all the jetties in Port Elizabeth, only the North Jetty possessed any cachet. Probably a reason for this situation was that the North Jetty was close to the central part of town being at the foot of Jetty Street.  

For this reason hundreds of photographs of this jetty are still extant today whereas only a dozen are available of the South Jetty and perhaps half that number of the Dom Pedro Jetty.

This blog serves to highlight what is known about this jetty

Main picture: South Jetty

After the construction of the disastrous breakwater in the mid-1860s, the construction of a proper enclosed harbour was put in abeyance for another 65 years. In the interim various proposals were made to address this need. Amongst the designs was one by Sir John Coode, a renowned harbour design engineer.  

South Jetty with two of its unique cranes

As the volume of shipments increased, the North Jetty was increasingly strained. To meet this demand, in November 1879 a recommendation was made to construct an iron pile jetty. Construction commenced in 1882 and it was completed in July 1884.    

The only incident for which this jetty is renowned occurred on the 28th January 1886 when Port Elizabeth’s first recorded shark attack occurred off this Jetty. On this day while William Rodwell was having an early morning swim, a shark appeared. Onlookers alerted him and he swam for the steps alongside the jetty. Helpers were waiting, but before he was clear of the water the shark bit off a leg below the knee. Rodwell was given help as quickly as possible and survived this horrendous attack.

View from South Jetty towards the Customs House

To meet further increases in demand, the South Jetty underwent a number of upgrades over the subsequent years. The first enhancement was in 1892 when it was lengthened and again in 1902 when it was widened and lengthened.


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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