During January 1938, the pre-WW1 German ex-battleship, now training ship, paid a visit to Port Elizabeth. The young German cadets were invited to attend a party Woodridge School. In retrospect that innocent invitation ultimately became an embarrassment to the school for reasons soon to be revealed. One year and nine months later on the 1st September 1939, this self-same ship would fire the very first shots of WW2.
Main picture: The cadets from the Schleswig Holstein display the swastika emblem over the balcony at the Woodridge school
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?
Main picture: The North Jetty circa 1908
The first major extension to the harbour after the construction of the Charl Malan Quay was reclamation of land on the seaward side of the Charl Malan Quay in 1938. The company which did the dredging, first built a new sea wall parallel to the old one at the distance required for the extra width that had been planned and then a dredger pumped sand from the sea bed into this space to build up a base for the new section.
Main picture: Reclamation at Victoria Quay in 1938
Is one even able to contemplate what Cape Town’s harbour was like in the days of sail? These photographs evoke that period. Imagine the harbour without a steamship in sight. The first regular service between SA and the UK was only commenced in 1857 by the Union Steam Company.
Main picture: Sailing ships at anchor in Table Bay mid 1800s
These are excerpts from the notes of Mr. C.G.H. Skead on the early days in Port Elizabeth written in 1939. They provide a personal view of the various activities at the harbour and the development of shipping at that time.
These recollections take one back to a bygone era when life was simpler. Imagine still being able to swim on a splendid beach at the foot of Fleming Street.
Main picture: North Jetty with the Station in the background
Until the 1870s, Port Elizabeth harbour possessed no jetties. By implication, the passengers and cargo had to be transhipped onto tiny surf boats for onward transport to the landing beaches. People were carried ashore on the shoulders of the Mfengus much to the distress of the females. In spite of this clumsy and archaic method of operation, Port Elizabeth rapidly processed more exports than its sister port, Cape Town.
This blog is a verbatim extract from the unpublished notes of Mr. C.G.H. Skead written in 1939.
Main picture: Surf boats in Algoa Bay in the 1860s
Even though the celebration in 1933 focused on the opening of the Charl Malan Quay, this project represented more than just the construction of one quay. Instead, it represented the conversion of the port into a proper enclosed harbour.
None of the river mouths on the Algoa Bay littoral are suitable for use as a harbour. As some stage there had even been suggestions to use the Zwartkops River but these were never advanced to the planning stage.
Finally, the bull was taken by the horns and the jetties and anchorage converted into a proper modern harbour.
Main picture: An aerial view of the Charl Malan Quay under construction
With the expansion of industry in Port Elizabeth, the need to enlarge the port had by the 1920s become pressing and urgent. Up until then, goods and passengers had to be loaded onto lighters at sea which then conveyed them to a tiny jetty known as North Jetty. What was proposed was to convert this jetty into a quay able to accommodate large ships alongside it.
Main picture: Landing through the surf