In his thesis on the development of the Port Elizabeth Harbour, Mr E.J. Inggs raises some interesting facts not only about the convoluted path to the ultimate construction of a harbour but also the operation and importance of Port Elizabeth’s harbour to the Cape Colony.
Apart from these aspects, what really piqued my interest was the issue of the wage levels of the Mfengu Beach Labour, as he calls the cargo loaders and unloaders. Their remuneration perfectly reflects what Economics 101 identifies as a fundamental factor in economics viz supply and demand.
Main picture: Mfengu unloading cargo from surfboats
Until the 1870s, PE 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. At the shore, the 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This blog is a verbatim extract from the unpublished notes of Mr.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
The paddle steamer Phoenix had more than one connection with Port Elizabeth, apart from operating between Cape Town and Algoa Bay, but the other associations are more tenuous. However, it is perhaps for the nebulous reason that the name Phoenix will forever be remembered in Port Elizabeth albeit for the wrong reason. Finally there was even a family connection.
Main picture: The paddle steamer Phoenix
Needless to say, but when the 1820 Settlers arrived at Port Elizabeth, there was nothing awaiting them and that included a harbour. In fact, the sum total of the population of Port Elizabeth in 1819 was 35 souls, mainly men. Yet despite exponential growth in population and port activities, Port Elizabeth never possessed a proper harbour for the first 110 years of its existence.
How did the town handle the veritable flood of imports and exports until the first permanent jetty was constructed in 1870 and the first quay in the 1930s?
Main picture: Settlers landing in unstable flat bottomed boats