Before the age of helicopters, shipwrecks usually resulted in severe loss of life.
Without a method of rescuing passengers and crew from a stricken ship, they
were either drowned in the attempt to reach shore in an era when swimming ability
was the exception rather than the rule, or they clung to the rapidly
disintegrating ship only to die once it no longer offered protection.
of the Manby Apparatus was the first attempt at offering stranded passengers
and crew. In Port Elizabeth, this equipment was operated by the detachment of
the Prince Alfred’s Guards known as the Rocket Brigade.
Main picture:Prince Alfred’s Guards Rocket Brigade with the Manby Apparatus
In the age of sail, the South-Easter in Algoa Bay could be treacherous, driving vessels onto North End beach. Saturday 18th September 1869 was to be no different. At 2:15 p.m. on this fateful day, the officials at the Algoa Bay Port Office put out the signal “wear cables” for the benefit of shipping lying in the roadstead.
The only unanswered question was whether some or all of these vessels would survive the impending storm. Later during the age of the steamship, riding out a storm was often gut-churning but never fatal. During the age of sail, it was quite another matter.
After suffering a tragic flood in 1867, this gale was to once again test the mettle of the town
Main picture: Ships in Algoa Bay
As Port Elizabeth is prone to violent south-easter wind storms in the latter half of the year, optimism that there would not be a repeat of the 1902 disaster was profoundly misplaced.
1903’s storm season would test whether the rescue services were adequately prepared when nature would once again do its damnedest. Timeless lessons would once again be learnt and relearnt. Would the authorities once again be assailed by a raft of criticism for their maladroit handling of the situation, be damned with faint praise or receive a chorus of approval?
Only time would tell.
Main picture: Rescuers go out on the line during the gale of November 1903