PE of Yore: Interesting aspects during the Construction of the Harbour

One aerial photograph taken in 1935 shows how the construction of the new harbour was progressing and the sequence of operations. This blog examines this photo in detail with explanations provided by Blaine McCleland.

Main picture:  Aerial view of the harbour with the breakwater almost complete, stub jetty and the construction of the Charl Malan just commencing

The breakwater

Clearly the construction of the breakwater had commenced many years previously given the fact that it was largely completed already. In fact it had been commenced in 1922 and was largely complete by 1935. Note the huge Titan crane, also known as block-setting cranes, still in operation placing gigantic cement blocks into the water. The Titan block setting crane is parked at its spot on the breakwater after finishing its back breaking task of building the breakwater.  Apart from possibly moving a few times to assist in various building projects on that side such as the ore terminal, tanker berth, etc, it remained an iconic feature until 1973.

More interestingly, Blaine notes “how the breakwater was built offset from Dom Pedro so as not to interfere with wharf operations as it would be critical having lost the cranes on the north side of the North Jetty.

Lastly, in ten years very little sand had accumulated against the breakwater. This is probably a consequence of the fact that the first portion of breakwater was in fact an extension of the Dom Pedro jetty which permitted the flow of the northerly current through this area. Only once the jetty was replaced with a concrete breakwater, did the accumulation of sand commence.

The “stub” jetty

This curiosity arose during the construction of the quays. The only plausible explanation for its erection according to Blaine, is to serve as a passenger landing jetty given the loss of the North Jetty whose prime function was the offloading of passengers.

On the left the Charl Malan quay is being constructed. In the centre is the mysterious “stub” jetty

With the completion of the first full berth on the Charl Malan quay, the stub jetty (red ellipse on the photo 2 below) was surplus to requirements and they just built the approaches to No. 2 Quay right over it.  Quite rude of them.  They must have salvaged the decking but left the pilings to rot as they were too must trouble to extract.  Knowing that it was temporary they probably used untreated wood of inferior quality, after all, they had lots of experience with that problem when the built the original jetties.

The South Jetty

While the North Jetty served as the passenger terminal and hence garnering all the attention and limelight, the workhorse jetties viz the Dom Pedro and the South, went unnoticed. In the more than 50 photos of the jetties that I possess, less than half a dozen photos relate to these two jetties. From an economic perspective, these two jetties and the landing beaches were the main income generators of the harbour until the Charl Malan Quay was completed.

In the foreground is the breakwater with the early Humewood in the background

Charl Malan Quay

There was another block setting crane (blue ellipse) used on the Charl Malan Quay.  It has been labelled as the Goliath crane to distinguish it from the Titan crane.  They were both built by Stothert and Pitt and the names have been used interchangeably for both of them.  A crane of this type was supplied for construction in the Table Bay Harbour in the mid 1920’s.  The cranes were highly specialized and once the construction was completed, they were often broken up and moved somewhere else.  It is possible that it ended up in Port Elizabeth.

The Goliath crane on the end of the Charl Malan Quay during construction


Finally, one has got to feel for the lighters huddled between the South Jetty and the Breakwater.  Just like the dinosaurs, they experienced a cataclysmic environmental change and became superfluous overnight.


Article by Blaine McCleland Some observations on the construction of the harbour

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