Port Elizabeth of Yore: A Lighter Meets its End at Chelsea Point

Prior to the opening of the first quay, the Charl Malan, in 1933, most freight was unloaded from a cargo ship in the roadstead onto a lighter which would transport the cargo to one of the jetties protruding into the Bay. As North Jetty was used predominantly to offload passengers from tugs & lighters, the jetties that were used to offload cargo were the South and the Dom Pedro Jetties. There the cargo was again manhandled being offloaded from the lighter onto the jetty from which it was loaded onto a train as the age of the truck had not yet arrived.

Main picture: Lighter aground at Chelsea Point

When my uncle, George Wood, started work at Michell Cotts, immediately after completing his schooling, one of his first jobs was to supervise the loading of these lighters at sea. He was issued with only one piece of equipment, a megaphone, with which to communicate with the loaders aboard the lighter. Apparently he possessed a natural stentorian voice and thus he discarded the megaphone in favour of his voice.

Being unpowered, the normal process of moving these lighters between the shore and the freighter and then between the freighter and the shore was to use a tug. During this process, the tug would pull three or four lighters at a time.

Above: A tuge pulling four lighters to the jetties

One day during the second decade of the 20th century, a batch of empty lighters was delivered to a freighter in the Bay. Perhaps there was a steady westerly wind blowing but whatever was the cause of a lighter drifting off, is now unknown. It drifted off from the roadstead in the Bay, around Cape Recife and was washed up at Chelsea Point.

With camera in hand, George Wood sped to the site where the lighter had grounded and took the photo above of it. As the date of this incident was probably 1915, there were only a few cars in Port Elizabeth and there was only a path across what would become the Dawid Stuurman Airport. Marine Drive would only be completed in 1922. So, in all probability, George was compelled to walk across the peninsular to Chelsea Point.

Photo by George Wood via his daughter, Rosemary MacGeoghegan
Commentary: supplied by Rosemary MacGeoghegan

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