Port Elizabeth of Yore: The first ships to use the new quay

To the great relief of the shipping industry, after almost a century of exhortations to the authorities to provide a harbour comprising a breakwater and quays, on the 28th October 1933, the new harbour was commissioned. Without a breakwater, the old piers were subject to the vagaries of the weather with loading times often being as long as 25 days.

Now Port Elizabeth was able to compete with Cape Town and Durban

Main picture:  The warship the HMS Dorsetshire on the 28 October 1933 at the opening of the Charl Malan Quay. It was sunk by Japanese dive bombers in April 1942 near Ceylon..

The breakwater

After the disastrous first attempt at the construction of a breakwater in the 1840s and 1850s, a hiatus of 70 years ensued. As no official from the Governor to the lowliest harbour engineer wished to stake their reputation on yet another breakwater, all planned breakwaters were overdesigned and hence were unaffordable. It was only the rise of a new generation of leaders without the memories of the prior fiasco, that another attempt at building a breakwater could proceed.

And so it was on the 2nd November 1922 that the first block of the breakwater was laid by the Minister of Finance, Hon Henry Burton KC. The 360 ton Titan crane, brought here for the project, lowered the concrete block at the Dom Pedro Jetty site. The outer works scheme was sanctioned in 1914 and although the need of a sheltered deep water harbour was desperate, progress was painfully slow and there were to be difficulties before the harbour became a reality.

In 1933 the harbour was completed and the Opening of the Charl Malan Quay sees the Mayor addressing the crowd

Due to a lack of funds and the intrusion of WW1 into the funding of capital projects, the construction of the breakwater proceeded at a snail’s pace.

A dream come true

Even though the breakwater was sanctioned in 1914, it was only completed 15 years later in 1929. For it was on 29th March of that year that the Van der Horst Commission into the P.E. harbour recommended the building of the north pier and 4000 feet of quay simultaneously with the breakwater.

The German East African liner Adolph Woermann

Harbour Day, set for 28th October 1933, was celebrated by the City. Saturday began with a carnival procession. Then the flagship of the Africa Station, HMS “Dorsetshire” tied up at No 1 quay making it the first ship as well as first warship to do so. Guards of Honour and local dignitaries awaited Vice-Admiral E.R.G.R. Evans, and the new No 1 quay was offi­cially opened and named “Charl Malan” after the Minister of Railways and Harbours. There was a banquet at the Hotel Elizabeth, a ball in the Feather Market Hall, and fireworks as well as a searchlight display. Further celebrations followed. On Sunday there were services of thanksgiving in St Mary’s and the Feather Market Hall and the cruiser was open to the public. On the Monday Vice-Admiral Evans gave a lecture on Scott’s Antarctic Expedition, in which he had taken part. He also signed the Golden Book. On 2 November 1935, a commemorative tablet was unveiled on the Charl Malan Quay.

The first passenger ship to use the new quay, the German East African liner “Adolph Woermann”, tied up on the 20th April 1934. The reasons for the lengthy delay of 6 months probably was occasioned by the fact that the Charl Malan quay was not ready for usage by passengers at that stage

There was a further delay of 9 months before the first mail vessel, RMMV “Warwick Castle”, berthed at the Charl Malan Quay on the 6th December 1934. This had not been possible before the acquisition of the powerful “John Dock” which had been officially inspected the day before. In the evening a dinner was given for all those who had played a part in the establishing of the harbour.


Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).


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