Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Durban: the Bar hazardous for shipping; 1860s

This photograph of the Point, Durban, can be dated to the 1860s because the steam paddle tug Pioneer (the port's first tug, arrived 1860) is included at left - with her distinctive funnel and flag flying astern. If you look closely at the tug you can see the shaped housing for the paddle wheel.

The other shipping consists of sailing vessels, though a regular mail service by the steamer Sir Robert Peel had commenced in 1852 between Durban and Cape Town. Among the structures clustered on the shifting dunes the Point (the spit of land at right, projecting into the bay) are the Customs House and warehouses. There were no wharves or jetties (if your settler ancestors arrived at Natal by ship they would have got their feet wet). In the distance are the hills of the Berea - not a building in sight at that date. The entrance channel is in the foreground. The picture is taken from the Bluff.

Though Durban had potential as a harbour, it wasn't until various harbour works and the building of piers by a number of marine engineers such as Milne and Vetch, as well the introduction of dredging (to remove sand), that the port became safe and useful for shipping.

'Nature guarded its entrance in the form of shifting sandbanks which made access to the safety of the inner harbor unpredictable and hazardous. As a result entry was restricted to small vessels drawing less than three metres of water. All other shipping had to anchor offshore and endure the extremes of wind and sea. Not surprisingly 66 ships were blown ashore on Durban’s beachfront between 1845 and 1885.' (Source: https://mpoverello.com/2012/04/23/vetchs-pier-a-relic-of-floored-planning/)

Local newspapers of that era regularly reported on 'the state of the Bar' and how ships were navigating in and out of the entrance, or waiting in the 'roads' for suitable conditions for entry. While ships were 'outside' they were subject to weather and wind and often came to grief on the rocks below the Bluff, or were grounded on the beach.

Natal Mercury 9 Aug 1860
A bar is a shoal, similar to a reef: a shallow formation of (usually) sand that is a navigation or grounding hazard, with a depth of water of 6 fathoms (11 metres) or less.

The Dutch ship Hermanus Izaak, on this occasion, 'touched on the Bar though drawing only eight feet of water'.



A very interesting post. Thank you Mole.

Mole said...

Thank you Andrew. Glad you found it of interest.