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Sir John Coode's
harbour improvements

With the discovery of diamonds and the subsequent annexation of the diamond fields, the Cape Colony became awash with money. As a result, railway lines began to be built from the major ports into the interior, while the harbours themselves underwent a massive facelift.

Sir John Coode was responsible for drawing the plans for East London. He created training walls along both banks of the river so that the flow of water at high tide would scour the sandbar and wash the silt out to sea.

This would be assisted by regular floods which he expected would happen every two or three years. In reality, however, it just did not work because there was no flood at East London for the following 15 years.

Instead of the river becoming deeper and thereby enabling ships of a greater mass to enter the harbour, the river mouth actually silted up, allowing people to cross dry-shod at low tide.

It was only in 1886, when a suction dredger was at last procured, that the river could be effectively deepened. The Lucy worked steadily for the following decade and the result was a harbour which was indeed workable.

More and more ships now entered the river mouth, and each year their tonnage increased. By the time of the Boer War, there were more than 100 ships in the harbour simultaneously, so that they had to be berthed sometimes three or even four abreast.

In the meantime, continued expansion of wharves on the eastern shore saw the harbour become busier and busier. By 1896, when a new passenger jetty was created near First Creek -- the area that is now known as Latimer's Landing -- passengers were able to disembark near the pontoon.

Keith Tankard
14 October 2009

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