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The Pontoon


East London had been established in April 1847 on the western bank of the Buffalo River.

Between 1857 and 1858, however, two groups of German settlers arrived -- the British-German Legion and the peasant agriculturists -- and many were settled at the new village of Panmure on the eastern bank of the river.

There were initially no shops at Panmure, however, which meant that the settlers would have to cross the river to acquire all their supplies.

The first pontoon across the river was provided by the British Kaffrarian Government in February 1858 as a means of allowing the German soldiers to cross from Panmure to East London.

It was therefore already in operation when the German agriculturists arrived later that year and would have been used to ferry them across the river after they landed at East London.

In 1865, when British Kaffraria was annexed into the Cape Colony, the pontoon was taken over by the East London Divisional Council.

It was then bought by the East London Town Council in 1874, and would remain the only means for vehicles to cross the Buffalo River until the temporary railway bridge was constructed in 1907.

A ferry was established at East London in April 1875 to provide a more frequent river crossing for pedestrians.

Paper ferry tickets were introduced to obviate the necessity for carrying money. In 1880 the tickets were replaced by bronze ferry coins.

Keith Tankard
14 October 2009



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