Repeated requests for this photograph, which we have shown before, naturally leads to a more in-depth story regarding the first harbour in Port Alfred.
Tucked into bank of the east-bank section of the river mouth, a facility was constructed for the harbourmaster; his home, office, store rooms, dungeon, which served as a jail as well.
While telling this tale, one must picture the mouth of the Kowie River as a shallow inlet, barely deep enough to allow any ship of significant size to enter there. It was not the large river mouth of today. The old entrance was closed off by one William Cock when he dug through the sandbanks and built the two piers. The marina is now on the old river course.
Ships would anchor offshore and longboats sent into the river to trade, explore and restock the ships with fresh water and any comestibles available; usually, fresh fish, or meat if they hunted.
The town fathers needed to generate income and so appointed a harbourmaster and built the facility. Entering the old mouth, sailors or their captains had to report to the “master” and pay a standard tax on anything they brought in to trade, as well as on goods they were taking out. One of the favourite and welcome commodities was alcohol. Misuse of this was common, hence the necessity for a jail, which was also used for more serious occurrences such as murder or theft.
It is difficult to imagine exactly what the house and buildings looked like, as the place was abandoned once the new river mouth and harbour were functional. Exploring there in 1997, we found old foundations built of rock and, sadly, small pieces of pink marble. We were told that a developer had purchased the land and demolished everything, including unearthing huge slabs of pink marble which he took away from there.
What was exciting however, was when we discovered a fully intact well in the grounds, thankfully covered by a slab of stone. As an added bonus, on being tested, it was found to contain the purest water.
We have often discussed, the unknown engineer, who constructed other similar wells in the village, we found; thirty two in all. Unfortunately most were contaminated by sewers.