DURBAN GRAVING DOCK OPENED BY THE PRINCE OF WALES
By Alex Anderson, 4th June, 1925
The Administration of Harbour and Railways at Durban, Port Natal, quite excelled themselves with the excellent arrangement whereby his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, during his visit to Durban would open South Afric’s Graving Dock (second to none in the World), and receive and ovation worthy of any British seaport, and at, the same time, to afford our Prince and Heir to the Throne, a Panoramu view of Durban Harbour in festive array. This aim was plainly acheived, as very soon he became plainly delighted with all he heard and saw.
Shed “A” and it’s wharfage at the East End of this Port (DURBAN) were for special reasons chosen as the place for H.R.H. to embark at. The wharf had been twice specially swept up, and the face of the goods platform whitewashed. This large goods shed itself was hidden from view by rows and rows of flags. The large commercial code of signals supplied from the Post Office, suspended between decorated poles, and flying in the light South-West Breeze, presented a vivid picture to the Officers and crew of the “PROTEA”, fully dressed and moored alongside.
The east dock gate, with a gaily decorated Port Office on the left, made an ideal entrance to two acre’s space, cleared of every vestige of rope, anchors and general cargo. The hydraulic and electric cranes were also removed from view.
This liberal space, securely barracaded with S.A.R. delivery trolleys, in the fashion of an Old Dutch Laager, enabled the Spectators to be grouped in three classes, Europeans nearest the Wharf, Indians next and finally the Natives who sat or stood on these trolleys, and the effect was splendid, because at regular spaces only black uniformed sentinels stood, all picked men in white helmets.
On this historical day (4th June, 1925) the Captains of every ship in harbour were invited by Lieutenant Commander A.F.B. Woodhouse R.N. to accompany His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on H.M.S.A.S. “PROTEA” to witness the opening of South Africa’s Graving Dock (the deepest in the world).
As the guests were received on board, an orderly politely informed us civilians we must occupy the port side, and that smoking was not allowed when the Prince Was on board.
There was no ladies with us, and the atmosphere seemed painfully hushed after our gangway was taken down and carried out of sight. The bugles sounded, and the boatswain piped all hands, as the Admiral’s Launch flying his flag, hove in sight: she was painted navy blue and covered in from stern to stern with a snow white hood.
It was only now I noticed a private gangway whereby the Prince would come aboard. This same little gangway had been used by his Father and Mother when they landed at Durban from Mauritius in 1901. The Prince soon arrived, looking well in Naval Uniform. The sightseers remained quiet until he came on board, which he did quietly; he shook hands with every visitor and mounted the bridge, and the “PROTEA” began to go astern. At this signal, the spectators rushed in like a swarm of bees, cheering and waving their hats. This sudded greeting delighted all who witnessed it. We on the “PROTEA” continued going astern across the Channel dead slow, which gave the Prince a clear view of Durban’s Harbour entrance, whilst the South Breakwater and North Pier were being shewn to him. When our engine stopped there was dead silence. And from a signal somewhere, when we began to move ahead, seven large steamboats, coaling and waiting for coal. Commenced sounding their hooters, and they kept going as we steamed full speed past the wharves where many ocean-going craft, Tugs and Dreadgers, lay all gaily decorated. All in turn they dipped their flags and also commenced to salute with steam whistles, hooters and steam symphony, until at last we heard a sound of music, which rang from end to end of Port Natal’s land-locked bay. An aeroplane overhead could not be heard, but she indulged in fancy twists and somersaults to attract attention. Our next attraction to this beautiful picture was the fleet of sailing and motor launches assembled in charge of the Police launches at the entrance of Maydon’s Channel. They followed in our wake at full speed making a grand picture for a Royal bioscope.
Right ahead at Maydon Wharf lay five men-of-war of the South African Fleet (we had their Admiral with us), all newly painted white with their flages hoisted up rainbow fashion. I should say here that our white ensign on the main had come down and the Royal Standard flew out in its place.
Exactly one mine away, the Flagship H.M.S. Birmingham, fired the first gun of a Royal Salute from the whole squadron. When we came on abreast each ship dipped her flag in turn, and gave the Prince three hearty cheers. Our expensive Grain Elevator was also manned, and they hurrahed as best they could.
We arrived at the Dock Basin, where the D.L.I. Band played the National Anthem when the Prince landed. The Band also played a pretty march whilst the Guard of Honour were being inspected. The Prince passed on at a quick step, halted and exchanged a few words with the Bandmaster, then he and his officers walked round and across the outer caisson to the south side, where the Royal Standard was flying above much other decoration, and a large Refreshment Marquee stood. A distinguished company had assembled by invitation issued from General Manager of the South African Railways and Harbours. Mr. G. Rennie was here, whilst Mr. A. Rennie remained on the “PROTEA”. These gentlemen have spent their lives battling for Port Natal, and in doing so lost several valuable ships when compelled to anchor and discharge cargo before crossing the bar.
At last our smiling Prince, standing at a table decorated with the Union Jack, pressed a button and the caisson began to recede into its envelope on the other side of the dock. However, the floating dock gate (caisson) only opened a few feet and stopped. During this anxious delay and dead calm, whilst our craft (the “Protea”) backed and filled, we heard the quartermaster repeat “HELM IS HARD A PORT, SIR. STARBOARD ENGINE GOING ASTERN SIR. BOTH ENGINES STOPPED SIR” and so on.
Meanwhile the Prince went on to view the inner half of this great dock, which remained empty for his inspection. He crossed over the inner caisson to his Motor Car just as the dock gate began to move again, and very soon, we on H.M.S. “PROTEA” moved ahead and broke the white ribbon, also breaking a bottle of wine on the granite coping.
And so ended a grand day for our Prince, and the most glorious day Natal has ever witnessed.
217, Avondale Rd,
Transcribed as closely to the original as possible, including spelling and grammar errors.