Navigation of the Kowie River

This abstract about the Kowie River was published in the South African Journal No.II, Vol I – April 1824. The Journal was published by the editors, Thomas Pringle & John Fairburn and was printed by The Government Press, Cape Town.

The importance of opening the mouth of the Kowie River for the debarkation of goods and passengers for Albany, and for the more ready exportation of whatever surplus produce the Settlers may have to dispose of, seems to be now fully understood by the public of the Cape; but to our readers in England it may be proper to state, that at Algoa Bay, at the distance of 150 miles from the centre of the English settlements, has been hitherto the only port where the colonists could receive supplies, and ship their grain (when they shall raise any), their tallow, cheese, butter &c, for the cape market.

The Kowie is a small river, running through the centre of the English location and falling into the ocean about eight miles from the village of Bathurst. It is, like most of our South African rivers, obstructed by a bar of sand at the mouth, but affords nevertheless a passage for boats and small craft in favourable weather, and has been thought by several very competent judges capable of considerable improvement.

The Colonial Government has, ever since the arrival of the settlers, directed its earnest attention to ascertain and render available the capabilities to this important little harbour, in spite of many difficulties and some disaster, in establishing an anchorage and founding a village at Port Kowie. We do think that great credit is due to Government for its anxiety to obtain success in this enterprise, and its determination to deserve it. Nor is this slight praise, for we believe that public opinion has been generally very unfavourable as to the probability of its success.

We visited the spot ourselves two years ago and felt strong apprehensions that it would not do. But we begin to hope, notwithstanding some recent disappointments, that we were mistaken, and that it will eventually succeed, to the incalculable benefit of the settlers, and the honour of those by whose directions the enterprise is conducted. At all events, it is well worth the thorough trial it is now undergoing. And we are happy to understand, that the anchorage off the mouth of the river is considered by experienced ship-masters, who have repeatedly discharged cargoes there, as even more secure than Algoa Bay. It possesses better-holding ground and besides a vessel, even should she break from her moorings, can always without difficulty stand out to sea, on one tack or the other and whether the South-East or North-West winds prevail.

The following extract from a Report on this subject, drawn up by Commodore Nourse, during his late visit to Albany, (and to whose public spirit, not less than private kindness, we are indebted for it as well as for more important matters) will we conceive be interesting at the present moment to many of our readers. It is dated at the Kowie, October 17th, 1823.

“From the bar, the course of the river is tortuous for some distance, until it falls into the smoother uninterrupted course up the river, up which I proceeded seven miles, and there may not be less than four fathoms so far as sixteen miles up, without a bank or rock to intercept the progress. Either side is thickly wooded close to the water’s edge.

“To remove the obstacles, in some measure, at the entrance, and the winding and consequent lodging of sand, and shifting it, I think it would be worth the experiment to make the course straight from the bar to the straighter and deeper part of the river, that the tide might have a straight influx and reflux; which, with the freshets occasionally, and the receding tide, would carry all that loose sand into the sea, which is now lodged near its mouth.

“The flood tide would certainly bring a quantity of that matter in again; but instead of being deposited, as it is now, just within its entrance, it would be carried higher up and dispersed over the deeper parts of the river. The straight course given within its entrance would confine the passage over the bar to one particular spot, and consequently deepen it, whereas it is now constantly shifting several points.

“Should this be found to answer, I should propose such a vessel, worked by steam, as is used generally in harbours in our seaports, to prevent them from filling up, which is found to be often the case. This vessel would be employed when the bar is perfectly smooth, (which I am informed is sometimes the case for several days together,) in deepening and widening the bar and at such times as the surf on the bar may prevent working upon it, the vessel could be employed in clearing and deepening the channel to the deeper part of the river.

“There would be little more than the first expense of such a vessel, as the woods, all the way up the river to the water side, would furnish fuel enough for all purposes for centuries to come. The vessel might be built on the banks, at the mouth of the river, and the machinery sent from England.

“Regarding the labour for making a straight course from the bar to the deeper part of the river, perhaps not more than forty roods of sand would have to be cut through, and some stakes laid down, and an embankment which the sand would soon form against it, to keep the river in a straight line to the necessary distance.

“This labour it appears to me, were it necessary, might be had at little or no expense. I will suppose so many convicts on their way to Botany Bay, as might be thought necessary, landed at the Kowie, where they could be hutted and fed at a trifling expense until the work were finished when they might be again embarked, and proceed to their ultimate destination.”