Scale Model: Cape Town Harbour

  • Posted: Sep 10, 2013

Visitors to the Iziko Maritime Centre at the popular V&A Waterfront are able to view a scale model of Cape Town Harbour and come to an appreciation of this man-made marvel. The scale model of the harbour was built in 1885 for the Indian and Colonial Exhibition held in London during 1886.

Table Bay had no natural harbour and shipping was always disrupted by the strong winds. This led to the construction and development of Cape Town Harbour, which is without a doubt one of the biggest assets the Cape Peninsula has. The model depicts the first major harbour development in Table Bay between 1860 and 1897 according to the plans of the chief engineer Sir John Coode (the model was updated by Mr R Chipperfield in 1897).

The scale model was built by Merssrs. Wadman, Hodgson & Job, with the assistance of Mr R Newick and six prisoners from the Breakwater Prison known only by their numbers 310, 1116, 6100, 6108, 6831 and 6848. This prison was constructed in 1860 to house long-term male convicts later forced to build the Breakwater in Table Bay. The old prison now houses the University of Cape Town's Graduate School of Business and the Breakwater Lodge.

Table Bay Docks including the Alfred Basin (officially opened by HRH Prince Alfred on 4 July 1870 after 10 years of construction work); the Victoria Basin (completed in 1905); the Robinson Graving (dry) Dock (formally opened on 1 October 1882); and the quarry used to build the Breakwater and the extant buildings in that area are all depicted. The stone was taken from this quarry adjoining the Breakwater, the excavation work serving a double purpose of supplying stone for the work and subsequently forming a dock. One of the most interesting aspects of the model is the shipping, with over 50 waterline models of either contemporary sailing ships or auxiliary steam vessels.

The scale model was transported to London aboard the Grantully Castle(7592/ 1910). After the Indian and Colonial Exhibition, it remained at the Imperial Institute in London, before being returned to South Africa in 1932. Initially it was given to the SA Museum where it was displayed. However, it fell into disrepair and in 1939 was restored by Mr AF Gritters-Doublet. It was transferred to the SA Cultural History Museum in 1964, and eventually became part of the Social History Collection of Iziko Museums of South Africa.

Next time you’re visiting the Waterfront, make the Iziko Maritime Museum your first port of call, and get some insight into the Cape’s maritime history, and see how shipping influenced life at the southernmost tip of Africa.

Thys van der Merwe, Curator


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