The small town of Port Nolloth’s history is centred on what used to be called “nature’s bounty”, specifically the exploitation of seals, then copper and then diamonds.

The first small settlement was established back in the late 1700s, the attraction being a nearby Cape Fur Seal colony. The bay was then named Robbe Baai (Seal Bay) and large numbers of seals were killed for their pelts and the meat (dried for export) and oil that their bodies provided. For a sobering assessment of the slaughter of seals including the extinction of 23 breeding colonies in the Cape in the 300-year period, 1600 to 1899, see here.

In the 1850s the renamed Port Nolloth established a port for the export of copper mined from further inland, with a narrow gauge railway line opened in 1876 to transport the copper from the mines to the port. The railway operated until 1942, after which copper was transported by road. Copper mining in Namaqualand has declined significantly and no large mining companies operate in the area currently.

In 1925 the first alluvial diamonds were discovered offshore. Today, although reserves are depleted, the seabed is still dredged for diamonds. Port Nolloth remains a base for the small diamond boats and attendant divers that relentlessly dredge the seabed, sucking up everything on the ocean floor, in their quest for diamonds. For an interesting take on their endeavours see here.

Nowadays fishing, particularly for crayfish, remains a mainstay of the town’s economy. The fuel tanks in the photograph stand as an unacknowledged monument to all this activity; with the seals, copper and diamonds gone or depleted and fish stocks also diminishing, hopefully small-seaside-town tourism will provide continuing income in a town where one of the most notable attractions is a museum dedicated to its past. 

The photo of the storage tanks above I edited using PhotoScape to achieve a more sculptural effect. The original photo is below.

x2 Port Nolloth storage tanks

Posted by Carol

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