Harwich Harbour, past and present: 1726 & 2011

In this extract, we return to the 18th century to find Daniel Defoe’s description of the port of Harwich and its extensive harbour accommodating colliers and packet boats for Holland. He’s less than complimentary about the people of the town. Today, its a busy international freight and passenger port with car and passenger ferries alongside container and bulk operations. The East Coast Old Gaffers (who aren’t always that old) run a regular event in Harwich at Easter which shares the page with Daniel Defoe.

Harwich Harbour, an illustration from 'Ports, Harbours, Watering places of Great Britain', William Finden
Harwich Harbour, an illustration from ‘Ports, Harbours, Watering places of Great Britain’, William Finden

Daniel Defoe reflects on Harwich, confluence of the Stour and Orwell

The harbour is of a vast extent; for, as two rivers empty themselves here, viz, Stour from Mainingtree, and the Orwel from Ipswich, the channels of both are large and deep, and safe for all weathers; so where they joyn they make a large bay or road, able to receive the biggest ships, and the greatest number that ever the world saw together; I mean, ships of war. In the old Dutch War, great use has been made of this harbour; and I have known that there has been 100 sail of men of war and their attendants, and between three and four hundred sail of collier ships, all in this harbour at a time, and yet none of them crowding, or riding in danger of one another.

Harwich is known for being the port where the packet-boats between England and Holland, go out and come in: The inhabitants are far from being fam’d for good usage to strangers, but on the contrary, are blamed for being extravagant in their reckonings, in the publick houses, which has not a little encourag’d the setting up of sloops, which they now call passage-boats, to Holland, to go directly from the river of Thames; this, tho’ it may be something the longer passage, yet as they are said to be more obliging to passengers, and more reasonable in the expence, and as some say also the vessels are better sea-boats, has been the reason why so many passengers do not go or come by the way of Harwich, as formerly were wont to do; insomuch, that the stage-coaches, between this place and London, which ordinarily went twice or three times a week, are now entirely laid down, and the passengers are left to hire coaches on purpose, take post-horses, or hire horses to Colchester, as they find most convenient.

Light airs for smacks boats in Harwich Harbour, 2011
Light airs for smacks boats in Harwich Harbour, 2011

East Coast OGA Easter Rally, 2011

The first sailing event of the season was blessed with unusually good weather, hot sun but little wind. Eight yachts attended the rally, based on Shotley marina, half of which made it from south of Harwich. On Easter Saturday, a raid was organised for open boats across to the Harwich and Dovercourt SC and the four smack-boat crews that made it, by a combination of wind and muscle power, were augmented by a horde of gaffers arriving by ferry.