The seaport of Port Elliot was proclaimed by Governor Young on 28 August 1851, he named the town in honour of his friend, Sir Charles Elliot, who was at that time the Governor of Bermuda. A great future was envisaged for the port with the construction of a horse-drawn railway from Goolwa to Port Elliot (Australia’s first public railway). Port Elliot was to have acted as the major south coast seaport for the transport of goods which had been shipped down the Murray River. The first trading vessel arrived in July 1851 carrying construction materials for the jetty, unfortunately Port Elliot’s life as a seaport was to prove very short, and by February 1866 the schooner Io was the last vessel to officially use its facilities. Seven ships were lost between 1853 and 1864, largely due to the water being too shallow and the harbour being too small for vessels to manoeuvre in the strong south-westerly winds. It was this which ultimately signalled the end of Port Elliot as a viable seaport.

Following its demise as a shipping hub, Port Elliot went through difficult times and it was not until the 1880s that the town began to emerge as a holiday destination. Due to the prudish standards of the time it was decreed that male & female bathing be segregated. In February 1884 the beach closest to the breakwater was reserved for females and became known as Ladies Beach, the name is still in use today.

In 1911 the Port Elliot railway station was built, the same timber building is still in use today. The Cockle Train operates, as a tourist attraction, to either Victor Harbor or Goolwa and is a magnificent sight as it steams its way along the picturesque coastline.

As early as 1925 a kiosk was under construction at Horseshoe Bay as the locals began to prepare for the annual tourist season. Today Horseshoe Bay is home to one of the most beautiful and safe swimming beaches in South Australia. Modern day visitors can be amply fed & watered at the Flying Fish Café/Restaurant located right on the beach!

In 1936 the Centenary Steps were constructed by local builder Les Brittain using funds raised by the local community to celebrate the centenary of South Australia. The steps can be used to access the cliff top walking path which takes in Horseshoe Bay, Ladies Beach, Knight’s Beach & Boomer. Also in 1936 another event caused great excitement in the local community – The South Australian Centenary Grand Prix - which saw the townsfolk and visitors come out in force to witness the spectacle of motor racing around the local streets.

The Bowling Club was constructed on the foreshore in 1949 and the current Surf Lifesaving Clubrooms were officially opened in 1954. Many of Port Elliot’s historic buildings still exist (and are in use) today – The Court House constructed in 1866 is now used as a Community Hall as well as by the RSL. The tiny Council Chamber was built in 1879 and is now used as a meeting room, next to the Council Chamber is the War Memorial where the names of those locals lost in the World Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45 are inscribed. The current Post Office was built in 1910, whilst the oldest parts of St. Jude’s Church, on the opposite side of The Strand, date back to 1854. The Hotel Elliot (originally known as The Railway Hotel) was built in 1867, with the Royal Family Hotel being completed in 1880. Both establishments offer excellent wining & dining facilities for today’s visitor!

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