Horseshoe Bay in Port Elliot on the Fleurieu Peninsula South Australia was proclaimed a port in 1851, and the settlement above the bay was named Port Elliot in 1852 after Charles Elliot, the Governor of Bermuda who was a friend of the then Governor of South Australia, Sir Henry Young.
The port was established to provide a safe seaport for the Murray river trade which terminated at Goolwa as the Murray Mouth was deemed too treacherous and unpredictable for safe navigation.
Goods and passengers were carried between Goolwa and Port Elliot on the first public railway in Australia completed in 1854.
The Government Works to establish the port included Australia’s first reticulated water supply, from wells at Waterport (about 1 km north of the bay) to tanks above the jetty which provided fresh water for ships as well as for the town. In 1864 after a number of disastrous shipping losses in Horseshoe Bay the railway was extended to Victor Harbor which provided safer access for ships. Port Elliot’s role as a port ended, with the bay and jetty being left to the fishermen and beachgoers. The importance of the rail link between the river and the sea soon also ended with the building of a railway between Adelaide and Morgan which enabled river traffic to offload freight and passengers over 160 miles further upstream and rail them directly to Adelaide.
The towns of the southern Fleurieu coast – Victor Harbor, Port Elliot, Middleton and Goolwa – were spared any further commercial or industrial development, and became a popular holiday destination with many guest houses, camping parks and ‘weekender’ houses and shacks. The nearby early subdivisions of Waterport, Louisville, Findon, Ville St.Louis and Elliot Town are now all considered part of Port Elliot.
Today, Port Elliot is a quiet township with two hotels, three churches, six coffee shops, no fast food chains, and is a popular holiday destination close enough to Adelaide for day trippers and even commuters. The continuing expansion of the Greater Adelaide metropolitan area together with ongoing improvements to the road links between the Southern Fleurieu and Adelaide has brought an influx of “seachange retirees“, driving up house and land prices, and adversely affecting the ability of local young people and families to remain in the area.Employment prospects are largely limited to hospitality work, aged care and the building trades which continue to benefit from rapid growth in the region.