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Rediscovering Family Heritage: John Sarjeant’s Journey at the Port of Dover


At the Port of Dover, we recently had the honor of being part of a heartwarming surprise for our former colleague, John Sarjeant. John’s family history intertwined with our port’s rich heritage, and we couldn’t resist helping him connect the dots.

Now tracing his family tree, John previously worked in Terminal Control for 24 years, retiring in 2001. His maternal Grandfather, Peter King, had worked on the construction of the Southern Breakwater as one of the divers who prepared the seabed for the concrete blocks to be laid upon it. He had then gone out to Malta where Pearson’s, the contractor for the Admiralty Harbour in Dover, was also building the new naval harbour at Valetta.

John had always admired his grandfather’s work, proudly referring to the Southern Breakwater as “Grandad’s Wall”. His wife had asked whether we could take John out to the breakwater to see his grandfather’s handiwork close up. This we arranged without John knowing anything about it until he arrived on the seafront yesterday with his wife when all was revealed.

Donning a lifejacket, a very surprised John boarded the HPL with Doug, Steve, Tim and HPL Crew, Mick and Steve, and took a ‘choppy trip’ out to the harbour wall, with the swell surging through the Western Entrance – very evocative of the conditions in which his grandfather would have descended to the seabed in an iron diving bell.

Back in Harbour House, Tim gave an overview of the building of the Admiralty Harbour and delved into the archives to showcase an album of magnificent photos documenting the construction of the Southern Breakwater between 1903 and 1908. Doug then presented John with a montage of four photographs showing the diving operations and blockwork.

Reflecting on his day, John added “I still cannot find the right words to express my gratitude to you all for giving up your very valuable time and resources to give me such a wonderful experience. I really was touched by the warmth of your hospitality and the general friendliness of all. It was fascinating to look through the photos and now we have a better grasp of how Pearson’s constructed the wall”.

John is off to Malta shortly to see the work of his grandfather in Valetta to complete his historical journey.

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