West India Docks. Dockers unloading sugar, antique print published 1889. The West India Docks are a series of three docks on the Isle of Dogs in London, England the first of which opened in 1802. The docks closed to commercial traffic in 1980 and the Canary Wharf development was built on the site. Robert Milligan (c. 1746-1809) was largely responsible for the construction of the West India Docks. Milligan was a wealthy West Indies merchant and shipowner, who returned to London having previously managed his family’s Jamaica sugar plantations. Outraged at losses due to theft and delay at London’s riverside wharves, Milligan headed a group of powerful businessmen, including the chairman of the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants, George Hibbert, who promoted the creation of a wet dock circled by a high wall. The group planned and built West India Docks, lobbying Parliament to allow the creation of a West India Dock Company. Milligan served as both Deputy Chairman and Chairman of the West India Dock Company. The Docks were authorised by the West India Dock Act 1799 (39 Geo. 3, c. lxix) – the first parliamentary (as opposed to a municipal) Act for dock building. The Docks were constructed in two phases. The two northern docks were constructed between 1800 and 1802 (officially opened on 27 August 1802) for the West India Dock Company to a design by leading civil engineer William Jessop (John Rennie was a consultant, and Thomas Morris, Liverpool‘s third dock engineer, was also involved; Ralph Walker was appointed resident engineer), and were the first commercial wet docks in London. British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and Lord Chancellor Lord Loughborough were assisted in the foundation stone ceremony on 12 July 1800 by Milligan and Hibbert. The docks were formally opened on 27 August 1802 when the newly built and unladen Henry Addington was hauled in by ropes. It was followed by Echo, a ship laden with her cargo from the West Indies. For the following 21 years all vessels in the West India trade using the Port of London were compelled to use the West India docks by a clause in the Act of Parliament that enabled their construction.