Kwazulu-Natal

From the very beginning of the formal establishment of Dundee in 1882, the town was remarkable for the calibre of its inhabitants. Perhaps none more so than a young doctor and a young surveyor, who set off in 1884 for the unexplored “sea of land – land of water”.

The initiative was their own – without sponsorship from Government, the Royal Missionary Societies or the Royal Navy - they made and paid their own way. They were Dr Aurel Schulz MD and Mr August Hammar CE.

The intriguingly sphinx-shaped mountain known as Isandlwana in Zululand lies in a flat valley carved out mainly by the Nxibongo River. To the north, the valley is fringed by the Nyoni heights and iThusi Mountain. Behind those is the next river valley, the Ngwebeni.

 

The South African Police Silver Cross for Gallantry was instituted in January 1985 and it was only awarded to members of the South African Police who had displayed conspicuous and exceptional gallantry or had performed a fearless or outstanding act through which they lost or imperilled their own lives.

Members [of the Railway Society, Natal Branch] can hardly fail to be aware that the Umgeni Steam Railway (USR) restoration team has been busy for many a long day with a circa-1928 kitchen car, no. 269. One of the USR senior members has been heard to refer to it despondently as “the gift that keeps on giving” as every problem solved seems only to generate another problem. However, work continues and has turned up a story this ex-Johannesburger finds fascinating and worth re-telling.

Midge Carter’s fascinating account of the behind-the-scenes goings on during the making of the movie “Zulu Dawn” (provided by Pam MacFadden and published on 26 August 2021 - click here to read), brought back many memories, some of which can be safely shared with a respectable journal such as The Heritage Portal.

 

The battle of Kambula (29 March 1879) is the definitive battle of the Zulu War. After the disaster at Isandlwana, when Lord Chelmsford’s Centre Column had temporarily ceased to exist, the focus of the Zulu War had turned to Evelyn Wood’s Column in the north. Not that the British had yet fully learned their lesson about underestimating the Zulus. The Northern Column suffered two disasters – one at Ntombe Drift (12 March) and the other at Hlobane (28 March), before the rampant Zulu army tried their luck on the British base camp at Kambula the following day.

I recently came across an article about Barberton written by Esmé Lownds (click here to read). At that time I knew very little about James Stopforth apart from the fact that he had known my grandfather when he lived in Durban and I felt that Ms Lownds would perhaps like to know a bit more about Stopforth’s earlier days.

Maria Ratschitz Mission was established by the Trappist monks in 1888. The mission is set on 3200 hectares of land and nestles in the fertile Nkunzi valley at the base of Hlatikulu Mountain.

The spire of the beautiful church can be seen from great distances and the peal of the church bells can be heard throughout the valley.

 

Nita Meyer and her husband, Izak, farmed at “Twyfelfontein” near Laffnie’s Drift on the Buffalo River. Her original diary, written in high Dutch and covering hundreds of pages, is held at the Talana Museum archives.

Izak was a burgher of the Utrecht Republiek and a brother of President Lukas Meyer of the Nieuwe Republiek at Vryheid. Nita was the daughter of Doctor Aveling, of Harrismith. They had two children, Marthie and Izzie.

Just prior to the outbreak of the Boer War, the small mining and railway village of Hattingspruit, only a few kilometres north of Dundee, grabbed some reflected limelight. This was due to the incredible physical exertion of 7 000 Zulu workers who walked from the Witwatersrand Goldfields back to their homes in Zululand.

Sotondose’s Drift on the Buffalo River is not really a drift at all. Situated at the bottom end of an upside-down triangle with Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift comprising the other angles, access is down very steep rocky hillsides on either flank. At low water it consists of a difficult boulder-hopping crossing for foot traffic only. It is marked by a curiously shaped so-called “coffin rock’.

 

It’s always a thrill to meet up with someone who has specifically come thousands of miles to the KZN battlefields to trace where their ancestors fought so long ago. On 17 February 2016, I had the privilege of meeting the Michell family, from Edington in Somerset. Simon Michell was born in Zimbabwe, which gave us immediate commonality. But even better, Simon’s ancestor, Captain Charles Michell, had fought in the Zulu War of 1879, and Simon had the campaign medal and a studio portrait of Charles wearing it to prove it.

Amelia Mary Siedle, Town Councillor in Durban for 7 years, was the founder of the Addington Children’s Hospital. In 1923 she brought forward her resolution in the Council Chamber advocating for the erection of a Children’s Hospital in Durban. She proposed that the Council grant £14,000 with the Provincial Council providing £14,000. The additional £14,000 would be raised by the public.

“An increasing number (of horses) are killed for rations and today 28 were especially shot for the chevril factory”.  HA Nevinson war reporter for The Daily Chronicle.

 

Always in search of historical South African photographs, the author recently obtained a photograph album from an antique dealer in Johannesburg containing images of largely a singular theme, namely the world’s most popular sport - fishing (at least back then).

The album, which was not up for sale, surfaced from a back room with the dealer announcing: “I do not know what to do with these”.

As early as 1873 a Colonial government commission had been set up to investigate the establishment of laagers for defensive purposes in the Newcastle Division. They recommended that 2 laagers be built, one on Newcastle town lands and the other not that far from where Fort Pine stands today. In 1874 £5 000 was allocated for the construction of laagers and armouries throughout the Colony of Natal.

“We once bumped into a column of Russian POW’s. They were in a very bad way and some of them could hardly walk, being assisted on either side by their friends. We had just been given a rare treat - a parcel on the march and our chaps had got stuck in - so much so that some became sick and brought up. A Russian was a witness to this, and no trouble started to wolf down the vomit with his bare hands. This gives an idea of what real hunger can do.”

Prior to 1902, South Arica had three photographers with the surname Kisch, two of whom were active in the Natal province (Kwazulu-Natal today) and one in the provinces of the Northern Cape and the Orange Free State (Free State today). Each one of them has left a distinct individual impression on South African photographic history.

It is early March 1879 in Zululand. It is the end of the rainy season and it is bucketting down on a daily basis on those men stationed at Fort Clery near the German Lutheran church and settlement at Luneberg, tucked away in the north west quadrant of Zululand about 6 miles from the Transvaal border. It is hot, sticky and sweaty in the intervals between showers. Roads dissolve into glutinous rivers of mud and the men are wet though and shivering most of the time. Shelter is, at best, corrugated iron or thatched lean-tos.

It is hard to believe that the first Portuguese shipwreck off South Africa’s east coast occurred almost half a millennium ago. This was the sinking of the large and richly laden Portuguese ship, the Sao Joao, off Port Edward in 1552. Barely two years later a second shipwreck took place, that of the Sao Bento at the Msikaba River mouth, about mid-way between Port St Johns and Port Edward.

The Penn Symons flag arrived in the post addressed to the Museum Dundee back in the early 1980s. It has been on permanent display in the museum since 1983. It has an interesting story and one that is personally connected to my forebears.

 

“I have had, in the last four years, the advantage, if it be an advantage, of many strange and varied experiences. But nothing was so thrilling as this: to wait and struggle among these clanging, rending iron boxes, with the repeated explosions of the shells and the artillery, the grunting and puffing of the engine – poor, tortured thing, harassed by at least a dozen shells, any one of which, by penetrating the boiler, might have made an end to it all”. W.L.S. Churchill.

 

July is mid-summer and warm in New York. But in this world city, July 1965, Nat felt cold, miserable, depressed and missing his country, his people.

Nataniël Nakzana Nakasa, popularly known as Nat, could not ever return to his country of birth. The premier placing this restriction on his passport which prevented him from returning to South Africa, was none other than the architect of apartheid, Dr Verwoerd. Verwoerd, as Nat once commented, was himself not even born in South Africa (Dutch), while Nat was.

On a recent visit to the Resource Centre of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation at the Holy Family College, Oxford Road, Johannesburg, a new acquisition was on display, namely a brass name plate from the architectural firm “Kallenbach, Kennedy and Furner ARIBA  Architects“. The brass plaque had been donated to JHF by Ronald Sutherland of Durban.

 

Battle of Isandlwana painting - via Ditsong Museum

Physical combat has to be the most exhilarating experience that any man can have. Obviously, all-out effort, commitment and ferocity are required to win the day. None have displayed this more effectively than the Zulus, and their reputation is legendary. However, over some time various authors have postulated that, apart from an adrenaline-induced state of hyper-aggressiveness, the Zulus were “doctored” with hallucinogenic material to enhance these effects prior to engaging in battle.

The first few Indians in South Africa were imported by the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century as slaves. They were mainly from Bengal and South India. Simon van der Stel’s maternal grandmother, Monica da Costa (Monica of the Coast), was from Bengal. Some Indians were also aboard ships that were wrecked off the Cape Coast. A few of them survived and became spouses of the local inhabitants. In 1820 a number of Indians from Bencoolen were brought to the Cape by Mr Hare on the condition that the colony was not to be responsible for these Indians.

"An ancient song, as old as the ashes, Echoed as Mageba’s warriors marched away." South African Contemporary Folk Song. Johnny Clegg and Savuka.

Colonel Anthony Durnford is probably the most enigmatic, controversial and colourful character associated with the British defeat at Isandlwana. Incontrovertibly the senior officer present, history has blamed him for the disaster for failing to exercise effective command and control.

 

The SAIA - KZN Regional Heritage Committee in Durban has raised alarm about the Barrie Biermann House currently under threat of demolition. Robert Brusse (in the chair), together with Rodney Harber, Trish Emmett, Lindsay Napier and Kirk White have launched a national appeal. The heritage community including architects everywhere wish to object to the demolition of this modernist Durban architectural gem.

A casualty rate of 10% of forces engaged in battle is today considered as catastrophic. British casualties at Isandlwana number some 70%, which constitutes annihilation. Zulu numbers have always been exaggerated, but current thinking is approximately 3000 dead out of an attacking force of about 20000, which works out at more than 10%. So the battle may also be considered catastrophic for the Zulus, although they did come away with the entire contents of the camp, which was their ultimate objective.

When the Boer raiding party rode into Elandslaagte on 19 October 1899  they first made a turn at David Harris’ imposing red-brick residence. Harris, the General Manager of the Elandslaagte Colliery, was having dinner with Simpson Mitchell-Innes of the farm “Blanerne”, who was also one of the Directors of the Colliery. The ten minutes spent in conversation there gave the acting Station Master, G.P. Atkinson and his clerk, D. Christie, an opportunity to warn Ladysmith of the Boer’s arrival via the telegraph.

Known as “Long Toms”, the four 155mm siege guns installed in the forts to protect Pretoria, were supposed to be far too big and cumbersome to move, yet one of them (nicknamed Schanskop Tom), which had originally been installed at Fort Schanskop, was used to drive the British out of Dundee. It was manoeuvred up Impati Mountain and shelled the British camp on Ryley’s Hill. Unable to retaliate, the British were forced to withdraw from Dundee and make a hazardous, but mostly uncomfortable (in the pelting rain) retirement to Ladysmith.

Durban, to me is a motley memory of youthful, carefree and sunny beach holidays. While Cape Town offers stunning vistas, top-end restaurants and a sense of Europe-in-Africa, it somehow feels clinical in comparison. The exotic fragrances, clamour, sub-tropical climate and personal recollections are what most attract me to this colourful Indian Ocean city.

Last weekend my husband Keith and I spent a weekend in Durban as guests of the Durban Art Deco Society (DADS). I was there to deliver the lecture at the Annual General Meeting of the Society on the Sunday morning at the Phansi Museum but we had about 26 hours to see Durban and pleasure the pulse of the Indian Ocean city which had been Keith’s home town and my favourite teenage holiday destination. I knew Durban from my childhood sojourns and then family visits to the grandparents once we had settled in Johannesburg but in recent years our visits have dwindled so

With reference to the early Durban based photographers Caney, one author recently confirmed the challenge in “disentangling” the relationship between the various Caney individuals.

The number of Caney photographs identified in the Hardijzer Photographic Research Collection also confirms that closer scrutiny was required as to who these photographers were. The photographs in this research collection, all dating from prior to 1905, include studio-based images as well as images captured during the Anglo-Boer war.

Dawn. Dundee, Natal. 20 October 1899. It was bitterly cold. Indeed, it had uncharacteristically snowed the previous week. Huge banks of fog covered the town and surrounding high ground. Intermittent drizzle made everything clammy and miserable. Breath puffed out like a steam train. All in all, a time for any sensible person to be indoors, in bed.

Although suffering from the worst drought in decades, one hopes that the rainy season is going to hit Zululand with a vengeance this year. From mid October onwards the heavens open up and the countryside transforms itself from harsh, barren, rock strewn tawny hillsides into rolling slopes covered with emerald green grass, rushing rivers and sparkling air. Looming massively on the skyline, and lit most afternoons by truly spectacular forked lightning streaking across the pitch black sky, Itala Mountain has a particularly eerie feel to it.

On the western heights of the Biggarsberg, Mkupe Mountain looks down on the strategic pass to which it gives its name and the Inkunzi river. During the Anglo-Zulu War (1879) and the 1st Anglo Boer War (1881), this pass was of vital concern to the British Army, as it was their supply line between military headquarters in Pietermaritzburg and the Frontier stations of Newcastle and Dundee. It was also the shortest route for any Boer invading force to strike at the communications system of the British defending forces and the quickest route to take to Ladysmith.

A Northumbrian by birth, Dr Prideaux Selby was already a middle aged bachelor when he sailed with the Byrnes' settlers to South Africa in 1850. He became the first doctor and Justice of the Peace to the Boer families in the Biggarsberg and lived at “Mooiplaas” for 25 years. He was held in high regard and loved by the Boer families – so much so that the names “Prideaux” and “Selby” were used extensively by the Boer families to name their children.

Major William Knox-Leet was born in Dalkey, County Dublin on 3 November 1833. The youngest son of a Episcopalian rector, he graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and became an ensign in the 13th Prince Albert's Light Infantry in July 1855. In 1858 he was sent to British India where he saw action in several engagements during the Indian Mutiny. From 1867 until 1872 he served as an arms instructor in England. In July 1872 he became Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General in County Cork, Ireland.

It took the Africa Media Online digitisation team two months to digitise over 4,000 traditional Zulu artefacts at the Phansi Museum in Durban. The project, funded by the National Lottery Commission was awarded to the Phansi Museum for the digitisation of their collection and the building of a digital archive. The funding was awarded in 2015. We, however, were on site at the museum premises toward the end of 2016.

 

A documentary currently in the making will take a fresh look at the shooting of a classic film made in KwaZulu-Natal in the Sixties. And the producers are appealing for help. Stephen Coan reports.

Plans are afoot for the shooting of a feature length documentary Zulu and the Zulus in KwaZulu-Natal next year.

A soldier who would one day retire in Hermanus surprised himself by earning the highest British military award. He is William Henry Hewitt who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917 and who lived in Natal, South Africa between 1905 and 1915 and in Hermanus in the 1950s. He returned to the UK only when he was terminally ill early in the 1960s, but left instructions that his body should be cremated and the ashes cast into the sea at his favourite resting place along the Hermanus Cliff Path.

 

In a recent article published by the author (click here to view), reference was made to a modern photographic phenomenon, namely “found photographs”. In short: “Found photographs” are discarded vintage photographs typically found at charity stores, car boot sales, flea markets or antique fairs. As a single image, any “found” or the converse thereof, “lost” photograph, has sadly lost its original context when viewed by a total str

Settlers from Northern Germany came into Natal in two main groups. The first to arrive was a group contracted to the Natal Cotton Company. This was a company established by Jonas Bergtheil, who had come from Germany in 1843 scouting for business opportunities in the region. He found one when he noticed cotton being grown.

In the article below, Dr J. Pringle tells the inspiring story of the preservation of the St Johns Presbyterian Church clock in Pietermaritzburg. The piece was first published in the 1980 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.

In the article below, journalist Lucille Davie recounts the fascinating story behind Nelson Mandela's capture near Howick in the early 1960s. The piece was originally published on the Brand South Africa website on 2 July 2013. Click here to view more of Davie's writing.

Nelson Mandela’s head rises dramatically from the ground on a small plot outside the village of Howick in KwaZulu-Natal. His face is sculpted in 50 thin steel columns, marking the spot where he was arrested in 1962.

The old Durban Railway Station is a much-loved landmark that plays a key role in Durban's tourism offering. It is hard to imagine there was a time when the powers that be planned to demolish the structure and redevelop the site. The article below which appeared in the Sunday Tribune on 10 October 1976, begins by describing the threat to the building and then highlights its architectural and historical significance. Thankfully the façade of the building was saved with a new office building built behind.

My five older siblings had all been to missionary schools and turned out exceptionally well. My parents probably chose Inanda because of the school’s reputation and the fact that family friends had sent their children there, so I would have older friends to look after me.

 

The short article below, written by an unknown author, tells the story of the restoration of the Old Ireland Building (Edgars) on Church Street, Pietermaritzburg. The piece appeared in the 1979 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.

As a callow teenager, Joseph Kirkman left an indelible mark on the annals of early Natal history. He is remembered for his efforts in assisting the American missionaries to establish a bridgehead in Zululand and his subsequent heroic exploits in assisting the evacuation of those missionaries following the turbulence consequent on the Retief massacre.

About four years ago I popped into the premises of Cannon & Cannon (auctioneers in Hilton) and, whilst looking around for nothing in particular, came upon a rather battered, leather covered box on which was embossed, if you looked very carefully, ‘His Excellency The Governor’. I asked the attendant if they had a key to the box and was told that they did but were having difficulty in opening it but duly handed it over. After several attempts, I found that if you pushed the key, turned it and then turned it back on itself again, the lock opened.

German missionaries and colonists left their mark in the form of churches along the northern border of KwaZulu-Natal. These were mainly the missionaries sent out by the Hermannsburg Mission Society (HMS), who entered Natal from the 1850s onward. Missionary work amongst the Zulus was their predominant aim. Later they spread out to the Transvaal.

In the brief article below, Arthur Bowland digs into the history of Durban's old Toll House and describes how it was 'rediscovered' in Kloof in the 1970s when many believed it had been lost forever. At the end of the article, Bowland talks about the 'shifting' of the house. Here's hoping it is still in existence somewhere. If any enthusiasts on the ground have current information please add details in the comments section below the article.

In researching this article, it became evident that hardly any photographer active during the Anglo-Zulu War (AZW) period has been written about. In the majority of sources consulted, photographers also generally have not been acknowledged where their work was used – be that as photographers out in the field or studio based photographers. This may be a simple matter of us not being aware of who the photographers were in the majority of instances.

We found the following article by B.I. Spaanderman in the 1991 edition of the old Johannesburg Historical Foundation's journal Between the Chains. It looks at a number of South African mills with a particular focus on Millbank, the closest to Johannesburg.

An ongoing task for heritage enthusiasts, history teachers, parents and others is to get young people excited about history and heritage. While browsing through the 1982 edition of Restorica, the old journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa), we found a wonderful piece by Dr Ruth E Gordon on this matter. Her advice is still as relevant today as it was then. These days we have a spectrum of technological innovations to help us in this endeavour. We loved the letter from Claire Thompson by the way.

A few years ago we were involved in a battle to save historic Nedbank documents that were being thrown away by the company. For a while the future of the documents looked bleak but thankfully the story had a happy ending when top Nedbank executives got involved. The documents were moved to the Sandton head office and the execs committed to hire an archivist to go through the collection. The execs also committed to let the community know what was found and what would then be done with the documents.*

We are very grateful to Fred Smith for submitting this fantastic description of 'The Laurels' (Weston Street, Mooi River). The historic home and its magnificent garden are an integral part of the heritage of the area. [Originally published in 2013]

A few years ago a wonderful collection of old documents was found in the basement of a Johannesburg inner city building while the tenant (Nedbank) was moving out. One of the boxes we looked at contained details of Nedbank's 50th anniversary celebrations (circa 1938). It was here we found a remarkable set of images of a few Town / City Halls around the country. It appears as though the photographs were taken in the late 1930s. Enjoy...

 

The Old Court House Museum is one the oldest buildings in the Durban CBD. It was built in the mid 1860s and has seen its fair share of history as revealed in the following fascinating article by G.W. MacDonald. The article first appeared in Bulletin, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). 

[Originally published 17 June 2014] Over the past year a number of community members have brought the derelict state of the Royal Natal National Park Hotel to our attention. It appears as though there is a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel with AMAFA officials visiting the site in 2013 and requesting a heritage survey to be done by a qualified heritage practitioner.

Subscribe to Kwazulu-Natal