Facts About Durban Diary - Page # 6

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10 September 2003

In October 1946 the Durban Publicity Association published a booklet called Spotlight on Durban which was intended to inform prospective settlers about the local conditions.

It gives a fascinating snapshot of Durban in those days.

The population figures it provided for Durban were:

  • Europeans [for Europeans, read whites] - 114,562
  • Asiatics - 104,382
  • African Natives - 102,591
  • Coloureds [of mixed race] - 9,657

The flying time to Johannesburg was quoted at 1¾ hours [now 50 Mins] while that to Cape Town was 6½ hours [now 3 hours]. The driving time to Johannesburg was 17½ hours [now 7 hours] while it would have taken you 44½ hours [now 20 hours] to drive to Cape Town.

Some retail food prices were

  • Bread - threepence per pound
  • Tea - 2s.5d. per pound
  • Coffee - 2s. per pound
  • Butter - 2s.5d. per pound
  • Fish - 10½ pence per pound
  • Cheese -1s.7d. per pound
  • Milk - 4½ pence per pint
  • Eggs - 2s. per dozen
  • Bacon - 2s.6d. per pound
  • Sugar - 3¾ pence per pound
  • Jam - 7½ pence per pound
  • Meat - 2s.5d. per pound
  • SA Wines - from 2s. per bottle
  • Cigarettes - from 2s. per packet of 50

Potential settlers could apparently expect to hire unfurnished flats at up to £16 per month, furnished ones at up to £25 or stay in a residential hotel from £9.9s. per month, all found. They could buy a house in a good residential area from £2500 or land from £400 and building costs were between 28s. and 35s. per square foot.

Spotlight on Durban promised a plentiful supply of domestic labour with 'cook/house boys' costing up to £6 .10 per month, and 'garden boys and nursemaids' up to £4 per month.

Spotlight goes into some detail about immigration requirements to South Africa but the upshot is that 'Natural-Born British subjects of pure European descent' [for pure European, read white] could get in with no restrictions providing they complied with the Immigrant's Regulation Act No. 22 of 1913. The booklet doesn't go into detail but the implication is that other types of people would have found it much harder to get in.
Natural Born etc. would only have had to satisfy an Immigration Officer at their port of entry that they were able to read and write a European language, that they were coming to a job or had funds enough to support themselves, that they were free from infectious, contagious or loathsome diseases and that they had not been convicted of certain criminal offences. Oh, and they had to have a valid passport as well.


Rose-tinted spectacles or not, however, people reading Spotlight on Durban in Britain and Europe must have thought that Durban sounded like paradise when compared to their own war-ravaged countries where severe rationing of most commodities was still in force.

14 September 2003

Today I've put up two new pictures near the bottom of the page devoted to the wreck of the Ovington Court. Those two pics and the one below were kindly sent in by Johannesburg reader Janine Anderson.

Picture courtesy Janine Anderson.

Does anyone know anything about this picture of a crucifix? We believe it was taken in or around Durban but we don't know where or when.

17 September 2003

On 25 May 1941 HMS Cornwall arrived in Durban victorious after the sinking of the German raider Pinguin on 8 May 1941 about 900km north of the Seychelles. The Pinguin was a heavily armed auxiliary cruiser made to look like a merchant ship and had used her harmless appearance to lull 28 allied ships into letting her approach close enough to sink or capture them.

HMS Cornwall had been a frequent visitor to Durban but this time was welcomed back by the residents with rapture according to my informant Reg Monckton who was a Royal Marine Bandsman aboard her at the time. A few days later 400 of the ship's crew [including a number of South Africans] paraded through the streets of Durban led by their Royal Marine Band.

Members of HMS Cornwall's crew parade through the streets of Durban. The arrow points to Durban Mayor Rupert Ellis Brown who is partly obscured by Cornwall's Commanding Officer Captain P.C.W. Manwaring. Ringed in red is my informant Reg 'I joined the Marines at 14, you know' Monckton.

<== Click to download a wallpaper-sized (1024x768px) version of the picture.

The parade led past the front of the City Hall where the Mayor Rupert Ellis Brown took the salute. By a strange coincidence his younger son was serving aboard the Cornwall as a midshipman and the Mayor thus had the pleasure of being saluted by his own son.

On 1 June a number of new members joined the Cornwall including a Durban youngster called Tony Large who was later to become a doctor and deliver me. The ship left Durban on 10 June to escort the Mauretania, the Ile de France and the Nieuw Amsterdam which were carrying troops bound for the North African campaign.

HMS Cornwall was a heavy cruiser with a main armament of four turrets mounting two eight-inch guns each but she was ill equipped to fight off a determined air attack and thus met her doom on 5 April 1942. She and her sister ship HMS Dorsetshire, which had administered the coup de grace to the stricken Bismarck on 27 May 1941, were sent to the bottom in an 11-minute attack by 80 Japanese dive bombers led by Lieutenant-Commander Egusa.

The survivors from the two ships spent a whole day adrift before being picked-up the following evening and were transferred to a base on the Maldives and then to Durban. Marine Monckton was later repatriated to the UK taking with him Durban girl Doreen Shepstone, whom he had married, as a prize of war [they were later to make their home in Durban].

Tony Large also survived and was ordered to the UK to go on an officer's course. He was given passage aboard a ship called the Laconia which left Durban on 29 August 1942 and was torpedoed off the west coast of Africa on 12 September. The U-Boat [U-156 commanded by Werner Hartenstein] which had torpedoed the Laconia later surfaced, rounded up the survivors and began to tow four lifeboats full of them to safety.

The U-Boat was later bombed by an American Liberator bomber and made its escape abandoning the Laconia survivors [including many Italian POWs] to their fate. An Italian submarine then appeared on the scene and Tony was among a number of survivors which it carried on its deck and later deposited in a lifeboat on 17 September. At that point there were fifty one people aboard the lifeboat but there were only four, including Tony, left alive when rescue came on 21 October.

I am indebted to Reg Monckton for his memories and for lending me his copy of Turns of Fate by Ken Dimbleby which gives and excellent account not only of HMS Cornwall but also of the sea war in Indian Ocean and the close shave we had when the Japanese decided not to pursue the war in these parts.
I am also indebted to Tony Large and his book In Deep and Troubled Waters which tells his incredible story and which I can highly recommend. The book is still available from the publishers and from Gail Dick in South Africa who has a stock of copies - her contact number is 27 31 7010 345 during SA business hours. See Sources for dates and publisher information.

The Royal Navy website has a section on the current HMS Cornwall [a Type 22 Frigate] which has a history page giving details of the five other ships which have shared the same name.

NEW: See Diary Page # 7 for more pictures of HMS Cornwall.

20 September 2003

Several sumarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a reconnaisance of the east coast of Africa from May to July 1942. On 20 May submarine I-10 under the command of Commander Kayabara Yasuchika reconnoitered Durban. She even flew her Yokosuka E14Y1 "Glen" floatplane over Durban which gave rise to much excitement and speculation among the residents. The Japanese also visited Port Elizabeth, East London, Simonstown, Reunion and Mauritius. They mounted a raid using midget submarines on allied warships moored at Diego Suarez in Madagascar and sank a good deal of allied shipping before returning to their base at Penang in Malaya.

In Facts About Durban I wrote that my family knew fishing ghillies in a remote area of the Transkei who told stories of yellow men who had come from the sea in small boats to buy fresh provisions. In light of the above it seems as if the stories could well have been true.

The I-10 had another link with Durban when, on 24 October 1943, she sank the merchant vessel MS Congella with gunfire. The Congella had been named after the Durban suburb where the Zulus had set up a camp to keep a watchful eye on the early white settlers. Ken Dimbleby [see Sources page] wrote of the sinking of the Congella during which her captain Arthur William Folster, though mortally wounded, refused to leave his ship and showed his defiance by tapping out the V for Victory signal in morse on the ship's siren as she sank.

Dit dit dit dah !!

See http://www.combinedfleet.com/I10.htm for more on the I-10 and the Japanese Navy in general.

22 September 2003

Today we've got a nice pic of Durban Bay and the Lighthouse Tea Gardens probably taken from the lighthouse on the Bluff. The pic is undated but I imagine that it has to be from before WWII when the lighthouse was demolished.

Picture courtesy Janine Anderson.

24 September 2003

A couple of weeks ago [Diary Page # 3] I was talking about the many shipwrecks which litter the approaches to Durban and about the fact that a goodly number of these were vessels which had outlived their usefulness and been scuttled. A book by Tony Large, In Deep and Troubled Waters [see Sources], which recently came my way mentions one such luckless vessel.

She was the Modwena and had been the private yacht of sewing machine magnate Mortimer Singer. She was a sailing barque and when Tony knew her she was owned by prominent Durbanite T.B. Davis and used for trading between Durban and Madagascar. Tony's father commanded her on his last two seagoing voyages but she was later paid-off because she was uneconomic.

Tony remembers seeing her swinging round a buoy near Salisbury Island before she was taken out and scuttled sometime in the early 1930s. Going by a picture I've seen, Modwena was a really pretty ship and it's a great pity she wasn't preserved.

The book also mentions that sailing ships were rare by the mid-1930s but that they occasionally still called in Durban. He recalls the visit of the Olivebank from that time because his first cousin Arthur Large was one of her crew. I also know that a working sailing ship called the Tango visited Durban during WWII. I'm hoping to find out more on this and other matters nautical next week when I meet a local shipping expert.

Added 11 December 2005: See a general page on sailing ships to have visited Durban which has some information on the Tango, and a special page on Modwena.

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