Facts About Durban Diary - Page # 14

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2 July 2004

Call me a superstitious fool, if you like, but I've gone straight from the last diary page (Page 12) to page 14. The number with a one and a three in it may not be unlucky but, as far as I'm concerned, there's no sense in taking chances.

Facts About Durban received a really nice review from Lindsay Slogrove in the Natal Mercury yesterday. Thanks Lindsay.

<== Click to read the review.

4 July 2004

Today I've put up a contribution from reader Gerald Buttigieg on his memories of the 'sessions' which were held as fundraisers in Durban during the early days of Rock 'n Roll. Check out the story and other interesting stuff on Gerald's page here.

13 July 2004

On Saturday I learnt that Facts About Durban had been reviewed on the radio. I don't know much more than that it was probably on SAFM on the book review program on a Sunday or two previously. A great pity to have missed my moment of glory...

Today I have put up a very good article from local shipping correspondent Terry Hutson. I already knew that Durban had the first steam railway in South Africa in 1860, but what I didn't realise is that Durban had an ox-powered one a couple of years before that even. Terry's article has plenty on that and an early attempt [for which the railway was built] to overcome the sandbar blocking the harbour mouth. An appropriate story to carry on what is more or less the 100th anniversary of the occasion [26th June 1094] when the first large ship was able to enter the harbour. See Terry Hutson's the story here.

Picture courtesy Terry Hutson.

14 July 2004

On the previous diary page I wrote that I had been in touch with a number of people from around the world who had found this website and had something of interest to contribute. One of these was Matt Powell from Idaho, in the USA, who has become interested in the the sinking of the ship Nova Scotia off Cape St Lucia in World War II.**

He became interested after seeing a newspaper article which said that the survivors had been subject to the greatest shark attack ever recorded. Matt was kind enough to send me the picture of the Nova Scotia, below, and a copy of an extract from Wolfpacks at War, which added to my knowlege of tragedy. I've written up the info and put it on the new Nova Scotia page here.

The Nova Scotia. Picture courtesy Matt Powell.

**There is a fair amount of detail on the Nova Scotia in these pages and, over the next couple of days I'm going to be collecting it and moving it to its own page.

The following is not really relevant to this site on Durban but is about a sinking in Pacific which may rival the Noca Scotia's in terms of the numbers of victims claimed by sharks. Matt sent me a book about the USS Indianapolis which was sunk during WWII by a Japanese submarine. The vessel had just delivered components for the atomic bomb to the island of Tinian in the Marianas when it was sunk on 30 July 1945. There was only one [or a few??] lifeboat and most survivors spent more than four days in the water supported by lifejackets, which were steadily becoming more and more waterlogged, and being attacked repeatedly by sharks. It is estimated that about 800 or 900 of the ship's 1196 crew were alive after the sinking. Only 316 of them were eventually picked-up, with an unknown number of the rest having fallen victim to sharks. The incident was the US Navy's worst ever maritime disaster. Coincidentally, at about the time Matt and I were exchanging e-mails, there was a news report that the wreck of the USS Indianapolis had been found. See here for more details on the tragedy.

20 July 2004

I was recently lucky enough to be lent a packet of pictures and papers on the Imperial Airways / BOAC flying boats which used to call in Durban. I have started putting up some of the material and you can view it [and read the story] by clicking here to go the main flying boat page and then clicking on Imperial Airways / BOAC Passenger and Mail Flights to Durban, Page Two, when you get there.

Picture courtesy Barbara le Grange

25 July 2004

The other day I was loaned the book A Natal Family Looks Back, by Harry Lugg, which reminded me of one of the most stirring episodes in Durban's History. This was on the occasion when the British Garrison was besieged by Boers in the Old Fort and Durban resident Dick King and his black helper, Ndongeni, set out on the 600-mile ride to Grahamstown to fetch help.

In Facts About Durban I wrote:

The British, alarmed by a Boer proposal to resettle Natal’s surplus African population to the South of the Republic, reoccupy Port Natal with 237 men of the 27th Regiment and Royal Artillery under Captain Thomas Charlton Smith. The British arrive on May 4th, set up a camp [on the site of the present-day Old Fort], occupy Fort Victoria on the end of the Point, and haul down the Republic of Natalia flag. The Boers then seize 700 cattle belonging to the British and Captain Smith decides to attack the Boers in their encampment at Congella. The attack takes place in bright moonlight on the night of May 23rd with the British advancing from their camp down to the bay [along the line where Aliwal Street is today] and then along the beach in the direction of the Boer Camp at Congella. The Boer marksmen are hidden in the mangroves fringing the bay and have no trouble inflicting heavy casualties on the exposed British who retire to their camp which is promptly besieged by the Boers. The British suffer over 50 casualties, including 16 killed, while the Boers have one killed and two injured, one of whom one dies later. [A memorial to the Boer dead in Maydon Road (on the corner of Methven Road) marks the area where the battle took place.]
The women and children are allowed by the Boers to leave the camp on June 2nd and they take refuge on the ship Mazeppa in the bay. On June 10th, under the leadership of Joseph Cato, the Mazeppa manages to escape from the bay in the face of Boer fire and sets sail for Delagoa Bay to seek help.
The Boers had captured an 18-pounder artillery piece from Fort Victoria and they use it to shell the camp. On running out of ammunition they retrieve the cannon balls fired at them from an identical gun inside the camp and promptly fire them back in. The garrison is reduced to living in ditches shaded by horse hides and eating biscuit dust, horse biltong [dried horsemeat], the occasional crow, and ground-up mealie [corn] horse-feed. The schooner Conch and the frigate HMS Southampton arrive on June 25th, carrying the Grenadier Company of the 27th Regiment and five companies of the 25th Foot under Colonel Cloete, and lift the siege the following day.

Ndongeni did not complete the epic trip to Grahamstown with Dick King and there has been some controversy on just how far he managed to get. Harry Lugg's book contains the translation of a 1905 Zulu pamphlet in which Ndongeni tells his story. Ndongeni was apparently born in 1826 in Zululand but his father was killed by Dingane, leaving his mother and he seek refuge on Dick King's farm at Isipingo, outside Durban.

He worked as a herd boy for Dick King and accompanied him on trips as the voorloper leading the team of oxen which drew Dick's wagon. Dick and Ndongeni met Captain Smith's column at the Umzimkulu river and showed them the road to Durban. He witnessed the Battle of Congella and saw one of the British officers killed. He was later called by Dick and told that he was going to accompany him back to the farm at Isipingo. After nightfall, Dick and Ndongeni went down to the bay, where they found horses and a small boat,and were rowed across the bay with the horses swimming along behind.

Ndongeni's saddle was without stirrups but Dick said it would not matter as they were not going far. First stop was the kraal of Mnini on the Bluff where the two stopped to ask Mnini to obscure the tracks which they had made. They then moved southwards crossing the rivers they encountered close to their mouths and not at the drifts which the boers had barred. Dick swam the 'Umlazi' river clad only in his shirt and Ndongeni, who could not swim, rode across carrying Dick's clothes on his head. He soon realised that they had bypassed Isipingo and Dick told him that they were going south to the Umzimkulu river. It was only when the pair reached that river was Ndongeni told that the real destination was Grahamstown.

After crossing the river, Ndongeni began to feel very tired because he had been riding without stirrups. Dick lent him his stirrups and he managed to get a new horse and a second pair of stirrups from a military camp [at the mouth of the Mgazi River???]. They rode on but it soon became clear Ndongeni was not able to continue; "..my legs from the hips felt as if they had been severed ... powerless and unable to lift them." Dick told him to go back to Mgazi and watch out on the fourth day thereafter, for a ship passing on the way to relieve the garrison at Durban. Ndongeni did see the ship pass dead on schedule and later walked back to Durban, leaving his horse behind at the camp.

Lugg mentions the rumour to the effect that Ndongeni had only accompanied Dick King as far as the Umkomaas River but he discounts it totally saying that nobody involved in the events, including Dick and his son, ever denied Ndongeni's contribution to that stirring ride. He mentions that the Natal Government awarded Ndongeni a farm in recognition of his service and that they would not have done so unless the story, as given by him, was substantially true. Ndongeni only received his farm in 1898, which is about as shameful as you can get. But, as I discovered the other day when down at the Point, he has received some further recognition since then.

The Ndongeni (DNA 135) is one of Durban's smaller tugs and is seen here in the harbour mouth on her way into the bay.** I'll publish details of vessel as soon as I get them.

** [?? I wonder... Is a ship with a guy's name still a girl ??]

<== Click to view enlargement.

A Natal Family Looks Back [details here] is a wonderful read and I would earnestly reccommend it. Harry's father was present at Rorkes Drift and he grew into a great lover of Natal and the Zulu people. He began his career in the Department of Native Affrairs and served until his retirement in 1941. The book is laced with humour including the hilarious story of the visit of the Governor of Natal to Port Shepstone to inspect the work being done on the breakwater there. The governor had been warned by practical jokers to give William Bazely, responsible for the work on the harbour, a wide berth as he habitually carried dynamite in his pocket, along with his pipe and tobacco, and was armed with a boathook. Bazely, on the other hand, was told that the Governor was deaf and that he'd have to stand very close to him when explaining how the work had been done. The scene with with Bazely trying to close in on the governor and the governor trying to keep away from Bazely can be easily imagined.

2 August 2004

Today marks the 150th anniversary of an important date in Durban's history or at least, I think it was. Durban's first municipal election was held on this day in 1854 about which, in Facts About Durban, I wrote:

Two councillors are to be elected in each ward and are to choose one of themselves to be mayor. All male residents over the age of 21 are eligible to vote provided they own property worth over £25 or if they rent property at over £5 per year. Residents can only stand for council election providing they own property worth over £100, mortgage-free. The first voter’s roll shows that there are 229 persons eligible to vote out of a white population of 1204. An election is held on August 2nd and among the elected councillors is George Cato who later becomes the first mayor.

George Russell's History of Old Durban [details here], which I very much reccommend, gives an interesting description of the election.

I still haven't heard that the city authorities are planning to celebrate the anniversary of our becoming a borough, or of the first election, and that's a great pity. It's true that the events did place during the colonial era but that's no reason to ignore the fact that they did happen. The elections were racially exclusive, sure enough, but many whites, including George himself, didn't get a vote either.

9 August 2004

I've been offline for a while but I plead that the trauma of having to speak in public last week (and the work that went into preparing the talk) kept me from adding anything. The talk on, 5 August, was to the World Ship Society on Facts About Durban and I think it went OK. I'm hoping that the members of the society will soon be contributing to these pages.

Also, on 5 August, Facts received a very nice mention on the Book Shelf page in the Daily News. Reviewer Lindsay Ord said: "It's a fascinating read for anyone, from the born-and-bred Durbanite to the visitor. The bite-sized facts are very more-ish - you plean to read a couple and end up engrossed!" Thanks Lindsay.

<== Click to read the review.

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