harbour of Durban is formed by a natural lagoon. the only
opening on a long stretch of the eastern coast of South Africa.
A deserted wilderness just over a century ago. Durban now
handles more cargo tonnage than any other South African port.
is a noteworthy example of man's improvement upon nature,
for the magnificent city and harbour have risen on a site
which, little more than a century ago, was a wilderness. Durban
handles more cargo tonnage than any other port. In the Union
of South Africa.
of more than 25,000 tons and drawing more than 30 feet of
water frequent a harbour once considered unsuitable for sailing
vessels because of a dangerous bar at the entrance. This bar
used to alter in shape and size after every storm. Engineering
skill has conquered this obstruction and converted a once
deserted lagoon into one of the main sea-gates of the Union
of South Africa. In the year ended March 31, 1935, the total
tonnage of cargo and bunker coal bandIed was 4,333,575.
90,000 of the 225,000 inhabitants of Durban and its suburbs
are Europeans, the remainder being natives, Indians and other
coloured people. The port is in the Province of Natal. The
name Natal was given to the coast by Vasco da Gama because
he sighted the land on Christmas Day, 1497, during his voyage
round the Cape of Good Hope to India.
did not land, and the growth of Durban is due to the enterprise
of British seamen and traders. They called the harbour Port
Natal, as the lagoon was the only opening for their ships
on a long stretch of coast. The name of the modern city is
derived from that of Sir Benjamin d'Urban, who was Governor
of the Cape when the handful of settlers at Port Natal decided
to form a town in 1835. At the centenary in 1935 the Borough
of Durban became the City of Durban. The name Port Natal is
still applied to the wharves on the shores of Durban Bay.
on the east coast of South Africa, Durban is more than 800
miles by sea from Capetown, nearly 400 miles from Port Elizabeth
and 253 miles from East London. The nearest port. to the north-east
is Delagoa Bay, nearly 300 miles away. Distances from Southampton
are 6,790 miles by the Cape route and 8,380 miles through
the Suez Canal.
of Durban is a landlocked lagoon comprising about seven and
a half square miles of water. It is rather in the shape of
a pear, with the narrow entrance for the stalk, and it is
about three and a half miles long and two miles wide. The
entrance is easily picked up from seaward by sighting the
Bluff, a headland which forms the south-eastern corner of
the bay and juts out into the Indian Ocean. The bluff rises
to a height of 195 feet, and on the summit is a lighthouse
showing a light of three million candle-power. This famous
lighthouse is illustrated on page 708.
to the Bluff is a low spit of land called the Point, which
divides the eastern side of the bay from the sea. On the inner
side of the Point are the wharves at which the principal liners
berth. The entrance channel lies between the Point and the
Bluff, and is protected by two works built to seaward, the
North Pier and the South Breakwater. The South Breakwater
has been extended from the Bluff and is over 2,300 feet long.
The North Pier has been built from the Point. The minimum
width between the works is about 600 feet, and the minimum
width of the navigation channel 450 feet.
has been dredged to afford a depth of about 37 feet at low
water ordinary spring tides. The extent of the work can be
estimated by the fact that at one time there was only from
2 feet to 6 feet of water over the bar at low tide. As spring
tides rise 6 feet and neap tides only 3½ feet, the
old-time mariner did not risk his ship by putting in to the
bay unless he had to, or, as sometimes happened, he was blown
in over the abar by a gale and risked disaster.
peninsulas of the Bluff and the Point form the seaward walls
of a natural wet dock for ships from all parts of the world
To serve them, more than three miles of wharves and quays
have been built with depths alongside ranging at low water
from 2.3 feet to more than 38 ft. 6 in.
of shipping companies of many maritime nations include calls
at. the port of Durban. The Blue Funnel Line, the Clan Line,
the Hall Line and the Union Castle Line are among the many
British lines that send cargo and passenger vessels to Durban.
of the Holland-Afrika Line, German East African Line, Navigazione
Libera Triestina and Nippon Yusen Kaisha are among the Dutch,
German, Italian and Japanese vessels that regularly call at
the port. An African coastal service between Capetown and
South West African ports is maintained by Thesen's Steamship
the largest vessels that uses the port is the Athlone Castle,
25,564 tons gross. The Clan Urquhart, 9,564 tons gross; and
the Holland-Afrika liner Jagersfontein, 10,077 tons gross,
are other familiar vessels in the harbour of Durban.
shipping activities are concentrated at the Point. Where the
liner passenger lands there are quays with a total length
of more than a mile. There are eleven sheds, a bonded store
and an ample equipment of electric cranes. The most powerful
of these has a lift of 80 tons.
chambers for storing fruit before it is shipped to Europe
in refrigerated holds are provided to accommodate 33,280 cases
of fruit, and the building is opposite the mail-boat berth.
"There is a quay for repairing ships, and at the north-western
end of the Point is a floating dock. This is 475 feet long,
with an internal width of 10 feet, and can lift 5,000 tons.
this point the wharves end, giving place to the Victoria Embankment,
which is the bayside front of the citv and extends to Albert
Park. To the west of this lies the Maydon Wharf. This wharf
serves the industrial district called Congella and is reached
by the Maydon Channel, which has been dredged to enable large
freighters to get alongside the quays, where the depths range
from 32 ft. 6 in. to 25 feet.
of this part of the harbour is the grain elevator, which can
store 42,000 tons and has an intake of 1,000 tons an hour
and a similar output for loading ships at the wharf. The grain
exported is maize, not wheat.
end of the Maydon Wharf is the Prince Edward Graving Dock
which, when it was opened in 1925, was the largest south of
the Equator. It is 1,150 feet long at the bottom and 110 feet
wide at the entrance. Although the water capacity is 38,118,000
gallons the dock can be filled in forty-seven minutes and
emptied in the relatively short period of four hours, or less.
which are too large for the floating dock are accommodated
in the Prince Edward Graving Dock. The dock is divided into
two compartments, either of which can be used independently.
The depth in the dock at high water ordinary spring tides
is about 41 feet. Built of reinforced concrete, the dock was
opened by King Edward VIII when he was Prince of Wales. Much
land has been reclaimed from swamp in this part of the harbour
and has been sold for industrial sites.
berth at the Island View Wharf on the Bluff and discharge
into tanks. There are twenty-one petrol tanks storing a total
of over 18,000,000 gallons. The total length of wharfage measures
berths are located on the Bluff near the entrance channel.
The exports of coal have helped to make the port of Durban
prosperous. The coal is shipped to East African and Red Sea
ports, largely by Union Government vessels, as well as to
other parts of the world. Durban is the premier port for coal
exports in the Union of South Africa. Five ships may coal
simultaneously, three at the bucket transporters and two at
the belt conveyer. The
capacity of the loading plant exceeds 1,000 tons an hour.
The length of quayage at the Bluff is 2,365 feet.
there are bunkering facilities on the Point side of the harbour
for ships loading or discharging cargo. The facilities for
shipping coal and the proximity of the coalfields helped Durban
to become the greatest port in the Union during the war of
1914-18 and to secure overseas markets. This position has
been consolidated by the improvements made since, which have
entailed considerable expenditure. The graving dock cost £1,300,000
and the grain elevator £997,500. Apart from coal other
chief exports are sugar, wool, hides, wattle bark and extract,
fruit and maize. The principal imports are general merchandise,
fertilizers, timber, iron and steel ware and machinery. There
is a considerable
industry maintained by companies using trawlers and by natives
inshore. The port is also the centre of the South African
whaling industry. Nearly 4,000,000 gallons of whale oil, were
exported in 1929. Whale meat is used locally for industrial
processes and the manufacture of fertilizers.
1910, when the Union of South Africa came into being, Durban
and all other harbours have been controlled by the South African
Railways and Harbours Administration. The port equipment at
Durban includes five large tugs with salvage and fire-fighting
appliances and two smaller tugs, one bucket dredger, one suction
dredger, launches, crane barges and various other craft.
dredger Rietbok is one of the largest dredgers of her type
in the world. Built at Renfrew in 1930, she is a twin-screw
vessel of 4,538 tons gross. She is 374 feet long with a beam
of 57 ft. 8 in., and she was one of the first dredgers to
have her boilers equipped with patent turbine furnaces.
from its commercial importance Durban attracts thousands of
visitors as a seaside resort. Frost and oppressive heat are
unknown, the mean minimum temperature for the winter being
63° F., and the mean maximum for the summer 81°. The
green headland of the Bluff shelters the harbour and the city
from gales from the south-east and enables yachtsmen to sail
small craft in the harbour. Development has made the ocean
front of Durban into a South African Lido where thousands
of visitors, old and young, renew their health and find their
hall and municipal buildings are in the centre of the city
in West Street, which runs parallel with the Victoria Embankment
facing the harbour, and is at right-angles to the ocean beach.
Behind the town rises the Berea, a range of hills upon which
is built the chief suburb, affording fine views of the city
and harbour. The parks and gardens are colourful in summer
with poinsettia, flamboyant, jacaranda and other brilliant
blooms. Wide streets and tree-lined avenues give the city
a distinctive character. Durban is a garden city that lingers
long in the memory of those who visit the port.
and ashore the scene is extraordinarily varied. In the harbour
are crack liners which have paused in their ocean stride to
pick up passengers, mails and freight. There are tramps, tankers,
colliers loading at the Bluff and whalers from the rim of
the Antarctic ice. Ashore are Zulu rickshaw boys arrayed in
barbaric splendour, statuesque Zulu women, Indians, Chinese
and smartly dressed European women.
Africans, even those who live hundreds of miles inland, are
noted for their love of the sea and ships, and Durban provides
sea interests to appeal to all, whether they are swimmers,
fishermen, yachtsmen or lovers of big ships. The sea angler
can graduate from fishing in the bay to rock fishing outside
it and trying his skill against kingfish, barracouda and sharks,
although a tussle with a 700 lb. shark is not a sport for
the inexperienced. The bay is noted for the enthusiasm of
its yachtsmen. Some have tried their helmsmanship in the Solent,
where, however, they found that the swift tides and the difference
in the power of the wind caused by the greater humidity of
the English climate handicapped them against British yachtsmen.
as South Africa is by Nature in mineral resources, the Union
lacks the advantage of deep natural harbours, and this drawback
has been surmounted in recent years only by a progressive
policy of harbour construction. Except for
the steady work of the engineers who conquered the natural
disadvantages of the bar Durban would not have emerged from
of the port is the romance of men of the sea determined to
make a safe harbour for their ships on a coast that had for
centuries been a terror to all mariners. Ships homeward bound
from India, the East Indies and China foundered on the desolate
coast; and those passengers and sailors who were not drowned
in the surf mostly perished from starvation or, as they walked
along the coast in the hope of reaching the Portuguese settlement
at Lourenco Marques, were killed by the natives. For centuries
after da Gama had sighted Natal none except shipwrecked Europeans
inhabiting the shores of ;Durban Harbour were less aggressive
than those elsewhere. In the seventeenth century the survivors
of three wrecked ships, the Good Hope, which had sailed from
Gravesend, the Bonaventura of Bristol and the Stavinesse,
a Dutch East Indiaman, combined to build a two-masted vessel
50 feet long and 14 feet in beam. A score of them sailed her
to the Cape, where they sold her to the Dutch governor, who
named her the Centaur and sent her along the coast to help
any other shipwrecked mariners.
or Port Natal as it was then, continued to have a shifting
population of stranded mariners. One Dutch skipper bought
the entire port for beads, copper and ironmongery, but lost
his ship and the deed of purchase in a wreck. One of the survivors
of this wreck became a captain and took his vessel into the
harbour; she rolled so violently in the surf on the bar that
he was injured by the swinging of the tiller. Inside the bay
he found the sole survivor of three English sailors, who was
contented with his lot ashore although his two shipmates had
been killed by the natives. He was joined by two men from
a Dutch ship which had sailed without them. The brig Salisbury
really began the story of the port. She was blown over the
bar by a gale, and her name is commemorated today by Salisbury
Island inside the bay. The brig was under the command of James
Saunders King, who had as partner Francis George Farewell.
The two were typical of the adventurous
sailors who found themselves at a loose end after the end
of the Napoleonic wars, went to Capetown and fitted
out small vessels to explore the coast and barter with the
natives. Having charted the bay, King returned to England,
but Farewell made another trip to Port Natal. Two small vessels
were fitted out and sailed for the bay.
to arrive had as supercargo Henry Francis Fynn, an Irishman
with considerable gifts of diplomacy. The bay and the country
surrounding it had been conquered by a remarkable savage named
Chaka, who had transformed the Zulu tribesmen into formidable
warriors and become an African Napoleon. By the time Farewell
had arrived, Fynn had succeeded in gaining the friendship
of Chaka, and this was turned to gratitude when Fynn healed
Chaka of a wound that had been inflicted by a would-be assassin.
was so grateful that in 1824 he made his mark on a document
giving Port Natal and an area of several thousand square miles
to the white men. King heard of the success of his former
partner and sailed for Port Natal, but he was wrecked just
north of the entrance. Chaka gave him land. This aroused the
jealousy of Farewell, who refused to visit King when he lay
dying in 1828.
of the founding of a great modem port is stranger than that
of this handful of mariners dealing with a savage king who
did not give a thought to massacring thousands of his subjects
and was delighted with the white men's presents of pills,
ointments and hair-oil. Chaka was murdered and was succeeded
by his brother Dingaan. Farewell was murdered during a trip
into the hinterland, but the settlement struggled on and was
augmented by adventurous souls. Among these was a former Commander
of the Royal Navy, Allen Francis Gardiner, who wished to convert
the Zulus to Christianity. He called a meeting of the settlers
in 1835. They decided to form a township and call it D'Urban.
township suffered many hardships. One Zulu raid reduced its
British population to about a dozen. Some years later the
Boers, who had trekked overland from the Cape to found Natal,
overthrew Dingaan and occupied Durban, from which a small
British force had been withdrawn. The British sent a small
force to reoccupy the settlement. The Boers took up a position
at Congella and inflicted such a repulse on the British that
the latter were besieged.
saved by the heroism of one man, Dick King. With a native
to accompany him, King was rowed across the bay to the Bluff,
two horses being towed behind the boat. King rode 600 miles
to Grahamstown in ten days with news of the plight of the
British. A relief force was sent by sea and Natal was annexed.
Dick King, who made the greatest ride in South African history,
is the subject of a statue in Durban.
of Natal is so deficient in harbours that the possibility
of using the lagoon at Durban as a harbour
considered. Early opinions, however, were sceptical. When
the East India Company contemplated taking possession of Natal
they rejected the idea because it was said of the site of
Durban " there is a reef or a sand bank at the mouth
of the port that no galiot (merchant vessel) without touching
could get over without danger, so that a small vessel could
not safely go in there". In I824 a report; stated that
vessels up to 9 feet in draught could enter the lagoon at
all times and "be as safe as in a wet dock."
and rather discouraging reports are interesting to read in
the twentieth century, for Durban is now the premier port
of the eastern seaboard of South Africa. In fewer than a hundred
years a great and important harbour has come into being. When
the trade of Natal began to grow the need for improving the
harbour was pressing. The bar presented a problem that was
not overcome for years. A beginning was the building of a
pier from the Point in the hope of diverting the ebb tide
to scour a channel over the bar.
was partly successful, and more schemes were discussed, but
were shelved when it was reported that owing to rock the channel
could not be made deeper than 18 feet. Then the discovery
of gold and diamonds inland increased the value of the port
and new attempts were made to conquer the bar. Fresh surveys
showed that the rock was not continuous but consisted of boulders,
which were removed. Durban's first steam tug, put into service
in 1859, towed sailing ships into and out of the harbour.
The following year a railway, the first to be built in South
Africa, was built from the Point to the town. By the beginning
of the century the depth of the entrance channel was 20 feet
and since then this depth has been nearly doubled. The vessel
with the deepest draught to leave the port was the Pelagos.,
12,067 tons gross. She left the harbour in March 1930, drawing
36 ft. 8 in. of water.
to the development of the port, the industrial district of
Congella has grown rapidly and Durban has become a great manufacturing
and business centre, most of the factories in Natal being
either in or near Durban.
of railways serves the docks at Durban and links them with
the main South African railway system. Thus there is direct
communication with all inland industrial centres for cargo
discharged at Durban. Goods can be loaded directly into the
railway wagons alongside by the ships' slings.
is the nearest port in the Union of South Africa to towns
in Rhodesia, the Transvaal or the Orange Free State, and the
journey to Bulawayo, Rhodesia, a distance of nearly 1,170
miles, is made in just over sixty hours.
A map of
Durban Bay taken from the article
Click to view enlargement
pages of the article would be too large reproduce in full
so I have scanned them in at a size where they will be just
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