William Hartley … an early pioneer

Graham Read in a post mentioned the name William Hartley School in Hopelands Road Overport.  Hopelands Road is at the crest of the Overport Ridge and runs behind the ridge past the back of Parklands Hospital.  I have come across the name William Hartley quite often in the books I have read about Durban that I thought a summary of some his endeavours would be interesting. There is no doubt that William Hartley was a go getter and in today’s parlance he would surely have been called an entrepreneur.

Direct quotes from the various books I used as reference are in inverted commas.

William Harvey  and his wife Isabella emigrated to  Natal as Byrne Settlers aboard the Sovereign which sailed from Plymouth on 24 November 1849 and arrived  off the Bluff on 24 March 1850, a trip of 120 days.

” William Hartley, a true Victorian individualist, emigrated at the age of 21 after reading James E. Methley’s book , ” The New Colony of Port Natal”.  He married his sweetheart,  Isabella a fortnight before sailing. His parents gave him a parting gift of one hundred pounds in sovereigns which Isabella quilted into her corsets. From this safe deposit, they cut out a sovereign at a time as the need arose. It was Hartley who made a fortune from the wreck of the Ariosto when her cargo of black pepper was strewn along the Durban beaches.”

The Sovereign, a barque, arrived with 230 emigrants.

William Hartley in terms of the Byrne Emigration scheme was allocated land in the extent of 90 acres.  I do not have information where the land was situated but it would appear that Hartley abandoned his allocation (perhaps sold it) and decided to make his living in the dusty streets of the fledgling  town of D’Urban.

” At dawn on the 31 July 1854, someone discovered that a large ship, with her sails loose, looking as it were over the Back Beach Bush about the end of Smith Street.  (The Back Beach then was what we today call North and South Beach. It was at the back of the beaches which were then within the Bay.)  

All Durban rushed to the scene to find it was a fine American vessel named  Ariosto 361 tons , from Sumatra to Boston with a cargo of pepper. There was no sea on, and everything was right except the Master’s computation, which led him to believe he was some miles outside the Bluff, so his ship calmly continued on her course until the watch on the deck heard the breakers on shore ; they edged her off a little but too late.  She struck, bumped over the outer sandbank  and was carried on to the beach. The crew 17 in all landed in their own boat. The vessel became a wreck and William Hartley an immigrant from Britain bought the washed up cargo of pepper as a job lot. After drying it, he made a considerable profit from its re-sale overseas”.

“Hence it was only at the end of June 1854, that Ward meetings were held in town (D’Urban)  to consider the position and to nominate fit and proper persons as representatives. Ultimately the following were nominated for election as Councillors: Ward 1:  GC Cato, A McArthur,  J Blackwood

Ward 2 : J Millar, GH Wirsing, J Brickhill W Smerdon  Ward 3:  R Harwin, AW Evans Ward 4 : WH Savory, R Raw, C Johnston, F Harvey , Edward Snell and William Hartley.

At the close of the poll, the Resident Magistrate threw up his office window and declared the following to have been duly elected as the first Town Councillors for the Borough of D’Urban:

Ward 1 : George Christopher  Cato and James Blackwood

Ward 2:  John Millar and George Henry Wirsing

Ward 3:  Alfred Winter Evans and Richard Harwin

Ward 4:  Charles Johnston and Robert Raw.

On 5th August 1854, the newly elected Council  chose George Christopher Cato as the first Mayor of D’Urban.”

Wiliiam Hartley had failed to get a Council seat  but one can see that he had his fingers in many pies.

“At the end of the next municipal year (July 1859) a local newspaper reported ” … The dignity of Town Councillor has this year literally gone a-begging and it was not till very late Saturday night (July 23rd) that the number was made up. A number of our respectable fellow townsmen positively declined the honour and some of those who ultimately accepted did so only to save the Borough from non representation” .   GC Cato was again one of the representatives for Ward 1. The new Council  met on Saturday August 6th 1859 for the election of the new Mayor.  Voting by ballot was agreed to on the motion of Cato and resulted in William Hartley being elected. It was under his able guidance that the affairs of the Borough were brought into order once more”.

So next time round William Hartley was chosen as second Mayor of Durban. Hartley then turned to sugar.

“Few of the residents of the Overport area know that the greater part of that portion of the Berea was originally an estate called West Hill before the name Overport became commonly used. William Hartley, merchant of Durban, purchased  the original land in 1859 from Joseph Cato brother of George Cato. The property was bounded by Ridge Road and the valley at the back and extended from Springfield Road to the old St. Thomas Church. Hartley built Overport House on this 450 acre estate in 1865 and made it over for the use of the current governor of Natal from 1872 to 1894. The structure had a very large roof area designed to catch as much rain water as possible”.

” Hartley was the senior partner in the partnership , Hartley and Handley in West Street. The firm dispensed Edmund Morewood’s molasses in 1852.”

”  West Hill Estate was first planted to coffee but this was replaced by sugar in 1872. Hartley’s Mill started crushing  in 1874. At the end of 1880, Hartley’s Overport Sugar and Coffee Estate was up for sale by auction.   The reason for selling the mill was a shortage of water.  Part of the old mill building known today (1964) as Grayson House still stands as a residence alongside South Road, between Hartley Road and Ridge Road. ”

I stand to be corrected but I seem to recall that Overport House was eventually converted into a school  and to this day 33 Hopelands Road has always been a school site.

From the 1938 Directory:   Overport School:   33 Hopeland Road Principal Mr W. A. Blake. Enrolment 252 pupils.

From the 1968 Directory:  Overport School  (Primary)  33 Hopelands Road   Principal :  Mr L.G.S. Merret  B.A.


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21 Responses

  1. Linda Morris
    | Reply

    The house was demolished but parts did remain which were originally incorporated into Parklands Nursing Home. It is said that the ghost of William Hartley still walks at night in the maternity section, overseeing the children.
    Should you want more on Overport house, as William Hartley was a great x4 I think grandfather of mine and I have plenty of newspaper cuttings on the house.

    • Roland Marais

      Hi Linda

      William Hartley is an ancestor of mine. I have read in the Dictionary of South African Biography (1973) that a photo of him was published in the Natal Mercury of 1 August 1911. Could you assist me in any way to get hold of a copy of this photo? Would your newspaper clippings maybe have something? Your help would be greatly appreciated.


    • Christopher Charles Hartley Black

      Did you ever locate a photo of William Hartley? I am trying to get one before my mother’s memorial service next week.

    • Sarah Girt

      hi I have a photo – somewhere- of William Hartley with his son-in-law and grandson (my grandfather). Let me know if you still need one
      All the best
      Sarah Girt

    • Linda Morris

      Roland, I am away from my home until April 2017, so cannit say if I have the clipping or not. Justin Hartley Hope, Annie Hartleys descendant, is on facebook and may be able tohelp you before I can. You could also try taking bits and pieces off the family tree on either My Heritage or Geni.
      Linda Morris

    • Christopher Charles Hartley Black

      Hi Linda. Do you have a photo of William Hartley or one or two of Overport House that I could use for my mother’s memorial service next week.

    • Linda Morris

      Hope you have seen my reply

    • Robert Carr

      Roland, William Hartley is also a relative. My great grandfather x a few. It’s a fascinating story. I see Justin Hopes name being used. He is my great uncle.

  2. Thilaga Reddy
    | Reply

    Hi there
    I would appreciate any photos and historical information about the following schools:
    Ridge Park College, Berea Girls high,
    Windermere Girls as well as Mitchell Girls.
    We are trying to establish a history of Ridge Park College which was established in 1991 when Mitchell Girls and Berea Girls merged. Also keen to have history of the buildings such as the Berea Nursing home, Ellis Brown House, Knoll house etc that were initially used as Berea Girls in 1969.

    Thilaga Reddy

  3. Mike
    | Reply

    Hi Christopher,

    If you click ( or key the full sentence into Google),on the following link it brings up a photo of Overport House. Not 100% clear, but quite good!. A story of your ancestor also on the same page.
    When the site appears make it as big as you can, otherwise the photo is a bit small. Can be made into quite a big picture by expanding the site.


    PressReader – The Mercury: 2014-05-22 – Breaking new ground

  4. Linda Morris
    | Reply

    Hi Christopher, you could try contacting me, linda owen smith morris on fb or messenger and I can help you.

  5. Robert Hope
    | Reply

    William Hartley is also my ancestor and while i know most of this its still nice to read in such detail.
    My daughter was born in Parklands 3 years ago, and it is kind of comforting thinking of his ghost watching over her.

  6. Justin Hartley Hope
    | Reply

    I am Justin Hartley Hope, great, great grandson of William Hartley. I have a few photos of William Hartley and his wife Isabella. One taken on the land where Overport House was to be built. They are both on horseback. I also have some newspaper clippings of Overport House and the family. One photo of four generations, William Hartley his daughter Annie Hughes Hope, Percy Hartley Hope and my father Aubrey Hartley Hope.

    • Allan Jackson

      I have emailed Justin and offered to post those pictures he mentions. Watch this space.

  7. Shaelene Craddock
    | Reply

    that’s Lovely Rob! Also great to see so many new cousins!

  8. Ron Aitken-Smith
    | Reply

    I attended Overport Government School from 1951 to 1958 (class 1 to standard 6) Mr Coombes was the head master. Good memories.

  9. Dawne Costa
    | Reply

    I have lived in the Overport area all my life. Went to Overport Government School 1952 -1958. Then Mitchell High School until matric. My children attended William Hartley School and Berea Girls High. Are there any descendants of a Kate Esther Webber who bought a property in 1914 possibly from William Hartley ? I am keen to get any information about the history of my home.

  10. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Dawne
    Do you have an address for that property?

  11. Dawne Costa
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald
    It’s 34 South Road. My parents had a house just up the road at 6 Glenearn Road, off Hartley Road where I was born. Sadly, it no longer exists. It was sold in 2003/4 and demolished for a big building. My dad was the sergeant and at some time station commander of the Overport Police Station in the 1930s, 40s and possibly early 50s. He was moved to the Radio Station in Ridge Road when I was still a child. I have many fond memories of the area. I was born after WW2 and I remember going to the depot which was in a big, open plot of land, where my mom and I used to join a queue to buy groceries. I was very young but think it was a big truck with a counter. I remember the tins of food and a man serving and I used to go home with a popsicle after our tiring outing. The area later became residential with “modern” houses built on it. It’s named Highview. It is where South and Sparks Roads join and stretches as far as Mc Cord Road. The house which stood at 38 South Road was a clinic during the war and served as a bomb shelter for the school children. It was a listed house but demolished, a few years ago, by the present owner and replaced with a high monstrous looking building. A once peaceful residential neighbourhood has become a noisy, busy and dangerous commercial area.

  12. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Dawne,
    I know South Road as I was stationed at the Overport Telephone Exchange when I started working for the Dept of P&T in 1962. The Overport Exchange building frontage was on the borderline of the original Durban boundaries being Ridge Rd, the Indian Ocean, the Umgeni River and the Umbilo River. The building faced Ridge Rd but it extended at the back and the entrance to the yard was in South Road. The Overport Post Office was incorporated in that building at street level. From what I was told the building housed the original Trunk Operators who connected callers to trunk calls to the rest of the country. Behind was a large vacant area (may have have been bought by the Dept of P&T) which remained undeveloped for many years until they built the new Overport Telephone Exchange that stands there today on it. Silver Oak Ave was directly opposite. Next door to the PO yard was a bank branch and the corner had a butchery and a cake shop and I think a ladies hairdresser.
    I looked up No 34 in my 1938 Dbn Directory and 34 was occupied by BV Hampson. Next door at 38 was the Native Registration Office, Sydenham. By 1957 whatever was on No 34 must have been altered as the entry for that year reads Flat 1 BV Hampson and Flat 2 Dennis Cockerell. No 38 is now occupied by M Kables. Does this information ring any bells?

  13. Nick Moon
    | Reply

    My families include the Sparks and Randles who owned several estates further inland( Sydenham,Sparks,Mayville and the 2 Randles estates(Woodlands and Woodburne)William Hartley was a great friend and a great musical contributor to the social gatherings at Sydenham Hall. In fact it was my great grandfather Charles James that saved the famous stained glass windows of Overport House when it was demolished and they are preserved in the Library at Durban Girls College. This was done as a tribute to his wife Mabel Bennett who was in the schools foundation class.

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