Facts About Durban Diary - Page # 8

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6 November 2003

I have just received this evocative picture of a double-decker bus which was taken in 1960. Click here or on the image to go to the page on Durban's public transport history for details about the picture and to download a wallpaper-sized enlargement.

6 November 2003

I've put up a new page on Durban symbols. You'll find pictures of the original Borough Seal, the Coat of Arms and various logos which have been used by the Council. The page is very much a work in progress with plenty of detail still missing and I'd welcome any help with filling in the missing pieces.

11 November 2003

Some time ago I reported that I had acquired a packet of aerial pictures of Durban with some dating back to 1931/2 when the first aerial survey of Durban was completed. I now have permission to reproduce them courtesy of The Director: Survey Department, eThekwini Municipality. The first few are now up along with full details on the Air Survey page and I'll keep you posted in the diary as I add more.

17 November 2003

On the previous diary page I mentioned that I had been in search of Durban's earliest computer. The earliest ones I had then found were electro-mechanical plugboard tabulators which were used from the early 1930s by Durban's Treasury Department to keep track of payments to the department and to generate telephone accounts.
Now, thanks to Transnet Heritage Librarian Eurika Deminey, I have discovered that S.A. Railways And Harbours were using Hollerith sorting machines and tabulators to produce their monthly goods returns in Durban from the beginning of August 1922.
The S.A.R. & H. magazine from November 1922 gives a fascinating account of how the system worked. Young male and female operators would capture documents including invoices onto punch cards at the rate of about 250 an hour.
The stack of cards would then be fed into the sorting machine which would sort the cards by railway station number and then, for each station, by invoice number. Stop cards were inserted into the stack of punch cards between each station and then the whole pile would be fed into the tabulator.
This machine would read each punch card and add up the weight of cargo and the amounts paid and owing for each station. When it reached the stop card at the end of each station it would halt to allow the operator to note down the figures. The goods returns for August 1922 were compiled, incidentally, from 31500 invoices and 14500 received payments.
A comment made in the magazine that 'the success of this system of working entirely depends upon the cards being punched with the proper information' is as true today as it was then. GIGO: Garbage In Garbage Out.

28 November 2003

On other diary pages I have mentioned the tragedy on 28 November 1942 in which the passenger ship Nova Scotia was torpedoed with great loss of life about 48km off Cape St Lucia - see here and here. In the meantime my informant Doug Thompson has given me a newspaper clipping which is dated 22 November 1987 and describes the end of the Nova Scotia. The article was written by a Bob Kennaugh who, I can only speculate, must have been related to Nova Scotia survivor George Kennaugh.

U-Boat 177 commander Kapitanleutnant Robert Gysae apparently spotted smoke from the Nova Scotia at 6:12am. The U-Boat submerged at 8:31am and at 9:15 fired three torpedoes at a distance of 380 metres sinking the Nova Scotia within seven minutes. One lifeboat was launched successfully leaving the rest of the survivors clinging to rafts or bits of wreckage in the oily and shark-infested water.

The U-Boat surfaced to find out which ship had been sunk but the commander noted that he couldn't get an answer because the survivors were all screaming and shouting at once. Two survivors were apparently taken on board the U-Boat and by 10am the U-Boat was moving away from the scene due to the danger from allied air patrols and, in particular, I believe, from the Catalina patrols operating from the nearby Eastern Shores on Lake St Lucia.

I did speculate that the U-Boat had probably been ordered not to assist survivors and Kennaugh's article confirms this saying that a signal was received by the boat from U-Boat Headquarters saying; "Continue operating. Waging war comes first. No rescue attempts." As explained elsewhere, I have reason to believe that this prohibition dated from an incident a month earlier where a U-Boat had been bombed while it was trying to assist survivors from the troopship Laconia.

U-Boat Headquarters did notify the Portuguese Authorities about the sinking and the sloop Alfonso de Albuquerque under Captain Jose Augusto de Brito was dispatched from Lourenco Marques to the scene which it reached in the evening of the 29 November. Survivors were picked up all through the night until the search was abandoned the next day.

According to Kennaugh there were 765 Italian prisoners of war, 134 South African soldiers, some women and children and, of course the crew aboard the Nova Scotia when she was torpedoed. In all 750 people lost their lives, many to shark attack, and many of their bodies were washed ashore along the Kwazulu Natal coast including 120 at Durban.

The sinking of the Nova Scotia occurred 61 years ago today. R.I.P.

30 November 2003

You'll find full details of the 1931/32 air survey of Durban on the air survey page including a new picture I've just put up.

<== Click the picture or here to go to the page.

10 December 2003

The greatest reward that I have reaped from my Facts About Durban project is the letters and emails I have received from people keen to share their knowledge and memories with me. A couple of interesting letters which arrived recently established the true facts behind the lovely story that the infant model for the nude cherubs which decorate the city hall later later went on to become mayor of Durban.

The first letter was from Brenda Horner who is the widow of the famous Durban actor David Horner. Much to my surprise it also turned out that Brenda's father Gordon White used to sing with the Chanticleers which was an amateur singing group run by my grandparents Jackson in Durban in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Chanticleers made a number of radio broadcasts from my grandparents' home at 167 Ridge Road. My grandfather would apparently phone the studio at the appointed time and the group would sing down the line. We have a 78-recording of the group featuring Gordon and, we think, Springbok Cricketer Eric Dalton and I was delighted to be able to give Brenda a copy of it on compact disc.

But, now back to the cherubs. Brenda's maternal grandfather was William Cornelius, who along with Mr Hollis, was the contractor who built Durban's City Hall. It seems that the Land Bank crash in the late 19th century caused many Australians to seek a better life overseas. These included William Cornelius and his wife Elizabeth who arrived in Durban in 1895 where he set up as a building contractor in premises in Stanger Street.

Cornelius and Hollis were awarded the contract to build the City Hall in 1905 and, hardly had the building got under way when, on the 24th May 1905, which was Empire Day, Elizabeth gave birth to the first known set of triplets born in South Africa. Many Australians worked on the City Hall including William's brothers Martin, George and Fred and his older sons William and Ernest.

After the completion of the City Hall in 1910 the retiring William Cornelius took his family on holiday rather than attend the opening ceremony. His firm did a lot of other work in and around Durban including the Natal Bank building, Payne Brothers building in West Street, Willern Court and Victoria Mansions on Victoria Embankment, the Metro cinema, which was on the corner of Aliwal Street and Smith Street, and a large section of Shongweni Dam.

In the first edition of Facts About Durban I included an unsubstantiated story that Hollis' infant son had been the model for the naked cherubs adorning the city hall and later became the first mayor anywhere to take office in a city hall decorated with nude representations of himself.

Brenda confirmed that she had been told this story as a child by her mother and I was delighted to think that it was true. That same week, however, an e-mail arrived from my informant Merle Rowles saying that much of the decorative stone work, plaster mouldings and woodcarving on the city hall had been done by Oliver Liles. She told me that his daughter was living in Margate and would be able to let me have the truth behind the story of the cherubs for once and for all.

I was surprised again when I found out that Oliver's daughter is Joan Delgado who was very well known to me years ago having been a friend of my mother's. She confirmed to me that her father had done a major amount of work on the city hall including the plaster work but that the model for the cherubs had been Joan's brother Eric.

So now we know !!

From the sounds of it Oliver Liles must have been an exceptional craftsman whose main speciality was stone carving but who could turn his hand to anything in the decorative line. In addition to Durban's City Hall, he also worked on the Cape Town City Hall, the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the War Memorial in East London, the restoration of the stonework on the Grahamstown Cathedral and the City Hall and Appeal Court in Bloemfontein. Joan told me that she has the pleasure of seeing her father's work every time the court building appears on the TV news which, these days, is regrettably often.

The Durban City Hall is a marvellous building and I must see if I can't get some more information on it and put it up on its own page.

10 December 2003

I was at the Point the other day on one of the few photographically decent days we've had this summer so I took a picture of our Millenium Tower on the Bluff.

<== Click the picture to view an enlargement.


In the first edition of Facts About Durban I wrote:

Look from just about anywhere in Durban towards the Bluff and you will see a tower with a big cone-shaped thingy made out of tubing on its head. This is Durban’s Millennium Tower which was completed in 2002 to house the city’s Port Control Offices and to show off a bit. The design was done by the firm soundspacedesign and was one of 53 entries in a competition run by the Port Authorities.

The whole thing is 75 meters high and the tubular bit on top, more properly known as the cowl, rotates so that its curved front points in the direction the wind is blowing. The cowl weighs 14 tons of which 11 tons is aluminium. A central 50-meter spire moves up and down in the centre to show whether the tide is in or out and the cowl is supposed to be lit up at night with a changing display driven by a random algorithm based on the tide, wind and humidity.

The Tower provides information through the array of lights it carries below its windows. A red light means a ship is leaving the harbour, green means one is arriving, flashing red means the port is closed, and amber means that the wind speed has reached gale-force (50kmh), or above. Buried beneath the Tower is a time capsule containing 2000 drawings and items representing the current era including a brassiere belonging to one of the Port Control Officers.

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