This article, South Africa's Eastern Port, by Sidney Howard, appeared in Shipping Wonders of the World magazine as Part 8 of a series of articles on Great Ports of the World. The magazine is not dated but there are clues that it was published in about July 1936. It was certainly not much later than that because the author had obviously no idea that the port would become the South African terminus for Imperial Airways Flying Boat Service in 1937. I found the article very interesting but must stress that it is an historic document and caution you to bear in mind that its coverage of Durban's history is not necessariliy correct or complete. I see no reason to doubt its desciption of the harbour and its workings, however. Allan Jackson.


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South Africa's Eastern Port

By Sidney Howard

The 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.

DURBAN 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.

Ships 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.

About 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.

The Portuguese 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.

Situated 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.

The harbour 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.

At right-angles 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.

The channel 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.

The two 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.

The services 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.

Ships 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 Company.

One of 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.

The main 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.

Pre-cooling 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.

Beyond 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.

A feature 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.

At the 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.

Ships 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.

Oil tankers 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 1,000 feet.

The coaling 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.

In addition 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

fishing 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.

Since 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.

The hopper 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.

Apart 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 pleasure.

The town 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.

Afloat 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.

South 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.

Enriched 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 the wilderness.

The story 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 landed.

The natives 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.

Durban, 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.

The first 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.

An African Napoleon

Chaka 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.

No story 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.

The new 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.

They were 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.

The coast of Natal is so deficient in harbours that the possibility of using the lagoon at Durban as a harbour

was often 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."

The early 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.

This work 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.

Thanks 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.

A network 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.

Durban 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
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The 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 about readable if you would like to see how they appeared.

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