of book contents
on the Bay: 1858-1890
In 1858, just 23 years after the fledgling township of D'Urban
was established on the shores of Durban Bay, a passion for
boats and boating led the early settlers to form the Durban
Regatta Club - the first yacht club in Africa. This became
the Natal Yacht Club in 1863 and continued as such for the
next 27 years. In 1871 it boasted some 42 members, and by
1890 membership had reached 85. With no club house, members
met at John Deer's London Hotel, followed by the Princess
Café. For the annual Regatta Day, shops shut and crowds
of eager spectators flocked to the bay foreshore to enjoy
the aquatic entertainment.
In 1891 the Natal Yacht Club was granted a Royal Charter and
became the Royal Natal Yacht Club - thereby gaining Royal
Admiralty Special Warrant privileges. In 1892, in line with
its new status, the club established its first clubhouse on
the shores of Durban Bay. On 4th December 1900 its second
clubhouse - adjacent to Fenton Lane and home for the next
90 years - opened its doors. With the new century, three great
yachting competitions were born - the Inter-port Yachting
Challenge (1905), the Lipton Cup Challenge (1911), and the
South African Inter-club Challenge (1913). Famous RNYC yachtsman
included father-and-son sailing legends, George and Herby
Spradbrow, and the Chiazzari brothers, Frank and Nick.
and Sailing: 1914-1945
During the World Wars Durban Bay was closed to sailing. Many
club members joined the call to fight, whilst those left behind
kept the RNYC afloat, most notable being Rupert Ellis Brown,
club commodore and mayor of Durban throughout the dark days
of World War II. In the interwar years sailing resumed. The
Inter-port, Inter-club and Lipton Cup Challenges were revived,and
RNYC yachtsmen sailed at the Olympics. As the popularity of
the Scow declined, great interest was shown in the 16-foot
Goodricke dingy, and the 1930s saw the introduction of the
20-foot Sharpie. The RNYC's annual ball was a highlight of
Durban's social calendar, and Salisbury Island remained the
favourite spot for a family outing.
Halcyon Days: 1946-1969
The post-war years were halcyon ones for the Royal Natal Yacht
Club and the sport of sailing. In 1958 the RNYC underwent
extensive alterations and celebrated its centenary. Club life
flourished under the guidance of Rupert Ellis Brown. On the
water, sailing greats such as Wilfrid Hancock, Noel Horsfield,
John Sully, Bruce McCurrach, Jimmy Whittle and Gordon Neill
brought honour to the RNYC. Whilst Sprogs, Sharpies and the
Flying Dutchman were the favoured dinghy classes, on the keelboat
front, 30 Square Metres enjoyed their heyday, with RNYC sailors
dominating the Lipton Cup throughout the 1960s.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of long distance ocean racing.
RNYC yachtsmen participated enthusiastically in the Cape to
Rio (started 1971), Vasco da Gama (started 1967) and Mauritius
to Durban (started 1985) ocean races, whilst Gordon Neill
twice took a team to the Admiral's Cup in the 1970s. From
1980 the L26 modernised keelboat sailing. On the dinghy front,
Lasers, Flying 15s and Fireballs came into their own. Match
Racing started in 1979 and in 1980 the club hosted the Fireball
Worlds. Well known personalities included Guy Reynolds, Bobby
Nuttall, Val Hendrie, Brian Tocknell and Ed Caney. Rescue
took off and club life at Fenton Lane flourished. In 1983,
the RNYC turned 125.
on the Bay: 1991-2008
In 1991 the RNYC opened its new clubhouse in the heart of
Durban's marina. Back on the bay, membership rose to 1500
and club sailing flourished. Martin Lambrecht and Alec Lanham-Love
won the Fireball Worlds in 1992 and sailed at the Barcelona
Olympics. Anthony Steward completed his solo circumnavigation
in an open boat in 1993, and in January 1998, blind sailor
Geoff Hilton Barber crossed the Indian Ocean from Durban to
Fremantle, Australia. In the 1990s Micky Taylor ruled as king
of the Vasco and in 2001, the RNYC revived this ocean classic
with the original route from Maputo to Durban.
the Royal Natal Yacht Club celebrated 150 years of yachting
excellence - Following 150 years of dynamic change, the club
faces the future proud of its traditions and success, and
optimistic for the course ahead.
and where to get the book
532-page coffee table book
Over 1 000 illustrations
In addition to the Standard Edition specifications the Collector's
to 150 copies only
bound cover with gold stamping and satin ribbon bookmark.
Collector's Edition contains an individually numbered Collector's
Certificate, signed by the author and the commodore, and
personally inscribed with the name of the purchaser.
Collector's Edition: R3 000.00
Postage (SA only): R65.00
Order Form or any further details:
Royal Natal Yacht Club
Tel: 031 301 5425
Fax: 031 307 2590
Deer's London Hotel - first venue for club gatherings
very early days the Durban Regatta Club, precursor to the
Royal Natal Yacht Club, had no club house. The original venue
for club gatherings was Tom Deer's London Hotel. This was
described by a local as, "a disreputable canteen, part
canvas, part reeds
where fiddling and sing-song by
the guests was to be heard upon almost any evening."
The London Hotel was out of bounds to "nice young ladies"
and was disapproved of strongly by the local lay preacher,
whose grim-faced wife kept a select temperance boarding house
nearby. For a male-only group of salty yachtsmen with a club
but no clubhouse, however, it was perfectly adequate. And
as a port settlement, mid-nineteenth century Durban certainly
had a rough underbelly hiding beneath any Victorian pretensions.
Pietermartizburg, which was the capital city of the Colony
of Natal, was very snooty of her coastal neighbour. One correspondent
to the Natal Witness suggested that Durbanites would "become
mere animals preserved in spirits, and moreover perfectly
useless as they are not even rare specimens of nature".
were these early boys? The first committee of the Durban Regatta
who got yachting going on Durban Bay were the leading citizens
of the day. They were instrumental in laying the foundations
of the future city of Durban. There were many other colourful
characters who are worth mentioning. For example, the 1858
inaugural committee of the Durban Regatta Club consisted of
The commodore, Lewis Wilson, was a ship's captain, who was
still alive and kicking and importing rowing boats from China
thirty years later. His stewards displayed a decidedly military
· There was James Proudfoot, who established the Natal
Mounted Rifles (N.M.R.) in 1854 as a volunteer force of eight
officers and 40 men. He used to train his men on horseback
in the market square and shooting practice was carried out
on the racecourse.
· Then there was George Rutherford, who was Commanding
Officer of the Durban Volunteer Guard and Port Natal's Collector
· Henry James Mellor was Durban's Resident Magistrate
and Commanding Officer of the volunteer Durban Rifle Guard.
He was famous for hosting Durban's very first ball in 1853
as a ploy to settle a squabble between two warring factions.
So great was the excitement produced by this social highlight
that one lady took her three-month old baby along and kept
the child there with its nurse until five in the morning.
· Of the other original stewards, William Smerdon was
a one-time ship's captain come-sugar-planter, Durban's agent
for indentured Indian labour, collector of customs and founding
director of the Natal Chamber of Commerce.
· And Henry Milner was a leading light in the local
sugar industry. He put Durban's first sugar up to auction
on the market square in 1854 and stood everyone to free champagne
to drink to the success of Sugar.
Natal Prime ministers
for the first committee. Over the years the RNYC continued
to produce some illustrious citizens, including Natal's first
and second prime ministers.
There was John Robinson, who arrived in Durban in 1850 as
the eleven year old son of George Robinson, founder of The
Natal Mercury. John was elected the youngest member of the
Natal Legislative Council at the tender age of 24. He was
dismissed by his detractors as a mere "slip of a boy",
which was foolish as he was elected Natal's first premier
in 1893 on the responsible government ticket.
His successor, Harry Escombe, was premier in 1897. He was
commander of the Natal Naval Volunteers and the first to sign
up when the unit was formed, paying his uniform bill for 500
pounds immediately and in full. He subsequently went on to
serve in the Zulu War. Harry Escombe initiated and chaired
Durban's Harbour Board from 1880 and it was largely thanks
to his untiring efforts that the bar at the entrance to Durban's
harbour was eventually defeated - even though he tended to
fight with all his harbour engineers. He served as Natal's
Attorney General and in 1897 was awarded an honourary doctorate
from Cambridge University and became a member of the Queen's
Privy Council. Both Harry Escombe and John Robinson lived
in substantial residences that ran down to the Bay - a handy
location for yachting and their favourite club. Both men were
families of the Durban Regatta Club are worth mentioning,
as their descendents are still members of the RNYC 150 years
the Caneys. Benjamin William Caney, who arrived in Durban
in 1856, was the town's first jeweler and an enthusiastic
amateur photographer. He left a rich pictorial legacy of early
Durban through the hundreds of glass-plated slides that he
took. It was B.W. Caney who built Durban's first three-storeyed
building in 1865. The jewelry shop was on the ground floor
and the family lived on the third floor, "which was very
rickety because there were no buildings opposite to block
the south-east wind, so the third floor swayed and was soon
taken down." B.W. Caney had three sons, Charlie, Val
and Gus, who all sailed. One of this trio was responsible
for doing damage to the RNYC's brand spanking new club house
in 1892 when an impromptu opening party got out of hand. B.W.
Caney's grandson, Leo, who was a judge; and his great-grandson,
Edward, who is a doctor, both served as commodores of the
RNYC. Ed Caney was instrumental in moving the RNYC across
the road to its present premises. And there was one famous
Caney ancestor who was renowned for wandering into the Royal
Natal Yacht Club in his dressing gown and slippers - he obviously
regarded his favourite club as a home from home.
the Beningfields. The early Beningfields described themselves
as 'bayside gentlemen'. The patriarch of the clan, Samuel
Beningfield, was an auctioneer who ran "racy and descriptive
advertisements" and was known as a "fine old English
gentleman". He had a famous garden that stretched down
to the bay. Sam Beningfield was renowned for his Christmas
festivities. One New Year celebration he invited friends to
a display of home-made fireworks, which proved a great success,
the rockets especially, producing cries of admiration or astonishment.
The Beningfields clearly believed in large families - Samuel
had eight children; of his three sons who were club stalwarts,
Sam junior had five children, Reuben ten and John James seven.
One of Reuben's ten children was 'Abe' Beningfield, who went
on to sail for South Africa in the Olympic Games in Helsinki
in 1952 with Noel Horsfield, at the ripe old age of 60. He
was known as the fastest spinnaker hand around.
a few anecdotes about ladies and sailing. In Victorian, patriarchal
nineteenth century Durban, sailing was strictly a male-only
affair. The first ladies' race held in January 1893 therefore
caused quite a stir. This concession came about when certain
ladies expressed an interest in the sport and it was agreed
that very occasionally, "ladies races" would be
allowed. Skippers decided on the number of ladies they would
have on their yachts - normally four out of a crew of ten,
as it was felt that women would only be able to make a worthwhile
contribution in a mixed crew. Ladies acted as ballast or were
placed on the helm. The dictates of modesty remained paramount
so lady sailors sailed in the voluminous clothing of the day.
The commodore reserved the right to decide on the appointed
day whether the weather was "suitable". Despite
ladies' races, it was a very long time before the fairer sex
were even allowed on club premises. In 1914 the rules were
finally altered: ladies who accompanied members on the bay
were admitted to the ground floor verandah of the club house
whilst the boats were being put away. This privilege ceased
at sunset! The inside of the club house - that hallowed bastion
of masculinity - remained sacrosanct. So the fact that the
Royal Natal Yacht Club commissioned a woman to research and
write their 150th anniversary history, must have all those
old boys shuddering and rattling their bones in their graves!
Christopher Joseph Cato and the Mazeppa
character to mention is Joseph Cato. He was the third commodore
of the Durban Regatta Club (forerunner of the Royal Natal
Yacht Club), from 1861-1863, and brother of George Cato, who
was Durban's first mayor (and also a yacht club founder).
Christopher Joseph Cato is famous for the heroic role he played
in aiding the British cause during the 1842 Boer siege of
Port Natal. Here is the story:
the 1842 Boer siege of the British at Port Natal, the Boers
allowed the women and children to leave the British camp on
2nd June and take refuge on the ship Mazeppa in the bay. The
little ninety-ton schooner was completely stripped and the
muzzle of an eighteen-pounder trained upon her. The Boers
made two grave mistakes, however. In the first place, they
failed to remove her rudder. In the second place, they left
Christopher Joseph Cato, brother of George Cato (first mayor
of Durban), on board.
south-west wind and an ebb tide coincided on 10th June 1842,
Joseph Cato slipped the cable and all seven women, eighteen
children, two ship's boys, and ten grown men who were on board
pulled frantically on the ropes. Before the Boers could recover
from their surprise the ship was on the starboard tack down
channel, and out of the way of the eighteen-pounder. A four-pounder,
however, fired at her repeatedly; and nearly eighty Boers
discharged four-ounce bullets from their elephant guns in
were riddled, the rigging torn, and the mattresses which had
been stacked up as defence, filled with bullets. The longboat
was swamped and sank in the breakers at the entrance to the
bay. But the Mazeppa crossed the bar, and then lay to, outside
the harbour for five hours, repairing the damage and rolling
dreadfully. The children picked the bullets out of the mattresses;
the women mended the blankets in the intervals between awful
bouts of sea-sickness. Then the Mazeppa set sail for Delagoa
Bay and help. And as they say, the rest is history. The Boer
siege was lifted and three years later on 8th December 1845
Natal officially became a British Crown Colony and the Republic
of Natalia ceased to be.