Fire guts old Durban Building

A fire gutted an old Durban building on Saturday night, 14th April 2018. Buchanan’s Building on the corner of West Street and Russell Street was completely gutted. Those who know Durban will remember the two storey building had a gable facing West Street. The building’s location was roughly diagonally opposite West Street Cemetery and Cathedral Road. I checked my 1938 Durban Directory and the building is listed so it was an old building. I recall in the 60s on the ground floor was a furniture shop and I had to check on the name. It was was Hayden Furnishers. Sadly another oldie reduced to rubble.

I know nothing of the fire in the Lonsdale Hotel mentioned in the cutting. Maybe someone who reads this and knows can comment.

Click on picture to enlarge.

I found a picture of the Buchanan’s Building showing the building as it was. Click on picture to enlarge.

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Reader Josephine Andersen has written in with some reminiscences of the Musgrave area:

I remember the Musgrave Centre when it was only a ground level floor. I used go shopping there. There used to be a shop with antique furniture where we bought four Georgian chairs for our dining room. We still have them. Nearby was Sir Lowry’s Tea room that sold almost anything in the way of groceries. They would deliver to your home if you were not able to collect your order. I did not have my own car at the time we lived in a flat about two kilometres away and my husband called me to say he was bringing some colleagues home for supper. I called Sir Lowry’s Tearoom and they delivered a chicken to my flat for roasting.

Further up Musgrave Road there was a grocery shop called Gwilts run by the Gwilt family. At that time a tin of sardines cost about 5 pennies I think.

I used to walk our small children up to Mitchell Park which I had known since we came to South Africa as evacuees. There was an elephant called Nellie in the park and this elephant used to give children rides on a seat on her back . I was always too afraid to go for a ride.


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Terra Cotta Brickworks.

Sometime ago I was asked to comment in an email on a subject relating to early Durban. I responded and thereafter was included in a list of several people who are very connected with the study and research of early Durban. A recent email sent to me concerned a certain brick which had particular markings. This subject reminded me of a brick I found here on my plot in the Byrne Valley some years ago. I kept the brick as a memento. The markings indicated Terra Cotta Brickworks of which I had no knowledge so I took the opportunity to post a picture of my brick asking if anyone had any information as to its origins. As far as I knew there were no brickworks in the Byrne Valley nor in Richmond KZN and the only early brickworks I had heard of were based in Durban.

I subsequently did get a reply to my query from Arthur Gammage which I post below. I always find it fascinating that such a mundane item as a brick can lead to an interesting background story. Here is the story.

“According to Hazel England, retired Pinetown Museum Curator, the Terra Cotta bricks were those made by Frank Stevens at Pinetown. The following from Frank Stevens Papers, on the Campbell Collections

I have several old bricks – Pyramid were made at Rossburgh, R Till & Sons, Mayville at Brickfield (Joseph Cato’s farm).

There was also an early version of Coronation bricks with the name all in block capitals rather than script. Coronation absorbed all or most of their competitors.

Frank Stevens was born at Kea, near Truro, Cornwall, England, on 25 March 1850. After working in Australia, he arrived in Natal in 1880 or 1881 and started a boot and shoe business in Pietermaritzburg. The business flourished and other branches were opened throughout the country. Stevens purchased the farm ‘Sarnia’, near Pinetown, from the original owner, a Captain Drake, who named the farm ‘Sarnia’ after his birthplace in England. Stevens did some prospecting for gold on this farm. There were good clay deposits and he opened up a brickmaking business which he closed down at the start of the South African War in 1899. (This business was subsequently purchased by the Storm family which later started the Coronation Brick and Tile Co.) Having a large stockpile of bricks Stevens planned the erection of a hotel on the property but before it was completed, the British Government approached Stevens and he permitted them to take over the new building for use as a much-needed hospital. It was named the Princess Christian Hospital and was run as such for the duration of the War. The building was ‘returned’ to Stevens after the war and later became well-known as the Fairydene Hotel, at Sarnia. Stevens built a home in Ridge Road, Durban, and named it ‘Intabene’ (Entabeni meaning the place on the hill). This home was sold in 1929 to a consortium of doctors and in 1930 opened as Entabeni Hospital.”

There is some information on Coronation Brickworks on this site.

Rear of the brick showing no frog was pressed into the clay.

Front of the brick. Note two impressions of screw heads.

Click on pictures to enlarge.

There is only one “old” brick building in Byrne Village that still exists and that is the Etterby farmhouse built in 1928. Whether the Terra Cotta Brickworks supplied the bricks is unknown which leaves the question of how this brick came to Byrne.

Further examples of old bricks made in Durban. Photo courtesy of Hazel England.

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Basil Harvey ‘Bunny’ Austin

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I’ve had a request from Hubert Kuberski for information about Lt Basil Harvey ‘Bunny’ Austin and, in particular, about who now owns the rights to a book he wrote with the title Urszula. Bunny apparently flew with 31 Squadron SAAF during WWII and ended up in Durban.
He must have had quite an eventful time of it during the war because his aircraft was shot down during a mission to drop supplies to support the Warsaw uprising. He evaded capture after a Polish girl called Urszula hid him under her bed and he later repaid the debt by getting her out of Poland after the war.
Hubert tells me that a Polish publisher is very keep to publish a Polish language edition of the book but has not been able to trace the rights holder to get approval. He also says he is hoping to get a new English edition published. Please contact me if you know anything about Bunny Austin or who might now own the rights to the book.
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History of the Durban Municipal Broadcasting Station

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The building housing the African Broadcasting Company studios in Aliwal Street – Picture courtesy Kevan Mardon.


Compiled and Researched by Kevan N J Mardon

The first radio broadcast in South Africa was undertaken in Johannesburg on 18 December 1923 by the Western Electric Company … “Good Morning this is JB Calling …. “, Cape Town followed next on 15 September 1924, Cape Peninsula Broadcasting Association … “Good Morning, this is Cape Town Calling …” and finally Durban on 10 December 1924. Durban Corporation holds the record in the world of opening the very first and only municipal broadcasting service … “Good Morning, this is Durban Calling …”

The Durban City Council sponsored the establishment of broadcasting in Durban. They were urged to this step by John Roberts, Borough Electrical Engineer and Lyell Tayler, Borough Musical Director, each strongly supported by their respective chairmen, Tom Shearer and Tom Burman, as well as the Mayor of the time, Mr Tom Wadley. The Marconi company was nominated to supply the broadcasting plant, a Marconi “Q” transmitter, which had a broadcasting radius of 100 miles. Read More

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CJ Offord – Educationist and Father Of School Cricket.

Cricket was never my game at School but I was Scorer for the Second XI! Back then in the late 1950s/early 1960s there were some star studded High School cricket teams in Durban, Pietermaritzburg and surrounds. There was quite a bit of rivalry on the go between DHS, Glenwood, Michaelhouse, Kearsney, College and even St Henry’s (Marist) who put up a cricket side to test the best. I used to hear that at the end of the school year a cricket week had been organised where schools competed for the honour of playing in Offord Week. Offord was a name one heard about and the daily papers used to report on the cricket week. That is about all I knew of it and never knew who Offord was. Read More

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Big Bob, the Indian Elephant.

With the rather inclement weather we are having in the Midlands, and my youngest granddaughter staying with us for a short while, we decided to go and visit the kwaZuluNatal Museum in Pietermaritzburg. She has never been to a museum. It is housed in a wonderful old building and dates back to 1904. I am certain some of the exhibits are from that era as well. But interesting it is and I learnt a new fact about Durban there. One often thinks that Nellie the elephant that lived at the Mitchell Gardens Zoo was the first elephant to reside in Durban. Well she wasn’t; Big Bob was her predecessor and Big Bob now resides in the Museum in Pietermaritzburg. The information card did not copy well but here is the narrative:

” This Indian Elephant known as Big Bob (sometimes called Tommy) was one of the drawcards at Durban’s Mitchell Park Zoo in Morningside early last century. In 1918 he was shot after trampling his trainer and the carcass was donated to the Kwa Zulu Natal Museum. He was prepared for exhibition by the museum’s taxidermist, Mr Fred Tescher.

People often confused Bob with his successor, Nellie a gift from the Maharajah of Mysore India in 1928. Nellie was retired in 1948 and donated to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney Australia.”

Photos of Big Bob in the Museum. Click on pictures to enlarge.

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The Snake in the Signal Box

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Longtime friend of FAD William Paterson has written a book. The Snake in the Signal Box is now available in electronic format from Amazon and is the first of a trilogy about the adventures of Zululand settler Donald Kirkwood who arrives in the area in 1919 to start a cotton farm.

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Durban Pictures

Arthur Gammage has sent me some Durban pictures which are interesting and add to the collection. I have added to Arthur’s notes. The pictures are from a book celebrating Durban’s Silver Jubilee in 1960 marking 25 years of City Status.

CLICK on all pictures to enlarge

The Robertson’s Spice Company’s factory corner Pickering and Creek Streets. Pyagra was as an insect insecticide, Rose’s Lime Juice and Marmalade and Jeyes a disinfectant. The large brick building in the background is McCarthy Rodway distributors of Morris, Wolseley, MG, Dodge, Valiant, and Simca cars and Dennis, Magirus, Leyland Albion trucks. McCarthy’s was located at 150 Smith Street. Read More

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Captain Allen Francis Gardiner R.N. : A few notes.

A recent visit to a holiday retreat called Castleburn at the foot of the southern Drakensberg brought up the name of Capt. Allen Gardiner. His name is mentioned in the brochure produced by the Management and brought to light something regarding Capt. Gardiner I was not aware of. I thought a few additional notes on Captain Allen Gardiner would be of interest.

I quote from the resort brochure:

“History of Garden Castle”.

The first mission station in what was then Natal was set up by a Captain Allen Francis Gardiner after his retirement from the British Royal Navy. In 1835 Gardiner explored the southern Drakensberg and during his journeys came upon a very striking and rugged mountain. It is recorded in his diary that he likened it to Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. This feature he named Giant’s Castle. In 1865, the Surveyor General of Natal, Dr. Peter Sutherland undertook the task of mapping the Natal Drakensberg and he renamed the striking sandstone mountain “Garden Castle” in memory of his mother whose maiden name was Garden and he transferred the name Giant’s Castle to the feature in the Central Drakensberg that is known by this name today. The turreted summit of Garden Castle is a landmark that can be seen and recognised from many kilometres away, even though it stands amidst a great profusion of hills that form what is known as the Little Berg as distinct geologically from the High Berg, which constitutes the great basalt bastions that form the spine of the Dragon himself.

That the mountain should first have been named by a man called Gardiner and years later renamed Garden Castle by a by a surveyor who had no connection of any kind with Gardiner is a curious coincidence that has, over the years, led to speculation on numerous other versions of the manner in which Garden Castle got its name. It is believed however, based on factual research, that the version related above is correct.”

Garden Castle Mountain
Garden Castle seen from a distance.

Click on pictures to enlarge.

Most are all too familiar with Gardiner Street in Durban, running from the station past the Post Office, across West Street, past the Cenotaph and City Hall frontage, across Smith Street and running down to the Esplanade. That this prominent street in Durban should be named after Capt. Allen Gardiner was in recognition of the man who in only a relatively short stay at Port Natal left his mark on the small settlement that was to become Durban.

Click on picture to enlarge.

In January 1835 retired British naval captain, Allen Gardiner (born 1794 died Patagonia 1851) arrived at the fledging settlement of Port Natal following the death of his beloved wife. In 1834 at the age of 40, he pledged at his dying wife’s bedside that he would devote the rest of his life to the service of his Saviour. His intention of coming to Natal was to establish a missionary station, particularly at Dingane’s kraal, and to bring the Gospel to the Zulus.

From what is read, Gardiner on his arrival, was appalled at the lack of order at the Port Natal settlement. There appeared to be no control and so he took it upon himself to get some civic activity going and initiate some organisation.

When his request to establish himself at Dingane’s kraal was refused, he returned to Port Natal. Here the settlers requested Gardiner whether he would not consider establishing a mission amongst them instead. He agreed to this and located his mission on a chosen spot on the ridge overlooking the bay of Port Natal.

The site Gardiner chose is today flanked by Ridge Road, Julia Road and Jesmond Grove and is the site of the original St Thomas’s Church. He named the mission, Berea (see Acts of the Apostles, Chapter XVll Verses 10 & 11). On Sunday, March 24th 1835, Gardiner held his first service for the Port Natal settlers. He established a small school for African children at the mission and started teaching in thatched beehive huts. At the time there were no European women and children at the Port Natal settlement.

Capt. Allen Gardiner’s Mission “Berea”.

Click on picture to enlarge

On June 23rd 1835, Gardiner called and presided over a meeting to discuss the development of the settlement. The meeting held at the residence of Mr F. Berkin was attended by 15 settlers and it was decided that the settlement should be named D’Urban in honour of the then Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Benjamin D’Urban. The area as a whole was to be named Victoria in honour of Princess Victoria who was to accede to the British throne two years later in 1837. One reads of Victoria County. Matters discussed at the meeting included rules as to how business was conducted and as to the standards the settlement was to uphold. No longer were grass and reed huts to be used as accommodation except for servants and a fund was set up towards the clearing of the bush and town improvements. A fund towards building a church was also set up as well for a school. A Town Committee was put together consisting of Capt. Gardiner and Messrs. Cane, Ogle, Collis and Berkin. Although some of the ideals were rather lofty, Sir Benjamin D’Urban supported the cause albeit at this stage he held no jurisdiction over the settlement except that the settlers were British subjects. An attempt by Sir Benjamin D’Urban to Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for the Colonies in England, to seek annexation of the settlement by Britain was turned down.

Gardiner must have been disappointed with this decision as in 1836 he returned to England and presented the case giving evidence before the House of Commons Select Committee on Aborigines.
Again matters did not go his way and in 1837, he returned to Natal only with a commission to exercise magisterial control over the British subjects at the settlement. His powers only related to the British subjects and he had no powers over the African population.

It was on this return journey that his 12 year old daughter, Julia accompanied him. Sadly en route Julia fell ill and died just as the ship was approaching the harbour. Her body was taken and buried in the grounds of the mission station. Julia became the first white child to be buried in Durban. Her grave still exists in the small cemetery on the mission site in Ridge Road.

The grave stone of Julia Gardiner in the Old St Thomas Church Cemetery, Ridge Road Durban.

In Memory of Julia, daughter of Capt. Allen Gardener (sic) R.N.
First English Missionary to the Zulus. He resided near this spot in 1835 and named it Berea. His daughter was buried here May 12th 1837 . He went on to found a mission in Patagonia where he died in the service of his Saviour.

The inscription at the bottom of the tombstone reads :

“ But soon the living stream she found
Redeemed in love allayed her fears
And bore her safe to Canaan’s ground.
And now she hymns the angelic strain,
Worthy for us the lamb was slain. ”

It appears that the bottom inscription became detached from Julia’s tombstone and was found by William Hartley in George Christopher Cato’s home acting as a doorstop. In 1864 Christopher George Cato donated the land to the St Thomas’s Church and restored the inscription back to its rightful place on the tombstone.

Gardiner on his return brought with him, a Yorkshire clergyman, Rev. Francis Owen who was tasked by the Church Missionary Society to inaugurate a mission at Dingane’s kraal. In the same year on the 19th October, Piet Retief and the Voortrekkers arrived in D’Urban and they were welcomed by the settlers. In November of the same year, Piet Retief was received by Dingane for the first time in connection with the request for a grant of land. It can be assumed that Gardiner and Retief would have met in person.

The mission established by Owen was not a success and ended with the murder of Piet Retief and his party on their second visit to Dingane on 8th February 1838 . Owen witnessed the massacre from a distance. Thereafter Owen returned to D’Urban a few days later and left Natal in 1838 never to return again.

Early in 1838, Capt. Allen Gardiner’s influence over the settlers began to wane as he was being superceded by one, Alexander Biggar. In the same year, he left Natal for good. It is written that Gardiner continued his missionary work in the Far East but eventually ended up at Tierra del Fuego (Patagonia) where he attempted to found a mission. He died there of starvation in 1851.

Notes taken from the following books:

Port Natal A Pioneer Story by Janie Malherbe
Origin of Durban Street Names by John McIntyre
A History of Natal by E.H. Brookes and Colin de B Webb.

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