Durban, Natal: 1858

Excerpt from Reminiscences of Old times in P. M. Burg by William James (in the Natal Archives) as printed in More Annals of Natal by A.F. Hattersley.

"On the 25th March 1858, I arrived in Natal by the sailing ship Quathlamba of 400 tons burthen, in command of Captain Harrison, leaving London docks on the 12th December 1857.

Vessels arriving in those days had to anchor in the outer anchorage, as there was never more than four or five feet of water on the Bar. Passengers were towed into port in a lighter, and carried to shore on the back of a native, as no landing stages or wharves then existed. This operation had its amusing side, especially to the lady passengers.

The Point at this time looked anything but inviting to newcomers, with only one permanent building, the Custom House; and some ramshackle wooden buildings in the occupation of a couple of landing agents. Huge sandhills abounded almost to the water's edge. As no hardening had yet been done, the ground was a deep loose sand. A narrow causeway, about 12 feet wide, had been cut through the natural bush to enable loaded ox-waggons and carts to reach Durban. Not more than two or three sailing vessels arrived at the Port per month.

In order to give a true picture of what Durban was like in 1858, I can best describe it just as a sandy flat. The Town gardens were an open piece of waste ground, the wind having full play on the fine sand, creating sanddrifts. An open drain extended extended from vacant land, then called "the Flat", across central West Street and emptying itself into the Bay. This was Milne's drain. The "back beach," as it was then called, was almost blocked by a high mound of sand, which was added to on every occasion of a strong wind.The beach facing the outer anchorage was seldom, if ever, free from wrecks.

Grey Street was the boundary of Durban, and beyond was a fairly dense bush.The large trees harboured a number of small monkeys. The whole of the Berea was covered with thick bush in which grew very large indigenous trees which were the source of supplies of firewood to the residents of Durban."

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