Durban an Overview

In 1824 Nathaniel Isaacs obtained from Shaka, King of the amaZulu, a grant of land in the area immediately surrounding the bay of Durban. Initially settlement about the bay was haphazard, but in 1835 local residents decided to lay out a settlement with a regular grid of streets, and named the new village after Sir Benjamin D’Urban, then Governor of the Cape.

In 1836-7 the region was settled by numbers of disaffected Dutch farmers from the Cape, who, in 1839 proclaimed it, as well as Durban, the Republic of Natalia. This did not entirely meet with British approval, and in 1842 a British force of 300 men, led by Capt Smith, after a number of brief skirmishes, brought the territory under British control. At this point many of the Dutch settlers chose to leave the province, resettling in the OFS and Transvaal. By 1845, when Martin West was appointed the colony’s first Lientenant-Govenor, the population of Durban, or Port Natal as it was also known, had risen to about 500 persons.

Soon thereafter an immigration scheme led by Mr JC Byrne augmented these numbers, and in 1854 the population of Durban stood at 1204. Although the municipal area of Durban was quite sizeable, and until 1932 comprised some 12 square miles, a number of suburbs developed about its perimeter, and in 1921 village management boards were establishes at South Coast Junction, Umhlatuzana, Mayville, Sydenham and Greenwood Park. On 1 August 1932 the municipal area of Durban was enlarged to encompass all of these areas and in 1935 Durban was raised to the status of a city.

Because of its proximity to both the Free State and the Witwatersrand gold fields, during the 1880’s the port of Durban took over from Port Elizabeth as the main access point for trade goods destined for the southern African interior, although this was curtailed for many years by the location of the railhead at Volksrust, which not only prevented direct travel to the Witwatersrand, but it also ensured that many Dutch transport drivers remained in business. After the establishment of Union in 1910, the port underwent extensive development, including a graving dock, completed in 1925, and total berthage of over 5600 m. On 5 April 1940 a Marine Airport for flying boats was opened on the site adjoining the Graving Dock.

The city has also been the focus of cultural activity for the region and boasts of a number of fine colonial and post-colonial buildings. A Concert Hall, known as the Pavilion, was built in 1923 but was destroyed by fire in September 1939: in 1910 a new town hall and municipal buildings were completed at a cost of over £317,000: the Durban Public Library was established in 1853, and in 1919 was moved to the new municipal buildings. Municipal electric light installation was completed in 1896 and was almost immediately upgraded in 1902. A municipal tram line was initiated in 1891, when a number of horse-drawn vehicles car were brought into service. The first sections of this route were electrified in 1902. The Durban Museum was established in 1887, while an Art Gallery followed in 1899.

During the 1920s the city began to develop a more diversified industrial base which saw the establishment of a number of manufacturing industries, including sugar, foodstuffs, textiles, footwear, paper, printing and publishing,

Last updated : 20-Apr-2018

This article was produced for South African History Online on 20-Sep-2011