George Christopher Cato

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

Natal pioneer and first mayor of Durban.

First name: 
George
Last name: 
Cato
Date of birth: 
25 February 1814
Location of birth: 
London
Date of death: 
9 July 1893
Location of death: 
Durban

George Christopher Cato was born in 25 February 1814, London. The eldest son of a Huguenot family called Caton who settled in London. His family, silk weaving traders, came to the Cape in 1826 and settled in Grahamstown. When he was twelve his father was killed by an elephant in the Addo bush and he was obliged to seek work at Algoa Bay. He married Elizabeth Griffin in 1834.

In 1838, he sailed on an expedition to explore and trade at Port Natal, where a small European community of hunters and traders had settled. The following year he and his brother Christopher Joseph set out with their wives and children to settle in Port Natal as J. Owen Smith's representative for the purpose of establishing trading with the emigrant Boers. The same year he sailed to Delagoa Bay in the Mazeppa to rescue the survivors of the Trichardt’s trek. His trading business expanded to include a small shipping agency and a fleet of coasters, which plied between Algoa Bay and Port Natal. These tied up at the foot of Stanger Street at natural indentation known for many years as Cato's Creek. While the port was still under the government of the Natalia Republic, Cato was asked to lay out a plan for a town to be called D'Urban.

When the trekkers besieged the British troops at Congella in 1842, the Cato brothers are said to have helped Dick King and his servant, Ndongeni, by ferrying them across the bay in order that they might ride to Grahamstown for help. Cato was among ten English settlers who were taken to the camp at Congella, and then sent handcuffed to Pietermaritzburg where they were kept in stocks as punishment for having British sympathies. In 1845 he was given some unappropriated land by the British government in appreciation for his services.

Durban expanded and by 1850, Cato's wattle and daub store was described by one settler as 'the centre of our civilization'. When the town achieved municipal status in 1854, he was elected first mayor. He was government nominee to the Legislative Assembly, harbour master, harbour commissioner, agent for Lloyds, and acted as the first consular agent for the United States.

George Cato died in Durban 9 July 1893.


References:
• Potgieter, D.J. et al. (eds). (1970)
• Howcroft, P. (undated).

Last updated : 21-Jul-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011