The Old Fort and Durban's first cemetery are situated in Umgeni Road, and are now an integral part of the city centre. The first formal European settlement of the Bay of Port Natal took place in 1824, when a small trading party made their base here. By the beginning of 1837, parties of disaffected Dutch farmers, emigrating from the Cape, began to spill over the Kahlamba, or Drakensberge. Fearing that these incursions would bring about a reaction from the neighbouring Zulu Kingdom, north of the Tugela, Sir George Napier, Governor of the Cape sent a small military force to Port Natal for the protection of the trading post.
However, when the Colonial Office in London refused to ratify his actions, Napier was forced to recall his men. Delighted with this turn of events, the Dutch now established the Republic of Natalia, with its capital at Pietermaritzburg. Faced with this renewed threat, Napier, with the concurrence of the British government, was now allowed to send a force of 260 men under the command of Captain Thomas Smith to reoccupy Port Natal. The force reached the Bay on 4 May 1842 and pitched camp on the site now occupied by the Old Fort.
In response, a Dutch commando then appeared at Port Natal and after pitching their camp at Congella, demanded that Smith withdraw his troops over the Pondoland border. When Smith refused to comply, the Dutch attempted to force the issue by stealing his cattle. The British did not take kindly to this, and on the night of 23 May, attacked the Dutch camp at Congella. This proved to be a dismal failure, and after losing 17 men they were forced to withdraw. The Dutch then grasped the initiative by occupying the Point, and surrounding their camp.
Finding themselves in dire straits, they were forced to seek assistance from the Cape, and Dick King and his Zulu retainer Ndongweni stole out of the camp at night and set off on what has since become regarded as an epic journey overland to Grahamstown. The siege was raised on 24 June when British troops arrived travelling overland from Pondoland, with reinforcements from the Cape sailing into the bay soon thereafter. Although by this time the Dutch commando had increased in numbers to 600 men, they were obliged to withdraw, and in time abandoned their new republic.
As a result of this campaign, the British annexed the newly-proclaimed Colony of Natal, with a contingent of their troops permanently stationed in Durban. In 1858 all existing structures in the Fort were demolished and replaced by more substantial buildings which now form the basis of the present complex. It remained occupied by imperial troops until 1885 when the Colony of Natal took it over.
In time, the Old Fort was handed over to the Durban Light Infantry, its magazine was converted into a chapel and the inner courtyard was made into a garden. The military cemetery, where the tombs of men who lost their lives during the siege of 1842 are located, forms part of this complex. It was declared a National Monument under old NMC legislation on 6 April 1936.