A Glance into Durban's History

Last updated: Jun 08, 2015

Durban is the largest city in the KwaZulu-Natal province and is the busiest port in all of South Africa as well as Africa. It is one of South Africa's major tourism centres due to its pleasant and warm subtropical temperatures as well as the many interesting attractions it has to offer.

It is also known as eThekwini, which is Zulu and means bay/lagoon.

It is thought that this area has been inhabited by hunter-gatherers since about 100,000 BC due to a certain amount of evidence found near the stunning Drakensberg Mountains.

Much of what we know regarding the development of the Zulu nation is based on archaeological evidence and Zulu oral histories. There is no written history recorded on this area up until it was sighted by the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama in 1497 on Christmas day, while he was sailing around the Cape of Goodhope in search of a route from Europe to India. He named the area "Natal" - Christmas in Portuguese.

The word Zulu means "sky" and according to oral history, Zulu was the name of the ancestor who founded the Zulu royal line in 1670. Thereafter a number of powerful chiefdoms began to emerge.

The "modern" city of Durban dates back to approximately 1824, when a group of 25 men under the British Lieutenant Farewell's command arrived from the Cape Colony and established a settlement on the north shore of the Bay of Natal, which is near today's Farewell Square. Accompanying Lieutenant Farewell was Henry Fynn, who befriended the Zulu King Shaka. Fynn assisted Shaka while he was wounded, Shaka then repaid him by granting him a large strip of the coast.

During a meeting in Fynn's territory in 1835, it was decided that they would build a capital town named d'Urban after Sir Benjamin d'Urban, the then Governor of the Cape Colony.

In 1838 the Voortrekkers arrived from the Eastern Cape, they established the Republic of Natalia with the capital Pietermaritzburg. A British Governor was appointed to the region and many of the settlers then emigrated from Europe and the Cape Colony. The British established a sugar cane industry in the 1860's but had difficulty attracting the Zulu labourers to work on plantations, they therefore brought thousands of indentured labourers from India. As a result of this importation, Durban has the highest Asian community on the African continent and the largest Indian population outside of India.

Some Interesting facts on this area:

Over thousands of years the Zulu ancestors, the Nguni people, migrated down the east coast of Africa. In about the 9th century AD they reached South Africa and formed a small Zulu clan. Later the great King Shaka united the Zulu tribes into one powerful kingdom. Shaka was known for his military genius.

1849 - The first piano to land in Natal arrives on ship Aliwal on 10 December. It can still be seen today in the Old House Museum in St. Andrews Street.

1867 - A cast iron lighthouse was built on the Bluff and is the only one on the East Coast of Africa at that time. It was later converted to an electric lighthouse in 1932.

1885 - The Jacaranda Tree is introduced to Durban, these first examples are planted in the Botanical Gardens. (One of these may still be seen near the Gardens St. Thomas Road entrance.)

1909 - The S.S. Waratah leaves Durban harbour on 26 July for Cape Town but vanishes with 211 passengers and crew aboard. The disappearance of this ship still remains a complete mystery as no trace of it has ever been found.

1986 - Morris Fynn, a descendant of original settler Henry Fynn, sets out a campaign of cutting down apartheid signs on Durban beaches in protest of the City's policy of enforcing racial segregation on it's beaches. The opening of Durban's beaches to all and the repeal of the Separate Amenities Act in 1990 finally allows him to hang up his trusty saw. (The saw he used is on view at The Old Courthouse Museum in Aliwal Street.)

Durban's history is so incredibly rich and interesting and modern day Durban has an amazing array of wonderful old and new attractions to enjoy.

Some interesting attractions worth exploring include The Old House Museum, The Old Courthouse Museum, The Golden Mile, The Wave House, Umgeni River Bird Park, Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary, uShaka Marine World, Amanzimtoti Golf Club, PheZulu Crocodile and Snake Park, Japanese Gardens, Valley of 1000 Hills, Durban Botanical Gardens, Umhlanga Ponds, Umhlanga Lighthouse, Hawaan Forest, Bluff Nature Reserve, Giba Gorge MTB Park, Sibaya Casino and Entertainment World and Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World.

Some great markets in the area include the Litchi Orchard Market, Heritage Market, Victoria Street Market and the Markets of Warwick - the largest informal street market in South Africa.