Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man

A History of Newcastle – Natal – and District

This year (2014) the borough of Newcastle will be 150 years old. I present the following to commemorate the event. I trust that anyone who would like to add relevant information to this short history, to contact me. Graham Leslie McCallum

Northern Natal, Newcastle

Anthropologists inform us today that modern man has his ancient origin in Eastern Africa. Evidence in the form of stone tools testify to their presence in Natal. These artefacts can be found in caves and shelters across our verdant province. In the north of Natal, in the Lebombo Range, scientists have discovered the remains of these early people at a rock shelter called ‘Border Cave’. It is sobering to comprehend that this grotto has been in constant use for well over 200 000 years. Anthropologists even discovered the skeleton of an anatomically modern human child who was buried in the foetal-position in the floor of the cave 100 000 years ago. She was daubed in red ochre and adorned with a shell ornament before her kin lowered her lovingly into her grave. This denotes her family had a concept of life, of death, of ritual, of worship, and even of the life-eternal. It is fascinating and astounding to consider that these humans would have traversed Northern Natal, and without doubt would have been acquainted with the hills, plains, valleys and mountains of the Newcastle District.

(below) A photograph of the decorative shell buried with the Border Cave child. The shell comes from the coast a full 100 kilometres to the the west.

Shell ornament, Border Cave, Natal

Also present in the Newcastle District were the Bushmen also known as the San or Khoisan. We know this because the surrounding farms of the district have rock shelters decorated with the art of these ancient hunter-gatherer people. Furthermore – in 2012 a set of tools and artifacts virtually identical to those used by later San were discovered at ‘Border Cave’, Natal, and were dated to 44 000 ago. Stone implements indicate a gradual cultural transference from one generation to another; however, organic artifacts like shell and digging sticks appear abruptly in the record, indicating a flowering of successful adaptations to the African environment, adaptations that remained relatively constant up and to the modern age.

Notched bone counting bars

Sadly and tragically, like in all parts of the world where more advanced agricultural and animal husbandry cultures collided with that of hunter-gatherers, the latter were relegated to the losing side. Throughout the 1700’s and 1800’s the Khoisan were systematically driven from their homelands into more remote and more arid areas, firstly by a more advanced pastoralist Khoisan group called the Khoi Khoi (Hottentots), secondly by the newly-arriving Nguni tribes and then by the European Settlers. It was a battle for land and resources that the San were destined to lose. What we as modern South Africans have lost in learning and knowledge as a result of our ancestors not valuing these ancient people, is inestimable and beyond tragedy.

We know from the mitochondrial examination of the Zulu and Xhosa people that many Khoisan womenfolk were absorbed into the genetic gene pool of these later people. Historians conclude that when bands of San were attacked by the Nguni, the men would be driven off or killed, while their womenfolk and children would be brought back to their settlements as slaves. Nguni men would then father children to these San women.

Something similar happened at the hands of the Cape Dutch Settlers. The San driven to the rocky fastnesses of the Drakensberg, tempted by hunger and sometimes by easy-pickings, would raid isolated Natal farms of their sheep and cattle. Retaliatory parties of Boers would kill the men when bands of Bushmen were located, the womenfolk and children would be brought back to work as servants (slaves) on the farms. These women’s genetic descendants are present in the present black and coloured populations of Natal and the Eastern Cape. The British Settlers and Adventurers were hardly better. By 1862, very few if any San survived to hunt the Natal valleys, let alone execute another rock painting.

The Bushmen rock painting in the Drakensberg record the lives of the San, their trance-dances, their hunts, the arrival of the Nguni people who they portrayed in a distinctive fashion, and the arrival of European Settlers from the 1820’s. These paintings show wagons, horses, and men and women dressed in European dress.

Bushman Rock Art on the farm Clifford near Newcastle, courtesy University of Pretoria Library Services

(above and below) Bushman Rock Art on the farm ‘Clifford’ Newcastle district, Courtesy University of Pretoria.

Bushman Rock Art, Farm Clifford, Newcastle

In and around the time of the first white settlers at Port Natal, the black inhabitants in Natal consisted of 4 groups. One of these well known groupings, lived in the area now known as the Bluff on the southern shores of the Bay of Natal. Another group lived in the North Western area of Natal, in and around the Newcastle, Helpmekaar, Dundee and Ladysmith Districts. They consisted of the Mbhele, Ncube, Zaba and Mdunge tribes under the leadership of Ulupalule, the ‘Cannibal King’. By 1820, Shaka Zulu had decimated many of these independent groupings and the survivors had fled into forests, caves and kloofs to scratch a survival by any means. Some of these groupings resorted to cannibalism to survive. By 1827 many disaffected people, escaping the wrath of Shaka, had joined up with the ‘cannibals’. After the assassination of Shaka, the new Zulu King Dingaan, sent his troops out to annihilate those tribes beyond his hegemony. A regiment of Zulu impi crossed the Buffalo River, systematically hunting and destroying these people. Few escaped.

Also living in the area were two Nguni tribes – namely the AmaHlubi (People who tear-off) and the AmaZisi (People who bring). The Amahlubi lived adjacent to the UmZinyathi (House of the Buffalo / known today as the Buffalo River). This tributary river to the Tugela River, rises in the Majuba Pass and runs its course past the town of Newcastle.

(below) An early photograph of the Buffalo River at Rorke’s Drift.

An early photograph of Rorkes Drift across the Buffalo River

These were certainly older and more illustrious tribes than the newly-formed tribe called the ‘AmaZulu’. However, times had changed, and the once independent and proud AmaHlubi now found themselves harassed or under the tyranny or vassalage of Shaka Zulu. This was the beginning of the ‘Mfecane’ (the Crushing) when many tribes were set-upon and forced to scatter and flee to escape the destruction and genocidal rage of Shaka. Most of the AmaHlubi and AmaZisi tribes fled inland throughout the 1820’s to escape these depredations, becoming dispersed across the face of Southern Africa. Chief Umslambisa brought many of his AmaHlubi followers to the Eastern Cape where they settled among the AmaXhosa under King Hintza. The AmaZisi under their leader Jokwene settled the remnants of his people under the AmaXhosa near Butterworth.

Here they (and other tribes who had escaped Shaka) were enslaved by the AmaXhosa who called them their ‘dogs’. Together, they were given the name Fingos (AmaFengu (the Wanderers)).


(above) A painting of an AmaFengu (Fingo) warrior.

When the British encountered the AmaFengu among the Xhosas, they emancipated them, allowing 17 000 Fingoes to escape the clutches of the Xhosa and settle in the Eastern Cape. Talented and industrious, they became loyal allies to the British, fighting in many of the conflicts on the Eastern Cape Frontier. To this day the Amahlubi can be found in groups in Zimbabwe, in the Drakensberg Mountains, Eastern Cape and East Griqualand and KwaZulua Natal. They hold themselves somewhat distinct from the Ama Xhosa and AmaZulu and yield allegiance to their Eshowe-based king Langalebelle ii.

(below) Fingo’s interacting with a Colonial, Eastern Cape.

AmaFengu, Fingos, Eastern Cape

By the end of the reigns of the Zulu Kings Shaka and Dingaan, The district of Newcastle, Ladysmith, Wakkerstroom and the areas adjacent to the Buffalo River were all but depopulated of people.

We know that the rich grassed and well-watered plains and mountain slopes of the Newcastle district were the habitats of numerous species of animals, especially antelope. The later farm names and place names from the area attest to the abundant and diverse animal and bird life. Names like Tier’s Kloof (Tiger’s Kloof), Amajuba (Place of the Rock Pigeons), Buffalo River, Duck Ponds (Madadeni), Quaggas’s Nek (Zebra), Rhee-bok Vlei, Boschbok Kloof (Bushbuck), Baboon’s Dell, Aasvogel Kop (Vulture), Springboklaagte, Hartebeest Bult and Muiskraal.

Tiger's Kloof, Tier's Kloof, Newcastle, Natal

(above) Tiers Kloof (Tiger’s Kloof)

So abundant was the animal life in the Newcastle district (especially the large herds of quaggas) that European hunters moved inland and set-up camps along the Incandu and Buffalo Rivers. During the 1840’s, 1850’s and 1860’s – tens of thousands of these unfortunate animals were slaughtered in hunting drives for their horns, hooves, skins and hides. Sadly, any remaining animals fled the area to be replaced by cows, sheep, goats and horses. To this day all that remains of this once abundant animal life are troops of baboons up in the crags, dassies (hyraxes) in the rocky outcrops and a few duiker in the bushy kloofs. The recent re-introduction of game on local farms is both promising and heart-warming.  see.

In the Reminesces of ‘Hendrik Wilhelm Strube’ he wrote following… ” In the winter Alex and I used to hunt quagga, wildebeest, hartebeest, blesbok (gnu) that came down the Berg for the winter pasturage. The flats towards Spion Kop were full of them, a few buffaloes were still on the Tugela, and numbers of eland in the Drakensberg. The game used to invade natal during cold weather in thousands, and two Scotchmen started a factory on the Buffalo River near where Newcastle is now, to boil down their fat for lard; thousands were killed, especially quaggas to supply the demand”.

In the book ’25 Years in a Waggon, Sport and Travel in South Africa’ we read the following…“We reached the bank safely on the opposite side, which is Natal, and trekked on in a westerly course for a few miles, where we outspanned, and then went on again for a long trek, as there was nothing further to delay us, and the next day we continued on to a very pretty opening, close to the river Incandu; the lofty Drakensberg range on our right, with its beautiful rugged Outline, and deep kloofs, was grand to look upon. Game was more plentiful here than we had seen for some time, and we also found lions…”


These European Settlers called the area adjacent to the drift across the Incandu River ‘Post Halt 2‘ – as it lay on the rough route to the hinterland and the newly-founded Boer Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The drift formed a natural stop-over for travelers (especially the post chaise) before heading inland. Furthermore, Post Halt 2 lay approximately halfway between the Natal capital of Pietermaritzburg and the Transvaal capital of Pretoria. Lying below both Majuba Pass on the road to the Transvaal, and Botha’s Pass to the Orange Free State – it was a sensible location to outspan for ox-wagons transporting goods inland before heading-up the steep hill to Lang’s Nek (also but erroneously called Laing’s Nek).

A Post Chaise, Northern Natal

(above) The Post Chaise drawn by mules, photographed in Northern Natal. And (below) drawn by horses.

Natal Government Post Cart

Besides being called Post Halt 2 – the location was also called ‘Waterfall River Township‘ after the Incandu River which plummets picturesquely over a rock-face further upstream from the modern town.

Incandu Falls, Newcastle, Courtest of Mary-Joye Louw

(above) Incandu Falls (Ncandu). Courtesy – Mary-Joye Louw.

(below) An old postcard of the Incandu Falls.

Incandu Falls

When AmaZulu, Dutch (Trekker), British and German settlers arrived in the area, they quickly realised the potential of the district, especially the fine grasslands that could support herds of cattle and sheep. The district is also well-watered by numerous rivers and streams. Some Trekkers after their expulsion from Pietermaritzburg and Durban by the British, settled in the Ladysmith District in the 1840’s on farms. From 1857, the Newcastle district’s crown lands were opened for settlement, and the first farms to be established date from this year. Dutch Trekker families and British Settlers moved in to the area and bought farms. These first farms were located to the west of where Newcastle lies today, up to the top of the Drakensberg escarpment. Farms such as ‘Glencalder’, ‘Mattandu’, ‘Craig’, ‘Boschhoek’, and ‘Roy Point’ (Rooi Point) – stretching northwards in a corridor to Lang’s Nek on the flanks of Majuba Mountain. From 1861 to 1880 several new farms were laid-out to the north, south, and east of Newcastle, like ‘Northlands’ where the latter steelworks Iscor was built in the 1970’s. Finally, the remainder of the Crown lands were sold-off to farmers. The majority of these smaller-sized farms lie to the east of Newcastle in the vicinity of the Buffalo River and atop the escarpment and were established from 1881 to 1900.

Newcastle District farm grants, brown 1857, purple 1861 to 1880, green 1881 to 1900

(above) Farms surrounding Newcastle. In brown 1854 to 1861. In purple 1860 to 1880 and green from 1880 to 1900.

(below) An early map of the Newcastle district form the year 1863.

An early map of Newcastle District, 1863

Dr. Peter Cormac Sutherland

(above) Dr. Peter Cormac Sutherland, Surveyor-General to Natal.

The town of Newcastle owes its existence, positioning and name to Dr. P. C. Sutherland (Surveyor-General to Natal) who found himself delayed in 1863 for two weeks on the banks of the flooded Incandu River while traversing the area during his honeymoon. Peter had married Jane Garden Blaikie on the 2nd of August 1863, his second marriage after the death of his first wife Rebecca U. Leask. A man of industry and vision (but possibly not of romance) spent his interlude surveying and setting-out the streets and squares to a small town while waiting for the river to drop. With flattery and craft, he named the streets after members of Government, and when he returned to the sleepy capital Pietermaritzburg, filed his plans and proposal that the new township be named Newcastle after the Duke of Newcastle who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies. It is often incorrectly thought and written that Newcastle, Natal, is named after the Northern English city of Newcastle where similar coal deposits are to be found. The city of Newcastle in Australia is thus named.

It is certain that Sutherland’s plans were not filed away permanently, for on the 31st of March 1864, Newcastle was proclaimed, with the district (now called the Klip River County) and the seat of a Magistracy. The first Resident Magistrate was Sir Melmoth Osborne, K.C.M.G. after whom the Natal town of Melmoth is named.

Dr. Peter Cormac Sutherland was born in 1822 in Newlands of Forse, near Latheron, Caithness, Scotland. He became a Geologist, Physician and an Author. A man of adventurous nature, in 1850 he participated in an expedition to discover what had become of the disastrous HMS Erebus and Terror Polar Expedition. He wrote a book ‘Journal of a voyage in Baffin’s Bay and Barrow Straits‘ about his experiences on this exploratory voyage. He settled in Pietermaritzburg, Natal in 1853 where he obtained the position of Surveyor-General. He was an avid plant collector, with the Natal Bottlebrush (Greyia sutherlandii) named after him, a shrub that grows on the mountainous areas around Newcastle. Sutherland was killed in a road carriage accident on the 30th of November 1900 in Pietermaritzburg.

(below) Henry Pelham-Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle, after whom the town of Newcastle is named.

Henry Pelham-Clinton 5th Duke  of Newcastle, Secretary of State for Colonies

The town was incorporated in August 1891 with the Honourable Alfred John Crawford, M.L.C elected as the first Mayor. A seat he held for 6 years.

Hon. Alfred John Crawford. 1st Mayor of Newcastle

(above) Alfred John Crawford

In 1864 the Natal Government advertised plots of land for sale in the recently laid-out town, with the first property being purchased for 5.30 pounds. Within a short time, Newcastle developed into a a rustic collection of shacks and rough housing on the flat and treeless plain beside the Incandu River. Among the first to set up businesses in the area were Mr. Henry Pybus Handley (Handley and Sons, the Outfitters) and Mr. Dixon. Besides supplying the locals with goods, these early businessmen supplied the burghers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State with most of their needs.

Newcastle, Fort Amiel and District, 1900

Map of Fort Amiel and Newcastle, 1 of A

(above and below) A map of Newcastle and Surrounds.

Map of Fort Amiel and Newcastle, 2 of A

The treeless state of the surrounds must have been a problem to early settlers who needed fuel for cooking and heating. Fortunately rich coal seams were found in and around the town and provided the necessary fuel, as it would many years later to the iron smelters and blast furnaces during the industrial phase of Newcastle.

Newcastle Fort Amiel in Distance 04-11706 2 (2)

(above) An early photograph (circa 1870) of a rustic, treeless and unattractive Newcastle, looking north towards Fort Amiel. Courtesy of the Talana Museum.

Newcastle and Fort Amiel 1

(above and below) An illustration of Newcastle and Fort Amiel in the distance, 1881.


In the 1873 book ‘What we did in South Africa’ the author writes the following about Newcastle… “Arrived at Newcastle in the first trekm and immediately took our wagon to a blacksmith to have the iron bows that support the cover repaired. Newcastle contains about twenty or thirty houses and stores – a poor place and very desolate looking.”

A 150 years ago, before our days of electric water pumps and water pipes, the necessity for a reliable water source was essential to the siting of a town. Newcastle’s position on the edge of a flat flood plain caused immediate problems to the township, for the Incandu River would periodically flood its treeless and muddy banks and spill into the northern areas of the town. One of these low lying areas (ironically called Paradise after the farm holding this name) was deserted by the white citizenry for higher ground. A small stream drained the marshy grounds of Paradise into the Incandu, but after heavy rain, would back up into this area. The Incandu (which was once a necessary source of water) has to this day split the town into two, with a northern and a southern zone, separated by a wide natural belt. This and the mountainous surrounds, has preserved a rural aspect to the town of Newcastle.

The source of the Incandu River lies in the Small Drakensberg, where several small streams, such as the Inguduma, rise on the upper slopes (and sometimes on the plateau above) from where they cascade swiftly down the heights to the plains below where they slow down, pick up some alluvial mud, joining together into the larger river – the Incandu. The river meanders across the plain through several farms, tumbles over a rocky outcrop at the Incandu Falls, is crossed by Lennoxton Drift, before sweeping before Fort Amiel where it is joined by the Inguduma Spruit. At this point we have the location of the second drift just upstream from where the Ingeduma flows into the incandu River. From here the river flows past the old town of Newcastle where the main Newcastle Drift is located. Eventually the river joins up with the Ingagane River that flows into the bigger Buffalo River, a tributary of the Tugela River.

The records state that the Incandu River provides fairly good fishing with Barbel scaling up to fourteen pounds. My brothers Gordon and Douglas were keen fishermen and would spend many hours fishing the Incandu, especially at the fork with the Inguduma. From the foot bridge lower down its course, we often could see very large barbel, especially during the spawning season. Heavy rains in the catchment area, can cause the river to come down in a flood to overflow its banks. This is a frequent happening.

Incandu River, Newcastle

In Florence Dixie’s 1881 book ‘In the Land of Misfortune’ she writes the following of the Incandu Drift…”On arriving at the Incandu, however, another halt had to be called, and a delay even more lengthened and tedious undergone in superintending its passage, for the ford was an awkward one, lying deeply in a hollow, and the wagons descending with a rush into the rapid waters, some difficulty was found in preventing the poor beasts yoked to them from coming to a dead stop for the purpose of slaking their thirst. In this way several spans got hopelessly entangled, and much delay was occasioned in their unraveling ; added to which the way leading out of the spruit rose in an abrupt incline, which, speedily becoming slippery from the drippings of several wagons that had already passed, rendered it almost impossible for the animals to retain their footing. Down they kept falling one by one, the confusion so occasioned being frightful. Altogether, what with the shouts of the soldiers and the fiendish yells of the drivers and conductors, the scene became one somewhat in accord with the descriptions of the infernal regions”. Florence Dixie continues… “The squadron had trotted on ‘towards Fort Amiel, and, having crossed a small spruit, an offshoot of the Incandu River, had formed up to await the wagons and afford any assistance that might be required. This, ere long, was much called for at a short but very ‘perpendicular hill, which rose abruptly from the spruit in question to the level of the Fort. In spite of gallant efforts on the part of the oxen, several wagons stuck fast, and it required many and many united hauls on the part of the men before they could be extricated. All this took up a good deal of time, and it was nearly nine o’clock before the last wagon was seen safely to the sunmmit…” The spruit to which Dixie refers is the Ingeduma stream. Egerton K. Laird wrote the following about the Ncandu River, drift and fort… “Fort Amiel, where the troops are, is on the opposite side of the river, and lies in a healthy situation on a high cliff. The river is now fordable, but in summer has to be crossed on pontoons or by boat, and is dangerous at times.”

A Trekwagon and oxen crossing the Incandu River Drift, with Newcastle in the background

(above) A team of oxen pull a trekwagon across a shallow Incandu River at the Drift. The town of Newcastle is visible in the background.

Ncandu River, ACH, titled Crossing Horses, 1902

(above) Cavalry horses belonging to the Australian Commonwealth Horse crossing the Incandu River below Fort Amiel in 1902.

Capsising of the pontoon on the Incandu River, Newcastle, sket by Capt. Ernest Thurlow 60or 80 th Rifles.

The capsizing of the pontoon at the Incandu River Drift, Newcastle; sketched by Capt. Ernest Thurlow of the 60th Rifles.

Incandu River with Newcastle in the background, 1900

(above) A photograph of Johnstone’s Drift with Newcastle in the background. At this point, the river flows over sandstone strata and was a popular spot for servants to wash clothes.

Ncandu River, Newcastle, Natal

(above and two images below) A photograph of the suspended footbridge located at the northern end Sutherland Street. Here it crossed the Incandu River just a few meters up from the fork with the Inguduma Stream. This bridge allowing for pedestrian access to Fort Amiel.

The Incandu Footbridge, Newcastle c1926

Incandu Footbridge, Newcastle c 1928 1

The first bridge across the Incandu was built in 1882 after the 1st Anglo Boer War by Mr. G. Foster. Already in 1877, the Military Commander Dartnell had made a request that a bridge be built, evidently without the consent of the Natal Government. A Toll Keeper was placed on the bridge – a Mr. Bell, who had a chequered career in this post, having lost his job after accusations that he gained additional income as a Barber, and for fraudulently allowing certain users to evade payment. In 1887 he was reinstated in his job. The Toll Keeper had a House adjacent to the bridge.

Incandu Bridge and Toll Keepers House, 1911

(above) An image of the road Bridge over the Incandu River (left side of image). The sandstone piers still exist, now the anchor points to a modern steel footbridge. Note the old Toll Keepers house on the right of the photograph, 1911.

Bridge over the Ncandu River with Newcastle in the background

(above) A photograph taken circa 1900, looking south showing the railway bridge over the Incandu River, with Newcastle in the background. 

Ncandu River and Bridge, Natal, ACH, 1902

(above and below) Two apposing views of the Incandu River and Road Bridge, April 1902.

The Bridge over the Ncandu River into Newcastle, 1902

Ingeduma Bridge, Fort Amiel, Newcastle

(above) A pen and ink sketch I drew in the 1980’s of the modern bridge that crosses the Inguduma Spruit immediately below Fort Amiel and just above the fork with the Incandu River.

A view taken in 1899 from Fort Amiel looking down onto the town of Newcastle, Natal

(above and below) A photographic view taken from Fort Amiel in 1899, during the 2nd Anglo Boer War, looking towards the town of Newcastle. At this time a larger and more prosperous town can be noted when compared to the the earlier image taken in the 1870’s. Johnstone’s Drift is visible on the lower right of the image, with the river lined by trees. In this image one can see the right sloping aspect of the hillock which is a finger to the bluff on which Fort Amiel is built. In the photograph (below), taken in 1900, one can see the left sloping aspect of the hillock, with the Incandu River sweeping away to the left. The road to the Transvaal and Orange Free State and up to Fort Amiel (left of image) can be seen running up from the Incandu River Drift.

A view of Newcastle, cc


Many of these early aristocratic English visitors to the town heaped scorn on the place – commenting on its summertime swamp-like nature and its vicious autumnal windstorms. It was disparagingly nicknamed the ‘Tin Town’ because many of the buildings were constructed in a temporary fashion of corrugated iron.

An early visitor to Newcastle was Anthony Trollope in 1876 who wrote the following description of the town in his book ‘South Africa’… “Newcastle is a little town with streets and squares laid out, though the streets and squares are not yet built. But there is a decent Inn, at which a visitor gets a bedroom to himself and a tub in the morning,..” He continues… “In the town there is a Post Office, and there are stores, and a Court House. There is a Dutch Church and a Dutch Minister, – and a Clergyman of the Church of England, who however has no church, but performs service in the Court House.”

The Court House, Newcastle

(above) The Newcastle Court House.

Anthony Trollope

(above) Anthony Trollope, Novelist and Travel Writer.

When Florence Dixie visited Newcastle she wrote of the town … “I was disappointed with Newcastle; its name was decidedly grander than its personal appearance. A few straggling houses, chiefly temporarily-erected ones of tin, were all that met the eye, the most important being those of the Post-office and Court-house in one, two or three large stores, and the Masonic Hotel.” Dixie writes the following about the buildings in Newcastle in 1880… “The tin buildings enjoyed a precarious existence, as did likewise several delicate-looking constructions of wood and canvas, that had a hard fight for it with the strong winds which at this time of year swept down from the Drakensberg with tremendous force. I have frequently seen the former, completely taken off their legs, utterly collapse ; while the latter, blown to shreds, flapped their disconsolate remnants of canvas against the skeletons of their former selves.”

Florence Dixie

(above) Florence Dixie.

In the same year the author and traveler Egerton K. Laird, son of John Laird the Parliamentarian, wrote in his book ‘Incidents of Travel in South Africa’ the following regarding the village… “Newcastle is a wretched-looking tin-pot place.” He continued in prejudicial tones… “At the back of the hotel is a swamp, and bottles and rubbish are thrown about anywhere. There is no municipality or sanitary arrangements; no wonder, therefore, it is unhealthy in summer; but in winter right enough. A mushroom kind of town, filled with loafers of all sorts, the usual followers of an army,…” One can only pause and wonder what other than a newly-born frontier town Dixie or Laird expected. Not much was spared Laird’s acerbic tongue for even his hired pony (that carried his frame all the way to and from Majuba Mountain for a visit to the battle scene) got a going over. Numerically-minded Mrs. Harriet A. Roche had this to say of the town in her book ‘On trek in the Transvaal’ … “It is built on a square, the houses, twenty one in number, dotted about every here and there, seemingly regardless of order and method, yet the streets of the future may, in reality, be clearly defined. It boasts seven stores, one hotel, one Court House (Post Office included), and one small red-brick building, used as a church by the inhabitants, without a clergyman generally, but with one when kind fortune happens to bring him Newcastle way,..”

Harriet A

(above) Harriet A. Roche.

In contrast to these negative comments, is that of Captain Campbell of the 6th Contingent from Australia… for in his dispatch to the Southern Australian Newspaper, 1901, he relates…”This is the first British town we have struck since we came out. it is a prettily situated and a very attractive little town, and as its name would denote is a coal-mining town.” Campbell had made the common mistake of linking the twon to Newcastle in England. In 1902, Lieutenant Burne wrote the following on his journey north during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War… “On getting to the top of the hills overlooking Newcastle we were struck with the view and the prettiness of the town which the Boers had hardly wrecked at all – quite the best I have seen in Natal from a distance.” Burne was incorrect regarding the deprivations of the Boers, for they did considerable damage.

A drawing of Newcastle from Fort Amiel, 1880

(above) An informative 1880 illustration of the town of Newcastle drawn from Fort Amiel during the 1st Anglo-Boer War, 1880. Note the many pack wagons and supplies positioned at the base of Fort Amiel Hill. As Dixie described in her book, these wagons would have to be hauled up the hill at great physical cost to beast and man. The treeless course of the Incandu River and alongside it the telegraph line can be noted in the middleground . Hilldrop and the farm ‘Rooi Point’ and ‘Boschhoek’ is visible in the far background.

(below) An illustration sketched from a similar position to the illustration above.


Hilldrop and Newcastle from Fort Amiel

(above and below) Two sketches I did as a teenager of Newcastle from the southern boundary of Fort Amiel. The image below is of Paradise that borders the Incandu River, adjacent to the fork with the Inguduma Spruit.

Pen and ink sketch of Newcastle as viewed from Fort Amiel, Newcastle, Natal, 1980's

Newcastle Surrounds, 1900

(above) A photograph taken from Fort Amiel of the fork in the Incandu River and Inguduma Spruit, with the farm ‘Paradise’ on either side the Incandu River. This photograph was taken from the roughly the same location as the two drawings above. The old house in the drawings above can be seen in this 100 year old photograph.


In 1894 the town had a population of 1200 Europeans and about 600 residents of Indian and Coloured background. The town boasted an Agricultural Society, a Government School, A Public Library and Reading Room with 3000 volumes, several Societies, Sporting Clubs and a Masonic Lodge. The town also had the following church denominations – Church of England, Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics and Dutch Reformed Church.

In the 1890’s a Woollen Factory had been established in the town to take advantage of the large number of sheep kept on the surrounding farms. The establishment manufactured tweeds and blankets. Blankets were a much sought-after commodity with the black population. Experts in this industry were brought in from Britain to secure its success.

In 1897, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, building commenced on a town hall for Newcastle, It was finished in 1899 and opened in July This hall holds fully 500 people and cost 6000 pounds. It is one of the very few old building in Newcastle to have survived.

The Town Hall, Newcastle

(above) The Town Hall, Scott Street, photographed during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War years, 1899-1902.

The Jordan (Jordaan) Spruit that transects the area of Paradise from the rest of Newcastle was bridged in and around 1899. This is the small stream that  arises on the Boschhoek Farm and flows in a northerly direction and drains into the Incandu River below Fort Amiel.


Newcastle Station 1900

(above) A steam locomotive and goods train alongside the Newcastle Railway Station siding, photographed in 1900.

The railway reached Newcastle in 1891. With a total disregard for historicity, the Newcastle Council demolished this building in the 1970’s, as they did virtually all colonial heritage buildings in the town. Any one wishing to visualise the historic town will have to rely on photographs and drawings from the time.

Railway Staff, Newcastle Station, Natal, 1890

(above) The Railway Staff, Newcastle Station, Natal, 1890.


Throughout its early history, any importance Newcastle had was the result of its strategic military position. To the west of the town, above the Small Drakensberg Mountains lay the flat plains of the Orange Free State, and further to the north was the Transvaal; the inhabitants of whom were showing greater and greater hostility to British authority. To the east lay Zululand, another area of dispute, that threatened to spill over into conflict as the Zulu resisted attempts by the British to bring them under British hegemony. In the 1870’s the British Government took preparatory measures to complete the annexation of the Transvaal. To accomplish this, British troops were stationed at several towns and villages across the Transvaal, setting up garrisons at towns like Standerton and Potchefstroom. Lord Carnarvon at the Colonial Office in London believed in a more vigorous foreign policy, and that the Transvaal and Zululand be brought completely under the British umbrella of control. He therefore encouraged greater military preparedness, with the upgrading of military installations. One of the first indications of this new strategy was the building in 1876 of Fort Amiel on a hill above the town of Newcastle. For the next 26 years, the fort was to play a pivotal role in the fortunes of the town below, during the Annexation of the Transvaal, The Anglo-Zulu War, The 1st Anglo-Boer War and the 2nd Anglo-Boer War.

Fort Amiel nn

(above) An informative and pastoral illustration of Newcastle during the Anglo-Zulu War 1879 (same illustration above and below)…looking in a northerly direction towards Fort Amiel and Signal Hill. The road to the Orange Free State is visible in this image as it snakes up to Signal Hill on the border of the farms of  ‘Highton’ and ‘Gordon’ before veering off to the left across the latter farm to Botha’s Pass and on to the Orange Free State town of Memel. The higher drift to the Ncandu drift below Fort Amiel can be placed in this image by the positioning of  two tents and a structure below the hill. A small fortified redoubt can be seen on the southerly approaches to Newcastle in this image. During the Zulu War the town had a population of 250 white residents. In this image, the residents had planted trees, Oaks, Plane trees Chinese Elms, Casuarinas and Blue Gums. A visitor from Australia reported on the town to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1900… “there are large numbers of shady blue-gums, and these avenues give nice shade.” Unfortunately, in the rush to modernise Newcastle in the 1960’s and 1970’s virtually all these lovely trees were pitilessly axed. One of the last large Plane trees is situated today to the immediate left of the Newcastle Library. A few Casuarinas still grow in Murchison Street, but the oaks are all  tragically gone, like virtually every historic building. The 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s knew no sentiments.

Newcastle, Anglo-Zulu War

The Armoury (Old Magazine) Newcastle, Natal

(above) Another military installation at Newcastle is the Old Magazine (Armoury) thought to have been built in the 1860’s by the local contingent, the Natal Mounted Rifles to protect the easterly approaches to the town. No less a person than Winston Churchill was imprisoned in this structure by the Boers after his capture as a War Correspondent.


When Anglo-Zulu War broke out in 1879, the Newcastle residents feared for their safety. The town had been fortified in 1877 and a protective laager built for the retreat of residents should it be necessary. The Natal Government had ordered that a sturdy brick wall be built to encompass the Courthouse, Gaol, Magistrate’s Office and Post Office. Arms and ammunition were stored at the Newcastle Laager for the use of the Town Guard.

A local contingent had been formed in 1875, called the ‘Newcastle Mounted Rifles’. They were called-out for service in 1878, joining No. 3 Column with 36 mounted Troopers at Helpmekaar. They took part in the skirmish at KwaSogekla and half the contingent were present at the disastrous Battle of Isandwana when almost the entire British force was destroyed by the Zulu Impi. Many Newcastle women were left widows after this conflict. After news reached the remaining residents of this battle, most of the residents fled south, something they were to re-enact 19 years later. It is evident that living in a frontier town had its excitements for the younger men, although I am sure the womenfolk felt very differently.

(below) British soldiers building a pontoon of casks across the Incandu River at Newcastle.


It is worth noting that many black Natalians also joined-up to protect the town from Cetswayo’s impi. They were the descendants of those Nguni clans who had fled from the devastating wars unleashed by Shaka and Dingaan to the Natal Settlers for safety and sustenance. 50 mounted African Levies were raised as the ‘African Newcastle Scouts’, and patrolled the region.

(below) An illustration of the Royal Artillery crossing the Incandu River via a pontoon bridge.



The residents of Newcastle, in anticipation of the onset of hostilities, feared an invasion of the Transvaal Burghers i 1881. The Transvaalers had resisted British authority and butchered a British contingent at Bronkhorstspruit. In the book ‘The Mounted Police of Natal” the author writes the following about the jumpy towns people… “False Alarms were continually occurring in Newcastle in these days, and many of the residents took refuge in the laager at night.” it is evident from this that the Laager that had been built in 1877 and strengthened in 1878 had not been disassembled after the ending of the Zulu War.

It was lucky for the resident of Newcastle that the Boer’s citizen force did not descend the pass and invade the town- for General Petrus Johannes Joubert had a distaste for bloodshed. That and the fact that pragmatic Major-General Sir Evelyn Wood did not either, and knew it would take months to raise sufficient numbers to repulse the Boers, and further to this – we can deduce from his personal writings that he had rations for only a few more days to feed his army, let alone all the stranded British soldiers besieged at Standerton, Heildelberg, Wakkerstroom, Rustenberg, Middelberg, Leydenberg and Pretoria. It helped that he and Joubert saw eye-to-eye and Joubert had let the more militant of his people (Paul Kruger among them) that if they did not accept acceptable terms, he would climb on his horse and go home to his farm near Volksrust.

Peace talks were conducted at Hilldrop House, on the farm ‘Roy Point’ owned by Arthur Cochrane and H. Rider Haggard. The 3000 acre farm lay just south of Newcastle. Talks were concluded at O’Neil’s Cottage neat Majuba Mountain north of Newcastle, and the Transvaal burghers had secured their independence.

(below) Roy Point farm and Hilldrop House.

Peace talks on the Arthur Cochran and Haggard Farm, Hilldrop House, 1881, Newcastle,

(below) H. Rider Haggard

H. Rider Haggard


In 1898, the town of Newcastle was ill prepared for hostilities, with many of the townsfolk fearing an invasion and its consequences. In 1899 the population stood at 1746 individuals, mostly of English, Scot and Irish ancestry. The farming community of the district was made up of Dutch farmers who had stayed on in Natal after the Voortrekkers had left in 1842, as well as English-speaking Natalians. Fort Amiel had been sold-off in 1882, so the fort was now a farmstead. It is evident that as a military installation it had fallen into disrepair and was inadequate to protect the town from the advance of the Boer burghers and their accompanying citizenry. All British and Colonial forces had been withdrawn to the south, with most of the British and Colonial Forces garrisoned at Ladysmith, a 100 kilometres away. Many residents packed up and fled to relatives and to the towns of Pietermaritzburg and Durban when they heard the news that Newcastle was not to be defended. Those who fled to Ladysmith were to be besieged for many months and suffer the effects of slow starvation and Boer shelling. On the 12th of October 1899, on the day after the outbreak of war, reports reached the residents of Newcastle that the Boers were crossing the frontier from the north and west. On the 13th they occupied the small village of Charlestown, crossing Laing’s Nek (Lang’s Nek) and descending the Majuba Pass into Natal. Observers noted that the Boer wagon convoy stretched for miles as it slowly descended. Most all of the residents fled, including the Mayor, leaving their homes, farms and shops. The outcome was not to be a pleasant one.

At the onset of hostilities in October 1899 between the British Empire and the two Boer Republics, Newcastle stood in the path of the apposing armies. As Sir John Robinson in his book ‘A Life Time in South Africa’ wrote… “Then most of them – the British born, I mean – hastily took flight. First went the womenfolk and the children, carrying with them such portables as they could dispose of, and then followed the men, who held on to their homesteads until the Boers were actually in sight. Loath, indeed, were the housewives to leave their domestic treasures to the mercy of the Boer raiders. In some cases things were buried, or hidden in roofs, in cornpits, or plantations. In others they were left just as they were, trusting that apparent confidence would prevent spoliation. Cattle, horses and sheep were in many cases driven off to the deep valleys under the distant mountains…”

General Petrus Joubert and Staff at Newcastle, 1898

(above) General Petrus Jacobus Joubert and Staff, enjoying a repast at Newcastle, Natal. In this image we note that these Burghers have food, however, the remainder of the force was inadequately victualed resulting in the widespread looting of food stores  and livestock in the the town of Newcastle and surrounds in the early weeks of October. When Joubert reached Newcastle he was dismayed to see the looting and destruction by his fellow burghers and put in measures to prevent this. There is no doubt that this despoiling and vandalism rested uneasily with Joubert, whose family farm lay just across the Natal border near Volksrust. He would have known many of the local farmers, both British, Colonial and Dutch, and would have received much of his provisioning from the merchants of Newcastle and Charlestown.

Illustration of the Boers dismantling the British Laager at Newcastle, 1899

(above and below) Illustration of the Boers dismantling the British protective laager around the Town Hall at Newcastle, 1899.

Newcastle Town Hall, with the sandbags that the Boers displaced

Boers having a repast, Newcastle Railway Station, the photograph caption notes that they are awaiting British Prisoners, 20 Oct 1899

(above) Boers having a repast, Newcastle Railway Station, the photograph caption notes that they are awaiting British Prisoners, 20 Oct 1899.

Boer searchlight at Newcastle

(above) A Boer Flatbed railway car with wagon with searchlight at Newcastle, Natal, 1899.

Scott Street, Newcastle, under Boer Occupation, Vierkleur fying form Town Hall, 1899

(above) Scott Street, Newcastle, under Boer Occupation, with the Transvaal Vierkleur flying from Town Hall, 1899. I include the image (below) for comparative value. The image was taken in 1919 from roughly the same spot and direction as the photograph above.

Scott Street, Newcastle, Natal, showing the Commercial Hotel and the Toen Hall in the distance

A half penny ZAR Stamp posted in Newcastle during the Boer Occupation

(above) A half penny ZAR Stamp posted and attached to a letter from Newcastle during the Boer Occupation of 1899-1900.

(below) A photograph of President Steyn of the Orange Free State visiting Newcastle in  January 1900 to encourage the burghers in the field.




On the 15th of October 1899, a commando of triumphant and unopposed Boers under the leadership of  General Kock, and Assistant-Commandant Ben Viljoen, swept down Botha Passes from the Orange Free State on their ponies, outpacing the other 5 columns and entered an unprotected Newcastle, where Viljoen raised the flag of the republics. Viljoen headed up the Johannesburg Commando and was second in command to General Jan Kock whose contingent was made up of the already mentioned Johannesburg Commando, the German Corps and the Hollander Corps.

Boers brazenly photographed in the private home of a Newcastle residenct who has fled the invasion, 12 of November 1899,

(above) Boers brazenly photographed like gentlemen in the private home of a Newcastle resident who has fled the invasion, 12th of November 1899.

Then commenced several days of vicious looting of the shops, stores and homes of private Natalians. In addition, properties were needlessly vandalised. The farms of loyal Natalians received the same treatment and their livestock and property stolen. The ‘hounds of war’ had been released by the Republican and Empire warmongering politicians and were not to be kenneled again for another 3 years. In the age-old re-enactment of wars immemorial,  the Boers plundered their way through Newcastle. Besides looted all the houses of all their valuables, they also burnt several to the ground. It was as if a precedent had been set, for similar destruction of private property was to characterise the rest of the war, on both sides. The Roman Catholic Church and convent was desecrated and burnt to the ground. All the Stores and Shops were stripped of their goods. White residents were not the only victims to the looting and destruction by drunken Boers, for they set fire to an Indian owned store opposite Duncan Brothers. The few residents who thought they could brave the conflict were treated fairly well by the Burghers and hanger-ons, – however, the Chief of Police MacDonald was abused.

It was obvious from the commencement of the war that the control of a civilian (burgher) force was problematic, not to mention a professional army under the strict command of Officers and NCO’s. As the conflict progressed it became increasingly clear that the Boer generals had little (if any) control over their citizen force, making this one of the leading reasons to their defeat and expulsion from Natal.

General Ben Viljoen and his Secretary

(above) A dapper General Ben Viljoen (seated) and his Secretary.

In General Viljoen’s book “My Reminiscenses of the Anglo Boer War” he conveniently omits to mention this initial looting of Newcastle, but makes the following implicating and telling comment as they descended the pass into Natal… “We came across a cart drawn by four bullocks belonging to a Natal farmer, and I believe this was the first plunder we captured in Natal.” The English-speaking farmers of the Newcastle District had their farmsteads looted and vandalised, and their belongings and livestock driven-off. Their neighbours of Dutch backgrounds joined up with the Boer Forces, some through persuasion but most through co-ercion. There was evidently more to General Joubert’s cold handling of Viljoen besides the fact that he and Commandant Kock had willfully disobeyed the elderly general who had ordered all Boer columns to reconnoiter before commending any action. Failure to listen had resulted in the first battle of the war going badly for the very same commando who initially looted Newcastle. Racing ahead of the other commandos, they tackled the British at Elandslaagte from a poorly defended hillside, where they were routed. General Kock, Shiel of the German Corps and Dr. Coster of the Hollander Corps perished, as did most of the Hollander Corps, either killed or wounded. Ben Viljoen narrowly escaped with his life back to Newcastle, thanks to some luck, his black servant and his pony.

Russian Ambulance Staff in front of the Sanatorium, Newcastle Natal, 1899, Occupation, Anglo-Boer War

(above) Russian Ambulance Staff in front of the Sanatorium, Newcastle Natal, 1899, during the Boer occupation.

Viljoen tellingly writes the following… “I found it necessary to obtain new outfits, &c., at Newcastle. This was no easy matter, as some of the storekeepers had moved the greater part of their goods to a safer place…” In fact it had already been looted. He continues… “while some commandos had appropriated most of the remainer.” In truth, foremost of these been his own commando several days before. He proceeds in a obfuscating fashion by casting the blame on Moodie… “What was left had been commandeered by Mr. J. Moodie, a favourite of General Joubert, who was posing there as Resident of the Peace; and he did not feel inclined to let any of these goods out of his possession.” Then in a moment of honesty, as if his conscience interjects he wrote… “By alternatively buying and looting, or in other words stealing, I managed to get an outfit by the next morning.”


(above) Boers photographed at Newcastle.

After this most ignoble start to the Boer offensive, the town was presumptuously renamed Viljoensdorp after Ben Viljoen. One can be sure – the loyal residents of Newcastle shed few tears when the Boers were driven out of Natal and suffered similar depredations under the ‘Scorched Earth’ policy of General Kitchener.

(below) A photographic portrait of Ben Viljoen.

Gen Ben Viljoen

Many of the Dutch Natalians of the Newcastle environs, when they witnessed the apparent success of the invading burghers, incorrectly assessed that a new political dispensation would advance Afrikaner interests. They joined up with the Republican commandos; although most of them from the pointed co-ercion tactics of Viljoen and those left in charge of the town and district, who left them very little option. It is true, some joined in with the looting of their erstwhile neighbours and had themselves photographed standing proudly on the steps to the Town Hall, thus sealing their fate in the treason trials of 1900 to 1903. Vahed Goolam writes of the looting and destruction the Boers committed on the Indian population in his publication “Natal Indians in the South African War”… In Newcastle, a store opposite Duncan Brothers in the main street, belonging to an Indian, was fired by some of the drunken rabble and burned to the ground.” The Boers had helped themselves to stores of alchohol. He continues… “On the 30 of October (1899) local ‘Dutchmen’ Dirk van Rooyen Senior and his four sons and Zutsman, arrived at the store with white women and fifteen Transvaal Boers and a number of African workers. They packed the goods from the store and loaded it into an ox wagon and cart that they had brought along. They warned Nager to co-operate because the area belonged to the Transvaal. The following day the men returned and cleared the furniture, chairs, ladders and anything else that they could lay their hands on.” It is evident that not all the Rebels and invading Boers were fighting on the front line on the 30th.

Boer woman and their children photographed in front of the Newcastle Town Hall, 1899

(above) Women and children of the rebelling Natal Dutch community who were photographed posing in front of the Newcastle Town Hall, 1899. From the literature and accounts of the time, many of these women and those women accompanying the Boer forces from the Orange Free State and the Transvaal were involved in the looting of the belongings of Newcastle residents as their menfolk advanced with the Boer forces towards Ladysmith. Accounts relate how wagons of loot were loaded up and transported back to the hinterland, this with most of the livestock of the region.

Photos taken by R.E.E. Gell  Photographer Newcastle Natal.

(image above and two images below) Rebel Natal Dutch men photographed by Photographer Gell brazenly posing before the Newcastle Town Hall. These images were used by the Natalian and British Military Authorities to identify, arrest and prosecute those who took up arms against the Crown. A rough count of these men tallies to 100 rebels. Of interest – one can determine the same men in all three of these images. Note the man wearing the remarkable white helmet.

Photos taken by R.E.E. Gell  Photographer Newcastle Natal.

Natal Rebel Commando, Newcastle

Viljoen writes of the rebel Klip River County farmers… “About 150 Natal Afrikanders who had joined our commandos when these under the late General Joubert occupied the districts about Newcastle and Ladysmith, now found themselves in an awkward position. They elected to come with us, accompanied by their families and live stock, and they offered a most heartrending spectacle. Long rows of carts and wagons wended their way wearily along the road to Laing’s nek. Women in tears, with their children and infants in arms, cast reproachful glances at us as being the cause of their misery.”

Those loyal Natal Dutch/Afrikaaners were harassed mercilessly by their kin and the Boer invaders, suffering fines, imprisonment and vicious assaults. They had their farms and steads raided, looted, and their valuable livestock impounded. Perhaps they showed the greatest bravery and fortitude of any citizens of Southern Africa at the time, weathering the scorn of their own people and the distrust of the British. When the Boers were driven back out of Natal by General Buller, many of these loyal Natalians were treated with ungracious suspicion; with the British Army treating their farms, homes and belongings with scant respect. Although most were recompensed for their losses, the story of the Rebels was otherwise. Such is the devastation of war – that in taking-up arms against their country, they lost their rights as British citizens. They and their families were stripped of everything, bar their farms and plunged into poverty. Thus was cultivated a tree that bore poisonous fruit for many generations. Perhaps greater heed should have been given to those who wisely cautioned against war with the British juggernaut, like General De la Rey and General Petrus Joubert.

(below) A farmstead in Northern natal raised by Boers as a punishment for loyalty to the Crown.


Earlier, as the Burghers moved on towards Dundee and Ladysmith, the mounds of looted items were stacked in the Police Station, and the Town Hall, up to the rafters with the furniture of the residents. No doubt they thought that after the British had been driven from Natal, they would return to their plunder. When the town was retaken, barrels of dynamite were found in the Town Hall. No doubt, the retreating Boers, now unable to extract their loot, had intended rather to blow-up the building and its contents.

Furniture stacked up outside the Newcastle Town Hall as plunder, 1899

(above) A photograph showing the furniture and belongings of the residents of Newcastle that was looted by Boers.

On the 29th of March 1900, the Colonist Newspaper reported the following about the Boer retreat… “The Boers in Natal have sent their women and children back to the Transvaal. Deserters report that the commandos intend to retreat with their guns and stores via Lang’s Nek, the pass over the Drakensberg Mountain in north west Natal. One can be sure that many of the possessions of the Newcastle residents and the livestock of the neighbouring farms went north with them.

Kruger addressing Boers at Newcastle after the Relief of Ladysmith, Natal, 1900

(above President Paul Kruger addressing Boers at Newcastle after the British and Colonials relieved the Natalian town of Ladysmith, 1900.

Boers retreating from Biggersberg through Newcastle to Lang's Nek May 14th 1900

(above) A photograph by the photographer R.E.E. Gell, recording the retreat of Boers through Newcastle on the 14th of May 1900, thus ending 7 months of occupation. Their intention was to defend positions at Botha’s Pass and Lang’s Nek, but they were outflanked and gunned and rapidly driven back into the republics.

As the Boers fell back, they vindictively destroyed the infrastructure of the colony, blowing up culverts, rail lines and stations, bridges, waterworks and torching official buildings. Among the hundreds of bridges destroyed were those across the Ingagane and Incandu Rivers. The Newcastle Waterworks on the Incandu River were also destroyed. The final act of  destruction before retreating out of Natal was the blowing up of the Lang’s Nek Railway Tunnel.


(above) Dynamited railway bridge over the Incandu River.

The Ingagane Railway Bridge destroyed by retreating Boers, Anglo-Boer Ware

(above) British soldiers bathing in the Ingagane River with the Railway Bridge beyond, destroyed by the retreating Boers.

Laing's Nek Tunnel wrecked by Boers, 1900

Lang’s Nek Tunnel.

General Ben Viljoen writes of the irony of finding themselves at the foot of Majuba Mountain once again during their retreat from Newcastle… “We now found ourselves once more on the old battlefields of 1880 and 1881, where Boer and Briton had met 20 years before to decide by trial of arms who should be master of the S. A. Republic. Traces of the desperate struggle were still plainly visible, and the historic height of Majuba stood there, an isolated sentinel, recalling to us the battle in which the unfortunate Colley lost both the day and his life.

Following the expulsion of the Boers, the Natal Compensation Commission visited Newcastle in 1900 to assess the damage. They reported… “Most of the stores in the town had been fully equipped before the British evacuation, and the haul by the enemy and the rebels was found to have been very extensive. The Convent and the Church had been burned down, and a search among the ruins failed to bring to light any valuables. The Hotels were cleared of all their furniture, and a number of the rooms used as stables. Almost all the private dwellings had been depleted of anything of value. The Town Hall and the Police Buildings were found, after the Boer retreat, to be crammed with a miscellaneous assortment of furniture, all more or less damaged.” The extensive depredations of the British Army has been well documented and trumpeted, but that of the Boers not. This is a depressing story that is still to be told in full.

The residents were certainly glad to see the Boers out of their town. Captain George Vernon Clarke writes the following in his diary about the welcome he and his contingent got as they reached Newcastle… “It was dusk when we reached Newcastle. it is nearly as big a place as Ladysmith, and much prettier. All the inhabitants turned out to greet us. They were English people who had their best clothes on and sported red, white and blue ribbons all over and displayed home-made Union Jacks.”

Boer War prisoners at Newcastle Railway Station, March 1902, Anglo-Boer War

(above) The arrival of captured combantant Boer burghers at Newcastle Railway Station.

From 1900 Newcastle became an important point of collection and dispatch for the British and Colonial Armies. The town and its neighbouring encampment, Fort Amiel became a staging post for military action, and a buffer for any future Boer incursions into Natal. The hills in and around the settlement were fortified with large guns placed on many of these eminences, from where a watch could be kept of the countryside. Local garrisons were tasked with watching the passes into Natal and the cornering of Boer commandos like that of General De Wet who were still in the field.

The presence of such a large host in Newcastle and the movement of the same through the town, added to the town’s finances. Returning residents and businessmen took advantage of the opportunities to provide the necessities of life to the soldiers. In the New Zealand Post the following was reported on the 14th of July 1902 by a colonial soldier… “A river of gold is flowing through the streets. Take this small town of Newcastle, with a resident European population of about 400. In and around there are 57 units, some large (like our own), with over 1000 men. others much smaller. This township is the base. Not only the stores, but the streets are piled with goods, all covered with tarpaulins. Bullock wagons, mule wagons, and Cape carts are seen in hundreds. When it is considered that every negro employed is paid at least 10s per week and a liberal ration, that every ox, mule and horse cost from 10 to 20 pounds, that every case of stores of good sterling value, and that every soldier draws his pay, the cost per day must be amazing in this little place.”

British troops offloading a railway car at Newcastle, Natal, Anglo-Boer War

(above) British troops loading a train car at Newcastle Railway Station during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War years.

Newcastle Railway Station, Anglo-Boer War

(above) British soldiers photographed at the Newcastle Railway Station.

14th General Hospital, Newcastle

(above) Many wounded and sick dominion soldiers were treated at Newcastle in its two hospitals, the 14th General Hospital and that of Fort Amiel.

Tigers Kloof, Newcastle District, Australian Commonwealth Horse, 1902

(above) While stationed in the town, many of the garrisoned soldiers took to sight-seeing in the latter stages of the conflict in 1902. The image above and below were taken by an officer in the Australian Commonwealth Horse while visiting Tiger’s Kloof (above) and Majuba Mountain (below).

Members of the Australian Commonwealth Horse pose atop Majuba near memorial to the 58th Reg in 1902

Departure from Newcastle, Natal, Australian Commonwealth Horse, 1902

(above) Military Officers awaiting the military train at Newcastle Railway Station.

Waiting to hear Peace, Newcastle, ACH, 1902

(above) Residents of Newcastle and Soldiers await the declaration of Peace from Melrose House in Pretoria, on the 31st of May 1902 bringing to an end this disastrous and destructive war.


Newcastle, 1911

(above) Newcastle, photographed in 1911.

Johnstone's Drift on the farm 'Paradise' 1895

(above) Johnstone’s Drift on the Incandu River, Paradise Farm.

The Incandu River photographed during the drought of 1933

(above) The Incandu River photographed during the drought of 1933.

A well-known photograph of a snow covered Newcastle, 1955

(above) A street in Newcastle after a heavy snow fall, 1955.

The Old Post Office, Scott Street, Now destroyed, Newcastle

(above) The old Newcastle Post Office in the Union Style, Scott Street, now demolished.

Court House, Newcastle, Natal

(above) The Court House, Newcastle.

The Court House, Newcastle

(above) The Court House, Newcastle.

The Intersection with Scott and Allen Street, Newcastle

(above) The intersection of Allen and Scott Streets, Newcastle.

The Convent, Newcastle, later St. Dominics Academy

(above) The Roman Catholic Convent, later St. Dominic’s Academy, Newcastle.

Presbyterian Church, Newcastle, Natal

(above) The Presbyterian Church, Newcastle.

NGK Church, Newcastle

(above) The Nederduitse Gereformeerde  Kerk, Newcastle. (Dutch Reformed Church).

The Iron Works, Newcastle, 1968

(above) The Iron Works, Newcastle, 1968.


Graham Leslie McCallum

3 comments on “A History of Newcastle – Natal – and District

  1. Decima Jones
    February 17, 2015

    Very good and very comprehensive – well done Norman.

  2. Darryl Milner
    September 16, 2017

    Fascinating! I grew up in Newcastle 1944-1960 and learnt so much from this that I never knew then. I loved the old photographs. Thank you.

  3. mark de kiewiet
    September 16, 2017

    Very interesting, I enjoyed reading and learnt a lot. thank you for your time and effort putting this together

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: