Graham Leslie McCallum

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


Today, four months ago, my Saluki hound Sirocco died. The following day we buried that fleet-footed beast in the top garden in the middle of the lawn. I write ‘top garden’ for the position is exactly on top of the Berean  Ridge, which the clever among us know to be an ancient sea dune. I would like to think that the top of my garden is the very highest spot of the Ridge, maybe I am correct in this. I wanted to place a ring of stones around my dog’s grave, to memorialise the spot; however, living on a dune and looking for stones of any size or description is akin to searching for hen’s teeth. This would be true for most Berean Durbanites, bar for myself – for the simple fact that my garden uncharacteristically contains tons and tons of rock. So I was able to gather-up about twenty sizable  and suitable stones and arranged them  in a neat circle around the grave.

While getting over Sirocco’s death I spent a fair amount of time sitting on the grass next to his resting spot, and it would be fair to say – I have shed a fair number of tears on those stones. A week ago, while sitting there in a nostalgic mood, my attention was drawn to one of those grey-blue-coloured rocks that I was stroking with my hand as a reminisced. What kind of stone were they? They were so everyday to me that I had never given them too much thought – and this led me to do a little research and to this posting.

Sirocco, February 2013, Msinsi Nature Reserve


Sirocco (Twinkletolly).

Sirocco's grave, Top Garden, Dove House 010

My old house is built just short of the top of the Berean Ridge, on the leeward side of the hill, away from the prevailing winds. The entrance is right at the bottom of the hill, with well over a hundred stairs leading up to the house. The 33 degree angle of the hill is contained by 15 dry stone terraces, rising in a series of banks, built a hundred years ago. As I mentioned, there is no stone of any kind or description on the Berea to build with or to ornament your garden with; so where did all this rock come from? I had been told many years ago that a Mr. Gloster had built the terraces. He had been a Stone Mason, and it was his grandson who told me this fact. All the stone had come from the Umgeni Quarries, that lie many kilometres away to the north of old Durban, next to the Springfield Flats and the Umgeni River. These terraces must have taken considerable effort and time to build. The labour taken to carry all this stone up the hill is a sobering consideration, and this is without the cost and work it took to transport the stone all the way from the Umgeni Quarry. It would have been moved via horse and mule-drawn carts and wagons. In Phyllis Reim’s ‘History of Manor Gardens’ – (the suburb where I live) she wrote that building material was transported to the area in mule-drawn Scotch carts.

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(above and below) A retaining terrace built of Dwyka Tillite, Dove House, Manor Gardens.

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When the Bay of Natal was settled in 1822 by English Settlers, it soon became necessary to locate stone for building, hardening of roads and for the construction of quays and piers. This was a considerable problem to these pioneers for there was little to no stone around for miles. Where Durban City is built today is a silted up lagoon and the Berean Hills around the Bay are old sand dunes. Eventually stone was found on the seaward side of the Bluff. This stone was a siliceous calcerous sandstone and located at the foot of the Bluff which is also a sand dune. Stone was needed to build the breakwater to secure a safe entry into the Bay. In 1856 a wooden railway line was constructed around the Bluff from the bay-side to where the stone was located. From here it was hauled in wheeled ox-drawn carts, along the tracks back to the bay were it was ferried across the entrance to the bay to the Point where Milne’s Breakwater was been constructed. The problem with this stone supply was that it was limited in supply and in addition – the expense of transporting it across the Bay rendered its exploitation prohibitively expensive. (see. images below)

The Bluff Railway, Durban, a


(above and below) Milne’s Bluff Railway.



A drawing by Frederick Mackie, 1855, of the building of Milne's Breakwater, Durban

Drawing of the construction of Milne’s Breakwater, 1855.

In 1862 early Durban pioneer George Christopher Cato discovered stone of a good quality on his farm ‘Cato Manor” that lay behind the Berea and offered it to the council to use for the hardening of Berea Road, the main road that led from the small settlement now called D’urban and up the steep Berean Ridge to the hinterland and the capital Pietermaritzburg. The road was in a frightful rutted condition and our dear city father’s had deemed it essential that it be hardened. The location of this stone deposit can be located today at the intersection of Booth, Francois and Bellair Roads. Again it proved expensive to transport this rock across the Berean Ridge to where it was needed, and so an alternative source was located and quarried on the Farm ‘Brickfields’ belonging to C. J. Cato, George’s brother.

The truth be told –  there were no suitable deposits to quarry on the seaward side of the Berea, except for a small quarry at Congella. The limited supply of stone was to hamper the development of Durban and it was only as late as 1876 that the whole of West Street was finally hardened from Point Road to the beginning of Berea Road. Before this date the road was a wide stretch of loose white sea sand, that blew into drifts that obstructed traffic.

Berea Road with Ricksha Puller, Durban

When good quality stone was located along the Umgeni River, north of Durban in the 1860’s, the quarry supplied  stone and gravel to Durban for the next hundred years, my garden terraces included. When the railway line was extended from Durban to the north and along to Springfield in 1867, these deposits could be fully utilised.

Painting of the Umgeni Quarry by Joseph Charles Louis Clement Seneque

Painting of the Umgeni Quarry by Joseph Charles Louis (Clement) Seneque.

The road and rail bridges across the Umgeni River, Durban

The Umgeni Road and Rail Bridges with the Dwyka Tillite deposits on the southern bank of the Umgeni River. This rock face was progressively cut back as the stone was exploited, so that today the area between quarry and river is much wider, enough to allow for a highway. Burman Bush now lies above this quarry.

Indian religious ceremony, Umgeni River, Durban

Photograph of the Umgeni River and the Umgeni Quarry in the background.

After doing some research I discovered that the stone from the Umgeni  Quarry is what is known to Geologists as ’tillite’ – (‘Dwyker Tillite’ to be precise). This is rock that was laid down by Permian Age glacial action many millions of years ago. Now any one who knows the sub-tropical weather of Durban will think the presence of icy glaciers grinding their way across the landscape unlikely, but this is factual. If one was to travel back in time, over 200 million years ago, one would discover that Southern Africa fell within a much larger land mass called ‘Gondwanaland”, with what is South America to the  left, and Antartica, Madagascar and India to the south east. Large glaciers moved over the land in a southerly direction from the north east, grinding and milling the substrate of rocks into a fine-particled slurry. The glaciers depositing this muddy-material into long sedimentary bands of grey-blue tillite, a hardwearing rock mostly of a uniform nature except for inclusions (clasts) of pebbles and rocks of granite, gneiss, mica and kyanite schists, lavas, hornfels, quartzite veins and sandstone, in fact any pre-existing rock. The Dwyka Tillite was then buried under  thousands of metres of Karoo strata, which compressing and solidifying the tillite into a hardwearing stone. Over the subsequent geological ages, this overlying strata has been gradually eroded away into the Indian Ocean, exposing these ancient Dwyka Tillites in several Natalian locations. The Umgeni River itself has cut its course through the Berean Dune and exposed the Dwyka Tillite deposits on either side of the Umgeni River, as did the Umbilo River to the south. As early as 1859, Dr. P. G. Sutherland, Surveyor-General to Natal described a deposit of glacial rock near Pietermaritzburg, the second such diagnosis made in the world.

And – this brings me back to my cherished garden terraces and the grave of my beloved hound Sirocco – all thanks to a Permian glacier and my hard-working ancestors. Who would have thought!

(images below) Photographs of interesting rocks in my garden that contain inclusions within their matrix.











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