The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man
On the 4th of December 1838 a small British military ship hove-to off the southern East African coast. From the scuppered sides, Highland soldiers of the 72nd Regiment of Foot and Royal Artillery looked landward to a thin beach bar with small dunes, thick bushy vegetation and several large trees. To the left rising precipitously from the ocean was a green vegetated headland, jutting out into the sea called the ‘Bluff’. In the far distance they would have observed rolling green hills stretching away to the south. Between the bluff and the beach bar was an opening and channel that led to a shimmering lagoon, their destination, the Bay of Natal.
(below) An engraving of the sea approach to the entrance to the Bay of Natal, showing the Bluff to the left and the thickly bushed Point to the right.
(below) An early engraving of the entrance to the Bay of Natal.
Large ships could not enter the Bay, only small schooners or light coastal traders. The reason was a sand bar that lay across the entrance to the Bay. The sea over the bar not many feet deep at low tide, and perhaps not much more at high tide. A skilled captain in the know, could sail his ship at high tide (neap), with a good following wind (and with a little luck) set a course for the channel and navigate his ship across this sandy shoaI and sweep into the deeper and quieter waters of the lagoon. Failure to do this would be to wreck one’s ship and endanger the lives of the crew and passengers. By 1838 several ships had already come to grief upon this bar. 18 years later, in 1856, a brig called the ‘Annabella’ attempted a crossing, and having got caught in a deep trough between two large swells, struck the bar with her keel and after swinging around, was firmly grounded upon the shoal where the heavy surf smashed her timbers apart. The unfortunate brig had her name immortalised for ever after in having her name transferred to the ‘Annabella Bank’.
(below) The wrecking of the Brig Annabella on the bar in 1856.
If the 72nd had arrived in a larger ship, they would have been transferred to a lighter accompanying ship to make the crossing. And so it was on a rising tide that December (some 341 years after the Portuguese Navigator Vasco da Gama had sighted the bay and named the land Natal on Christmas Day) – that Major Samuel Charters and his 80 Highlanders braved the crossing and successfully entered the Bay. The younger Scottish soldiers must have seen their arrival as an exciting adventure in a strange and wonderful new land. They would have heard of the Zulus and their warrior-like King, of large herds of elephants and prowling lions. The older men, acquainted with service in India and the Eastern Cape would have sighed under their breaths, knowing that their stay would mean more back-breaking work. Included in the party was a young Theophilus Shepstone, serving as an Interpreter. He was to go on to make a lasting impression in Natal and Zululand.
(below) An engraved view taken from a sketch by Captain Allan Francis Gardiner from his mission station ‘Berea’, looking down from the ridge towards the Bay of Natal, The Bluff and the Point where Fort Victoria was to be built several years later.
They were here to exert a military presence, to convey to the johnny-come-lately Cape Dutch farmers who had trekked from the Cape Colony and crossed the Drakensberg into Natal in October 1837, that the arm of Britain was a long one, and even if they deemed themselves free, Britain saw them still as subjects of the Queen. The Cape Governor, Sir Benjamin D’urban, was not going to allow a group of republican-minded discontents to outmaneuver the Crown.
(below) Sir Benjamin D’urban, The Cape Governor after whom the city of Durban is named.
At this point the Cape Dutch settlers had intentions of claiming Natal (including the Bay of Natal) and setting up a republic. They conveniently forgot the fact that British traders had already set up shop at the Bay in 1824, having been granted the Bay and surrounds by King Shaka.
(below) An early view of Durban by P.L.G. Cloete, showing the rudimentary wattle and daub huts including Zulu beehive huts. The sandy drifts and rough scrub are evident in this watercolour, as well as the Berea Ridge in the background.
Dingaan and his councilors must have observed the goings-on with increasing concern, rightly determining that should the migration continue it would mean the destruction of the Zulu Kingdom. On the 16th of February 1838, their leader Piet Retief and his party were massacred by Dingaan on the 6 February 1838 while negotiating for occupation rights to the land south of the Tugela River.
(below) King Dingane
(below) The Voortrekker leader Piet Retief.
It is evident that Governor D’urban was unsure of a long term strategy; he being ever-mindful of the British Government’s constant objections to the costly burden imposed on the British coffers in holding and securing the Cape of Good Hope, let alone another far-off territory. D’urban in the interim thought it prudent to establish some British presence at the Bay of Natal, What better strategy than the long established one of sending a contingent of Scottish soldiers to the disputed territory to construct a fort and raise the Union Jack.
(below) Highland soldiers of the 72nd Regiment of Foot.
On arriving Major Charters knew he had not much time or resources to construct his military installation. He was uncertain if the Cape Dutch farmers were belligerent enough to attack his small garrison, and uncertain what the Zulu monarch would make of a military presence on his doorstep. Dingaan and his predecessor Shaka had tolerated the presence of the British settlement at the Bay of Natal (also known as Port Natal) primarily because of the benefits the traders provided, but also because of their small numbers. Shaka, although ceding the Bay and surrounds to Farewell and fellow pioneers, kept a military kraal at the Bay’s head in the early 1820’s called Congella (Khangela) translated as ‘Watch the Vagabonds’. The king was no fool as to the potential risks foreigners posed his kingdom. It is ironic that the Cape Dutch farmers chose this spot to establish a village a few years later, retaining the name Congella.
(above and below) The Dutch farmers village of Congella at the head of the Bay of Natal.
The British pioneers when they arrived in 1824 had established their homes and kraals around the Bay. Francis George Farewell had built his camp surrounded by a stockade on the large plain to the north, sandwiched between the Eastern and Western Vlei, located where the present City Hall, Post Office, old Railway Station, St Paul’s Church and Town Gardens are today. John Cane set-up his kraal and Zulu-style beehive just west of Farewell’s establishment at a location now marked by the Botanic Gardens. Henry Ogle and Lieutenant James Saunders King built their residences on the Bluff, while Henry Francis Fynn, Nathaniel Isaac and Dunn established theirs to the south west across the Umbilo, a river that fed into the southern end of the Bay. Richard Wood built his home atop the southern end of the Berea where the modern suburb of Umbilo and Carrington Heights are today, and Captain Allan Francis Gardiner established his Christian Mission Station near the saddle of the Berea , near to where the road to the hinterland broached the ridge. James Collis built a western style house on the slopes of the Berea to the west of the Bay.
(below) A watercolour painting of Henry Francis Fynn.
(below) An amateurish map drawn by Henry Francis Fynn of the Bay of Natal and where the early pioneers settled.
(below) Farewell’s stockaded encampment at the Bay of Natal, Drawn and captioned by Josias Hoffman in 1824.
(below) A drawing of Captain Gardiner’s Christian Mission station he named ‘Berea’. The Point is visible in the lower left hand corner of this image.
Major Charters decided to build a fort on the sandy beach bar known to the early settlers as Point Fynn or simply as the Point. From here a fort could command the approach by shipping to the Bay, the channel to the Bay and the Bay itself. It could be provisioned easily by the sea if need be. It had its disadvantages too, a gun hauled up to the top of the Bluff could bombard the Point, and a garrison of soldiers could cut be besieged on the Point with no space to manoeuvre. It also had limited water supplies.
Major Charters immediately requisitioned the store and establishment of Robert Dunn at the Point. Robert was the father of John Dunn, the Natal pioneer. This building was called ‘Maynard’s Store’ by the Natal settlers. Also requisitioned was the wooden building of J. Owen Smith, a trader from Port Elizabeth and business partner to George Christopher Cato. Also seized was a Magazine belonging to the Cape Dutch settlers where they stored imported gunpowder. It is evident that a private residence was also positioned near Maynard’s Store. From its noted position in an illustration from the time, it would appear that this building was converted to a Hospital.
(below) An early map of the bay of Natal and surrounds.
The Point was not a level piece of land. The bar, a youthful dune in the making with sandy hummocks covered in thick bush and large trees. The Highlanders and Royal Artillerymen first task would have been leveling an area to build the installation. Not all was leveled, for the men selected one of the higher prominences and hauled sand to its summit to raise it many metres above the general layout. The top was leveled and fortified to form a circular redoubt for a gun emplacement and a tall signalling mast and flag pole. Like Farewell who had stockaded his encampment from animal marauders, Charters had his men cut poles from the Mangrove Swamps that lined the head of the Bay and rowed over to the Point where they were driven closely-together into the loose sand to from a barrier that ran around the redoubt and down its western flank to a position near the pioneers landing place, thus cutting the point off from the remainder. In later years a Blockhouse was built on top of the redoubt. From a later drawing of the area there appears to be another stockade further to the north not recorded in an earlier illustration. This would make sense as several of the fort’s structures would have been outside the protection of the stockade.
(below) An amateurish illustration of Fort Victoria showing the position of several of the fort’s structures.
Accommodation for the soldiers was important in a sub-tropical environment, so several huts were built for the Officers on the eastern side of the Point and further to the Point’s sandy tip, a U-shaped barracks. Near the gate to the inner stockade a Magazine was built to hold the garrison’s armaments, close to the path that led to the top of the redoubt.
Near the landing place, Charters used a stone building belonging to one of the pioneer traders as a large Store. A large doorway facing the Bay was constructed through which supplies could be carried with ease. This building was fortified with the placement of gun slits in the walls.
To the left of this structure was the Commissariat Office, Ordinance Store and the Guard House. Set back from these three structures was the Bakery/ Kitchen. All the buildings at the fort were thatched with hip-styled steep roofs. Marquees were used for additional shelter. Lastly, a well was sunk behind the stockade that supplied a limited quantity of water. In a letter penned by Captain Smith to Governor Napier, he notes that the water delivered by this well was “brackish”.The soldiers pitched their tents near the barracks while the Officer’s pitched their tents near the redoubt and in the bush to the west.
(below) A compilation map of Fort Victoria showing the approximate positioning of the fort’s structures.
When the Fort was completed, Major Charters ran up the Union Jack, accompanied by the firing of guns and small arms. The Officer’s toasted their youthful monarch Queen Victoria who had only ascended the throne in June the previous year. And thus the installation was named Fort Victoria. With the building completed – Major Samuel Charters returned to the Cape leaving a small garrison under the command of Captain Jarvis.
(below) A drawing of Fort Victoria from Salisbury island in the Bay. The large building is the Commissariat Store, later used as a Custom’s House.
(below) Watercolour of Fort Victoria. As in the image above – these images were created before the stockade was built.
(below) A pencil sketch of Fort Victoria looking south towards the steeply-roofed Maynard’s Store with the Bluff beyond. Note the two soldiers standing in the foreground and the proximity of the Bay’s shoreline.
(below) A painting of Fort Victoria. One can make out the raised redoubt with flagged mast, as well as other buildings. In the distance one can note Cato’s Mast.
(below) A later view of Fort Victoria. A blockhouse has been constructed atop the redoubt. Note the track leading to the fort from the settlement of Durban.
These were eventful days in Natal, for 12 days after the British troops arrived at the Bay (and while the fort was been built) the Zulu impi was destroyed at the Battle of Blood River by a vengeful Andries Pretorius and his band of 470 men.
Having defeated Dingaan with the help of Prince Mpande, the Dutch became emboldened for they commenced the process of establishing themselves in Natal throughout 1840. They laid out a capital at Pietermaritzburg, some 80 kilometres from the Bay. They regarded Fort Victoria and its British garrison with extreme distaste, for as long as it stood, it represented the possibility that their dream of a Republic of Natalia would not be realised.
(below) A watercolour painting of King Mpande by the artist George French Angus.
On the 24th of December 1839, inexplicably, and typical of British blundering, the new Cape Governor Sir George Thomas Napier, a military man who had fought with Wellington in the Peninsular War and who had lost an arm to conflict, sent the ship ‘Vectis’ to the Bay of Natal and withdrew Captain Jarvis’ garrison to the Cape, leaving Fort Victoria and the Bay of Natal deserted. To the Cape Dutch Farmers and the Volksraad at Pietermaritzburg this was a prayer answered. As the garrison sailed away, the Dutch farmers galloped down to the Point and provocatively raised their republican flag atop the redoubt.
(below) Sir George Thomas Napier, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Cape Colony. Note his missing arm.
The arrival of the Dutch Farmers, the brief presence of the British military followed by their sudden departure, and a new Zulu king – must have convinced the British settlers at the Bay that power had shifted and that they needed to re-position themselves.
(below) A painting by the artist George French Angus looking down from the Berea Ridge towards the fledgling settlement of Durban, the Bay, Point and Bluff.
In 1842 the Volksraad in Pietermaritzburg promulgated an edict that all the Blacks who had returned to their former homelands in Natal after the death of Dingane, were to be resettled in the south in Pondoland. The Pondo King Faku did not want his land inundated with Zulu setters, and refused. After the Dutch farmers threatened to punish Faku, he appealed to Sir George Napier in Cape Town. Napier realised that the Dutch farmers were destabilising the tribal regions and therefore the Eastern Cape too. He was under pressure from philanthropists in England to safeguard the welfare of the indigenous people of Southern Africa. He issued a proclamation on the 2nd of December 1841 reminding the Dutch settlers that their claim to independence was illegal and reminding them that they were still British subjects.
And so it was Governor Napier had Captain Thomas Charlton Smith march with two companies of the Inniskillings, 50 men of the Cape Mounted Rifles, including 12 men of the Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery, accompanied by 200 servants, approximately 50 wagons and all their supplies from their posting on the Fish River to Port Natal. It needs to be remembered that there were no roads, let alone bridges en route and the soldiers were accompanied by several military wives and their families. It is recorded that two babies were born along the way. The weather was appalling and hundreds of rivers and streams had to be forded.
Smith, an old veteran of the Battle of Waterloo, and well acquainted with conditions in South Africa arrived at the Bay of Natal on the 4th of May 1842 from the south, with his troops and entourage after a grueling 33 days march over 260 miles of rough terrain.
(below) A pencil sketch of the arrival of Captain Smith and his Inniskilling’s at the Bay of Natal.
Affronted, his first action was to race down to the Point and have the the republican flag hauled down and the Dutch guns spiked. Leaving a small garrison of 18 men to guard the fort, Captain Smith (in the face of belligerent armed demonstration that the British soldiers should leave) had determined that Fort Victoria was not the finest defensible position and instead chose to establish a fortified camp about a kilometre to the north of the Bay and the settlement of Durban. He positioned his fortification between the Eastern and Western Vlei (marsh) where his artillery could be used to greater effect and where there was an abundance of water, he set up camp and fortified the position by creating an outer defense of wagons, ramparts and ditches.
(below) A map of Captain Smith’s encampment in which he and his men were besieged. 1842.
Many in the Volksraad in Pietermaritzburg must have realised that they had overplayed their hand, however the more hawkish among them led by their leader Andries Pretorius, believed they could exact a military outcome to their benefit, and therefore mustered as many burghers as were prepared to confront Smith. At this point it is doubtful if the British had any intention of annexing the territory, but their hands were forced by the events of the following weeks.
(below) The flag of the short-lived Republic of Natalia, based on the flag of the Netherlands.
I make mention here of the disastrous Battle of Congella where Captain Smith and his contingent were defeated and their protracted besieging in their newly built fort. But I press on with the story of Fort Victoria.
(below) Dutch farmers firing from the mangrove trees upon the Inniskilling Regiment at the Battle of Congella.
Painting by Captain Smith of his beleaguered encampment. Note the military tents holed by gun shot.
While the siege was progressing – Pretorius sent 100 of his men to take Fort Victoria in a dawn raid. On the 26th of May 1842, they advanced on the camp with small arms and guns. The Sergeant-in-Arms at the fort was summoned and instructed to surrender the fort and its garrison of 16 soldiers. Several British settlers had also retired to the fort for protection with their wives and children, among them Joseph Kirkman, Frank McCabe, Charles Adams, H. Parkins, George Christopher Cato and his brother Joseph. The Sergeant-in-Arms refused the demand to surrender, choosing instead to fight it out. After a vicious fire fight, two soldiers were killed as well as Natal pioneer Charles Adams. This must have been a very frightening event for the settlers and their families. Any camaraderie any felt towards the Cape Farmers evaporated after this. From then, they took a leading role at driving the Boers out of Natal. It was in the days leading up to the siege that the Cato brothers organised that a young settler, namely Richard King (Dick King) be ferried across the Bay to the Bluff with two horses and ride to the Eastern Cape and Grahamstown to alert the British authorities to the situation and events.
It was only after the fort was bombarded by guns brought up by the Boers that the Sergeant surrendered Fort Victoria realizing his position was untenable. The Cape Dutch Boers looted the military stores and ransacked the trading schooners the ‘Mazeppa’ and ‘Pilot’ anchored in the bay. In all, 56 wagon-loads of loot, an 18 pounder gun, and 26 prisoners were removed first to Congella for a week and then to Pietermaritzburg. The soldiers were treated well, but the Natal pioneers who were viewed as traitors, were treated harshly. They were imprisoned and locked up in stocks. These British Settlers were George Christopher Cato, F. Armstrong, S. Beningfield, J. Douglas, J. Hogg, H. C. Ogle, H. Parkins, D. Toohey, F. McCabe and B. Schwikkard.
The Boers allowed the women and children to board the Mazeppa which was anchored in the Bay with its crew. The Mazeppa was an American built ship, used by the Portuguese as a ‘Slaver’. She was captured by the British and sold to Captain Tait and later to trader John Owen Smith who traded between Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Port Natal and Delagoa Bay. Joseph Cato had managed to hide his person aboard the Mazeppa. From here he and the crew arranged that fresh water be brought aboard, ostensibly to wash clothes. Placing mattresses behind the scuppers for protection from rifle fire, and waiting for a fresh following breeze, the Mazeppa quietly raised anchor and unfurling her sails, briskly slipped across the Bay towards the Channel leading out into the Indian Ocean. However the wind dropped and slowed the escape, allowing the alerted Boers to race to the sandy spit at the end of the Point where they fired upon the Mazeppa with firearms and a field gun. The fact that the ship had women and children aboard did not appear to restrain their fire. Fortunately the breeze picked-up and the Mazeppa made head-way and crossed the bar into open water. Fortunately, there were no injuries or deaths aboard. Cato and crew’s intention was to alert the British authorities.
(2 images below) Image of the Boers firing on the Mazeppa as she slipped anchor and made an escape through the channel to the sea.
(below) The arrival of the Conch towing the relieving British troops in launches into the Bay of Natal, 1824, under the command of Captain Bell.
(above) HMS Southhampton off the entrance to Port Natal, giving cover fire to the landing troops who were being towed in launches by the Conch to the Point, June 1842, engraving by Thomas Bowler.
(below) Andries Pretorius.
(below) The stocks in which pioneers George Cato and Beningfield were shackled in Pietermaritzburg.
When the Cape Government was alerted to the besieging of Captain Smith and his troops at the Bay of Natal by Dick King – Governor Napier dispatched a relief force. On the 24th of June 1842 soldiers arrived at the Bay aboard the schooner Conch and HMS Southampton commanded by Colonel Abraham Josias Cloete. The troops landed at the inner anchorage of the Bay at Fort Victoria and drove the Dutch farmers from the Point to relieve Captain Smith.
The following year Britain declared Natal a colony. It was the end of the Republic of Natalia. Most of the Dutch farmers left Natal and settled across the Drakensberg Mountains. Fort Victoria sunk into obscurity and its stone building reused as a Custom House. Over the years the installation made way for the modern harbour and city. Its position can be located below Alexandra Square near where the Alexandra Hotel was later built, an area now overlooked by exclusive high-rise apartments.
(below) Photograph from the early 1900’s of the Alexandra Hotel with the Bay beyond.
(below) A painting of Fort Victoria in 1851 looking south to the Bluff where a signalling mast now stands. Maynard’s Store had been converted into the port’s Custom House and other buildings into harbour stores and offices. The fortified Blockhouse and stockade atop the old redoubt can still be seen to the left.
(2 images below) A painting by Captain Robert Jones Garden of the 45th Regiment of the Bay of Natal from the Berea Ridge, 1849. In this image Fort Victoria can be made out on the Point in the distance as well as a moored ship. Mullet Creek that drains the Western Vlei into the Bay of Natal is visible in the middle ground. Compare this image to the drawing below, executed from roughly the same spot, only 7 years earlier.
(below) Panoramic Wood Engraving of a view of the Bay of Natal with a fledgling Durban, based on a sketch by James West, April 1857. The position of Fort Victoria is marked by the buildings, now Custom Houses.
(below) Watercolour Painting by artist Thomas Bowler of the Point, Custom House and Shipping, Bay of Natal, Durban, Natal, circa 1860
(below) A photograph of the same area, circa 1870’s.
(below) A painting by artist Thomas William Bowler of a sailing ship approaching Port Natal. The flagstaff atop the redoubt of Fort Victoria can be seen on the Point on the right of the image.
(below) A 1905 map of the Point. The inner shoreline to the Bay has been built out and straightened.
An ill-earned ornamental sword presented to Captain Thomas Charlton Smith by the inhabitants of Cape of Good Hope.
Graham Leslie McCallum