I get to visit Durban once a year during the annual Tourism Indaba but other than stopping in Umhlanga and taking walks on the beachfront, I’ve never really had an opportunity to explore the city much. This year I decided to pinch off an hour to explore and discover at least one new place and the choice fell on The Old Fort. From outside the place didn’t look like much but I pressed on and in and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. When the Dutch arrived in the small settlement of Durban in 1842 the British weren’t too impressed to see the Dutch flag flying at the Point. A armed force of a few hundred were sent to the settlement to sort the Dutch out and was surprised by some stern resistance. After having to retreat back to the camp Dick King set off on his famous overland horse ride to Grahamstown to fetch reinforcements.
The camp didn’t really provide the British with much shelter and during a 24-hour truce called to bury the their dead, the British moved quickly to strengthen it. Sixty wagons was pulled in a circle around the tented camp and a trench dug around the perimeter. The excavated soil was used to build up a mount in front with parts of the trench and mount still visible today. During the siege the Boers shot 651 cannon balls and thousands of bullets at the British. Many of the cannon balls were dug up and reused after having been fired at them by the Brits.
. The battle went on for a whole five weeks until it was finally ended with the arrival of two British ships, a schooner called the Conch, and the Royal Navy’s frigate HMS Southampton, with reinforcements. Dick King had succeeded. The Dutch were sent packing as far back as Cowies Hill and the rebellion was over. The British was back in full control of Natal.
The Old Fort was continuously used as barracks until 1897 and today it’s an open air museum of sorts. The old magazine building has been converted into a chapel while aged military veterans live in rooms that used to be the military barracks. The gardens that can be found through out the fort complex is littered with historical and interesting items, amongst them a bench made from timber of HMS Southampton, a cannon recovered from the wreck of the Grosvener (1782), and plaques commemorating the heroic journeys of John Ross and Dick King. The South African Heavy Artillery Memorial can also be found in the fort’s gardens.
Before I knew it my hour was over and I had to get back to what brought me to Durban in the first place. Perhaps in the future I will get other opportunities to explore the city and expand my knowledge of the city a little more.