Friday, June 29, 2012

More on the 1860s in Durban.

The Natal Railway Company didn’t do well to begin with, despite the line being kept busy transporting cargo. By 1863 there was some improvement financially and an extension was made to the line as far as a new station named West End. Another locomotive was acquired by the Company in 1865 and named Perseverance (a quality much needed in colonial Natal). In 1867 the line was extended as far as the Umgeni Village. Natal sugar production was increasing in volume and this product was transported to the Umgeni end of the line by ox wagon then taken to the Point by the railway. Such developments gave opportunities for employment as well as for growing entrepreneurial ability among the merchants and other citizens of Durban.

The harbour was an area of on-going difficulty and in the early 1860s, after Milne retired from the lists and other engineers and other surveys had failed to come up with a suitable scheme for improving the entrance, one Captain James Vetch, R.E., contributed his mite in 1862.  Perhaps his grand design would have provided a more practical answer to the problems if Vetch had actually visited the site: he never came to Natal. Undeterred by such considerations he submitted a report. For Lieutenant Governor Scott, who pushed the Vetch scheme, hiring contractors to begin building breakwaters, the project assumed nightmarish proportions and eventually was abandoned. Colonial Engineer Peter Paterson had to be called in to try and save the day.

A more promising step seemed to be  the building of the first bridge across the Umgeni River: called the Queen’s Bridge, this was opened to joyous celebrations (at each end of the bridge) on 22 September 1865.

Victoria County was thus joined to Durban by road, a boon for the numerous colonists then residing north of the Umgeni - particularly the sugar planters. The joy was short-lived. In August 1868 the bridge was washed away during floods. There were murmurings about the timber piles not having been sunk deep enough to withstand the waters.

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