An early history of Port Natal and its treacherous sand bar with Des Latham | East Coast Radio Podcasts

An early history of Port Natal and its treacherous sand bar

In this episode of the "History of South Africa" podcast, Des Latham is on the steamy coast of southeast Africa in 1824, in Port Natal to be exact.

History of South Africa Podcast with Des Latham
History of South Africa Podcast with Des Latham

In 1824, Port Natal is now called eThekwini, from the Zulu word for port, itheku, although some say it is actually from the word emateku, meaning "the one-testicled thing." 

Of course, it was not a port during pre-settler times, and the original and ancient local name for this bay was isiBubulungu—that's what locals called it in 1824. IsiBubulungu means "membership."

So, I suppose we could call it eThekweni iNatali, just for fun.

To further complicate the nomenclature, Port Natal was not a port back in 1824. It was a bay with a swooping sandy beach and a dangerous bar across its entrance that produced huge standing waves.

People have lived near this bay for more than 100,000 years, and the last people before the settlers arrived were pre-Zulu. 

Then, in 1497, Vasco da Gama sailed up the coast from the south and called the whole coastline Natal, which means "Christmas" in Portuguese. That's because it was the Christmas period as he passed Natal, trying to find the most direct route to the spice islands and India.

Sailing back and forth along this part of the coast were traders. By 1824 ships such as the Leven, Barracouta and Cockburn were captained by Captain WFW Owen who had taken to the region. Others were Commodore Nourse, who was commander at Simon’s town and who’d headed off in 1822 in the Andromache to meet Owen.

These were adventurers who wanted to make their names and fortunes from this unique part of the world. Nourse's brother Henry heard of their tales and, being well-off, decided to sponsor an upcoming business venture to Port Natal.

By March 1823, Owen was back in Delagoa Bay and bumped into a ship called the Sincapore from Calcutta, and the Orange Grove, owned by Henry Nourse. Owen's crew began to die from malaria, and he left after press-ganging 12 black crew from the nearby villages. It was a thousand-kilometre trip to Port Elizabeth, where he met up with two more ships that are to feature in the story of Port Natal.

One was the Jane, the other, the Salisbury. There is an island in Durban harbour which is called Salisbury Island and named after this ship. The Salisbury's captain was James Saunders King, a crucial character in our tale.

These two, Farewell and King, formed a tight pair, speculating on possible maritime business. They had bought a 400-ton ship called the Princess Charlotte, then sold it, earning a profit. A third character in this part of our story—a man who was to marry into the Zulu clans and whose family now dominates part of KwaZulu-Natal, Henry Francis Fynn—pops up. Fynn and Farewell chartered the Salisbury from King, and began to sail between Rio de Janeiro, the West Indies, and Mauritius.

Listen to episode 91 below:

Dive into the full series below:

More about Des Latham:

Des Latham has a BA Honours in African History from Rhodes University and began his broadcasting career as a Radio 702 News Reporter in 1987. He speaks a number of South African languages and was a reporter during the latter phases of the struggle against apartheid. 

Des has worked in various positions in media, including online editor at Business Day/Financial Mail, editor-in-chief at GCIS, Manager of BDFM Business Radio, and editor for Business Day television. He is currently CEO of frayintermedia based in Johannesburg. 

He began podcasting in 2017 with the successful Anglo Boer War podcast, and followed this up with The Battle of Stalingrad podcast and Falklands War podcast. Des currently produces three podcasts, including the ‘History of South Africa’, ‘South African Border Wars’, and ‘Plane Crash Diaries’. 

He is married to Paula Fray and has three children. Des spends his time traveling, flying aeroplanes, and rehearsing and performing music as a guitarist.

Des Latham
Des Latham

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