Durban, the principal seaport and largest city of Natal, South Africa, the harbour being known as Port Natal, in 29° 52′ 48″ S. 31° 42′ 49″ E. It is 6810 m. from London via Madeira and 7785 via Suez, 823 m. by water E.N.E. from Cape Town and 483 m. by rail S.S.E. of Johannesburg. Pop. (1904) 67,842, of whom 31,302 were whites, 15,631 Asiatics (chiefly British Indians), 18,929 natives and 1980 of mixed race. From its situation and the character of its buildings Durban is one of the finest cities in South Africa. The climate is generally hot and humid, but not unhealthy. Although nearly half the citizens are British, the large number of Indians engaged in every kind of work gives to Durban an oriental aspect possessed by no other town in South Africa. The town is built on the E. side of a bay (Durban Bay or Bay of Natal), the entrance to which is marked on the west by a bold cliff, the Bluff, whose summit is 195 ft. above the sea, and on the east by a low sandy spit called the Point. The city extends from the Point along the side of the bay and also for some distance along the coast of the Indian Ocean, and stretches inland to a range of low hills called the Berea.
The chief streets, Smith, West and Pine, are in the lower town, parallel to one another and to the bay. They contain the principal public buildings, warehouses and shops, the Berea being a residential quarter. Of the three streets mentioned, West Street, the central thoroughfare, is the busiest. In its centre are the public gardens, in which is a handsome block of buildings in the Renaissance style, built in 1906–1908 at a cost of over £300,000, containing the town hall, municipal offices, public library, museum and art gallery. The art gallery holds many pictures of the modern British school. Opposite the municipal buildings are the post and telegraph offices, a fine edifice (built 1881–1885) with a clock tower 164 ft. high. The post office formerly served as town hall. In Pine Street is the Central railway station and the spacious Market House. Among the churches St Cyprian's (Anglican), in Smith Street, has a handsome chancel. The Roman Catholic cathedral is a fine building in the Gothic style. The town possesses several parks, one, the Victoria Park, facing the Indian Ocean. This part of the town is laid out with pleasure grounds and esplanades. The botanic gardens, in the upper town, contain a very fine collection of flowering shrubs and semi-tropical trees. Above the gardens is the observatory. There is a fine statue of Queen Victoria by Hamo Thornycroft, R.A., in the public gardens, and a memorial to Vasco da Gama at the Point. There is an extensive system of electric trams. Another favourite means of conveyance is by rickshaw, the runners being Zulus. The town is governed by a municipality which owns the water and electric lighting supplies and the tramway system. The sanitary services are excellent. The main water-supply is the Umlaas river, which enters the ocean 10 m. S. of the port. The municipal valuation, which is based on capital value, was £9,494,400 in 1909, the rate, including water, being 2½d. in the £.
The entrance to the harbour was obstructed by a formidable sand bar, but as the result of dredging operations there is now a minimum depth of water at the opening of the channel into the bay of over 30 ft., with a maximum depth of over 33 ft. The width of the passage between the Bluff and the Point is 450 ft. From the foot of the Bluff a breakwater extends over 2000 ft. into the sea, and parallel to it, starting from the Point, is a pier. The harbour is landlocked, and covers 7½ sq. m. Much of this area is shoal water, but the accommodation available was largely increased by the removal during 1904–1908 of 24,000,000 tons of sand. The port has over 3 m. of wharfage. It possesses a floating dock capable of lifting a vessel of 8500 tons, a floating workshop, a patent slip for small craft, hydraulic cranes, &c. The minimum depth alongside the quays at low water is 23 ft., increased at places to over 30 ft. The principal wharves, where passengers, mails and general merchandise are landed, are along the Point. On the opposite side at the foot of the Bluff land has been reclaimed and extensive accommodation provided for ships coaling. At Congella at the N.E. end of the harbour some 65 acres of land were reclaimed during 1905–1906, and wharves built for the handling of heavy and bulky goods such as timber and corrugated iron. Here also are situated warehouses and railway works. The port is defended by batteries armed with modern heavy guns. The trade of the port is almost coextensive with the foreign trade of Natal.
History.—The early history of Durban is closely identified with that of the colony of Natal. The first permanent settlement by white men in the bay was made by Englishmen in 1824, when Lieutenant F. G. Farewell, R. N., and about ten companions went thither from Cape Town in the brig “Salisbury,” from which circumstance the island in the bay gets its name. In 1835 a township was laid out and the colonists gave it the name of D'Urban, in honour of Sir Benjamin D'Urban, then governor of Cape Colony. At this time a mission church was built on the heights overlooking the bay by Captain Allen Gardner, R.N., who named the hill Berea in gratitude for support received from the settlers, whom he found “more noble than those of” Zululand—Dingaan having refused to allow the captain to start a mission among his people. From December 1838 to December 1839 a small British military force was stationed at the port. On its recall the little settlement was taken possession of by Dutch emigrants from the Cape, who had defeated the Zulu king Dingaan, and who the year before at the upper end of the bay had formed an encampment, Kangela (look-out), the present Congella. The Dutch claimed independence, and on the block-house at Durban hoisted the flag of the “Republic of Natalia.” In 1842, however, a British military force reoccupied Durban, and on the 15th of July of that year a treaty was signed in which the Dutch recognized British sovereignty (see further Natal: History). From that date Durban, though not the seat of government, became the principal town in Natal. In 1850 there were 500 white inhabitants, and in 1853 the town was granted municipal government. The first mayor was Mr George Cato (c. 1810–1893), one of the earliest settlers in Natal. In 1860 a railway from the Point to the town, the first railway in South Africa, was opened. The discovery of the gold-mines on the Rand greatly increased the importance of the port, and renewed efforts were made to remove the bar which obstructed the entrance to the bay. The Harbour Board, which was formed in 1881 and ceased to exist in 1893, effected, under the guidance of Mr Harry Escombe, enormous improvements in the port—on which the prosperity of Durban is dependent. But it was not until 1904 that the fairway was deepened sufficiently to allow mail steamers of the largest class to enter the harbour. The growth of the port as illustrated by customs receipts is shown in the increase from £250,000 in 1880 to £981,000 in 1904. In 1846 the customs revenue was returned at £3510.
See Durban: Fifty Years' Municipal History, compiled for the corporation by W. P. M. Henderson, Asst. Town Clerk (Durban, 1904); G. Russell, History of Old Durban [to 1860] (Durban, 1899).