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Fort Durnford
Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal

ROYAL ENGINEERS: Architect

Date:1873
Type:Fort
Status:Extant


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29°00'57.03" S 29°53'20.01" E Alt: 1176m
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Today this impressive fort houses a museum. Standing high above the Bushmans River, it is a reminder of troubled times long passed. T H S S Estcourt was a member of the British House of Commons who had sponsored the settling of immigrants in the district, which necessitated the construction of rough defences against local marauders. But in 1873 Langalibalele's defiance of Colonial authority made it necessary for a more permanent form of defence to be built, so Fort Durnford was erected on a koppie. As a result of these troubles in Zululand the Natal Mounted Police were formed, originally acting as the bodyguard of the British Resident Commissioner, Sir Melmoth Osborn. Also, a commission was set up to investigate the defences of the Colony, resulting in the building of several blockhouses and laagers during the 1870s.

Colonel Durnford, RE, was responsible for the design of the fort. At that time he held the rank of Captain and had temporarily assumed the office of Colonial Engineer, following the retirement of Patterson and prior to the arrival of Captain Hime, RE. Fort Durnford is an interesting example of a late 19th-century form of defence, presumably built to the specifications laid down by the ROYAL ENGINEERS for use in the colonies. Constructed of sandstone, it was built by British soldiers and was the largest of the Natal fortifications.

Surrounded by a ditch which, according to the original plans could be flooded as a moat, the fort was entered by means of a drawbridge leading through to stout iron-plated doors. There was ample stabling, provision for a courtroom, officers' mess, armoury and strongroom - each made homely by the presence of fireplaces. The devices for the fort's defence were several and ingenious, but in fact were never put to the test; the mere presence of this twin-towered fortification kept the peace.

(Picton-Seymour, 1989: 143)

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.


Writings about this entry

Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. pg 143
Potgieter, DJ (Editor-in-chief). 1971. Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa [SESA] Volume 4 Dev-For. Cape Town: Nasou. pg 646-648