Umdloti - Long, Long Ago...
Origin, Immigration, Development
We are indebted to Richard for putting together the Umdloti history section.
Richard Siedle served as Chair for over 10 years from 1996 for the Umdloti Beach Ratepayers & Residents Association, with Elsa his wife assisting him with all the secretarial work involved. Richard then continued on the committee as Secretary/Treasurer.
Should you have more historic information and photographs about Umdloti and its surroundings, please feel free to share with us!
UMDLOTI BEACH HISTORY
It is evident that Umdloti Beach as a resort developed very slowly over time due to the fact that it was protected by the beautiful indigenous forest near the Ohlanga Estuary and the sugar farms behind the area which made access to the Umdloti beaches almost impossible. Access roads to the area were mere tracks through the undergrowth. We owe a great debt to the William Campbell family who owned the coastal forest north of the Ohlanga River known as Peace Cottage and Tongaat-Hulett who now own the Hawaan forest and forest north of Peace Cottage to the Umdloti village. This entire area is to be incorporated into the Sibaya Conservation Trust.
The first recorded access to Umdloti was along a dirt road along the Umdloti Estuary through the mangroves. This provided limited access to the north beach area but left the rest virtually pristine.
ORIGIN OF UMDLOTI NAME
When immigrants from England started to arrive in the Colony of Natal they started naming places and rivers using the Zulu names prefixed by “u” such as uMhlanga, uMvoti, uThukela and of course Umhloti which was changed to Umdloti some decades later. The spelling has again been changed recently to eMdloti. I have been informed by the KZN Natal Geographical Names Committee that uMdloti refers to the river and eMdloti to the village.
‘ EXOTIC' TOBACCO...
As to the origin of the word I believe that it is a Zulu name for the dried leaves of the ‘ exotic’ tobacco plant then mixed with dried leaves of our indigenous Aloe Thraski, which grows in abundance on our beachfront and produces a lovely reddish yellow flower between May and July each year. The mix of exotic tobacco and aloe leaves were popular in the early days and used as snuff. What the exotic tobacco plant really is must be left to your imagination!
A letter from the University of Natal which I received in October 1966 states “I am sure your Association would rather associate itself with the idea of bitter indigenous tobacco, than the second meaning of a mixture of tobacco and dagga, as smoked by tsotsis.”
On Christmas day 1497, Vasco da Gama’ fleet of three small vessels sailed slowly along the east coast of Africa coast hitherto unseen by European eyes and named a promontory bluff Terra Natalia or the Land of the Nativity. He was not to know that behind the forest-clad headland or Bluff lay the best and safest harbour along the entire south-east coast. For the next 200 years, the Bluff and the green rolling hills of what is today is Durban lay silent and unexplored.
DURING THE 1700's...
Throughout the 1700s, as many as 800 Nguni-speaking clans under hereditary chieftains inhabited the bluff and bay areas where they lived in relative peace. The 18th Century appears to have been the golden age of the Nguni people. Paternal kraals, loosely organized into tribes, covered the whole of Zululand, Natal and the North-Eastern Cape. Grazing and game were plentiful and they were essentially a pastoral society.
A PROCLAIMED BRITISH TERRITORY
Natal south of the Tugela River was proclaimed a British territory on 4th May 1843 after the British Government had annexed the short-lived Boer Republic of Natalia following a brief struggle. Settlers were then encouraged by the British government to develop the colony. In 1850 the town of Durban itself, had been laid out on the flats below the Berea. It was little more than an untidy sprawl of wattle-and-daub buildings, white walled and thatched. There were more than 50 building in all including a hotel McDonalds which would become the Royal. Across West Street stretched a swamp, roads and tracks clogged with knee-deep sand. No public lighting and people feared to go out at night. Only form of lighting was tallow candles. Around it all stretched the coastal bush, 15 to 20k in width, in which lions, leopards, elephants and wild pigs still roamed. Fresh water was a problem requiring rainwater tanks and hauling by wagon from the Umgeni River some 6.5 k away. The problem was only solved by sinking of a well called Curries Fountain near the Botanical gardens in 1879. Ox wagon was the only means of transport.
During the period 1849 to 1853 nearly 5,000 immigrants came to Natal under various settlement schemes organized in Britain by the property speculator Joseph Charles Byrne. He acquired various landholdings in the Colony, subdivided them and began promoting emigration from Britain to Natal. One of the largest of these was the Cottonlands Scheme at Verulam. The newly arrived farmers were encouraged to plant cotton, tea, coffee, indigo and later sugar.
Agriculture on the North coast was initially unsuccessful for various reasons, even early sugar crops failed. Coffee plantations were ruined by disease and pests.
Some 30,000 acres of land was put under cotton cultivation covering the whole Umdloti valley by the Natal Cotton Company but also failed mainly for financial reasons following increased production in the USA after the American Civil War ended. One of the Natal Cotton Company’s managers, Edmund Morewood, became interested in sugar cane cultivation and established an experimental station at Compensation inland from Ballito. He introduced the Uba strain which, unlike other varieties, flourished. Unfortunately, like so many pioneers, Morewood did not enjoy the fruits of his resourcefulness due to lack of capital and labour.
There was an acute shortage of labour in the early days mainly due to the Zulu culture whereby only their womanfolk tended the fields. Zulu men refused offers of employment to plant sugar cane and other crops for the new settlers.
In 1860 the problem was resolved by importing Indentured labour from India. The indentured system commenced in Natal at that time until suspended in 1866 following problems and economic depression in the Colony. It was however resumed from 1874 and a considerable number of indentured labour newly arrived from India to work in the sugar plantations north of Durban.
VERULAM & MOUNT MORELAND
Verulam inland from the Umdloti River some 26.8 km north of Durban was founded by a party of 400 Wesleyan Methodists who immigrated to Natal from Britain in 1850, and named after the Earl of Verulam, patron of the party and by 1860 had become the third largest town in the Colony.
Mount Moreland was also established at that time by Byrnes emigration agent John Moreland and named Mount Moreland in his honour. After the initial establishment of a church and other dwellings the land remained largely undeveloped due to the fact that cotton crops were unsuccessful. It was only in 1870 that Mt Moreland was established as a township.
COME THE MAURITIANS
In March 1850 the first 25 Mauritians arrived to work in the sugar mills followed, in the 1870s, by a more significant influx many of whom settled in the Verulam area bringing with them their expertise in sugar farming from Mauritius.
Amongst them was Hippolyte Lavoipierre who purchased an established sugar estate near the mouth of the Umdloti River known as Stonehenge. Unfortunately for the new owner the price of sugar dropped about 30 % into the late 1880’s, outbreaks of horse and cattle sickness occurred as well as several years of drought. Some of the European population in the Verulam area left during this difficult period to find opportunities elsewhere, but the Lavoipierres remained and would later play a role in the development of Umdloti.
THE BEGININGS OF UMDLOTI BEACH
The four large agricultural plots of the Cottonlands Scheme on Umdloti Beach, which had not been taken up by Bynre Settlers in 1850, were then consolidated into a single unit of 1,072 acres and sold to John Lake Crompton in 1864, Archibald Robertson in 1872 and to the property speculator Melidor Cheron in 1890. Umdloti remained undeveloped during this time.
THE BALANCE OF BELLAMONT ESTATE
The balance of Bellamont Estate including the southern quarter of Umdloti Beach was leased to Hippolyte Lavoipierre who also owned the farm across the Umdloti river.
Having had a distinguished career in the colonial government finishing with a knighthood Sir William Arbuckle died in 1915 and Bellamont Estate, including the southern quarter of Umdloti Beach, was sold to Lavoipierre but died unfortunately soon after. The Arbuckle heirs retained the remaining 65-acre beachfront plot until 1921 when it was purchased by the heirs of Hippolyte Lavoiperre giving them ownership of about 1½ km of beachfront land while the remaining two kilometres was divided amongst the owners of the five-acre plots.
Early access to Umdloti Beach area was by road from Durban along the North Coast Road to Verulam then down a farm road to the coast along a dirt track in the mangroves on the south bank of the Umdloti Estuary.
The Lavoipierre heirs created a new road servitude to the beach through the middle of their Estate to make the beachfront lands which they owned more accessible and began selling beach plots for holiday cottages.
Formerly quite isolated Umdloti Beach began its development into a seaside resort, Hippolyte Lavoipierre’s widow, Pauline, describing the change in 1927:
“Every Sunday… we go by car for a drive along our sea side which has become a fashionable beach since we had a road built in order to sell our lots. There is on Sunday a crowd of cars and bathers and under the large trees they set up small tables and chairs for tea. We leave this crowd behind and go further away and, having brought enough to read, breathe the sea air.
The old five-acre plots on the north beach were also beginning to be sub-divided by their owners and two small hotels were built on some of these sub-divisions during the 1930s.
PRIMITIVE CONDITIONS HAMPERED GROWTH
Development of Umdloti was slow due to the fact that early residents were entirely dependent on rainwater stored from roof run-off into storage tanks. Later provision was made to capture spring water from the sweetwater stream which runs down the small valley into Umdloti near the Umdloti Traffic Circle.
There was also no public sewage-disposal scheme so conditions were primitive although electricity was later supplied by the Durban Corporation. The sale of new plots from the Bellamont Estate and the five-acre plots continued through the 1930s and 40s. The construction of holiday cottages seems to have started after 1919 and progressed slowly; the valuation role of 1948-49 indicates there were 50 dwellings, two hotels and one shop. `Old-timers’ will remember how humble some of these `dwellings’ were; true fisherman’s cottages under Milkwood trees, the last of which disappeared in the re-developments of the 1990s.
From small beginnings in 1860, South Africa’s first steam railway was from the Point to central Durban was later extended into the interior to reach Johannesburg in 1895. The North Coast railway from Durban to the north resulted from the intensification of settlement and the agricultural and industrial development of this region.
From the first short extension to Umgeni in 1867, the line was eventually built beyond the uMgeni River to reach Verulam in September 1879 causing a boom period in this town. A spur was built in 1923 from Verulam along the south bank of the Umdloti River down to Mount Moreland near Umdloti where it ended then abandoned in 1964. It took another 10 years before a huge viaduct was built north over the Umdloti valley from Verulam to enable the extension of the railway line through to the Tongaat River. This was done in 1894-98.
NEW NATIONAL ROAD TO UMDLOTI
In 1959 a new National coastal road now known as M4, was built from Durban past Umhlanga Rocks as far as Umdloti. After crossing the new Ohlanga Bridge built for the purpose, the road swings about half a mile inland to avoid the high Umdloti Dune, and access to the village is from the intersection with the inland road to Verulam (MR96).
This resulted in a dramatic increase in traffic to the area especially for day trippers to the beach with its long pristine beaches and natural rock tidal pool. It has been reported that on the third day after the opening of the new road in October which was a public holiday, approximately a thousand motor cars were involved in a traffic jam along the entire beachfront, which it took the combined efforts of the South African Police force from Verulam and Greenwood Park six hours to clear. The population of Umdloti at that time was only 378 people.
LAND REGISTRATION AND OWNERSHIP
The process of sub-division became better controlled with the promulgation of the Private Townships Ordinance no. 10 of 1934 which came into force on 1st October 1934. Prior to that landowners could subdivide at will and in any manner desired according to the needs of the times.
Later in 1951 the Town Planning Ordinance no 27 of 1949 came into force. This required future private township promoters to obtain a Certificate of Need or Desirability permission to establish a township. In March 1960 the Town and regional Planning Committee adopted a recommendation that Umdloti-Newsel become a nucleus for the purpose of development control.
The Sea Shore Act No 21 was also established in 1935 to control the water and land between the low-water mark and the high water mark and became an Admiralty Reserve to protect the environment. The Reserve was a 150 ft. strip along the sea-shore from the High Water mark and belongs to the State.
There followed legislation to control fishing and harvesting of mussels, oysters and other marine life in the area. Residents in Umdloti formed the Umdloti Conservancy to assist in protecting the environment.
By the 1960,s the process of farm subdivision had slowed down with existing subdivisions being amalgamated under the ownership of the big sugar companies such as Natal Estates Ltd and Sir J.L. Hulett and Sons Ltd. More recently the entire farming area behind Umdloti has been consolidated into Tongaat Hulett Developments.
UMDLOTI HEALTH COMMITTEE
Following the formal layout of Umdloti Village, the area was under the control of the Newsel-Umdloti Health Committee until the 1960’s after which it became a Town Board with Paul Wiggle as Town Clerk who employed a Sheriff called Giles to maintain law and order in the village. At that time Umdloti had two hotels namely the Four Seasons in the north and Selection Hotel in the south as well as a caravan park. Today these have all disappeared in favour of holiday flats particularly on the north side. Umdloti consists of a narrow two-mile stretch of flat beach front backed by high dunes, which rise sharply on the south and very steeply in the north.
Umdloti was incorporated in 1993 into the Borough of Umhlanga. The North Local Council, comprising Umdloti, Umhlanga and Glenashley/La Lucia has now been absorbed into eThekeini Municipality.
There are approximately 2000 residents in Umdloti village which number swells to over 5000 during peak holiday periods notably Christmas/New Year holidays, Easter and to a lesser extent July holidays. Access is along the Main Road (MR96) from the M4 intersection down to the beach where there is a large traffic circle. This leads along the beachfront both north to numerous holiday apartments and residential properties also south to the main residential area. All roads are tarred. The business centre is near the traffic circle where there are some world class restaurants. Traffic congestion which occurs during peak holiday periods is well controlled by the Municipality Metro and SAP police forces and the Community Police Forum.
Umdloti or more correctly eMdloti these days forms part of eThekwini Municipality who provide all services such as potable water, electricity sewage and road and maintenance of verges. Our drinking water is supplied in part from the sweetwater stream into Umdloti supplemented by water from the Waterloo reservoirs nearby which in turn is fed from Hazlemere Dam.
The residents have an active ratepayers association called Umdloti Ratepayers & Residents Association (UBRA), a voluntary Urban Improvement Precinct (UIP), who provide a security service in the village and assist in maintenance of the open spaces particularly the beachfront. We also have an active conservancy Umdloti Conservancy (UC) who together with DMoss and Parks Board, keep a watchful eye on the environment. The subcommittee of UBRA named Keep Umdloti Beautiful meet on a regular basis and work in conjunction with Umdloti Conservancy to keep the open spaces and marine areas controlled.
At the time of writing, the most recent development is the establishment by Tongaat Hulett Developments of a huge complex known as Sibaya Precinct behind Umdloti. There is a buffer of Indigenous forest on Umdloti western boundary which is to be preserved and incorporated into the Sibaya Conservation Trust. Access from Sibaya will continue to be via the existing main Road (MR96) and not through the forest.
The Main Road access area is to be redesigned to provide ‘back of beach’ parking and other amenities for visitors.
Sibaya has been divided into seven Nodes. The existing Sibaya casino complex, which is owned and operated by Sun International and is located in the middle of the development site. The Tongaat Hulett Development master plan anticipates a 15-20 year undertaking, which will include 9000 residential dwellings and 500,000m2 of commercial property.
This comprises schools, universities, retirement developments, corporate, retail and hospital offerings, and other amenities geared for serving the local community. The first of these mixed use developments are in Nodes 1 and 5 immediately behind Umdloti village. Development of Node 1 has already commenced which will have 1140 residential units, 139 hotel rooms and 65,800M2 commercial bulk facilities.