Durban’s First Recorded Flood – 1856

Technology has certainly changed the way in which weather can be predicted. We can only imagine how floods and natural disasters were dealt with in the 1800’s. Nowadays, weather apps, 14 day predictions, mass broadcasts and satellite images help us prepare for natural disasters.

Durban Bay 1880's - Source:

Durban Bay 1880’s – Source:

The recent high tides in Durban prompted us to look at the history of floods and storms in Durban and we came upon this very interesting article on Although we could not find actual images of the floods online, we have some pictures of what Durban looked like in the mid to late 1800’s.
Here is the blog article we found:
Floods claim more than 7000 lives a year worldwide and are the most commonly occurring natural disasters in South Africa. The highest recorded rainfall in a year in South Africa has been 180.5 inches (4585mm) at Jonker’s Hoek, near Stellenbosch in 1964.
The largest hailstones were recorded at Mafeking in December 1915. Hail punched 7.62cm (3 inch) holes through galvanized iron roofs. One reportedly weighed 1.8 kg (4 pounds) but this was probably a coalescence of several stones since meteorologists have not yet accepted a proven case of a single stone weighing more than 680 g. (1.5 pounds)
On average every square km of South African highveld and Natal receives 7 direct lightning strikes per annum. More than 250 deaths can be attributed to lightning every year in South Africa.

KwaZulu-Natal – The Great Flood of 1856

The first recorded flood in KwaZulu-Natal. 686 mm of rain was reported. On Sunday the 13th April walls of clouds were seen rising in the south-west and by 2 p.m. Durban was heavily overcast. An hour later, the rain began to descend in torrents and continue well into Tuesday afternoon.
On the night of Monday the 14th  April the townspeople of Durban began to fear that the Umgeni would burst its banks. George Potter George Potter,the manager of the Springfield Sugar Works reported, “Within one hour, we were startled by the noise of waters as of a mighty rushing sea. Where upon arrival at the mill we found the whole surface of the flat covered with water to the depth of at least 15 feet, and a foot on the floor of the mill’.

Durban Harbour as seen from the Bluff - Source:

Durban Harbour as seen from the Bluff – Source:

Durban Docks - 1887 Source:

Durban Docks – 1887 Source:

Two hours later they could not remain inside this building as the water had risen to one-and-a-half metres deep, and lay five-and-a-half metres deep on the cultivated land.
The newly constructed sugar mill succumbed to the pressure of the waters and collapsed, and crops were carried away in the deluge of water. George Cato, mayor of Durban, American consul, banker, merchant and general adviser, had the bad luck to find his new schooner carried off by the flood waters. While the town was being threatened with destruction, all business was suspended.
George Cato - Mayor of Durban

George Cato – Mayor of Durban

In Pinetown nearly all the chimneys were blown away, many gables collapsed and the church destroyed.  Still further inland, in the upper reaches of the Umgeni River at Howick, the torrential waters had carried away both bridges over the river.

Share this post!