Book ‘adds richly to recorded history’ of Durban’s harbour

2014-07-28 00:00

THE story of Durban’s harbour lies at the heart of Brian Kearney’s three-volume Alas Poor Little Colony.

Speaking at the book’s launch at the Port Natal Maritime Museum on Thursday evening, Kearney explained that its title was taken from a letter written in the fifties by John Basely to George Cato, lamenting the slow development of the harbour: “Alas poor little colony … you deserve a better harbour.”

“It took 50 years and wave after wave of consultants to achieve a viable port,” said Kearney.

Alas Poor Little Colony details the history of the port and harbour up to 1910 in what is essentially a reference book built around contemporary accounts, accompanied by many photographs, drawings, maps, tables and graphs.

Kearney, a retired architect, teacher and architectural historian, and emeritus professor of architecture of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has authored and co-authored several books, including: Architecture in Natal, 1824-1893; Traditional Hindu Temples in South Africa; Verandas in the Mist; and A Warrior’s Gateway: Durban and the Anglo-Boer War.

The guest speaker at the launch, Andrew Layman, CEO of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, described Kearney’s book as an example of “research at its very deepest” and one that added “so richly to the recorded history of our city”.

Layman said the book also illustrated how change comes about more often “not through political insights, but through business agitation for better conditions”.

He said the book chronicled the decades of ongoing debate about the depths and wharf lengths needed to “entertain the behemoths of the sea”.

As well as the long battle over how to deal with the shifting sandbar at the harbour entrance, Layman said the development of the city so closely around the harbour also “restricted its development and created a problem of access”.

Layman said he was not sure that local people appreciate the harbour’s economic significance to the city, adding that, ironically, given its close proximity, the harbour had increasingly become separated from the city. “As a boy, I would be taken to the harbour to see the ships coming in. But now it’s closed, thanks to international security protocols.”

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