Dundee’s Founding Fathers

Thomas Smith left home in the 1850’s and headed for the Australian gold fields. He spent five years there before coming to Natal. On arrival in Natal in 1855 he was granted 3000 acres in Northern Natal and named his farm “Dundee”. He was a building contractor, farmed on a small scale and was responsible for building many of the homesteads in the area.

Peter Smith and his wife Ann arrived in Natal in1859. His initial farming venture in the Ladysmith area failed, but in 1864 Thomas built a small cottage on “Dundee” and persuaded Peter and Ann and their family to join him. Thomas was a confirmed bachelor and never married. He continued with his building contracting, whilst Peter took over the farming operations. The brothers burnt their own bricks and established a fine herd of South Devon cattle and a flock of merino sheep on “Dundee”.

Peter and Ann had 5 children and many descendants still live and farm in the Dundee area.

Dugald Macphail came from Scotland to live in Natal in 1864. In 1870 he visited the Dundee district and stayed with Peter Smith and his family on the farm “Dundee.” Two years later he returned to this district and bought the farm “Craigside” and married Isabella Petrie Smith, daughter of Peter Smith. Isabella died in childbirth 3 years later, leaving him with 2 young daughters. Two years later he remarried.

He joined the Buffalo Border Guard in 1873 and in 1879 as Quartermaster survived the Battle of Isandlwana. In 1882 he, together with Peter Smith, William Smith and Charles Willson, was instrumental in founding the town of Dundee.

Natal Navigation Colliery 1903 – just outside Dundee

Coalmining began in this area in the early 1860’s. Peter Smith had found coal on his farm “Dundee” in 1864 and his neighbour , E. Howe Pascoe, had also begun mining operations on “Coalfields”. Many people were attracted to the mines and the need for a town was soon being discussed. Coal was being taken out of Talana hill and by 1878 Peter Smith was employing Cornish miners.

The mine and the store enjoyed a boom when, from March to June 1879, the British Army made the valley their headquarters for the Second Invasion of Zululand. This encouraged Peter Smith to enlarge his interests. In 1882 he brought out from Scotland a fellow Dundodian, James McConnachie, to develop further coal deposits. This mining engineer was to transform the industry.

The Dundee Coal Company was formally established in 1889. The coal mined here was of a high quality. The expansion of mines, traders, explorers in the area led to a community that started to grow.A small village of wattle and daub and wood and iron cottages grew – the beginning of the town of Dundee. Many people were attracted to the area and the need for a town became a necessity.

A township was surveyed and planned on the farm “Coalfields” in 1882, named “Dundee”.

Northfield mine

Peter Smith was persuaded by his son, William Craighead Smith and by Dugald MacPhail and Charles Willson, to establish a town as well. 1000 acres of “Dundee” farm was used for this purpose, This township was called “Dundee Proper”. Both townships were proclaimed in 1882. In 1884 the Government decided to have a finger in the pie and established “Dundee Extension”.

Thus, until 1896, when the joint townships achieved Borough status, Dundee was divided into three parts: “Dundee”, “Dundee Proper” and “Dundee Extension”. Powerful business associates brought capital into the small mining town, which developed so rapidly and in such style that it became known as “Coalopolis” and the “Capital” of Northern Natal. Before the Anglo Boer War, Dundee grew at a phenomenal rate.

Despite the affluence of the town and of the company he had created, Peter Smith remained essentially a genuine and forthright man. Well loved, with many staunch friends, he was always hospitable and kindly. Peter, with his devoted wife, Ann, continued to live in the same unpretentious home on the slopes of Talana hill.

Artists impression of Battle of Talana

Dundee was the scene of the first battle of the Anglo Boer War in 1899. British forces had been sent to the town to protect the town and coal mines. Boer forces entering Natal had swung around Utrecht and Vryheid to collect the Boer commandos in those areas and they had climbed Talana and Lennox hills on the night of 19th October 1899. Maroela Erasmus and his men occupied Mpati mountain. On Friday morning 20th October the Boers opened fire on the British camp on the outskirts of Dundee. The British forces retaliated with an artillery and infantry assault on Talana hill. So began the long and bitter war that only ended in May 1902.

In 1906 Dundee was used as a mustering point for British forces for the Bambatha Rebellion (Uprising). This conflict occurred as a result of a refusal by Bambatha to pay the hated poll tax.

7000 British troops and 25 Indian stretcher bearers under command of Sgt Mohandas K Gandhi mustered on the playing fields of Dundee High School to march off for Greytwon.

Ryston returning to Dundee 1906