oa Historia - Port Natal harbour and the colonial politics of Natal, 1894-1897



Seen against the background of the enormous sums which were spent on harbour development in Natal in die nineteenth century, it is hardly surprising that Port Natal harbour became an important issue in local politics, especially also as a result of the role of the politician Harry Escombe. Escombe had been chairman of the Harbour Board since its inception in 1881 and this placed him in a unique position in Natal as the Board was seen by colonists as a medium by which they could show their independence from the control of Britain and even the Natal government. By 1894, however, the members of the Harbour Board and the public were no longer completely behind Escombe, mainly as a result of his clashes with the harbour engineer, Cathcart Methven. These personality clashes and opposing viewpoints with regard to engineering principles (scour and a lengthening of the north pier, versus dredging and a lengthening of the south pier) led to the harbour playing a definite role in politics. Colonial society was divided into two definite camps. Escombe's personal position and his political standing was closely affected and the harbour issue unquestionably played a role in the fall of the Escombe ministry in 1897.


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