Estcourt is worth visiting while you are in the Drakensberg region of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Estcourt central business district is a busy hub of commercial activity with many chain retail stores as well as local businesses making a roaring trade. The council have provided ample parking for shoppers, and the biggest bonus is that there are no parking metres in town’ Another gift for shoppers is the fact that the Uthuke!a District Council has provided a small army of guards to safeguard the business people of Inkosi Langalibele and their valuable customers. These security guards have ensured that criminals are scarce and so shoppers can browse around town safe in the knowledge that they are well protected.
Situated in the Drakensview residential area is the small Hillside shopping complex, which has a supermarket and various other stores, for the convenience of those who prefer to stay out of the centre of town. It also has plenty of parking with security guards on hand, night and day.
In February 1948, the Governor of the Cape, Sir Harry Smith authorised the ‘establishment of a military post on the Bushman’s River. Primarily due to complaints from the settlers of cattle raids by the Bushman. A small force under a Captain Campbell had already established a military post on the banks of the river just below the present fort.
The Settlement, still known as Bushman’s River Drift, was boosted in 1850 with an influx of Byrne Settlers and the name was changed to Estcourt to honour Thomas Henry Sutton Estcourt who had played a significant role in the Byrne Emigration Scheme.
An alarm caused by the Langalibalele Rebellion in 1873 led to the construction of Fort Durnford. Major Antony Durnford of the Colonial Engineers selected the site and possibly also designed it. Certainly his signature is on the plans. Today the Fort is the home of the Estcourt Museum.
By the end of 1885, the railway from the coast had reached Estcourt, and it helped convey an influx of treasure-seekers the following year responding to reports of gold in the area. ‘Gold at Estcourt’ read a headline in the Natal Witness of October 16, 1886. But there was no gold to be found and the dreams of fortune faded.
The South African or Anglo Boer War
The Boers surrounded Estcourt at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War In October 1899 and the first battle of the war in Natal the battle of Willow Grange took place in this area. It was fought to the south of Estcourt and marked the furthest foray by the Boers into Natal. As the war progressed, many thousands of British soldiers began to arrive. They encamped temporarily in Estcourt It was during a reconnaissance towards Colenso on an armoured train that led to the capture of Winston Churchill, a young correspondent for the Morning Post. He later escaped from Pretoria and returned to Natal via Mozambique. He came back to Estcourt to cover the Siege and Relief of Ladysmith.
Estcourt’s proclamation as a township took place in 1905. By 1914 the town qualified to become a Borough and R.M. Drummond was elected the town’s first mayor. The Borough Council continued to operate until the formation of the Estcourt/Wembezi Transitional Local Council.
Furthermore, the municipalities of uMThezi and Imbazama were later merged to become Inkosi Langalibele Local Municipality.
More about Fort Durnford:
The Fort strategically placed on an eminence above the old military post at the drift represents a substantially rectangular structure of local sandstone, with walls two feet thick rising approximately thirty feet. Also, there are two square towers, one to the South East and one to the North West. Additionally, there are heavily barred windows throughout and numerous loopholes. The original windows had a design of heavy iron shutters turning on hinges spiked to the walls, for closure when not manned.
Inside the building, a stone-paved hall gives entry to the body of the Fort, with guard, barrack and storerooms. Off a side passage, initially closed by a grille and probably used for prisoners. Additionally, there are doors to a vaulted powder-magazine and offices.
Other items of interest include an underground tank beneath the floor of one of the rooms and in the ground floor of the North-West Tower the remains of a pit from which two “secret” tunnels allegedly lead. One tunnel heads north-west towards the military post at the drift and one north· east exiting from the hillside. This exit would have been useful for bringing in supplies or providing a means of escape.
Today the fort is the home of the Estcourt Museum. It also houses a fantastic collection of bird’s eggs donated by Godfrey Symons.
Other Estcourt Attractions:
Firstly, Bloukrans Memorial (1938)
Many Voortrekker families were killed here following the murder of Piet Relief by the Zulus in February 1838. There is a memorial on the site.
Secondly, Augustinian Chapel (1929)
The Chapel is at the end of Victoria Street in Estcourt Town. Estcourt became the cradle of the Augustinian Order· in Natal in 1891.
Also, Brynbella –Willow Grange
The site of the southernmost battle of the Anglo· Boer War, some l0km from Estcourt on the old Estcourt/Mooi River road.
Fourthly, Chieveley Military Cemetery
In this cemetery, set among the trees, Freddy, the son of Lord Roberts, lies buried.
St. Matthews Anglican Church
1882 saw the construction of the first part of the Church. In 1959 the Nave was doubled in length
and the development of the Tower as a Memorial to those who had fallen in the war.
Old Civic Buildings
Built initially as the agricultural hall, this is now the home for the Drakensberg Experience Association.
Finally, The First Government School
Built circa 1886. The admission of the first scholars occurred on 2 August 1886. Located in Alexandra Street in Estcourt. Now known as Estcourt Secondary School (Special thanks to the Willow Grange Hotel for providing much of this information).