The Town

Up to about 1812 Natal was inhabited by ninety-four tribes, about 1 million people, bearing in mind that the word Natal applied only to the Bay & coastlands known to the early navigators. The lands to the north & south were known by the tribe inhabiting it, the most prolific of whom were the Abambo. The Abambo in turn were divided into sub-tribes such as Amahlubi, Amaqwabe, Amakunze and others. Langalibalele was the recognised head of the Abambo who called Natal Embo. Troops of Elephants roamed the coastlands, lions and panthers the kloofs and antelope the open plains; hippopotamus and crocodiles the rivers. Life in general was a peaceful one with families living together and disputes being settled by discussion, no violent feuds are recorded.

In December 1835 Lord Glenelg, secretary of State, ordered the conquered province, Adelaide, to be returned to its original owners, the Fingoes, remnants of fugitive native tribes. This action by the authorities & the abolition of slavery did not sit well with the Boer & Burgher; slaves were not only considered free but were also classed as apprenticed labourers until December 1938 with all kinds of rights. In addition Blacks were to be considered equal to Christians, all in all very offensive to the Boers.

Generally dissatisfied with British rule between 5 & 10000 sold their farms, took their stock and in 1836/7 moved north. One group chose Pieter Retief as their leader deciding to head across the Drakensberg through either Bezuidenhouts, Tintwa or Oliviers Hoek passes into Natal where they settled in scattered encampments in December 1837, expanding along the Tugela or ‘startling’ river.

Second Boer venture into Natal

In 1843 Henry Cloete was appointed Recorder or Judge and in 1845 Fort Napier was built. December 1845 Natal was annexed from the Cape & Martin West, magistrate at Grahamstown, was appointed the first Lieutenant Governor of Natal. Among his executive council were names that would become famous, Stanger, Moodie, Field, Harding & Shepstone.

The Lieutenant Governor had also been instructed to settle the land rights of the indigenous natives, after all they had stronger rights than the white man. Large tracts of land were allocated suitable for 10 to 12000 people the idea being that the natives through farming and education would become self sufficient and become ‘civilised’. These locations eventually became approximately one-ninth of the colony accommodating some 960,000 people. Although they lived under the rule of their chiefs as they did before Chaka they were subject to the colonial laws administered through a Resident magistrate of the district.

Lieutenant Governor West, settled the land grants giving 6000 acres to those occupying farms when he began his settlement & 2000 acres to those who had been occupiers but, for whatever reason, had left their land. All these acreages were sold or rented at a nominal price. The settlements included sites in the towns of Pietermaritzburg, Durban & Weenen. This was not what the Boers were expecting & thought they had been let down by the British government so another Trek began. This time it went in two directions, one group across the Drakensberg to join their kin in what was to become the Orange Free State and the other to the north of the Tugela from the Klipriver to Biggarsberg.

Several representations were made by the Boer farmers to the government and it was after Sir Harry Smith’s appointment that in 1847 their grievances were heard. A new land commission was appointed and the size of the farms was increased from 6000 to 8000 acres with protection against the natives assured. This was accepted by most settled north of the Tugela.

The departure of the discontented Boers across the Drakensberg left a small white population in Natal so a scheme to increase the population, put forward by JC Byrne was implemented. The scheme proposed free passage to Natal and 20 to 50 acres of land on arrival. About 4500 people took up the offer, arriving between 1848 and 1851.

The first newspapers in Natal were The Natalier 1843, The Patriot, Natal Witness 1847 and Natal Mercury 1852.

Evidence, from Evert Frederick Potgieter residing in Klip River Division, that he left the Cape Colony in 1836 arriving in Klip River in 1838. He does not recollect any natives north of the Tugela.


Ladysmith is in the northern part of the province of Kwa Zulu Natal, in the Republic of South Africa and lies on the base of a triangle formed by the Drakensberg and Biggarsberg mountain ranges. There comes a time when all young things get the urge to broaden their horizons and see what the rest of their world has to offer and from 1850 people from all over began to migrate north to explore Natal and north beyond the mountains. There were only two places where they could get across both necessitating a stop in Ladysmith.

Historically, the town had it’s beginning shortly before the battle of Blood River(1838), when the Boers, under Andries Pretorius, met in prayer at Danskraal, two miles from the present site of Ladysmith, and vowed that, should they succeed in defeating the Zulus under Dingaan, they would build a Church in thanksgiving to Almighty God. Thereafter the district became sparsely populated by Voortrekkers who descended the Drakensberg passes with their Ox Wagons during the year 1838 and occupied the pastoral land in the neighbourhood of the Klip River.

1847 – Mpande, the Zulu king, sold land to the Boers who called the area The Klip River Republic and in December 1847 the Governor announced that a Township would be laid out and Lots would be put up for sale – Sir Harry Smith had agreed to the laying out of the Township on the banks of the Klip River and to the disposal of Lots at an upset price of £10 per acre.

1848 – October 2nd and the first magistrate of Klip River is appointed. He is a surveyor called John Bird who lived on van Tonders farm that became the first site for Ladysmith. He built shanties of wattle and daub on the present day Keate Street School. On 5th October the magisterial district of Klip River is proclaimed.

1849 – In December Mellville succeeds John Bird as magistrate. A chief constable, named Allerston, is appointed. A traveller to the town reports there being five houses

On the 20th June 1850 the Township was proclaimed by Benjamin Pine, Lieutenant Governor of Natal, and Lots were sold on a site that had been selected and surveyed by Dr. William Stangar. The new town was referred to locally and in the Press as “Windsor” until 11th October 1850 when the official name of Ladysmith was given – Harrismith had, a short time before, been named after the then Governor of the Cape and it was thought Ladysmith would be a suitable partner town to this Dutch settlement on the further side of the Drakensberg.

The town became vital, not only as the last outpost, prior to the long pull over the mountains, but also as a centre to exchange gossip between the outlying farmers and the people that passed through. The general area has been peopled from the Stone Age followed by the Bushmen then the Bantu. Once the railway arrived in 1885 the town flourished and became the strategic crossroads for everyone traveling to the new Republics of the Orange Free State and The Transvaal and even as far north as Rhodesia.

“The commercial prospects of the Town of Ladysmith are anything but bright….” This was a comment after the opening of the ‘new’ road from the Drakensberg to Colenso.

In 1849, a series of water furrows, with numerous side branches, was laid from above Carbineer’s Drift down to what is now Keate Street. Some of these furrows can still be seen today. On 14th August Alexander Lamont becomes owner of the Royal Hotel

The town is officially named Ladysmith on 11th October, in honour of Sir Harry Smith’s Spanish wife, Lady Joanna. At this time the administrative council of the Klip River stretched from the Tugela to the Amajuba or in today’s parlance from the Drakensberg in the west, Van Reenen’s Pass in the north, the Biggarsberg in the west & Weenen in the south. The magistrate Captain Struben, married the daughter of Robert Anderson, the famous transport driver.

Circa 1850, Thomas Jennings and Alfred John Cecil Bowes are thought to have been in Ladysmith soon after landing from the Devonian in October 1850.

Ladysmith had been formed by Cape Voortrekkers and a Township proclaimed 20 June 1850. George Winder arrived in Ladysmith on 25 September 1850 with a license to open a general store. He remarked that as there were no inhabitants at present it is likely that I will have no business until water is brought into the town and the road is formed.

William Allerston arrived from England he was immediately appointed as constable prior to 1851. When he reached Ladysmith he found 4 cottages of wattle and daub. Law and order for the whole of the Klip River District was administrated by a magistrate, Constable Allerston and 25 native police. Magistrate was James Melville. Allerston lasted seven months then had to return to PMB due to ill health.

Another constable in Ladysmith was Thomas Allan who arrived there circa 1853 and remained with added responsibility of being Pound master when H URQUHART resigned.

Next to arrive were JC Walton and Humphrey Evans KNIGHT with an ex railway surveyor by the name of John Sutcliffe.

Robert Anderson moved to Ladysmith with 5000 pounds in the form of wagons, oxen, good etc and with him was William Adam a blcksmith and wagon maker. George Aitken was still on his land and propering.

1851 – The population comprised a magistrate, clerk, two constables, three bricklayers, one mason, two carpenters, one storekeeper named of Windsor and six married women. John Allison wins the ploughing competition at the Royal Agricultural Show.

16th July 1851, the Acting Surveyor-General John Bird instructed Charles and Brother James to proceed to Klip River. 15 September a complaint had been lodge by Klip River magistrate Capt. JHM Struben on behalf of Pieter Hendrik KRITZINGER of Weenen and the Fyvies were recalled to Durban.

In 1852 James Brown was appointed by Klip River Resident magistrate JHM Struben as Ferryman at the Upper Tugela drift on the wagon road to the Drakensberg and was the first Gaoler in Ladysmith. 1st May, a solicitor from London, Henry Fuller appointed Clerk of Peace for Klip River and married in Ladysmith in April 1853 to Emma Eliza Griffiths (nee Berry of Cape Town) widow of TP Griffiths. 17th August, a Request from Pietermaritzburg for completion date for Dam being built.

1852 – James Brown appointed Ferryman on the Upper Tugela River by resident magistrate JHM Struben. November 1853 he was a Constable in Ladysmith and from there he rose to Gaoler from 1854 – 1859. He had left Ladysmith by November 1860 and in mid 1863 was at Colenso.

1853 – May 14th and the first Nederduitse Gereformmeerde Kerk opens.

West’s Governorship saw SPIES & others enter into negotiations with MPANDE to set up the short lived Klip River Republic. Melville the magistrate was removed & Johannes Struben an ex Netherlands Naval officer was appointed resident magistrate. PINE had great confidence in Struben but in 1854 Struben reported the robbery from government chest of more than 300 pounds in gold. Within a few months Struben had disappeared across the Transvaal. A Doctor Kelly replaced him.

The town developed quickly, its growth being stimulated by the over-berg trade, and in 1854 Bishop Colenso reported Ladysmith to be a “neat hamlet of twenty-three houses, all of the well built, besides soldier’s tents & huts”.

1854 – Bishop Colenso visits the town and records a hamlet of twenty-three homes, a Courthouse, two hotels, Dutch church, several stores, army tents, Anglican Church and a hundred people. The Presbyterians gather for the first time under Captain Struben.

John Brown and Brother William had a store in Ladysmith from as early as 1854. August, Charles Tebbut BELL is in Ladysmith on farm Dans Kraal which he probably owned part and by 1859 he and his second wife were living on the farm Burford north of Danskraal. Acting Resident magistrate in February 1854 was Dr. Benjamin Blaine; December 1857 was TT Kelly; 1859 it was Dr. Kelly; 1st August 1861 GA Lucas who built a house next to the Jail, he left Ladysmith for Colenso in November 1860. 1854 – February: John Brown and Brother William were running a store in Ladysmith.

1855 – 11 May: Thomas Vicar BRAYHIRST took title to piece of land in village of Colenso. In 1859 he bought farms Gainsford, Winstone and Huddersfield in the Biggarsberg district. By October 1862 he bought Uitvaal and Sundays River Hoek also in Biggarsberg. Blacksmith and Ferryman across Klip River from 1855 to 1874 after which ill health forced him to give up the Ferryman but continued as a Blacksmith.

1857 – The Post Office receives its first issue of perforated stamps with the mail at this time being carried by native runners to the districts. President Marthinus Wessels Pretorious visits the town in March. Joseph Barker sent as Dean and organises the Church of St. John although it was never dedicated it later became part of the Fort. On 6th May the “de Ware Patriot” ceases publication after twenty-seven issues. 1857, Francis H Findlay appointed Police Constable in Ladysmith at 48 pounds pa.

On 12th October 1858 a circular from the secretary for native Affairs was sent out suggesting that due to the smallpox in the Cape all natives should be vaccinated. 2nd. November 1858 the circular was confirmed and vaccination began.

1859 – July: Thomas Munro Carbutt was a steward at the Ladysmith races, the same year elected lieutenant of the Natal frontier Guard, disbanded in 1876.

1860 – A fort is built to guard the town and ruins can be seen as part of the present day Police station. The estimated Bantu population is given as 6000. From this point on Ladysmith expands as never before due in the main to its strategic position relative to the Transvaal and Free State. It becomes the meeting and revitualling point for all who travel to and from the North.

1861 – On 26th March Hans Dons de Lange is hanged for killing a Black. Knight and King open a general store later to become Illings Store.

1862 – 11th Feb. to 31st December: Samuel Friday and Minter held a billiard table license.

1863 – Jan Leon Cachet – appointed a lay preacher and catechism master at Ladysmith on 3/10/1863. Natal Almanac shows Ladysmith Postmaster to be M Osborne who was also the clerk to the magistrate GA Lucas; interpreter B Holman. Dutch reformed Church FL Cachet. Jailer J Agnew with one European and nine Natives.

1865 – Miss Hedley keeps school in the old English Church for which she is paid fifty pounds sterling per year by the government.

1866 – The town was flooded with Forty-one houses are totally destroyed. Forty badly damaged and in total costs the town some eight thousand pounds. The Town Board offered employment at seven shillings and sixpence per day to help with the repairs.

1867 – The Lutheran Church designed by Kisch the photographer was completed at the sole expense of Mr. Conrad Pieters.

1868 – G Blencowe expressed his confidence in Natal as a coalfield some 100 miles square. Some he said was poor coal as in India but other was better and burnt clear and threw out a great heat and if worked the population will increase and this circuit will become half a dozen.

Langalibalele Rebellion: Trouble had been brewing for some time with the Amahlubi under Langalibalele. The Amahlubi had been chased by Chaka out of Zululand and had settled in the Utrecht area where they remained until attacked by Panda in 1849 whereupon the moved to the upper part of the Klip River, as approved by Lieutenant-Governor West. This moved caused yet another problem for the Governor because the land on which he had agreed the Amahlubi could settle was in fact owned by Boer farmers, so Langalibalele was removed, unwillingly, to the upper waters of the Bushman River in the general area of Cathkin Peak and Giants Castle. Many of the men of the Amahlubi went to work in the diamond mines often returning with guns; it was against the law for a native to possess a firearm. Langalibalele was ordered to give up all the arms in his possession but after many requests to do so he had not complied. A force of 200 regulars, 300 volunteers and about 6000 natives with two field pieces moved into the Amahlubi location on 29th October 1873. The Langalibalele rebellion, as it became known, has been well chronicled in other publications suffice to say here that he was eventually captured by the Cape Mounted Rifles and handed over to Captain Allison, Natal Carbineers, on 13th December 1873. After a trial he was banished but allowed to return to Natal in 1886. He died in 1889.

Early Royal Hotel

1881 – The Keate Street Government School was opened – this was the first School in Ladysmith and is still in existence today.

The increase in the size of the town and its historical significance is clearly linked with its geographical position:

In the ‘fifties’, a road, no more than a track, was established to link to the capital of Pietermaritzburg. A horse-drawn bus service, carrying passengers and mail, followed, and in the year 1886, Ladysmith became the railhead, the first train steamed into Ladysmith station which in those days consisted of a wood and iron structure.
It was natural that on the discovery of diamonds and gold, it became the centre for transport-riders journeying from Port Natal to Kimberley and Johannesburg, and that upon the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer Hostilities (1899-1902) Ladysmith as the gateway to the colony, should be the key point of the struggle for Natal. (Ref.1)
About the same year, Gas was produced in Ladysmith for the Lighting of Streets, but this was soon superseded by electricity, and in 1925 the town’s supply was obtained from the Electricity Supply Commission Power Station at Colenso.

View of town from convent hill

1870 – The magistrate at this time is Captain G.A. Lucas; W. Adams is granted a license to run a ferry across the Klip River. The original Presbyterian Church is built where the Beares centre is situated today. John and Sarah Coventry begin building at Acton Homes.

1871 – The Reverend W.O. Newnham founded a boarding school for boys in Ladysmith that proved unsuccessful but he went on to found the Hilton College.

1873 – A mail service is introduced.

1877 – The first Indian, named Bauboo Naidoo, arrives in town and he is employed as an interpreter.

1878 – Author, Sir Rider Haggard, passes through Ladysmith. There are now five Indians, employed by W.J. Boyd.

1879 – During April the Prince Imperial’s coffin passes through Ladysmith on its way to Durban. In the same month a hospital is set up in the Dutch church. During May a company of the 58th Regiment, possibly the 17th Lancers or Kings Dragoon Guards, arrived to garrison the town. A wall is built around the Fort by Van Grewunan in exchange for his freedom. A “fever” hospital is established for soldiers returning from Isandhlwana and Rorkes Drift.

1881 – A Methodist Church is opened by Reverend Mason. A new Post Office opens on 12th April. On 10th August the telegraph line to Bloemfontein is activated

1883 – May 22nd a wagon bridge is built by Major A.H. Hime.

1884 – The proprietor of the Royal Hotel stabs his brother-in-law, who dies two days later. On the 17th October the town is flooded. At this time Indian lamplighter wages were two pounds ten shillings per month.

1885 – Reverend J.H. Gathercole’s kitchen boy undertakes religious services for natives. The railway reaches the town in March. Indian Muslim traders come to town.

1886 – Congregational Church comes to Queen Street. A railway station is built and school children are given free rides to and from Estcourt. The town was flooded again on 23rd January.

1887 – Gold is discovered in Ladysmith and Frederick Spence Tatham becomes the secretary of the Ladysmith Gold Mining Company. He also raises a troop of Natal Carbineers.

1889 – The water system is upgraded to convey water from the Klip River to a dam storing 700 000 gallons.

1890 – A military establishment known, as “Tin Town”, is set up where the Army Camp is today. On 15th August the foundation stone for Acton Homes Church is laid.