Then & Now: Queen’s Bridge over the Umgeni River

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Mar 24, 2020

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Durban - In 1864, the Queen’s Bridge was the first to be built across the Umgeni River. It was sited near Morewood’s Drift, also known as Morewood’s Ford, roughly where the Connaught interchange is today.

The need for the bridge followed the Great Flood of 1856.

Late in the previous year or early that year, before the flood, city engineer John Milne had been asked to prepare a plan and specification for a bridge at a place called George’s Drift. He had measured the width of the river as 63.5m, with the water low at the time. He noticed that the banks appeared not to have been scoured away for many years. Immediately after the storm of April 1856, Milne returned to the bridge site to find the banks had been torn away on both sides and that the channel was now 215m wide, more than three times its original breadth.

The river, because it had forced a passage through the sand-dunes to the sea, now formed a tidal estuary with the tide rising a metre or two, and at George’s Drift it had risen by almost 9m above the level of high water at spring tides.

The Queen’s Bridge was opened to joyous celebrations on September 22,1865. Victoria County was joined to Durban by road, a boon for the those residing north of the Umgeni - particularly the sugar planters.

The joy was short-lived. In August 1868, the bridge was washed away during floods. There were murmurings about the timber piles not having been sunk deep enough to withstand the waters.

The Queen’s Bridge was rebuilt and spawned the Queen’s Bridge Hotel and the Queen’s Bridge musjid, which still stands in Chris Hani, previously North Coast Road.

The first picture shows the Queen’s Bridge before the newer Connaught Bridge was built. The second picture shows both and was probably taken before the great flood of 1917, which destroyed the railway bridge up-river.

The Athlone bridge lower down the Umgeni River was built in 1927 which facilitated the opening up of the suburb Durban North, which was previously farmland.

In the 1980s, traffic demands meant the Connaught interchange was created, where the original bridge had stood.

Our photographer, Shelley Kjonstad, tried to match the original scene but had to shift towards the Umgeni Bird Park more as trees were blocking the perspective.

The Independent on Saturday

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