Brook Street Cemetery (formerly known as West Street Cemetery) next to the cathedral in the city Picture: Alison Chadwick
Brook Street Cemetery (formerly known as West Street Cemetery) next to the cathedral in the city Picture: Alison Chadwick

Dead Man Walking through Durban past

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Feb 13, 2021

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Discovering the stories that make up the rich fabric of Durban's history.

That's the goal of the new Dead Man Walking tour, which takes visitors around some of the city's most memorable memorial and grave sites.

Leading the first walk on February 1, Stuart Talbot said that from anti-apartheid activist Fatimah Meer to colonial artist, Thomas Baines, there are many interesting facts and snippets about the lives of people laid to rest in the city.

Stuart Talbot in pre-mask days, who hosts the new walking tour, Dead Man Walking, in central Durban. Picture: Alison Chadwick
Military Cemetery in Wyatt Street. Picture: Alison Chadwick

“In the past, I've done lots of walks from arcades and alleys, to fabrics and green spaces. I have a passion for the history of the city and I had been thinking about doing this latest walk for a while.

"In 2019, I went to Russia where their graveyards are like public parks and you start looking for famous people's graves. I found the Russian author, Dostoevsky, and it got me thinking about the potential of looking at history in Durban's graveyards. I started looking at who was buried in the different graveyards, and there are a lot of famous people," said Talbot.

A grave from 1900 Picture: Supplied

His finds included one of the first settlers in Durban, Henry Fynn, who became well known because of his association with King Shaka during Fynn's early years as a trader in the 1820s and 30s, to George Cato, the first mayor of Durban in 1854. According to records, Cato took charge of planning for the city, designing three main streets, each wide enough to turn a wagon.

Talbot said it was Natal surveyor general, William Stanger, who identified the plot for the main West Street cemetery (now known as Brook Street Cemetery), next to the cathedral.

"The first burial ground in Durban was in the Point area, but that didn't last long because that area was below the waterline,“ said Talbot.

While the earliest grave he found was that of a soldier who

An art deco tombstone reflects trends of a past time

was buried in 1842, Talbot said there are also more recent stories and lives related to the history of Durban, such as anti-apartheid activists, Fatimah Meer and Rick Turner.

He also found the grave of artist Thomas Baines, who was famous for his sketches and paintings. He was also one of the first explorers, along with Cecil Rhodes, to see Victoria Falls. He led a number of expeditions and died in May 1875.

Talbot said he teamed up with Durban Walking Tours' Alison Chadwick and they planned the route for the Dead Man Walking Tour, the inaugural walk was held on February 1.

The Old Fort Chapel where many memorial stones to soliders have been laid

"There are many memorial stones at Old Fort, and there are a lot of soldiers who had died in battle and were brought to Durban. There are also people who died on ships as Durban was on the supply route," said Talbot, adding that the walk includes graves from all religions and focuses on the city's central burial sites.

"Durban has the oldest graves, and some of them are very worn and weathered. A lot of the graveyards are colonial in nature, but you can also see where the crossover starts as times have changed," said Talbot.

He said the first couple of Dead Man Walking tours proved to be very popular, with some joining the walk to see if they could track family members.

Chadwick, who was part of the first tour, described it on social media as being able to share, "a side of the city many folk don't venture to, but it is amazing. A great way to spend a morning".

Talbot said they were very aware of the pandemic and current Covid regulations. Checks are made before each walk that no funerals will be taking place at any of the sites included on the tour. The numbers for each walk are limited, while strict Covid protocols are in place. Booking is essential.

For more information, email [email protected]

Independent on Saturday

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