Vasco da Gama

Samson has left the monument

Having grown up in Durban, and being taught about Vasco da Gama in school, I’ve always been rather partial to the somewhat grandiose monument to the man, an explorer from a far-off land. While searching for a route from Europe to India in 1497, he arrived in the natural bay of what is now Durban, calling it “Natal”, Portuguese for “Christmas” – most appropriate since he’d arrived on Christmas Eve. The name held, becoming known as “Port Natal” when the settlement was established in 1824 by merchants from the Cape Colony. It was only in 1834 that the town was named Durban after Sir Benjamin D’Urban, the Governor of the Cape at the time, with the Natal name now referring to the province.

The Vasco da Gama Clock Memorial was manufactured by Walter McFarlane & Co at their Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, Scotland and erected in 1896 to mark the 400th anniversary of the voyage.

The monument in its original position in Point Road; photo of a photo.

The monument in its original position in Point Road; photo of a photo.

Originally placed at the corner of Point Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) and Southampton Street, the cast iron memorial was moved to its current position near the main harbour entrance on the Esplanade (now Margaret Mncadi Avenue) in 1969, to be joined by the stone plaque unveiled on the 9th of August that year.

The stone that was placed in 1969 when the monument was moved to its current position.

The stone that was placed in 1969 when the monument was moved to its current position.

The plaque at the front of the monument, on the concrete base step.

The plaque at the front of the monument, on the concrete base step.

One of the two plaques on either side of the front step.

One of the two plaques on either side of the front step.

Under a latticed iron roof supported by 8 columns stood Samson, surrounded by all manner of decoration and commemoration in a little grassy area in one of the busier parts of town. Often unnoticed between the ships and the cars, the monument has held its ground fairly well for 120 years, against the rust that pervades all things in a coastal town. In 2014, public opinion was called for in a bid to move it, citing leaving it where it is as an option which seems to have won out … forgotten by most.

Samson, sheltered under the lattice dome.

Samson, sheltered under the lattice dome.

Driving past recently, I noticed something was missing and returned the following day to discover that the central pedestal is simply no longer there, along with the 3 plaques from the base.

The monument with the central pedestal missing.

The monument with the central pedestal missing.

What’s left of Samson’s pedestal.

What’s left of Samson’s pedestal.

The steps with the three plaques missing.

The steps with the three plaques missing.

The Foundry Stamp

The Foundry Stamp.

One of the owls tucked away at the top of the columns inside the dome.

One of the owls tucked away at the top of the columns inside the dome.

Together with the weeds and nesting birds, chicken bones and litter, and unattended flowerbeds, it seems that Vasco da Gama is slipping into the past after 500 years of having a home in Natal, a land he named.

Co-ordinates:
Latitude: 29°51’41.33″S
Longitude: 31° 1’49.23″E

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