Strategically positioned atop a dominant stand overlooking the old military post at the Bushman’s River drift, the allegedly “haunted” Fort Durnford is a must visit for Hartford House guests exploring the Estcourt region.
The position was first occupied in 1847 but following the Langalibalele Rebellion of 1873 and the resultant fear that abounded within the British outposts, was later fortified. Fort Durnford, as it stands today, was constructed in 1874 by Major Anthony William Durnford of the British Colonial Engineers in order to protect the Estcourt townspeople from possible Zulu attack. Today it houses the Estcourt Museum.
Fort Durnford was designed as a substantial stronghold, built in a rectangular shape from local sandstone. The walls are two feet thick and rise approximately thirty feet in height with two square towers and heavily barred windows throughout. The windows were originally fitted with heavy iron shutters, turning on hinges spiked to the walls.
Upon entering the Fort, a stone paved hall gives way to the heart of this bastion, with guard rooms, barracks and storerooms. Leading from a side passage which was used for the movement of prisoners and was originally closed by a grille, there are doors to a vaulted powder-magazine and offices.
An underground water tank lies buried beneath the paving of one of the rooms, and two "secret" tunnels lead from the remains of a pit hidden beneath the ground floor of the North-West tower. It is believed that one tunnel heads North-West towards the military post at the drift and the other North-East, exiting from the hillside. These tunnels would have been vital for the safe movement of supplies and for stealthy escapes.
The Fort Durnford museum has many interesting artifacts on display including fossils, Iron Age and Stone Age relics, old wagons and models depicting the historic Natal battles. The museum also showcases one of the largest birds’ egg collections.
Fort Durnford is open from Monday to Sunday, 09h00 - 12h00 and 13h00 - 16h00 and entrance is free, although there is a “donation box” which aims to assist in the maintenance of this significant monument of South African interest.
If you plan to set off early, the Hartford kitchen will gladly prepare a delicious picnic basket for your day's adventures.