By Graham Rose
The Vasco da Gama memorial clock previously located on Margaret Mncadi Avenue was a gift from the people of Portugal and was erected in 1897 to mark the 400th anniversary of the famous Portuguese explorer’s voyage to India, during which he discovered a large bay on the south eastern coast of Africa on Christmas Eve 1497, and which he named Natal being the Portuguese word for Christmas. The area is today the province of KwaZulu-Natal and home to the important port city of Durban.
The Vasco da Gama memorial clock was manufactured by Walter Macfarlane & Co’s Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, Scotland, in cast iron to a design selected from their catalogue, and is one of only three surviving examples in the world today.
Regrettably, despite being a popular landmark and tourist attraction, the structure has fallen into disrepair over the past few years and was recently severely vandalised and significant irreplaceable sections stolen. Fortunately some members of the Royal Natal Yacht Club noticed the destruction and immediately interceded rescuing the damaged pieces and placing them in safekeeping before any further losses occurred.
Sadly the small statue, depicting the mythical Samson, mounted on the central column of the drinking fountain together with several other ornamental elements were stolen and have not been recovered despite the investigative efforts of members and a club member offering a substantial reward.
Recognising the significance of this historic structure and in view of the importance of our maritime history and the value of the maritime industry to the city of Durban the Royal Natal Yacht Club, with its own longstanding maritime history as the oldest sports club of any kind in Africa and the oldest yacht club in the Southern Hemisphere, initiated consultations with the Ethekwini Municipality and Amafa aKwaZulu-Natali for the restoration and temporary relocation of the structure.
After 2 years of consultations permission has finally been granted for us to begin the preservation project in line with the Club’s commitment to the growth and development of the Ethekwini Municipality and the provincial government of KwaZulu-Natal’s Integrated Maritime Strategy.
The first phase of the mammoth restoration project has already been successfully completed with the careful dismantling of the badly corroded 120 year old structure thanks to the skill and generosity of club members who supplied their time and heavy lifting equipment necessary for the task.
The individual cast iron components are presently being professionally cleaned and treated against the effects of corrosion before being meticulously repaired and coated with a protective coating which will prevent future corrosion. This work is also being preformed thanks to the skill and generosity of members who are funding the project.
Once restored to its former glory the clock will be re-erected and placed on display for the appreciation, admiration and enjoyment of all the citizens of Ethekwini and will serve as a permanent reminder of the importance of our maritime industry and status as the trading gateway of Africa.
The clock is once again set to become a popular feature of Durban within the redeveloped bayside waterfront and will no doubt become a favourite setting for wedding photographs adding a new backdrop to this already popular venue.