Colenso: KwaZulu-Natal's Historic Riverside Gem

Nestled on the banks of the Tugela River (Thukela), the picturesque town of Colenso carries with it tales of battles, pioneering spirit, and unique heritage. With its origins in the mid-19th century, this town in KwaZulu-Natal has played a significant role in the fabric of South African history.

In 1855, what started as a mere collection of hotels and businesses soon became a pivotal crossing point for the bustling wagon transport route. The location was strategic, as the Commando Drift provided a ford in the Tugela River that allowed wagons to comfortably cross, connecting Durban to the South African Republic, known today as provinces like Gauteng, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga.

Initially known as the Greater Tugela Drift, the town's prominence as a stopover point led to its renaming in 1855 after Bishop John William Colenso, a staunch supporter of the Zulu cause and the Anglican bishop of Natal. Before its official proclamation as a town in 1926, the Colenso Directory of 1908 proudly listed 42 names, a testament to the burgeoning growth and community spirit.

Colenso etched its mark on history during the Second Anglo-Boer War in 1899. In what's infamously remembered as the 'black week,' the British forces under General Buller endeavored to pierce through the Boer defenses and alleviate the siege of Ladysmith. The Battle of Colenso on December 15, 1899, was just one of the five major confrontations that took place in an effort to relieve the beleaguered town of Ladysmith. The town is littered with poignant reminders of this past - from war graves to memorials that tell the tales of valor and sacrifice.

For those with a penchant for history, the local museum offers a deep dive into Colenso's past, provided one can find a key-holder. Apart from the museum, the historic bridge and the decommissioned power station stand as silent witnesses to the town's evolving narrative.

One unique honor for the town is the "159 Colenso Battery" of the Royal Artillery named in its recognition. In a memorable visit in November 1996, the Battery Commander graced Colenso with his presence, further cementing the bond between the town and its namesake battery.

Today, situated 20km south of Ladysmith and 40km north of Estcourt, Colenso remains a vital reminder of South Africa's rich history. From its early days as a bustling stopover point to its significant role in the Anglo Boer War, the town stands as a beacon of resilience, progress, and heritage. Whether you're retracing the steps of General Buller or simply soaking in the scenic beauty by the Tugela River, Colenso promises a journey back in time.

2022 photo of the R.E.Stevenson Museum
R.E.Stevenson museum next to the Colenso police station (Photo: 2022)
2022 photo of fireless steam trains
Two of the fireless steamtrains used by ESCOM in Colenso (Photo: 2022)