Pioneers observed that a species of wild sugar cane, called mpha by the Zulu, grew in the area. Africans and Europeans chewed this cane as it was juicy and sweet but the sugar content was not high enough to make it commercially viable.
In 1847 a Durban firm, the Milner Brothers, who traded with Mauritius, imported some 40 000 tops of the inferior variety of sugar cane known as Mauritius red cane. Settlers from various parts planted the tops on their lands.
In 1848 Ephraim Rathbone, travelling up the north coast to become overseer of an experimental cotton estate managed by Edmund Morewood, obtained a few samples of the cane and induced Morewood to plant them on the cotton estate. That was the beginning of the sugar industry.
To many the problem of plantation labour seemed to be the greatest stumbling block in the establishment of sugar. There was a clamour that some measure should be taken to import cheap and ·plentiful labour. One petition after another was sent to the Government, praying for aid in the labour problem. The question of overseas recruitment was investigated and on
16 November 1860 the first load of 341 Indian labourers, mainly Hindus, arrived. Nineteen other immigrant ships followed, bringing 6 000 Indian labourers.
They did not remain as labourers but as early as 1856; Baboo Naidoo opened the first Indian store in Field Street, Durban, selling Asiatic condiments and delicacies.
The Hulett Family
Liege Hulett landed in Durban when he was 19 years old and worked as a chemist’s assistant in Pietermaritzburg. He leased a farm, Mount Moreland, built a house and brought his parents and three sisters out from England. By 1890 he had founded the Natal tea industry on a farm which he had bought and named Kearnsey. Eventually he started to plant sugar cane, erecting his first mill at Tinley Manor in 1903 and developing his interests until Hulett and sugar became synonymous in South Africa. He convinced the government to extend the railway line from Verulam to Stanger and in 1907 his private railway line from Stanger to Kearnsey was opened, this being the first and only individually owned line in Natal to be used for private purposes.
Among Natal’s first settlers to arrive at Port Natal (Durban) in 1850, was an elderly doctor and his wife who left Paranagua, a Brazilian seaport. They had the seeds of various exotic vegetables and fruits with them, of which one was the paw-paw.
They chose a densely bush area near Conge Ha behind the Berea for their home and laid out a garden. Mr Beningfield, the first estate agent in Durban was invited to the house to view·the paw-paw trees and he saw the commercial possibilities of growing paw-paw in great numbers. The doctor gave him some seeds and he did very well with his crop but, as the doctor’s wife pointed out, it was her husband, Henry Bowen, who should get the credit for introducing the paw-paw to South Africa.
At the first agricultural show in Pietermaritzburg, Mrs Bowen won a prize of one pound for her exhibit of the largest paw-paw displayed. Another keen gardener was William Lister who introduced avocados as well as mangoes and coffee bushes to Natal.
Milk from unripe paw-paw is used to make papeme, a creamy powder, which is used, in tanning leather, tenderising beef and as an ingredient in stomach powders