The four men credited with the founding of Dundee are Peter Smith, his son William Craighead Smith, Dugald McPhail, and Charles Willson.

The township of “Dundee Proper” was established by Peter Smith in 1882, from 1,000 acres of his farm “Dundee”. This township was supplemented by land contributed by Dugald McPhail (Peter Smith’s son in law), Peter’s son William Craighead Smith, and Charles Willson. In the same year George Sutton laid out a township called “Dundee” on part of his farm “Coalfields, adjoining "Dundee Proper." The township of “Dundee Extension” was added later. In 1896 all three townships were consolidated into the Borough of Dundee.

Peter Smith arrived in Natal in 1859, having emigrated from Mole Hill farm in Fofarshire, near Dundee, Scotland. His brother Thomas had arrived in Natal (via Australia) in 1855, and had been granted a 3,000 acre farm in Northern Natal, which he named “Dundee”. Peter Smith and his wife Ann (nee’ Craighead) joined Thomas Smith on Dundee farm in 1864. Peter discovered coal on the farm, about 500 metres from the family homestead on Talana Hill. He began coal mining, and by 1878 was employing Cornish miners and sending coal by wagon for sale in Pietermaritzburg.

Dugald MacPhail was another Scot, from Argyllshire, and Charles Wilson was a Londoner. Following its founding, Dundee affairs were for many years dominated by the triumvirate of Smith, MacPhail and Willson.

The town of Dundee prospered in the early 1900s, attracting industries such as Union Glass Works at Talana and Dundee Brick & Tile, and seeing an expansion of mining activity and commerce generally. The Holy Rosary Convent was established, the high school expanded, and attractions were established such as "Atwell's Premier Bio" and the Municipal Swimming Bath. By the years between World Wars 1 and 2 Dundee was boasting that it was the centre of the coal mining industry in Northern Natal, and it become an attractive country town with a sound economy, and pleasant residential areas and amenities.

Dundee's centenary is commemorated in the publication "Where the Thunder Rolls - A Centenary History of Dundee, Natal."

In the 1950’s and 1960’s there were still many descendants of the founding families – mainly Smith descendants, but also one family of McPhail descendants – still living in and around Dundee. Most of these families lived on farms west of the town along the foot of the Mpati mountain and around Talana hill, but some Smith descendants lived in the town itself.

Starting with the McPhails, Ian McPhail (great grandson of Dundee founder Dugald McPhail) and his wife Zena and children Clare and Neil lived on the farm “Brooklyn” at the foot of Mpati hill. The McPhail farm was accessed by following Smith Street across Douglas Street and through the “McPhail Gates,” and then over the Sterkstroom to Brooklyn (the old “McPhail Gates” are now further down the road on the right, as the entrance to Jan Smuts Park).

The Smith-surnamed descendants living in the town in the 50’s and 60s were all members of the family of Hamish Smith (son of Thomas Patterson Smith and grandson of Peter Smith) who lived with his wife Ivy (nee’ Durham) at “Bellvue”, 95 Smith Street – the former home of prominent Dundonian and former mayor West Thorrold (the son-in-law of Peter’s daughter Petrie). Denis Smith (son of Hamish) and his wife Maureen and children Peter, Paddy-Ann, Barbara and Jane lived at 84 Smith Street. Hamish and Ivy’s daughter Maureen and her husband Dennis Kirby-Smith and children Wendy and Jeffrey lived on Boundary Road, opposite the old entrance to St. James Church, until leaving for Johannesburg in the late 1950s. After Hamish’s death, also in the late 1950s, the Denis Smith family moved into Bellvue.

Most of the Smith descendants still farmed in the 50s and 60s, primarily in the Mpati foothills. Closest to the town was the farm, “Avoca”, next to the McPhail farm “Brooklyn.” Avoca was owned by the family of Walter Smith (son of William Craighead Smith) and his wife Freda and their children Joyce and Norman. After Norman’s death his widow and their daughters Mabel (“Mabs”), Merral, and Barbara continued lived on the farm, with Freda, during the 60s.

The next farm along the Mpati foothills is “Balgray,” which was owned by the family of Gordon Smith (another son of William Craighead Smith) and his wife Effie. In the 1950’s Gordon died, and Effie lived on the farm with her son Douglas and his wife Justine (nee’ Oosthuizen), and their children Craig, Claudia, Linda, and Norma. Also living on the farm in the 1950s was Effie’s daughter Doreen, who left the farm when she married Trevor Osborn. The gracious old farmhouse on Balgray was built by William Craighead Smith, who with his father Peter was one of the founders of Dundee. William Craighead Smith brought three stonemasons out from Scotland to work on the house, and the three different cuts of stone used in constructing the house were quarried on the farm.

Moving further northwards along the foot of Mpati, the next farm is “Morriston,” which was occupied by Patterson Smith (another son of William Craighead Smith) and his wife Eleanor, and their children Clarence and Wilfred. The family of Clarence’s son Pat appears to be the last Smith-surnamed descendants of the founding family still living in Dundee.

North of Morriston, and adjoining Balgray, is the farm Avemore, which was owned by Isabella Talbot, a daughter of William Craighead Smith. In her later years Isabella lived in the town, in the Talbot home “Coniston” near the Scout Huts.

On the opposite side of the Ngisana road from Morriston is the farm “The Wilderness,” which was owned by Bob Smith, a son of Peter Craighead Smith. Also living on the farm was Bob’s son Mervyn. Mervyn moved to the then Northern Rhodesia in the 50s.

Moving away from Mpati and towards the back of Talana Hill, the next Smith descendants were on the farm “The Oaks,” adjoining “The Wilderness.” They were Belle and Joe Wade, and children Joy, Shirlee, and John. Belle’s mother was Alice Smith, a daughter of Peter Craighead Smith.

Alongside The Oaks, and directly behind Talana Hill on the Vryheid Road, is the farm “Thornley,” which was owned by Peter and Bernice Grant. Peter’s mother was Winifred (“Winnie”) Smith, another daughter of Peter Craighead Smith. This is the last of the Smith family farms still in family ownership – it is currently being farmed by Guy Grant, son of Peter and Bernice.

Adjoining Thornley is the farm “Hillside”, which was owned by Jack and Winnie Grant, the parents of Peter Grant of Thornley. Winnie Grant was the daughter of Peter Craighead Smith.

Finally, Talana farm itself – the current site of the Talana Museum – was the farm of Dundee founder Peter Smith, and thereafter of the family of his son Thomas Patterson Smith. Thomas built the “Talana House” homestead that now houses the Anglo-Zulu War and Anglo-Boer War exhibits of the museum. In the 50s and 60s the farm was occupied by Thomas’ daughter Eileen Elliott, mother of Brian “Bunny” Elliott (who married Wendy Surgeon) and Graeme Elliott (who married Eleanor Harbour).

Given how many descendants of the founding Smith families still lived in Dundee in the 50s and 60s, it is surprising and somewhat sad how few Smith-surnamed descendants still live in the town. The only such descendants who currently live in the town are Pat Smith (great grandson of William Craighead Smith) and his family. Pat has a son Peter and a daughter Sharon. Peter has three children – Calvin, Megan, and Russell.

Even by the 50s and 60s, however, there were no descendants at all of the fourth founder, Charles Willson. According to Pat Rundgren’s “The Colonials at Talana,” Willson had five children. One of those children, Edgar, was killed in action in World War 1, and is commemorated on the Cenotaph. It is unclear what happened to the descendants of his other children.


My grateful thanks go to Claudia Allan (nee Smith), who grew up on Balgray farm, for her wonderful assistance (and great recollections) in providing most of the information about the McPhail and Smith family members of the 50s and 60s which appears in this article.

June, 2009