This want of labour and transport not only retard operations and paralyse progress, but they damp a man’s energy and cow his spirit.
– Alexandra County correspondent, Natal Mercury,17 February 1874.
These sentiments by the correspondent to the Natal Mercury provides an apt summation of the state of affairs in the South Coast during the 1870s, as this chapter will outline. The historical record of conditions on the South Coast at the onset of the 1870s owes a huge debt to the published accounts of John Robinson and John WiddowsonWelborne, following the extensive, independent tours that each made of the region. Welborne, a British slate quarry proprietor, who was eager to promote a railway scheme in Natal, spent eight months exploring Natal in 1869. His travels took him down the South Coast to the Mzimkulu river. He noted that the belt of coastline was ‘almost uninhabited, a few colonists only being located at considerable distances apart….So sparse is the population that for two days whilst travelling through Alexandra County I failed to meet a single human being, white or black.’