Gladstone Street 1898

The Founders of Dundee

Founders of Dundee
Founders of Dundee. Left to right : Dugald MacPhail, William Craighead Smith, Charles Willson, Peter Smith


Thomas and Peter, were the sons of Thomas Smith and Mary Paterson. They lived on Hole Mill farm in Forfarshire, near Dundee, Scotland.
Thomas Smith left home in the 1850’s and headed for the Australian gold fields. He spent five years there before coming to Natal. On arrival in Natal in 1855 he was granted 3000 acres in Northern Natal and named his farm “Dundee”. He was a building contractor, farmed on a small scale and was responsible for building many of the homesteads in the area, as well as the Ermelo Church on Craigieburn.

Peter Smith was born in 1828. He married Ann Craighead who bore him three children: William Craighead, Isabella Petrie and Elizabeth (Bessie). In 1859 they emigrated to Natal, arriving in Durban aboard the ship the “Lady of the Lake”. At this time, Natal was suffering as a result of economic recession and the Government had ceased to grant land to immigrants. Peter and a fellow traveller, William Duff, leased a farm in the Ladysmith area. This was unsuccessful and they were forced to earn extra money by felling trees in the Cundy Cleugh on the Drakensberg Escarpment. They were paid in cattle and were soon able to return to farming in 1864.

In 1864 Thomas built a small cottage on “Dundee” farm and persuaded Peter and Ann and their family to join him. Thomas was a confirmed bachelor and never married. He continued with his building contracting, whilst Peter took over the farming operations. The brothers burnt their own bricks and established a fine herd of South Devon cattle and a flock of merino sheep on “Dundee” farm.

Peter and Ann had another 2 sons. Thomas Paterson, born in March 1864 and Peter Craighead, a year later. The many descendants of the five children of Peter and Ann Smith helped to restore the cottage in honor of the centenary of Dundee town (May 1982).

Peter and Ann are buried in the family cemetery on the slopes of Talana hill, overlooking the town they founded. Ann died on 15 August 1908, aged 84 years. She had been “devoted as a wife and mother, faithful as a friend and beloved by all.” Peter died three years later, aged 83. His family remembered him as a “kind and devoted father.” Nearby lies Thomas. The old bachelor had not lived to see the establishment either of Dundee or of the Dundee Coal Co. He had died in 1880, aged 62.

Dugald MacPhail

Born on 26 April 1840 in Inveraray, Argyllshire, Scotland, Dugald Macphail came to live in Natal in 1864. He lived the life of an adventurous bachelor in Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle, the Orange Free State and on the Kimberley diamond diggings. In 1870 he visited the Dundee district and stayed with Peter Smith and his family on the farm “Dundee.”

Two years later he returned to this district and bought the farm “Craigside” at about ten shillings an acre. He married Isabella Petrie Smith, daughter of Peter Smith. Isabella died in childbirth 3 years later, leaving him with 2 young daughters. She was 22 years old and is buried in the cemetery at Talana. Two years later Dugald married Annie Susanah O”Leary from Oudtshoorn.

He joined the Buffalo Border Guard in 1873 and in 1879 as Quartermaster survived the Battle of Isandlwana. He, amongst a handful of survivors, was the last man to escape the Zulu ‘Horns” and carried word of the massacre to the little village of Dundee, then returned to Fort Pine to resume his military duties for the duration of the war. In 1882 he, together with Peter Smith, William Smith and Charles Willson, was instrumental in founding the town of Dundee.

In 1896 Dugald sold the first plots to Indian immigrants in the town. By 1898 twenty Indian families had settled here. His military career continued as a member of the Dundee Town Guard and he took part in the Battle of Talana during the Anglo Boer War, abandoning his farm which was looted by the Boers. After the war he returned to the farm, where he farmed and mined successfully. He lived in great style in his fine home on “Craigside”, after having reclaimed some of his furniture and dug up valuables from under a hydrangea bush where they had been hidden for the duration of the war.

In 1937 Dugald MacPhail was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Dundee and he lived to celebrate his 100th birthday with great ceremony in the town and on his farm, when he was presented with a magnificent set of gates at the entrance to his farm by the town of Dundee. In 1940 he enrolled as a member of the Police Reserve – the oldest reservist in the Empire and also the oldest ex-serviceman.

Dugald died in 1941 and was buried in the Smith Family graveyard at Talana, respected and revered as “Dundee’s Grand Old Man”.


The eldest son of Peter and Ann Smith, William Craighead, married Janet Gray of Cathkin. They settled on “Balgray”, a 3600 acre farm alongside “Craigside” owned by William’s brother-in-law, Dugald MacPhail. Janet bore him five sons and two daughters.

William Craighead Smith served in the Langalibele Rebellion (1873) and in the Anglo-Zulu War (1879) as a member of the Buffalo Border Guard. He received a medal and clasp for this service. He also served with the Natal Carbineers in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902), once again receiving a medal and one clasp. His son, Craighead, died in the Siege of Ladysmith.

“Balgray was a fine farm of 3 600 acres, stretching across the valley of the Sterkstroom from the heights of Impati.” There was coal in the mountain, and “Balgray” mine, like Talana and Avoca, became a money-spinner. A splendid sandstone mansion stood on a terrace of the hillside, looking across to Talana Hill and Peter Smith’s cottage. The approach was imposing – an avenue of palms, a flight of sandstone steps and a wide flagged terrace, banked with blue hydrangeas.

In 1883 he was made a Justice of the Peace, was also President of the Dundee Agricultural Society and of the Rifle Association. He died on 11 February 1907 at the age of 55 years.


Born in London, Charles Willson was only a toddler when his family landed in Natal in 1852. On his way up country in 1873, he met William Craighead Smith, who was travelling down to Durban. Smith advised him to set up a store in the Sterkstroom Valley where seven roads met; Peter Smith leased him four acres on his farm “Dundee” and the general store opened in the name of Thos. Muirhead & Co. Thirty three years later, on his way to England for his first visit back to the “Old Country”, Willson confessed that when he first came to Dundee he “hadn’t enough to buy a match”.

By 1906, when his friends held a farewell banquet at the Victoria Hotel in his honour, C.G. (as he was popularly known) was recognised as one of the “four Fathers of Dundee” and had a long record of public service. He held the Zulu War medal for his services as a sergeant with the Buffalo Border Guard in 1879 and a long service medal presented on his retirement, with the rank of Captain, from the Natal Carbineers in 1900. He had been present at the Battle of Talana and survived the Siege of Ladysmith.

A Justice of the Peace, he was also a member of the Legislative Assembly and had served Dundee’s interests diligently.

A considerable landowner, C.G. had also been a great local benefactor. He was a member of the first Town Board and Chairmanship of successive boards and he was responsible for the supply of water and electricity to early Dundee. In particular it was his representations to authority that brought the railway line through the Waschbank Valley to Glencoe junction, a matter of great importance to Dundee coal interests.

He and his wife (born Maria Lydia Sophia Schkummeketel) were deeply respected in the community. Charles Willsons’s early death at 62 in 1912 was a great loss to the district he had served.

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