- Richard was 8 years old according to M D Nash in The Settlers Handbook. That would put his birth at approximately 1811 since the lists of Settlers were compiled prior to the ships leaving at the beginning of 1820. However, other references state 1813. He went to live in Natal at the age of 15.
The Natal Mercury [no date] thus refers to the death of Mr R King, brother to Mr Andrew King of this city: "We regret very much to have to report the death....of one of the pioneers in civilization in Natal, Mr Richard King. This melancholy event occurred yesterday morning at Mr King's residence at the Isipingo...In the earliest days of European settlement here [in Natal] he took an active part, but the fact which will forever link his name with the history of this Colony, is his ride from Durban to Grahamstown...."
Dick King was seven when he arrived in the hot dry land of South Africa with his parents and the other 1820 Settlers. The family settled near Bathurst. At the age of fifteen, eager for adventure, Dick King ran away to Port Natal (the original name of Durban) which was at that time only a small trading post. Here he traded with the Zulus, learnt their language, and hunted elephant. When the first exploring group of Voortrekkers arrived, led by Piet Uys, it was King who rode to talk with Dingaan and returned with Dingaans promise of land.
Working as a wagon-driver in Natal for the missionary Allen Gardiner, and later for the Reverend Francis Owen, King became familiar with the tracks, hills, rivers and peoples of the area, a knowledge which was to prove invaluable. It was a rugged dangerous land, and already the English settlers were nervous of the Zulus. They started to build a fort, and Alexander Biggar organised the Port Natal Volunteers, in which regiment King was a lieutenant. When in 1835 the settlers planned to establish their first town, to be called D'Urban (after the Governor of the Cape), King could not promise any money, for he was not a rich man. Instead he gave a weeks work.
War with the Zulus
In February 1838 came the chilling news of the murder of Piet Retief and his party in Dingaans kraal. Dick King felt that the other Boers camping by the Bloukrans River must be warned. He set out on foot from Port Natal, covering almost two hundred kilometres in four days and nights. But he was too late. The Zulu impis had struck in a night attack and hundreds of unsuspecting trekkers had been stabbed to death.
Eventually Dingaans power was broken by the Boers at Blood River, on 16 December 1838, and on the same day, Major Charters hoisted the British flag at Port Natal. A year later, however, the British left, and the Boers set up the new Republic of Natalia. King, at heart a British patriot, was glad when the British Government decided to annex Natal in 1842, and Captain Thomas Smith was sent with troops to occupy the port.
British besieged at Port Natal, 1842
In response to the invasion, Andries Pretorius encamped his Boer force at Congella and determined to resist. Captain Smith tried a night attack, but bungled it so badly, and so noisily, that it was the watchful Boers who surprised and overcame him instead. Thereupon the British troops took refuge in the fort and a siege began. It was clear they could not hold out longer than about a month. George Cato, the Mayor of Port Natal, therefore asked Dick King to ride to Grahamstown for help. King agreed and was given a fine bay horse called Somerset to ride. Once a British officers horse, it had been used by Pretorius at Blood River. Now it had been stolen and returned to the British. Accompanying King, on a grey horse, was his sixteen-year-old Zulu servant, Ndongeni.
The long ride to Grahamstown
On the night of 25 May 1842, the Cato brothers helped King and Ndongeni across Durban Bay in a rowing boat with the horses swimming behind. Arriving at last on the other side, they persuaded a coloured woman to wipe out their hoof-prints by dragging branches across them, and they started to ride. For the first hundred and sixty kilometres King dared only travel at night. In the course of their journey they swam what seemed the best part of two hundred rivers, facing the double risk of attack from crocodiles and being swept away by the strong currents. In the forests there was the danger of lions. At Buntingville, a mission station in Pondoland, Ndongeni could go no further. Riding without stirrups, his legs were raw and bleeding. Sadly, King bade him farewell and continued his nightmare ride. In the village of Butterworth he rested for a few hours, and then forced himself to go on. Eighty kilometres from Grahamstown he collapsed and fell from his horse in a fever and lay for two days too ill to move. At length he recovered sufficiently to continue, and his faithful Somerset carried him, worn-out, dust-caked, into Grahamstown. He had covered nine hundred and sixty kilometres in ten days - a journey usually taking seventeen days.
King went straight to Colonel Hare without stopping to eat or rest. Gasping "My horse . . . look after Somerset!" he collapsed while Hare was reading the sweat-stained despatch. But the gallant Somerset was already dead from exhaustion. British honour was now at stake. For the first time, the Boers had dared oppose British military power. Troops were sent at once by sea to relieve Durban, and exactly one month after Dick King had started that desperate ride, he re-entered Durban Bay aboard the Conch. The Boers withdrew, and the British garrison, more troubled by hunger than by war, greeted the relief force thankfully. That morning Captain Smiths breakfast had been one dead crow.
Family life as a farmer
The grateful British gave Dick King a sugar farm at Isipingo, where Ndongeni rejoined him. Aged forty-one, King married Clara Noon, niece of another British settler, and they had seven children. The statue that now stands on the Marine Parade, Durban, is a fitting tribute to the modest man who insisted, "I only did what any other man would do for his country".
Richard Philip King
Born in Gloucestershire, England - 26 November 1811
Arrived in Algoa Bay aboard Kennersley Castle - May 1820
Wagon-driver for Captain Allen Gardiner in Natal - 1828
Walked from Port Natal to Bloukrans River to warn the Boers of Zulu treachery - February 1838
Started his ride to Grahamstown - 25 May 1842
Arrived back at Port Natal with the relief force - 26 June 1842
Married Clara Jane Noon - 1852
Set up a sugarmill near Isipingo Beach - 1859
Died at Isipingo, Natal - 10 November 1871
Books to read:
"Dick King, Saviour of Natal" by C.J. Eyre is the fullest account of Kings story.
A good summary is in "Footprints in Time - Natal" by I.L. Perrett (McGraw-Hill).
The story of the ride is also in "Bravery in South Africa" by Kay Schroeder (Nasou).
"South Africa Our Land Our People" by Fay Jaff (Timmins).
" This Africa of Ours" by Michael McNeile (McAlan).
"Heroes of South Africa" by Ken Anderson (Donker).
An exciting childrens novel on the life of the settlers near Grahamstown is "Strangers in the Land" by Jenny Seed (Hamis H Hamilton).
Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa vol. 6, p. 396.
Dictionary of South African Biography vol. II, p. 364.
Information taken from DICK KING: SAVIOUR OF NATAL An Historical record
by CYRIL J EYRE. First published in 1932
On Saturday, IIth November, 1871, at 4.30 p.m., the remains of Dick King were interred in the Isipingo cemetery. The late Venerable Archdeacon Lloyd, the Colonial Chaplain, conducted the burial service. It is stated that about seventy Europeans and a considerable number of natives attended at the graveside.
He left a wife and seven children, three boys and four girls, to mourn his loss.
Miss Maria Recordonza King, born 19th February, 1856, was married to Thomas A. Rance, Esq. They lived in Dorset, England Two children, son and daughter. The son passed away some years ago.
Richard Philip Henry King, Esq., born 22nd October, 1858, was married to Miss F. S. King, of London, on 16th August, 1894. Three daughters. Is a J.P. and one of the early pioneers of the Rand (1886), being the original representative of the Beckett Syndicate. Was Vice-President of the Rand Pioneers in the Transvaal, and a foundation member of the Stock Exchange. He resided at Manderston, Natal.
Miss Clara Elvira King, born 13th November, 1861, was married to Dr. Richmond Allan at Durban on 21st June, 1882. One daughter. Mrs Allan passed away on the 3rd November, 1925, in her sixty-fourth year, and was interred beside her father in the Isipingo cemetery. Dr. Allan was practising for some time in Pietermaritzburg and England. He resided at Pinetown.
Francis Richard King, Esq., born March, 1863, was married to Miss H. Lyle, of Devonshire, England. Was a farmer for many years at Ixopo. He resided at "King's Rest," Isipingo Beach.
Miss Georgina Adelaide King, born about 1865, was married to E. Y. Peel, Esq., of Ixopo, Natal. Three daughters.
Miss Catherine Agnes King, born about 1867, was married to R. H. Tatham, Esq., of Johannesburg. Two sons.
Charles Richard King, Esq., born 7th July, 1870, married Miss Florence S. Stiebel, of Durban. Eight sons and one daughter. Farmer at Vaal- bank, near Kinross, Transvaal. Mr. King passed away on 3rd July, 1930.
Mrs Richard "Dick" Philip King, surviving her late husband, afterwards married Mr J H Russel, who was Secretary and General Manger of Railways in Natal. He and Mrs Russel retired to Exmouth, England where she passed away on 2rd December 1908 and Mr Russel passed away on 24th September 1913.