(Written by A. Faure-Field, WBHS History Department)
Today, Wednesday 3 March 2016, at Westville Boys’ High School, an offshoot of the historic Natal fig tree – christened by locals as The Outspan Tree- was planted.
The Outspan Tree is synonymous to the early history of Westville. It was here – in the shade of the massive branches of The Outspan tree, that the early traders, winding their way from the recently created settlement of Port Natal to new opportunities in the interior, would outspan their wagons after a hard day’s travel (a mere 12kms!) and rest before continuing on their travels the following day.
In time a road – in fact a cattle track – was forged. This road would, a century later, be named after Jan Smuts’s Deputy Prime Minister in Union of South Africa Government, Jan Hofmeyr. (From the 1840’s until after the Second World War when the M13 was built, the road winding its way past The Outspan Tree remained the main route between Durban and Johannesburg).
Some rather famous individuals have enjoyed the shade offered by The Outspan Tree. Among them were: Bishop Colenso – the Natal Midlands town was named after him; Theophilus Shepstone- for many years a civil servant within the Colony of Natal’s Government; the German philosopher Carl Mauch; the artist Thomas Baines – as well as regiments from the Natal Light Infantry and the Natal Mounted Rifles.
During the 1840’s an Englishman, Edmund Morewood, bought the land around The Outspan Tree and named the farm Wandsbeck. He soon sold his farm to Jonas Bergthiel.
As the 19thcentury drew to a close the farms in the area now known as Westville continued to be subdivided. The small municipality of Westville was beginning to take shape.
In 1957 an English prospector, believing the rumour that there was Boer War gold buried among the roots of The Outspan tree, was granted permission by the Westville Municipality to dig for the long lost gold. Needless to say no gold was found. However, The Outspan Tree, which had witnessed so much human interference in recent decades, keeled over and died.
The story of The Outspan tree has a happy ending. If rumour is to be believed, an offshoot at the same spot grew out of the ground. It is this Outspan Tree that watches over Jan Hofmeyr Avenue and what was once Wandsbeck Farm.
Today The Outspan Tree continues to be a focal point in the History of Westville:
-It is where our town began
-It is on the badges of many of the schools and societies of Westville.
-It is referred to in the school song of Westville Boys’ High School
-It sits proudly on the Westville Municipal coat of arms.
As we plant this sapling today, I am confident that in the years to come this young tree will witness as much History as its predecessors!