Although not the first of the Portuguese explorers to travel the coasts of South Africa, Bartholomeu Diaz made it round the Cape before his crew decided enough was enough, Vasco Da Gama was the first to reach the shores of Natal.
Born in 1460/69 on the southwest coast of Portugal, Da Gama was one of the most successful explorers of the age and commanded the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India, he was also Governor of Portuguese India under the title of Viceroy.
On the 8 July 1497, Da Gama left the port of Lisbon and set sail in the carrack “Sao Gabriel” along with 3 other ships. He followed the routes pioneered by earlier explorers along the coast of Africa, reaching the African coast on 4th November 1497 after 3 months and 6000 miles of open ocean sailing.
On Christmas Day of 1497, Da Gama’s armada sighted the east coast of Africa and named the are “Natal” which is derived from the Portuguese word for Christmas. Two days later Da Gama anchored in a protected bay he promptly named “Port Natal”.
Da Gama had nothing more to do with Africa and after a stint with piracy, returned home in September 1499. For the most part, the only Portuguese sailors to land at Natal were the survivors of shipwrecks.
In 1898 the Portuguese community presented a monument to Durban called the “Da Gama Clock” which commemorated Da Gama’s discovery of Natal. In 1969 the Portuguese ambassador unveiled a plaque near the Da Gama Clock celebrating the 500th anniversary of Da Gama’s birth.