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Landmark oldest house in Durban sold for first time in 46 years

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The famous “Elephant House”, the oldest house in Durban, built in 1849 when the first 600 settlers arrived, has been sold for the first time in 46-years by Rosh Naidoo, an agent with Seeff Berea.

The house is a national monument and comes with an incredible story of the origin of what is today the City of Durban, says Roger Hoaten, licensee for Seeff Berea.

According to the seller, Brian Agar, the house was built before the discovery of diamonds and gold in South Africa and has survived the wars with Zulus and British and Dutch and the two great South African Wars while around it, a massive city of several million people has developed.

The incredible story of the property starts with the Milner brothers, Henry, Philip and Thomas, who built the house as a weekend hunting lodge, but it was soon sold as a family home. While the rest of the settlers built their small homes around the bay, the brothers built their home on the highest point of what is today Ridge Road on the Berea Ridge overlooking Jameson Park and the Indian Ocean.

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Before they could build, they had to clear the thick bushes and did not realise there were elephants in the area. During the course of building, they discovered elephants had attacked the building materials. There was a subsequent attack when the building was further along, but eventually, the curiosity passed and the elephants left the house alone. That, says Agar, is how the house got the name, “Elephant House”.

It is a well-known landmark and popular tourist stopover. Although built by a master builder who came to Natal with the brothers, indigenous bricks and mortar were used along with many interesting materials such as the French doors, shutters and windows brought over on the sailing ship, the Sarah Bell.

It is in a typical colonial style of the mid-1800s with a wrap-around veranda. Shutters were used as a cooling against the subtropical heat and humidity. The wooden pillars on the veranda which hold up the roof are old and strong Oregon Pine and were at one time damaged by the elephants, says Agar further.

There are also numerous artefacts which make up the character of the property including a canon from the ship Aristoto which was wrecked on Back Beach (now Addington), in 1854. Edward Snell bought the house in 1857, with the ship and her cargo. He would fire the cannon every New Year’s Eve.

In 1883, the home was purchased by Alexander Murchie and remained in the hands of that family until 1976 when it was acquired and restored by the seller, Brian Agar, an Attorneys. He had initially wanted to demolish it, but upon learning of its history decided to retain the legend of “Elephant House” and it was declared a National Monument on the 25 August 1978. During the course of restoration and in the time the Agars’ have spent in the house some interesting artefacts were discovered.

Hoaten says this is one of the most unique properties in Durban and it offers a tranquil respite in the middle of a busy city. It is spacious with four bedrooms, a huge kitchen and open-plan lounge and dining area, a carport plus additional parking for three cars, a garden cottage, outdoor laundry and staff accommodation. There is solid wooden flooring in the rooms. It was listed for R2.5 million.

It was a challenging property to market given its discerning appeal, but Agar, who is an attorney has commended the agent for achieving the sale.

The property enjoys an outstanding location and Mr Hoaten says the Morningside/Berea are is always in demand due to the location, lifestyle and access to top-class schools and amenities. Durban is a bustling city and remains the second biggest contributor to the national GDP. The property market is currently very active as buyers look to take advantage of the low interest rate and favourable mortgage loan climate. It is also attracting many buyers looking to migrate to the city for the coastal lifestyle.

According to the agent, Ms Rosh Naidoo, the property has been purchased for residential purposes, although it is of course also ideal for guests.

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