Durban’s Old Court House Museum is the oldest public building in the central business district. Built in 1866 as a courthouse, the building subsequently served as a canteen and recruitment centre during the two world wars, then as a library, before taking on its current role as a history museum.

Did you know?

During the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the Old Court House building was loop-holed (narrow vertical windows were built) to fortify the structure.

The building comprises two storeys of exhibition rooms that chronicle Durban’s early history and the people who carved out the future of the early Natal colony.

During its long history the museum has witnessed the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the Anglo-Boer wars, the Bambatha uprising (a Zulu rebellion against British rule and taxes in 1906) and two World Wars.

Located in the city block behind the Durban City Hall, the courthouse was often visited by Mahatma Gandhi as a young lawyer practising in Durban. It was here, too, that Gandhi was asked by a judge to leave the court for wearing a turban. Gandhi refused and defended his action by saying that removal of headgear was a sign of disrespect in the Indian culture. The incident was subsequently reported in the Natal Advertiser.

The entrance foyer features various collections, including an extensive miniature-car display. Rare art deco and art nouveau pieces displayed here would be of particular interest to aficionados.

Inside the Old Court House Museum, the Durban Room features four permanent exhibits: the David SB Anderson Pharmacy, featuring a mannequin representing David Anderson behind his pharmacy counter where he fulfilled the role of clinician, pharmacist and general practitioner; Henry Francis Fynn's Cottage with its thatched roof and walls of clay; the Clairmont Sugar Mill – including an early sugar-cane press; and the Miss Fann Fancy Repository, which displays fine imported fabrics, haberdashery and the type of luxury items available in Durban at the end of the 19th century.

The Daphne Strutt Costume Room is a circular room with glass display cases containing 20 th-century fashion and accessories such as cigarette cases, bags, shoes, jewellery and hats of the day.

The Movers and Shakers exhibition features miniature figurines representing characters who played a significant role in KwaZulu-Natal's history. These include Mahatma Gandhi, Sir Benjamin d'Urban, Shaka Zulu, Isaiah Shembe, Albert Luthuli, Papwa Sewgolum and Dick King. A touch-screen display introduces visitors to a chronicle of the province's history by focusing on the lives of these personalities.

Should you be interested in a comprehensive insight into Durban’s history, researchers are welcome to view photographs and documents in a dedicated upstairs section of the museum.

Postcards and other small mementoes are for sale in the foyer as you complete the tour.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Old Court House Museum
Tel: +27 (0)31 311 2229

How to get here

From the beachfront drive up Anton Lembede Street (Smith Street) towards the Durban City Hall. You will come upon a large glass office building on your left at the intersection with Samora Machel Street. Turn right and the museum is on your left-hand side, number 77 Samora Machel Street. There is parking outside for a limited time only, or park in one of the parkades nearby, such as the Royal Hotel parking garage.

Best time to visit

Monday to Saturday 8.30am to 4pm; Sundays and public holidays 11am to 4pm.

Around the area

Across the road to the west is the Playhouse theatre and to the north is the library and Durban City Hall.

Get around

Durban's public People Mover buses stop outside the Playhouse theatre across the road.

What will it cost

Entrance is free.

Where to stay

There are a number of accommodation options in Durban, from budget to luxury.

Best buys

Postcards and mementos.