HARTLEY ROAD PRIMARY SCHOOL
A Quantum Leap For Education And Training Excellence!
The History Of The Land Between Hartley & Hopelands Road Every day, hundreds of people drive up the narrow road which leads to Parklands Hospital in Overport, but few know the romantic story that lies behind the area. In Yorkshire, a hundred and fifty years ago this month, a twenty-one year old draper’s assistant, William Hartley, happened to pick up a book entitled “The New Colony of Port Natal” written by a Mr Methley. He was so fascinated by it that he read it aloud to his fiancé, Isabella Hughes. Although she had never set foot outside her home town, Leeds, she became fired by William’s enthusiasm. The couple were married on 14 November 1849, and set sail for Port Natal a fortnight later. All the money they had was $100 in gold sovereigns, a gift from William’s parents. Their ship anchored off Port Natal four months later. Isabella eyed the rough seas and said: ‘What if our boat overturns and we lose everything?’ William laughed, but his wife quietly went and sewed the gold sovereigns into her corset. The boat did overturn, and the Hartleys were washed ashore, more dead than alive, having lost all their possessions – except the sovereigns, which, weighing nearly a kilogram, could not have helped Isabella’s buoyancy. A kind citizen looked after the Hartleys and helped them find somewhere to stay; his name was Dick King.

William Hartley looked for work but could find none. So Isabella snipped four gold sovereigns out of her corset and the couple bought a plot of land in West Street for $42. Here they built a house and a grocer’s shop. In March 1854 the vessel Ariosto was wrecked on the beach where West Street ends today. Its cargo of peppercorns was piled high on the beach and began to stink. The resourceful Hartley swopped his shed for the cargo and the ship’s sails. He dried the peppercorns on the sails and sent them in bags to England where they were sold for $6000. Hartley visited England with Isabella and brought back Manchester cloth of a quality never before seen in the colony. He had soon saved $60 000, and in 1862 he daringly opened a bank, the ‘Durban bank’, issuing his own banknotes. Just ten years after he had first set foot on Natal soil, Hartley was elected as the city’s 8th Mayor. In those days the area we know as Overport was called West Hill. Hartley bought 450 acres (182 ha) of land which is today bordered by Julia, Springfield, Essenwood, and Brickfield Roads, and named the estate ‘Overport’. He had the bush cleared and planted coffee and sugar. The coffee didn’t do well, but in 1872 he was able to build Natal’s first sugar mill in South Road.
On the crest of the hill where Parklands Hospital stands today, Hartley built a lovely home called Overport House, complete with a tower so that he could pursue his hobby of astronomy. In the gracious, park like grounds, he also built two villas which he named Warley Villa (after the house in Halifax where he was born) and St Leonard Villa. During the Anglo-Boer War, when the Boers had reached Frere, the British Navy set up their long-range ship’s guns in the grounds, facing inland across the Sydenham valley so as to protect the town from possible invasion, but these guns were never fired in anger. When William Hartley died in 1911, his daughter, Mrs Annie Hope, widow of Percy Hope, inherited the property. She sold part of the land to the Education Department. St Leonard Villa served as the first school building of Overport Government Infant School, which opened on 18 September 1916 with 27 pupils and Miss Zillah Conradi as its first Principal. (‘Infant’ was later dropped from the name). Marley Villa was later demolished to make way for a small playing field. This was situated where the newest wing and driveway are today, facing on to Hartley Road.

The road to Overport House and the school entrance was named Hopelands Road in honour of Mrs Hope. When the foundations of the new school buildings were being laid down during 1918, workmen found their pickaxes hitting a large and immensely thick slab of reinforced concrete. As it would have been very costly to demolish, it was quietly left as it was. Legend has it that this slab formed the roof of William Hartley’s secret underground strong-room in which he had stored a fortune in gold before he died. Whether there is any truth in this may only be discovered when the double-storey school buildings are pulled down at some, hopefully, far distant date in the future…
In later years the school motto was ‘With Hope, Heart, and Will’. This was a pleasant series of puns, with ‘heart’ referring to Hartley, ‘hope’ referring to Mrs Annie Hope, who had kept close ties with the school until she died, and ‘will’ referring to the school’s 8th principal, Mr T. (Tug) Wilson. In February 1974, the Admistrator-in-Executive of Natal gave his permission for Overport Primary School to change its name to William Hartley Primary School. This was done partly because of the confusion which often arose with Overport S.R.S. Primary School which had opened in 1928 on the corner of Karagola Place and Silver Palm Road (it is now in West Road), and partly to honour the strong link between the first owner of this property and the City of Durban. The writer was the first Principal of the newly-named school. The new badge contained a lion ‘rampant’, this being an exact copy of the lion on the Durban Coat of Arms, for which special permission had been obtained from the Town Clerk. The old motto was now combined into the single word ’Courage’. Sadly, the Government’s apartheid policy resulted in the school’s numbers dwindling until it became uneconomic to continue. William Hartley Primary School closed down in 1988, its last Principal being Mr R.B. Blore. During the decade following, the Durban Music School occupied the premises (BY PATRICK COYNE).


In 1998 the Hartley Road Primary School was opened when two state-aided islamic schools namely Anjuman Primary School closed and Orient Islamic School privatized. In 2000, Mr. I Saib was appointed as the principal. The school had made a quantum leap in education and training excellence. There has been phenomenal changes in the quality of education, infrastructure and parent and community networks. Today, the school can be hailed as one of the best schools in the Durban Central Circuit. Meanwhile, the little houses in Hopelands Road have gradually been taken over by Parklands Hospital and the Medical Centre. William Hartley, who delighted in any progress which was to the good of Durban, would no doubt be proud that his old property is now occupied by citizens called to carry the lamps of learning and healing (BY: M. K. SEEDAT)