Dundee was established in 1882 after the discovery of coal close to the surface by the Boer farmers. It is named after the hometown of a pioneering Scottishsettler, Peter Smith. At first, Dundee was a farm (Talana farm), the property of Peter Smith, which he had bought from a Voortrekker settler, Mr Dekker. Three other men are credited with the founding of Dundee; his son William Craighead Smith, son in-law Dugald McPhail, and close family friend Charles Wilson.
The town lies nestled in a valley of the picturesque Biggarsberg and is surrounded by historical remarkable mountains of “Indumeni” (where the thunder rolls), “Mpati” (The place of good waters), and “Talana” (The shelf where precious items are kept). Dundee has trails of the San people that lived here about 4 000 – 5 000 years ago. Evidence of this is to be found in lifestyle and rock paintings in several caves and shelters.
Peter Smith, a Scottish settler started sending wagonloads of coal, which was discovered close to the surface, to be sold in Pietermaritzburg. This started the coal mining industry in Natal.
The first geological survey of the Natal coalfields was made in 1880 and proved that there were workable coal deposits.
In 1882 a town was laid out and named after Smith’s Scottish hometown Dundee.
Smith, with partners Dougald McPhail and Charles Wilson, floated the Dundee Coal and Estate Company on the London Stock Exchange in 1899.
The British start massing troops at Dundee and was given an ultimatum by the Boers to retreat with the troops. On 20 October 1899, the first shots of the Second Boer War were fired. The news of this battle hit the headlines in Britain as the "Battle of Glencoe", which was corrected the following day to the "Battle of Dundee" and on the third day to the "Battle of Talana." It was on the slopes of Talana Hill that the British army troops wore khaki uniforms for the first time in battle; it is also notable as the first indisputable use of indirect fire in modern warfare, and the tactic as applied by Boer field artillery had a devastating effect. After the battle, the British troops retreated to Ladysmith and Boer forces occupied the town, renaming it Meyersdorp. This occupation lasted seven months. Dundee was relieved after the battle of Helpmekaar in May 1900.
Boers watch the fighting at Dundee in 1899
The town's folk who had left before or shortly after the battle returned and the town began to flourish again. Dundee soon emerged as a boomtown graced with stately homes and the first theatre north of Port Natal (Durban).
Pioneer traders from the Indian sub-continent settled here during the following decade, when Dundee became the meeting place of seven roads into the hinterland and coast of Africa.