The Societyâ€™s leading members also played an instrumental role in the establishment of a university, the country’s largest agricultural society show, a philharmonic society and a dramatic arts society.
Today the Natal Society Foundation continues the original aims of the Society “the general encouragement of habits of study, investigation and researchâ€ by publishing Natalia, maintaining a specialist library, and providing funding to support scholarship, research and publications.
The Natal Society Foundation’s Special Collections Library comprises three collections of books, photographs, documents and maps bequeathed to the Society since 1851:
A large Africana Collection which includes many books, pamphlets, maps and photographs of early colonial Natal featuring both prominent personalities such as Bishop Colenso and Theophilus Shepstone as well as the life and fortunes of the Zulu, Indian and settler inhabitants of the former colony;
The very large OBrien Collection of Victorian literature (novels, poetry, plays), natural history, ethnography, geography, history, social studies, and religion; and
The smaller Hattersley Collection of early 20th Century Nataliana, history, politics and general literature;
When the Natal Society Library was transferred to the Pietermaritzburg (Msunduzi) municipality in 2004, the Natal Society moved its bequeathed Special Collections Library to the Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archives at the University of KwaZulu Natal.
There the books, on loan to the Centre, have been re-catalogued, curated, restored (where necessary), and made available for consultation by students and researchers from South Africa and overseas. The more than 14 000 books in the three collections occupy some 375 metres of shelving in four rooms at the Centre. The Special Collections Library is of particular value to researchers as it is one of Africa’s larger Victorian literature collections and contains many rare items.