The town began as a makeshift harbour that was set up by Commodore of the Cape, Sir Frederick Richards during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. In 1935 the Richards Bay Game Sanctuary was created to protect the ecology around the lagoon and later by 1943 it expanded into the Richards Bay Park. The town was laid-out on the shores of the lagoon in 1954 and proclaimed a town in 1969. In 1976 Richards Bay harbour was converted into a deep water harbour with railway and an oil/gas pipeline linking the port to Johannesburg.
The South African Government decided in 1965 to build a deep¬sea harbour at Richards Bay, about 180 kilometres north of Durban. Construction work began in 1972 and four years later, on 1 April 1976, the new harbour was opened. The residential area of Richards Bay developed north of the harbour. Meerensee, started in 1970, was the first suburb. It was followed by Arboretum in 1975 and Veld¬en¬Vlei in 1980. All three suburbs catered exclusively for Whites in accordance with the existing laws of apartheid. A township for Blacks was developed at Esikhaweni, fifteen kilometres south of Richards Bay. Residential areas for Indians and people of mixed blood were opened after 1985 west of Veld¬en¬Vlei. All the suburbs of Richards Bay together (excluding the black township of Esikhaweni) had a population of about 20 000 in 1990.
The parish priest of Kwambonambi celebrated Mass twice a month in a private home and later, from 1973, in the Meerensee Primary School. There were few Catholics in Richards Bay in the beginning, but their number increased steadily with the development of the town. The parish priest of Empangeni took over the pastoral care of these Catholics after a new road link between Empangeni and Richards Bay had been completed at the end of 1974. He introduced a weekly Mass which was held in the Methodist Church in Meerensee and later in the Primary School in Arboretum. The Diocese of Eshowe had in the meanwhile bought a church¬site