Newcastle was the fourth town established in KwaZulu-Natal after Durban, Weenen and Pietermaritzburg and was named after the British Colonial Secretary, The Duke of Newcastle.

It was founded in 1864 as a trade and administrative centre for the most northerly part of KwaZulu-Natal.

There was much fighting in the vicinity of Newcastle during the Anglo-Boer War and the town was used as a depot by the British Army.

The battlefields of Majuba, Laing's Nek and Ingogo lie near the town.

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