To The Victoria Falls
In Livingstone's Footsteps
The following text is adapted from 'Footsteps Through Time - A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls', researched and written by Peter Roberts and published in 2017. Please visit the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.
Many followed in Livingstone’s footsteps to the Falls - explorers, missionaries, hunters, prospectors and traders - travelling via different routes and means. The names of some are forgotten, whilst others published detailed written accounts of their travels. Some returned with dramatic tales of survival against adversity - and some simply failed to return at all.
Sir Richard George Glyn, with his younger brother Robert and friends, travelled to the Falls in 1863, inspired by Livingstone’s Missionary Travels. Sir Richard kept a diary of his four-and-a-half month journey from Durban, and hunting played a significant role in their plans, lured by tall tales of wild animals and places where “a man could shoot until his arm grew too tired to lift his rifle and not make a dent in their masses.” By 1863, however, the herds were rapidly declining after three decades of uncontrolled hunting, especially in the areas south of the Zambezi, Sir Richard noting in his diary that “the country is covered with skulls of wildebeest.”
Green, writing in 1968, considered Sir Richard and his party the first tourists to the Falls, as they were neither professional hunters nor traders. Arriving at the Zambezi River two-and-a-half kilometres upriver, opposite an uninhabited island, they reached sight of the Falls in July 1863. Sir Richard recorded their arrival:
“Started with the first light, and soon we heard a distant roar, which we knew to be the falls. Three hours toiling over thirsty sand, through forest - brought us to the edge of the plateau, and far away to the north-east we could see the tall pillars of vapour rising over the trees and marking the spot we had come so many thousand miles to see. As we stood to admire, lo! six bull elephants appeared on the opposite cliffs. Quietly they tore up a great tree and fed on the leaves. As if they knew that they had chosen the only place in southern Africa where they would not be made to feel the weight of our bullets for, for 40 miles [64.4 km] or more down, nothing with-out wings can scale the cliffs and cross the stream of the boiling Zambezi.” (van Riel, 2008)
When Sir Richard and his party arrived on Livingstone Island they found the initials of the Livingstone brothers and Baldwin were nearly grown out:
“Livingstone’s garden, though strongly fenced, has been breached in many places by the seacows [hippopotami], and is nothing but a mass of rank grass. I could only find the stump of one peach tree. We found his and Baldwin’s initials nearly grown out, so re-cut them, and inscribed ‘Glyn 1863’ by their side.” (Glyn, 1863)
Thomas Leask, a hunter from Natal, arrived at the Falls in July 1869.
“In his diary he tells several stories regarding Livingstone which he had heard from native sources. How Livingstone crossed the Falls with the aid of pieces if string and calico - presumably an exaggerated version of the measurement of the Falls. How Livingstone was able to make people die at will and bring them back to life again and how he was able to walk on water - all stories showing the awe in which Livingstone was held.” (Clark, 1952)
The German explorer Edward Mohr visited the waterfall in June 1870 and is credited with naming the Rainforest. Mohr was overawed by the Falls:
“It seemed to me as if my own identity were swallowed up in the surrounding glory, the voice of which rolled on forever, like the waves of eternity... But I threw down my pen. No human being can describe the infinite; and what I saw was part of infinity made visible and framed in beauty.” (Mohr, 1876)
By 1870 twenty-five Europeans are known to have visited the Falls, but there were undoubtedly others whose names have been lost. Over two years, 1874 and 1875, however, these numbers doubled, an indication of the rate at which the area was being drawn into the sphere of European activity.
Frank Oates, uncle of the heroic Lawrence Oates (member of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic), arrived at the Falls on New Year’s Day 1875. Oates was one of the first European to see the Falls in full flood, but succumbed to fever on the return journey, sadly without updating his journal.
Last of the Big Game Hunters
Frederick Courtney Selous, the British explorer, hunter and pioneer conservationist, visited the Falls for this first time in June 1874, returning in October 1877.
“One stands... on the very verge of the chasm, on a level with the river above, and only separated from the cataract by the breadth of the opening... into which it dashes, so that when a sudden puff of wind blows away the spray immediately in front one sees the beautiful blue river, studded with thickly-wooded, palm bearing islands, seemingly as still and quiet as a lake, flowing tranquilly on heedless of its coming danger, till with a crash it leaps in one splendid mass of fleecy, white foam into an abyss. At whatever part one looks the rays of the sun, shining on the descending masses of foam, form a double zone of prismatic colours, of whose depth and brilliancy no one who has only seen the comparatively faint tints of an ordinary rainbow can form any conception. Such are the Victoria Falls - one of, if not the, most transcendentally beautiful natural phenomena on this side of paradise.” (Selous, 1881)
Selous was struck by the wealth of wildlife inhabiting the Rainforest:
“This damp and shady retreat forms (especially during the hot weather) a favourite resort of elephant and buffalo, besides water-buck, koodoo [kudu], impala, etc. The fresh spoor showed us that a herd of buffaloes had not long left before our arrival, and the huge footprints of elephants and hippopotami bore evidence that some of these animals had also been here very recently.” (Selous, 1881)
F C Selous, relaxing on hunting trip
Returning to the Falls a third time from October to December 1888, Selous recorded a different scene.
“On this occasion he rode a horse along the narrow strip of open ground between the Rain Forest and the Chasm, and he alludes to the fact that buffalo, which travellers after Livingstone, including Baldwin, Baines, Chapman and himself, had found so plentiful only a few years earlier, had now practically disappeared from the vicinity of the Falls.” (Southern Rhodesia Publicity Office, 1938)
Selous was described by Roosevelt as ‘the last of the big game hunters,’ but as early as 1881 even Selous was lamenting the decline of the elephant herds.
“I had already spent ten years of my life elephant hunting in the interior and every year elephants were becoming scarcer and wilder south of the Zambezi so that it had become impossible to make a living by hunting at all.” (Selous, 1881)
He also expressed concern about the reduction in the number of white rhinoceros from his experiences on the Chobe River, where in 1874 the animal had been a common sight. In 1877 only tracks could be found and by 1879 even those had disappeared. The conclusion was inevitable; “it must be almost extinct in that portion of the country” (Selous, 1881). He repeated his misgivings in 1893, convinced that the species was “upon the verge of extinction... some few white rhinoceroses no doubt still survive, but it is not too much to say that long before the close of the century the white rhinoceros will have vanished from the face of the earth” (Selous, 1893).
Another visitor to the Falls was Richard Frewin, who arrived in August 1877 and commented that it was a great pity that so very few people would ever see them.
“There may be a few energetic travellers who come up to visit them, but I don’t think they will ever be the resort of the ordinary traveller. This part of Africa will never support a railway, and the travelling by ox-wagon, its difficulties, troubles, fatigue and endurance of hardships will never suit a Cockney or a cotton-wool traveller.” (Southern Rhodesia Publicity Office, 1938)
Many others followed, including the Portuguese explorer Major Serpa Pinto, who passed by in November 1878. Not everyone was enamoured by the wonder of the Falls, Pinto recording:
“Mozi-oa-tunia is sublimely horrible. That enormous gulf, black as is the basalt which forms it, dark and dense as the cloud which enwraps it, would have been chosen, if known in biblical times, as an image of the infernal regions, a hell of water and darkness, more terrible perhaps than the hell of fire and light.” (Pinto, 1881)
Francis Harold Watson was another trader who organised expeditions to the Zambezi. Watson was also a photographer, taking a series of photographic images of the Falls in 1891 (Hoole, undated). Lionel Decle, a Frenchman who visited the Falls in 1891, wrote:
“I expected to find something superb, grand, marvellous. I had never been so disappointed... It is hell itself, a corner of which seems to open at your feet; a dark and terrible hell, from the middle of which you expect every moment to see some repulsive monster rising in anger.” (Decle, 1898)
Bethell, A J (1887) Notes on South African Hunting and Notes on a Ride to Victoria Falls of the Zambesi. Sampson, York.
Decle L (1898) Three Years in Savage Africa London.
Gibbons A St H (1897) Explorations and Hunting in Central Africa. Methun, London.
Gibbons A St H (1904) Africa from South to North. Through Marotseland. Lane, London.
Holub Emil (1881) Seven Years in South Africa. Travels, Researches and Hunting Adventures, Between the Diamond-Fields and the Zambesi, 1872-79 London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, (reprinted Johannesburg: Africana Book Society 1976)
Mohr, Edward (1876), To the Victoria Falls of the Zambesi, translated by N. D'Anvers. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivingston, London (Rhodesia Reprint Library, V28)
Oates, Frank (1881) Matabele Land and the Victoria Falls: A Naturalist's Wanderings in the Interior of South Africa. C.G. Oates, editor. London: C. Kegan Paul and Company.
Pinto, S (1881) How I crossed Africa; from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, through unknown countries London
Sampson, R. (1956) They Came to Northern Rhodesia. Being a record of persons who had entered what is now the Territory of Northern Rhodesia by 31st December, 1902. Lusaka: Northern Rhodesia Government
Selous, Frederick Couteney (1881), A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa. London. (Rhodesia Reprint Library, Vol 14. Books of Rhodesia, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Selous, Frederick Couteney (1893) Travel and Adventure in South-East Africa Being the Narrative of the Last Eleven Years Spent by the Author on the Zambesi and its Tributaries, with an Account of the Colonisation of Mashunaland and the Progress of the Gold Industry in that Country. London: Rowland Ward and Co.
'To The Victoria Falls' aims to bring you the wonder of the Victoria Falls through a look at its natural and human history.
This website has been developed using information researched from a wide variety of sources, including books, magazines and websites etc too numerous to mention or credit individually, although many key references are identified on our References page. Many of the images contained in this website have been sourced from old photographic postcards and publications and no infringement of copyright is intended. We warmly welcome any donations of photographs or information to this website.
Website text © Copyright Peter Roberts 2012, All Rights Reserved.
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