The History of Victoria Falls

Dr. Livingstone's great gift to the Queen of England

In 1855, Scottish explorer David Livingstone came accross this magnificent waterfall while attempting to find a route to the East Coast of the African continent. Travelling south east from Luanda to Sesheke, he encountered the waterfall and named it the Victoria Falls after the British Monarch, Queen Victoria. Livingstone was led to the Falls by the Makalolo tribes people in a dug-out canoe. The mighty curtain of water that forms the Victoria Falls, is known by the locals as Mosi-oa-Tunya or the “Smoke that Thunders”.

The Smoke that Thunders

Soon after Livingstone’s reports about the Victoria Falls spread across borders, the Falls began to attract Anglo traders. A rustic trading settlement was set up on what is now the Zambian riverbank and became the original Victoria Falls town called Old Drift. The number of foreign visitors rose steadily and people walked, rode on horseback or travelled by ox-wagon from the Transvaal in South Africa to view the Falls. Malaria began to take its toll on the settlement and at the turn of the century, Old Drift was shifted to the site of the present day town of Livingstone in Zambia.

Dr Livingstone I presume...

In the fourteen years that followed his "discovery" of the Victoria Falls, Livingstone endured life-threatening hardships in the course of his exploration, including an altercation with a lion that hampered the use of one of his arms. Livingstone’s lack of contact with the outside world over a period of four years raised concerns for his welfare and prompted the New York Herald to send Henry Stanley to find him.

Stanley achieved his goal on November 10, 1871 approaching the explorer in an African village with the immortal words "Dr. Livingstone I presume".

The two struck up a friendship which was only ended when Stanley returned to England in 1872, having failed to persuade the intrepid missionary to accompany him. Dr David Livingstone died on 1 May 1873 at age 60. He had travelled some 50 000 kilometres in Africa, making a considerable contribution to the least known portion of the planet and in so doing became one of the legendary figures of Southern and Central Africa.

Victoria Falls Bridge

The Victoria Falls Bridge was built in 1905 to link what are now Zimbabwe and Zambia. The bridge was the vision of Cecil John Rhodes who wanted - perhaps somewhat impractically - the “spray of the Falls on the train carriages”. Unfortunately he died before the bridge was completed and did not visit the famous bridge. The bridge was designed by Sir Ralph Freeman who also designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Constructed from steel, the arch spans 156.50 metres, with a height of 128 metres above the Falls valley floor. Like Sydney, the bridge carries cars, trains and foot traffic and hosts the world-famous, 111 metre Shearwater Bungi Jump.

The railway encouraged the first influx of tourists to the Falls and the original Victoria Falls Hotel was constructed in 1906. 66 years later, the growing village was granted town status. A railway museum near the Falls is a good source of information for railway enthusiasts.

World Heritage

The Victoria Falls was declared as a World Heritage Site in 1989 for being one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world and when the river is in flood, the Falls are the largest curtain of falling water in the world. The Falls and the surrounding rainforest are preserved as a 23.4 kilometre National Park and form one of Zimbabwe’s four World Heritage sites.


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