A Natural Wonder
The Zambezi River
The Victoria Falls
Ecology of the Victoria Falls
Formation of the Victoria Falls
People of the Victoria Falls
Enter the Ndebele
Discovery of the Victoria Falls
In Livingstone's Footsteps
Development of the Rhodesias
Development of the Railway
Development of Tourism
Development of Victoria Falls Town
Recent History
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Footsteps Through Time - A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls

To The Victoria Falls

Development of the Victoria Falls

The First Zambezi Regatta

A large sporting celebration was organised in June 1905, sponsored by the British South Africa Company, was held to celebrate the jubilee of Livingstone's discovery of the Falls and perhaps also originally planned as part of the official opening celebrations for the Victoria Falls Bridge (the completion of which was delayed and the official opening ceremony not held until September, although the structure of the main arch was completed in April). As part of these celebrations the Zambezi Boat Club was established and held the first Zambezi International Regatta on 12 June 1905.

The Zambezi Regatta was held on a 1,000m straight reach of water between Luanda Island and the left bank, and the one-day event was attended by close to 1,000 visitors. A camp site and grandstand were set up at the finish line. Pauling and his men erected a new brick boat house, the Livingstone Boat Club (renamed after amalgamation with Kafue Boat Club in 1908 as the Zambezi Boat Club), as well as the stand and dressing-rooms.

Percy Clark recalls the event, and was less than impressed with the rush on local supplies:

Crews came from all parts of Africa to compete, and there were close on a thousand visitors altogether. The capacity of the hotel was good only for about a hundred of these, so the rest had to camp out. By the second day the hotel was cleared of beer and whiskey, and food had almost run out. I was invited by a friend to dine there. The feast was worthy of the rude fellow's grace: 'Gawd! What a meal!' I wished I had invited my friend to my own place. The service was terrible, with a wait of twenty minutes between each of the courses. These were: soup - with the taste and appearance of weak Bovril; one bony cutlet and half a potatoe; biscuits and chees with no butter. There wasn;t a scrap of butter in the hotel, no joints, no poultry. For this magnificent (!) spread we were charged seven-and-six apiece. I'd sooner have bought a marriage licence. Along the regatt course were the usual 'joints' - poker tables, 'Under and Over, 'Crown and Anchor,' canteens, and the side-shows. The concessionaires, so to call them, must have raked in pots of money.


The First Annual Zambezi Regatta Grandstand
The First Annual Zambezi Regatta Grandstand, 1905

The big race of the day was the Zambezi Four-Oared Championship, the course being one and a half miles in length. Crews from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and East London competed, and after a fine race East London came in winners with Cape Town second and Port Elizabeth third.

The Rhodesia Challenge Cup was presented by A L Lawley for competition between the Rhodesian crews. Northern Rhdesia fielded three teams of fours, from Livingstone, Kalomo (manned by Company Civil Servants) and Kafue (manned by a crew selected from Pauling's railwaymen). The race was won by Kafue, with Livingstone second. The Kalomo crew was badly handicapped by having an old and leaky boat which was sarcastically named 'The Broken Heart'. Its crew were heavyweights and totaled no less than sixty-four stone three pounds. Halfway down the course the Broken Heart started taking on water and sank. The crew and boat were rescued, and to the tune of the 'Dead March' the boat was carried away.


Zambezi Regatta The Broken Heart
The Broken Heart and Kalomo crew, shortly before abandoning the race.

In 1952 the Northern Rhodesia Journal printed details of the account of the Rev. Alan Williams, a South African Chaplain who coached and travelled with the Cape Town team. He records:

"At the request of the Cape Town committee, therefore, I started for the north on June 7th. It happened that the first Regatta ever held on the Zambezi was to take place above the Victoria Falls - on Whit-Monday, 12th June, 1905. ...

"I had always taken an interest in rowing in Table Bay and was a member of the Alfred Rowing Club, and did a good deal of coaching - and was Vice President of the club.

"This club decided to send a 'four' to the Zambezi and I travelled up with the crew, and also ... Mr Swimmer Lewis ... who was to cox the 'four' ... he did it very well, and had done a lot of rowing and was a good waterman - very necessary in a mighty river like the Zambezi. We reached Victoira Falls at dawn on Whit-Monday, and from our carriage, which had been shunted during the night and which was our home for the time being, I saw a pink tinged cloud rising above the treetops and heard the thunder of the Falls as the sun rose through the trees behind us.

"That day we all went over the unfinished bridge to the north side, on open trucks, without sides, a very foolish arrangement, for a bad jolt might have shot some of us through the open girders to the bottle-green torrent 400 feet below.

"A grandstand had been erected at a point a mile or so above the Falls on the north side, where was gathered a motley strange crowd of whites and blacks - from the Commissioner, Sire William Milton, and his party, to Lewanika, Paramount Chief of Barotseland, and his followers. He was a fine tall figure in grey flannel suit and hat - with binoculars hung over his shoulder, and a hunting crop in his hand. As he passed amongst the natives, they squatted down, clapped their hand in union and grunted, by way of Royal Salute.

"There were in addition to the Official class, miners, settlers, railway men gathered from a wide area, with thousands of natives.

"The Barotse Native Police Bugle Band discoursed music. It sounded strange to hear them play 'Come listen to this Band', a very popular tune in England at that time.

"Six fours, from Cape Town (bow J G Rose, H A Rockheart, A C Oakes and stroke Corbet Brown), Livingstone, Kalomo, East London, Port Elizabeth and Kafue competed; the race was won by East London, stroked by O G Griffiths"

The one day regatta was also notable for several 'native races', including a race of the Lozi royal barges. The 'native' crews were mostly made up of the employees of Europeans (one was comprised of BSAC employees, and another of the workers of local trader and self appointed mayor of the Old Drift, Mopane Clark. Local Tonga and Leya people, who had traditionally controlled the river crossings, were notable for their exclusion from the event, having been eclipsed by the relationship formed between the Chartered Company and the Lozi rulers.


Zambezi Regatta Native crews
'Native' crews competed against one another.

Rev Williams continues:

"The race for the Royal crews of native states was very exciting. The paddlers stood in native dugouts, some six a side and ... the cries of the natives on the banks urged their craft forward at a great pace. The crew of Chief Litia of Sesheke was the winner. It was said that Lewanika told his crew that if it did not win, he would put the lot on an island of the Zambezi on theri return, and leave them there for the benefit of the crocodiles! ...

"The next ... day, Whit-Tuesday, we all four walked across the bridge on four planks, and looked down at the river below, and saw the men working at it. On the other side, we passed a boabab tree on our way to the north end of the Falls, and also walked down the Skeleton Gorge to the brink of the river.

"At the bottom I sat on the rocks looking up to the right at the great and majestic Falls. I saw Niagara Falls in 1881, and was impressed, but I had then never seen these Falls, nor had many people at that date. There is a story of an American who, as he gazed at these Falls, was asked how they compared with Niagara. He replied 'I guess Niagara are only persperation after these'."

The Administrator at Livingstone, Robert Coryndon, had a punt imported from England, which had been launched on the Thames and which he used for the first time at the regatta. The Rhodesian Comissioner, Sir William Milton, was also in attendance.

The Evening News declared the Zambezi "our new Henley. The finest rowing waterway in the world" .


The winners of the coxed fours at the first Zambezi Regatta, 1905
The winners of the coxed fours at the first Zambezi Regatta. Left to right: G Hill (stroke), Brune-Miller (3), Colonel Carden (Judge), K B Fairbairn (bow), J Saunders (2), H E Scott (cox).

The bridge and railway engineer Varian was again involved, helping set up the course, and competing in the races, and gives a most detailed account of events:

"During the construction of the first section of the line beyond the Falls, preparations were made for a celebration of the completion of the bridge. The programme consisted of a one-day regatta, a day's racing, and a day of athletic sports, for all of which courses had to be arranged. The celebration was a great success, especially the regatta. The course for this was a mile-and-a-half in length, on a straight reach of the river between Luanda Island and the left bank. While the bridge works were in progress, Mr, Everard, assistant-engineer on the Rhodesia Railways, and I were detailed to begin a preliminary survey for a power scheme of the Falls, the initial work of which took us along the left back five miles upstream to Secuti's Drift. This was the site of Old Livingstone, before it was shifted five miles further inland to its present site near the railway. With the experience thus gained, we were able to set out the regatta course, as well as a continuous path along the river's edge for the use of trainers of the various crews.

"A mile-and-a-half of railway was built from the Maramba depot to the river, to take the boats to the water, and carry spectators to the different sports-courses, which adjoined the finishing post of the regatta course. Part of the race-course was used for the sports meeting. A camp site was also prepared for the visiting crews. Three weeks before the date set for the regatta, crews and their boats arrived from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban, and went into training.

"Meanwhile, Sir Charles Metcalfee had sent to Oxford for four-clinker-build fours, for the Rhodesian Championship, but we were only able to raise three crews: North Rhodesia, consisting of Government officials and Barotseland Police from Kalomo; Livingstone, mostly members of Paulings' staff; and Kafue, who were all construction staff, engineers, contractors and bridge, and none of whom had yet seen the Kafue River.

"The South African crews were naturally in a class of their own, so there were two major races, one for them, and one for the Rhodesians. Marsland and I, with Cumberpatch and Micklem as stroke in the Kafue boat, were all more or less lightweights, and won the Rhodesian race by a length. The Kalomo boat carried sixty-four stone with their cox, and included such giants as O'Sullivan of the Police, Skipper Swanston, and others of the same stamp. Of course, they hadn’t a chance. After paddling up a mile-and-a-half on a hot afternoon, there was a delay at 2 o'clock owing to some fault in the steam-launch that carried the umpire, Mr Marshall Hole. By this time their boat, the Bleeding Heart, which had shown very little freeboard throughout, appeared to be definitely sinking. They managed to get home before it foundered, however, and carried the much-tried craft up to the boathouse, to the strains of the Dead March.

"The Barotse, competing in their light dugout racing-canoes, provided much interest and excitement for the spectators. They had come down in great force from the upper reaches of the river, even from as far as Lealui. As there was great rivalry between the various crews, their races were keenly contested and roused terrific enthusiasm among their tribesmen ashore, which was expressed in the customary uninhibited manner of the African.

"In those days the hotel at the Falls was a small galvanized affair, quite incapable of dealing with the situation, so the hundreds of visitors from all parts of South Africa were housed in trains on the nearby sidings. A disused engine-shed, brought up from Mafeking, was suitably decorated and transformed into a dining-room. It served as such for many years, until the present palatial building was erected.

"The whole celebration was perfectly organized, and everyone assisted in whatever capacity he could. On the other side of the river, where the various crews had been camped during the preceding three weeks, the last night was a memorable one. It was bright moonlight, and huge camp fires burnt bright against the dark background of the forest and waterway beyond. After the regatta, all training suspended, eighty of us, from all parts of South Africa and Rhodesia, sat down at one long table with Robert Coryndon, the Administrator, at the head. A good time was had by all, continuing through most of the night – and so ended the first regatta on the Zambezi River. The same course was used again several years later for the world's sculling championship."

In an account published in the Northern Rhodesia Journal (1951), E Knowles Jordan recalls the evening celebrations:

"At night the boating camp dinner was served in a large marquee erected on the river bank and a convivial evening was spent. While Coryndon was making a speech, a big bull hippo, attracted by the light, swam to within a few yards of the bank and grunted loudly. After dinner, visitors and Rhodesians gathered round a large camp fire exchanging experiences and many friendships were formed. The broad river gleaming in the moonlight, the rustling palms, the distant roar of the Falls, and the occasional splash of a hippo or big fish combined to make up an African picture to be remembered for many a year."

It had been originally hoped to hold a second Zambezi Regatta the following year, 1906, but it was cancelled and appears not to have been held again until 1909.

To take the boats to the river and to carry spectators, a siding 1 1/2 miles long was constructed on the north bank from the main rail line to the river bank, for which old 45lb rails were reused. This was in use in 1908 and became known as the Regatta Spur, with passengers transported by trolleys, pushed by local muscle. (For a long time after it was used for shunting coal wagons to the railway pumping station, until the advent of electric power, when the old spur was eventually lifted.)

Livingstone Golf Course

The beautiful Edwardian clubhouse of the Livingstone Royal Golf and Country Club was built in 1908. The course was recently renovated and the new 18-hole course is set in a lush, parkland environment. The first game of golf took place in 1908 soon after Livingstone was established as the capital of what was then northwestern Rhodesia. The course was built as an 18-hole course, later redesigned by Peter Matkovich, and is set in a botanical garden with over 118 tree species providing a unique golfing experience.

Next page: Victoria Falls Power Scheme

Recommended Reading

Shepherd, G. (2008) Old Livingstone and Victoria Falls, Stenlake Publishing

Varian, H F (1953) Some African Milestones Wheatley : George Ronald. (Reprinted 1973 Books of Rhodesia).


Sun, Steel and Spray - A History of the Victoria Falls Bridge

Corridors Through Time - A History of the Victoria Falls Hotel

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'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.

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