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

Discovery of the Victoria Falls

In Livingstone's Footsteps : The Missionaries

In 1820, Robert Moffat, a missionary in the service of the London Missionary Society established a pioneer mission station at Kuruman among the Bechuana people, the first step in the movement of missionaries northward which continued until Coillard and his Paris Missionary Society party had been established through the assistance of Westbeech in the Barotse Valley, in what is now Zambia.

Mackintosh (1922) introduces the history of early missionary work in the Zambezi:

The country of Barotseland (now a part of Northern Rhodesia) was first explored by Livingstone and described in his Travels on the Upper Zambesi. In 1858, in response to his urgent appeal, the London Missionary Society sent an expedition to evangelize the inhabitants, but on their arrival all its members but one died, it is believed from poison. From that time the country was closed to European adventure until in 1878 it was penetrated by Serpa Pinto from Portuguese West Africa, and the same year the expedition of the French Protestant Church in Basutoland, led by the Rev. Francois and Mme. Coillard, arrived from the South via Matabeleland. They obtained permission to establish a Mission there; and this was eventually founded first at Sesheke and then at Lealui in 1885, by the Coillards, the Rev. D. and Mme. Jeanmairet and Waddell, a Scotch cabinet-maker. The door had meanwhile been held open by Frederick Stanley Arnot, who afterwards passed on to the North and founded a work in the Va-Lovale country

The Makalolo Mission

Baxter, in Clark (editor), 1952, records:

In spite of the misgivings by Moffat, Livingstone had assured the [London Missionary] Society that Sekeletu would move to higher and more healthy ground if missionaries were sent to him – it would appear that Sekeletu expected that Livingstone would be sent in charge of the missionaries. The Makalolo Mission eventually sent consisted of Holloway Helmore, his wife and four children, and Roger Price and his wife and child. When they arrived at Linyanti [in February 1860] they found that there was no news of Livingstone, whom they expected to be there, and the area assigned to them by Sekeletu was swampy and fever-ridden. Helmore and Price commenced to work, but in a short time tragedy hit the mission; all except Price and two Helmore children died of fever, these survivors eventually struggled back to Kuruman. Not only did Sekeletu treat the mission badly in the choice of site, but at the first sign of weakness he began to rob them and the survivors were left with merely the bare necessities. And yet this was the man who guarded a wagon and stores for Livingstone for several years until he returned! The Bechuanas who were with the mission insisted that its members had been poisoned, but this seems unlikely; probably none of the party was aware of the devastating effects of African fever.

François Coillard

Francois  Coillard
François Coillard
Westbeech eased the way into Barotseland for François Coillard, representative of the Paris Mission, and obstructed the way for the Jesuits, who had reached Kazungula in 1880. The Paris Mission was French, Protestant and evangelical, but drew many of its missionaries from Switzerland and Italy. Coillard had worked for many years in Basutoland. His wife was Scots, and he was sympathetic to the extension of British influence in south-central Africa. In the years after 1885, his mission established stations at Sesheke and Lealui, the upper and lower capitals of the kingdom, as well as at Senanga, Sefula and Kazungula itself. Lewanika wanted missionaries because he realised the benefits that might flow from Western education and technology. He also sought a British protectorate, like the one established for the benefit, more or less, of Khama, and other Tswana rulers, in Bechuanaland in 1885.
[Macmillan, 2005]

From Baxter (1952):

The first attempt by François Coillard of the Paris Missionary Society to plant a mission among the Banyai proved a failure in the face of opposition of Lobengula, the Matabele Chief, and he then turned his attention to Barotseland, On 26th July 1878, he arrived at Leshoma, twelve miles south of the Zambesi, on the south bank of the Chobe, the usual halting place for travellers who desired permission to enter the Barotse country. He was allowed to proceed as far as Sesheke, but unfortunately his mission was so depleted by ill-health that he decided to turn back, but not before he had obtained permission from Lewanika to return and found a mission at Lealui. He returned to Basutoland, meeting Serpo Pinto on the way, having visited the Falls with his party in August 1878.

On 26th July 1884, he returned to Leshoma but found that there was trouble amongst the Barotse. When Livingstone had visited there last, Sekeletu was chief. He however, was a weak man and under his rue, the tribes rebelled. In 1865, the exiled branch of the Barotse under Sepopa returned and murdered the survivors of the original Makololo, sparing only the women and girls. With the Batoka and the river tribes conquered, the Barotse reigned supreme, but there was civil war and bloodshed for years; Sepopa was later murdered and also, it is said, his successor, Mwanawina. Lewanika, or Lobosi as he was then called, gained the chieftainship in 1870, but afterward fourteen years of terror he was in turn deposed.

It was at this stage in Barotse history that Coillard arrived, and he waited at Leshoma for thirteen months while civil war raged and Lewanika was driven into exile. In August 1885, Coillard crossed the Zambesi to Kazungula. From there he went up to Sesheke where a mission station was started in the September.

Coillard at Leshoma
Meanwhile, Lewanika had been restored to power. Coillard paid him a visit at Lealui, and later opened another mission station at Sefula; in 1887, the Kazungula mission station was founded.

Coillard found legends of Livingstone everywhere. He said:

Wherever Livingstone had passed, the name of Moruti (missionary) is a passport and a recommendation. Must I confess that I have been humiliated not a little to see myself fitted with a doctor’s cap by these gentlemen of Sesheke? Whether I will, or not, I am Nyaka (doctor), Livingstone’s successor. Thus it is that the first missionary that comes by is invested with the boots of this giant.

He is also recorded by Clay (1963) as saying of Livingstone:

In Europe people admired the intrepid traveller, but one must come to Sesheke where he lived, to admire the man. He has engraved his name in the very hearts of the heathen population of Central Africa.

Interestingly Mr L Jalla, also of the Paris Mission Society, writing from Moru in the Batoka country in 1893, said:

...all the Batoka maintain that the Doctor entered the abyss of the Victoria Falls, that he held converse with the deity who hides there and calls the water down, and that he brought pearls up from it, with the news that whoever penetrated hither would find great treasures.

Other missionaries were also making their way to North-Western Rhodesia. Father Depelchin, a French Jesuit missionary, reached the Falls on the 7th July 1880 with the intention of founding a mission, but due to illness of several members of the party, and the death of one in a boating accident, he abandoned the project. In September 1881, the Rev F S Arnot left Natal intending to establish a mission on the Zambesi watershed. At Panda-ma-tenka he met Edmund Selous, the brother of F C Selous, and travelled with him to the Falls, reaching there on 13th August 1883. Another Jesuit priest visited the Falls in 1902.

Next page: First Photos of the Victoria Falls

Recommended Reading

Arnot, F S (1883) From Natal to the Upper Zambezi: First Year Among the Barotse. Mission, Glasgow.

Arnot F S (1889) Garenganze: or, Seven Years Pioneer Mission Work in Central Africa. Hawkins, London.

Arnot F S (1914) Missionary Travels in Central Africa. Holness, London.

McDonald F W (1893) The Story of Mashonaland and The Missionary Pioneers, London, Wesleyan Mission House.

Mackintosh C W (1907) Coillard of the Zambesi. Unwin, London.

Macmillan H (2005) An African Trading Empire - The Story of Susman Borthers and Wulfsohn, 1901-2005. I B Tauris & Co Ltd, London.

Rae, W F (1968) George Westbeech and the Barotseland missionaries 1878-1888 Central Africa Historical Association, Salisbury.

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.

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