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
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To The Victoria Falls

Discovery of the Victoria Falls

In Livingstone's Footsteps

George Westbeech

The Trader of Pandamatenga

George Westbeech is considered by many to be the first guide to the Falls, visiting them for the first time ‘soon after 1871’ (Baxter and Clay, 1964) and returning many times. Together with his business partner, George Arthur ‘Elephant’ Phillips, Westbeech had established a trading station at Pandamatenga, about 100 kilometres upstream of the Falls and a similar distance again south of the Zambezi, the last stop on the ‘Old Hunter’s Road’ before reaching the river. The trade route, which Westbeech had developed during the 1870s and ‘80s, soon became the main road north to the Falls and Barotseland.

Westbeech had emigrated from his home in Lancashire, arriving through Natal and moving north into Matabeland in 1863.

"... it was there that began the remarkable story of how he became the trusted confidant of a whole series of mighty African warrior-kings, inlcuing Mzilikazi and Lobengula in Matabeleland, and Sepopa and Lewanika in the Zambezi Valley. Starting out with no other assets but his education, and with a warm and generous personality, and perhaps a flair for learning thoroughly the African languages he had to content with, this youth beginning at nineteen years of age, achieved over a period of twenty five years an unequalled record and played a substantial part in the story of the penetration of white people into Central Africa." (Sampson, 2008)

Baxter (1952) records:

George Westbeech first visited the Falls soon after 1871. He was a trader and with his partner George (‘Elephant’) Phillips, gained a worthy reputation with natives. Somehow, they managed to obtain permission to hunt in regions of the country to which only Livingstone had been, and they established their permanent headquarters at Panda-ma-tenka, about fifty miles south of Kazungula. Until his death Westbeech paid an annual visit to the Paramount Chief of the Barotse to purchase ivory. George Westbeech was one of the most remarkable men among the traders and hunters who have been connected with this part of Africa. For many years he enjoyed the confidence alike of Lobengula of the Matabele, and of Sepopa and Lewanika of the Barotse. There were very few travellers who could afford to dispense with his assistance, and it was always generously given. Arnot, Holub, Depelchin, Schulz, Hammar and Coillard were among those indebted to him in this respect. Coillard met Westbeech on a number of occasions and spoke very well of him and presented him with a gold watch as some little return for the services he rendered. Westbeech himself was a little cynical concerning the help he afforded travellers, and at one time, suggested in his diary that he might charge for his help and advice. (Baxter, 1952)

Having secured exclusive rights to hunt elephant and trade ivory north of the Zambezi, Westbeech enjoyed increasing influence as an unofficial adviser to the Lozi Litunga. Hunters, explorers and missionaries alike came to Westbeech for advice and assistance before continuing their journeys north, all requiring the permission of the Litunga before crossing the river at Kazungula, 75 kilometres upstream of the Falls.

"Westbeech, the first European to enter Barotseland after Livingstone, was a strong and pleasant character. “No saint, a hard drinker but generous, hospitable and honest man,” one early traveller said of him. Westbeech cut the famous wagon road from Pandamatenka, seventy miles to the Falls; the route used by many old ivory hunters, missionaries and others. He built as fine thatched home at Pandamatenka, tied with buffalo string and with a palisade to keep out the lions. His wife shared the perils of the interior with him and helped entertain many famous people." (Green, 1968)

Holub visits the Falls

A large party of travellers arrived at the Falls in September 1875, guided by Westbeech, accompanied by his wife, a honeymoon couple - Mr and Mrs Frances - and the Czech explorer and ethnologist Dr Emil Holub, among others. For Holub the trip to the Falls in 1875 was a diversion from his aim of exploring the heartlands of Barotseland (having been directly inspired by the writings of Livingstone) whilst he awaited authorisation to proceed north. But once seen the natural wonder demanded his full attention.

“To my mind the Victoria Falls of the Zambezi are one of the most imposing phenomena of the world... Truly it is a scene in which a man may well become aware of his own insignificance!” (Holub, 1881)

Holub published his detailed notes on the Victoria Falls in a small booklet, the first guidebook on the Falls written in English and printed in South Africa in 1879. He also spent time drawing a detailed map of the Falls and gorges below, which was published in the first editions of his full travelogue, published in Czech and German in 1880, but the later English edition sadly omitted this key feature.

Emil Holub's map of the Victoria Falls
Dr Emil Holub's map of the Victoria Falls
Holub spent many years travelling extensively in the region, reflecting of the Falls:
“Even the greatest literary masters would certainly have fallen silent facing such majestic and ever-changing scenery. A human being is totally incapable of describing Mother Nature where she performs with such might as at the Victoria Falls - there, Man just has to adore her!”

“I dare say, anyway, the time of removing the veil, which still covers the Falls, is not too remote. I conclude that the whole of Albert’s Land [the name which Holub unsuccessfully proposed for the region] falls sooner or later under the British protectorate, and then the Natural Zambezian Wonder would become target not only for scholarly masters and educated travellers as it has happened with famous wonders at the Yellowstone and Missouri river basin or the valley of Yosemite in California which only 25 years ago were totally unknown.” (Holub, 1890)


Westbeech died on the 17th July 1888 at Kalkfontein whilst on trek from Panda-ma-tenka to Klerksdorp, and is buried in the cemetery of the Jesuit Mission at Vleischfontein, Western Transvaal.

The diary is also a record of the last and fatal illness of its author. Disease of the liver, not his old enemy fever, seems to have killed him. Westbeech was ‘...careless of his health, and often reckless in his habits’, [George Lacy in South Africa magazine (London), 1895, p 596] for he was a hard drinker and loved a session with his fellow interior men when the brandy arrived from Shoshong or Tati. His movements after the entries end can be traced. He set out for the Transvaal and was at Shoshong with his wagons, which were loaded with ivory, feathers, and skins, in late June or early July 1888 There he met a party of concession hunters bound for Matabeleland, and he gave them a letter of introduction to Lobengula and a gift of crane feathers for that chief. Westbeech died at Kalkfontein, Transvaal, on 17 July 1888 and was buried in the cemetery of the Jesuit mission at Vleeschfontein in the vivinity. He never reached home, although from another point of view his home was among the Barotse.
[Talber (1963)]

Westbeech's Trading Post
Westbeech's Trading Post at Pandamatenga

Next page: The Missionaries

Recommended Reading

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

Phillipson, D. W (1975 & 1990) Mosi-oa-Tunya : A Handbook to the Victoria Falls Region Longman, Salisbury/Harare Rhodesia/Zimbabwe

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

Sampson, R (1972) The man with a toothbrush in his hat: The story and times of George Copp Westbeech in Central Africa. Multimedia Publications Lusaka.

Sampson, R (1980) The struggle for British interests in Barotseland, 1871-88. Multimedia Publications, Lusaka.

Sampson, R (2008) White Induna - George Westebeech and the Barotse People

Tabler, E C, Barber, F H, & Frewen, R, (1960) Zambezia and Matabeleland in the seventies Chatto & Windus, London

Tabler, E. C. [Editor] (1963) Trade and Travel in Early Barotseland. The Diaries of George Westbeech 1885-1888 and Captain Norman MacLeod 1875-1876. London: Chatto and Windus

Tabler, E. C. (1966) Pioneers of Rhodesia. Cape Town: C. Struik


Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls 1898-1905

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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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