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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Development of Rhodesia



The following text is adapted from 'Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls 1898-1905', researched and written by Peter Roberts and published in 2018. Please visit the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.



North of the River

North of the Zambezi, the Lozi Litunga, Lewanikia, was in the process of seeking the British protection for his kingdom when Frank Lochner, acting on behalf of Cecil Rhodes and his newly Royal Chartered Company, secured in June 1890 a concession granting mineral rights over his extended domains (excluding the Barotse heartlands of the Upper Zambezi).

Lochner, with Coillard’s support, essentially duped Lewanika into believing he was entering into an agreement directly with the British Government, although Barotseland would soon receive the British Protectorate status it sought, the Lochner Concession ensured Rhodes and his Chartered Company would get their slice of the action.

“A Company agent, Frank Lochner, travelled to Lealui in the following year (1890) and eventually after prolonged negotiations, in which he and Coillard gave the Lozi cause to believe that the treaty into which they were entering was to all intents and purposes with the British Government rather than with a private commercial company, a document was signed which granted the Company mineral rights over the whole of Lewanika’s domains in exchange for an annuity of £2,000. The Company also undertook to send a British Resident to Lealui and to establish schools and trading posts in the country. Around this time the Company’s agents also secured concessions from African rulers further to the east.

“This development, by means of which Lewanika hoped to maintain the integrity of the kingdom, did not prevent the arbitrary division of the region between the European powers. In 1890 a draft treaty between Britain and Portugal placed the boundary between their respective spheres along the upper Zambezi itself, thus threatening effectively to bisect the country of Lewanika, who was not consulted at all about the proposal. When, however, news reached Europe of the Lochner Concession, a revised agreement was drawn up reserving Lewanika’s kingdom to the British sphere. Also in 1890 an agreement with Germany established the Caprivi Strip giving German South-West Africa (now Namibia) access to the Zambezi. Thus were established the political boundaries of the Victoria Falls region, which survive to this day.” (Phillipson, 1990a)

Despite the recognition of Barotseland as a British Protectorate, the issue of the western boundary with Portuguese West Africa would take many years to settle, and even then highly unfavourably from a Barotse perspective. Similarly the 1890 British treaty with Germany ceded a significant area of land along the southern borders. Britain, however, for their part in the deal with Germany received control of the strategic trading island of Zanzibar.

The German Chancellor, Georg Leo Graf von Caprivi hoped access to the Zambezi would open up a route via the river to connect German territory on the east and west coasts. The deal did not sit well with the previous Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who huffed that Germany had traded away its ‘trousers for a button,’ or with Cecil Rhodes, then Prime Minister of the British Cape Colony, and who feared that the path north for his railway would be blocked by German controlled territory.

British Resident

In 1897 Major (later Sir) Robert Thorne Coryndon travelled north to the Zambezi to take up the role of Resident Commissioner and at Lealui, in the heart of Barotseland. Coryndon would soon become Administrator of Northern-Western Rhodesia (1900-1907), and subsequently Governor of Kenya.

Coryndon
Major (later Sir) Robert Coryndon (1870-1925)
“[I]n September 1897, Major R T Coryndon, in the dual capacity of British Resident and the representative of the BSAC, arrived [on the banks of the Zambezi], accompanied by Mr F V Worthington, Sergeant Dobson, Corporal Macaulay and Troopers Bird, Aitkins and Leek (Mr F Aitkens became District Commissioner, Barotseland, and Mr F V Worthington District Commissioner, Batoka District - afterwards Secretary for Native Affairs for North-Western Rhodesia.) They were met at Kazungula by Leita, Lewanika’s son, who escorted them to Lealui the Capital, at which they arrived in October...

“Worthington and one policeman were left at Kazungula which was then a large native town and an important place, being the terminus of the Bulawayo-Zambesi road, and the way-in to the Victoria Falls. The wagon road [from Kazungula] to the Falls [on the south bank] was cut by Worthington in 1898, but in a couple of years or so, a more direct route was cut to Livingstone, and Kazungula fell into disuse; curious when one realises that four territories meet here.” (Baxter, 1952)

The Man from the Company

A significant treaty was signed at the Victoria Falls on 21st June 1898 between Lewanika and Captain Arthur (later Sir) Lawley, the Chartered Company’s senior representative and Administrator of Matabeleland (1897-1901), further securing the Company’s control over the territory. The grand indaba was arranged by Coryndon in order to reassure Lewanika of the Company’s intentions and renegotiate details of the original Lochner Concession.

“In 1898, Captain the Hon. Arthur Lawley, at that time Administrator of Matabeleland, headed a mission to King Lewanika of the Barotse, in order to obtain an accurate definition of the British South Africa Company’s rights north of the Zambesi, and to re-adjust certain conditions in the Company’s concession.” (Southern Rhodesia Publicity Office, 1938)

In an account of his journey to the Falls and meeting with Lewanika, published in Edinburgh, Captain Lawley sadly gives more information on his frequent hunting excursions than he does on the details of the meeting itself.

Northward Bound

Lawley hired the services of Bulawayo transport rider Mr Tolmay to convey his supplies. Tolmay, having recently married, brought his wife along on an informal ‘honeymoon’ to the Falls.

“Through this wild country Mr Daniel John Tolmay came riding on his honeymoon. This was in 1898, and he was travelling from Bulawayo to the Zambesi. One of the early transport-riders of Rhodesia, Mr Tolmay had contracted on this occasion to carry rations for an expedition led by the Hon Arthur Lawley... His newly made wife was the only woman in the party.” (Fuller, 1954)

To ease the passage of his convoy of wagons to the north, Lawley determined to complete the cutting of a new route to Pandamatenga.

“I made up my mind to complete the road which had been marked out by Mr F. Lewis at the end of 1896, and part of which had been cut by Mr Frost in 1897. This road runs... across the desert country marked as ‘The Land of the Thousand Vleys’ ... on the old road from Palapye to Kazungula.” (Lawley, 1898)
“On the 18th April Captain Jesser Coope left Bulawayo with two waggons, five mounted police, and thirty natives with instructions to cut the road through the thick bush, clear out and deepen the water-holes, and then to push on with all expedition to the river. A second party with twelve police and one waggon left under Sergeant-Major Norris, B.S.A. Police, on April 25th, and on May 3rd my own party started.” (Lawley, 1898)

On trek in Rhodesia
On trek in Rhodesia

A significant way into his journey Lawley received a message from Coryndon doubting that Lewanika would even make the journey and advising against his planned route. Lawley, however, decided to continue, lightening his loads and sending some of his wagons and men back to Bulawayo.

“Here I met two Zambezi boys on their road to Bulawayo, and found that they were carrying the Barotse mail. Coryndon, writing from Kazungulu, told me of his intention to meet me with waggons and grain... and of his having sent back word to Lewanika to meet me at the Falls; but in his (Coryndon’s) opinion it was doubtful if the old man would undertake the journey of 400 miles [644 km] from his capital to the Falls, seeing that he had not been farther than twenty miles [32 km] from Lialui during the last twelve years. Coryndon strongly advised me not to attempt Lewis’s road, but I was so far on the way that I decided not to alter my plans.” (Lawley, 1898)

After a difficult journey Lawley and part of his convoy met with Cooper at the old at Pandamatenga, before continuing on to the Falls.

“Pandamatenka, which we reached next morning, is well watered and fertile; but the water is not wholesome, and the whole place is very unhealthy and feverish.

At one time a small white colony was established here... but the only inhabitant now is a colonial boy named Nicholas Villiers, otherwise “Klaas,” who is the last survivor of the Westbeech colony, nearly every member of which is buried in the little cemetery by the river. The Jesuits built substantial huts, but they are all deserted and falling to ruins, which only add to the forlorn look of the station generally.” (Lawley, 1898)

From Pandamatenga Lawley travelled on to the Falls, arriving to the south bank on the 1st June 1898, where he established his camp close to the local landmark of the large baobab tree (Adansonia digitata), located a a few kilometres upstream of the Falls (and still standing to this day).

Captain Lawleys camp
Captain Lawley’s camp, Victoria Falls
“At 4.30 we came within nearer sight and sound of the Falls, and at six o’clock reached Coryndon’s camp on the edge of the Zambezi. It was a great satisfaction to find myself at my journey’s end on the very day (June 1) on which three months before I had written and told Coryndon to expect me at the Falls.

The following morning I crossed the river to see the camp which was being built for the king on the northern bank. It was a lovely morning, and the views from the boat as we slowly rowed from island to island were enchanting in their constant variety of perfect beauty. It was a veritable glimpse of fairyland.”

After a short diversion north for some more hunting, Lawley returned to the Falls on the 16th June.

“We reached Coryndon’s camp on the evening of the 16th. On my way back I found three white men lying sick and helpless on the veldt outside Sekute’s kraal. They belonged to a party of six who left Bulawayo in January with the idea of trading in Barotseland. They reached the river after three months of great hardship, arriving with no European food, and all more or less prostrate with fever. Their three companions had gone on into the Mashukulumbwe country while they remained by the river.

“For two months they had lain there, and had it not been for our arrival with decent food, must have died of starvation. Their experience is by no means unique, but it is impossible to extinguish the ‘exploring’ spirit that drives men to the north in search of adventure involving certainly privations and frequently death. I sent my canoe back to bring these men across to my camp, and they were sufficiently recovered by the end of the month to leave with my waggons for Bulawayo, though I regret to say that one of them died on the road... On returning we heard that the king was due on the following day, accompanied by Coryndon, who had gone to meet him at Kazungula.” (Lawley, 1898)

Victoria Falls Indaba

Lewanika’s temporary royal court was prepared for him on the north bank close to the confluence of the Maramba River with the Zambezi. Contemporary sources recorded that the Litunga’s retinue of officials, advisors and assistants included over a thousand men.

“The king’s arrival at his camp the next day was made known to us by a general outburst of shouts and songs, and a beating of drums and tom-toms, which was kept up until midnight. The king brought with him his son Letia, who has adopted the Christian faith, and his chief councillors.

“His retinue included a band, in which the drums played a most conspicuous part, choristers, dancers, and about a thousand followers. The female element was entirely omitted. His having undertaken the (to him) unprecedented journey of 400 miles [644 km] at my bidding was regarded by the whole nation as an event of the greatest importance. The younger of the councillors were very averse to it, as they regarded it as an act of homage to the white man, whose growing ascendancy with the king they look on with disfavour. So, too, when the question arose as to whether the king should first call on me or vice versa, they were strongly opposed to his losing (as they considered it) his prestige by being the first to come and pay his respects. But upon this I insisted.”

Lawley received Lewanika on the south bank on the 20th June 1898.

“My waggons having arrived on the 18th, I received the king in state on the 20th. The thirty Matabele boys having spent the morning in sweeping up the camp, were drawn up as a guard of honour facing the entrance to my camp. This consisted of a row of neat huts built with poles and grass laced with stripes of palmleaf, the whole being surrounded with a reed fence about nine feet [2.7 m] high, in which were neatly made doorways south, east, and west.

“With the small number of canoes at his disposal the king was only able to bring a small part of his retinue. The councillors and his band having preceded him across the river, awaited his arrival at Coryndon’s camp (which was situated about 300 yards [274 m] from my own), at the landing stage of which the B.S.A. Police, fourteen in number, were drawn up as a guard of honour... The guard of honour then formed the advance guard, and, followed by the band, preceded the king, accompanied by Major Coryndon and his suite, to the eastern entrance of my camp, where I met him, and after shaking hands conducted him to my hut.

“The king’s costume was rather remarkable. On his head he wore a black broad-brimmed felt hat over a scarlet night-cap. A long bright blue dressing- gown much embroidered with scarlet braid in Manchester style, a flannel shirt, tweed waistcoat, trousers, and aggressively new yellow boots, completed his costume. This was evidently his holiday attire, for on other days his scarlet nightcap was replaced by a blue Tam-o’-Shanter, and the dressing-gown by a shoddy ulster...”

Lawley and his men had transported a boat to be stationed at the river crossing and operated by the Company.

“After an hour or more we walked down to the river to inspect the big boat which I had brought up with me, which was then in course of construction. The king and his son, who is a clever carpenter thanks to the instructions of the French Protestant missionaries at Kazungula took the greatest interest in the tools of our carpenters as well as in the boat itself. Then followed the inevitable photograph, and the king departed as he had come.”

The following day Lawley was accordingly received by Lewanika on the north bank.

“My return visit to the king was made the occasion of a great reception by the king and his people. We crossed in several canoes, and on arriving at the landing-stage were met by Letia and some of the chief councillors. A wide path had been cleared from the river-edge to the king’s kothla or council chamber, and on either side were crowded various detachments of Barotse, who as we passed greeted Letia with a loud and prolonged chorus of ‘Yosho,’ a salute only offered to royalty, accompanied by hand-clapping and constant prostration of the body to the ground. The king’s camp consisted of groups of long huts divided and surrounded by a high reed fence, and the whole of the camp was floored with a smooth even surface of sun-dried clay, and kept scrupulously clean swept and garnished...”

“The following day we again repaired to the king’s camp and continued our discussion about the new concession, the king and his councillors entering into every detail, and discussing every point backwards and forwards.”

“We came back to our standing camp about four o’clock, and the following day I again visited the king, hoping to conclude my business with him and his people. Twelve o’clock came, and we had yet much to discuss; so as the king was to come to lunch, and we intended to have a gymkhana meeting in the afternoon, I postponed the final settlement till the next day. Returning to my camp, we had to wait two and a half hours for his majesty, who arrived at 3.30 instead of one o’clock, so that I put off the sports till the following day, on the morning of which I finally settled all points at issue. The whole of the new concession had been read and interpreted clause by clause to the king and his people, who expressed themselves perfectly satisfied with its terms.

“That afternoon we held the first meeting of the Victoria Falls Turf Club under the patronage of the Royal Family of Barotseland. Coryndon and Coope had laid out a small course and organised an excellent programme. The royal stand consisted of a buck-waggon covered with chairs on which sat the king, Letia, the Gambella [Prime Minister], and other members of the court. Nothing could have been more successful, and the king was hugely delighted with the fun.

“A bending race, steeplechase, V.C. race, postilion race, and several foot-races formed the various events. The foot-race for natives was most amusing. There were nearly a hundred competitors all in the wildest state of excitement. The Barotse, I regret to say, completely defeated the Matabele; but Sikobokobo, my induna, gravely informed me that this was only because I had fed the Matabeles so much better than the king fed the Barotse that they were far too fat to run...”

“In the evening all the police came to my camp for a ‘Singsong’ round a huge wood-fire, and it was nearly midnight when the National Anthem rang out over the waters of the Upper Zambezi. “ (Lawley, 1898)

The Lawley Concession

Known as the Lawley Concession, the treaty was not officially formalised and signed until 17th October 1900, when it was signed by Coryndon and Lewanika (who again met at the sandbelt site) and even then not ratified until the following year. The Constitutional Conference of 1901 ratified the treaties agreed to in 1900, securing for the Company the right to construct the railway, mine for minerals and generate hydro-electric power from the Zambezi at the Victoria Falls. This lead to the subsequent naming of the sandbelt site as Constitution Hill.

In 1900 a draft treaty between Britain and Portugal placed the boundary between their interests along the upper Zambezi itself, effectively bisecting the Barotse region. When news of the newly secured BSAC concession reached Europe, a revised agreement was drawn up including Lewanika’s lands within British interests. The final border between the British Protectorate of Barotseland and Portuguese controlled territory to the west remained unresolved for several years.

The Controller’s Camp

During 1898 Coryndon established a Company camp on the north bank of the river, known as the Controller’s Camp (also known as the Victoria Falls Station), situated five kilometres above the Falls near the confluence with the Maramba River, connected to the south bank via canoe, the closest crossing point above the Falls.

“In 1898 the Controller’s Camp was opened. It was situated five km above the Falls on the north bank of the Zambezi River near the confluence with the Maramba River and in the British South Africa Company’s Reserve. Next to Maramba Drift a canoe connection operated with Giese’s Ferry on the south bank.” (Shepherd, 2008)

The Controllers Camp
The Controller’s Camp or Victoria Falls Station

In October 1899 Major (later Colonel) Edwin Colin Harding and Mr Gifford Moore arrived at the banks of the Zambezi above the Falls. Harding, acting as the Company’s representative during the absence of Coryndon (who had departed on leave to England), headed north to Lealui. Moore, an Australian, meanwhile established himself at the Victoria Falls as the Company’s first District Commissioner for the Falls region.

Barotse Native Police

Major Harding, having served in the Mashonaland Mounted Police (where he received the Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George for his services in the Mashonaland Rebellion) and North-Eastern Rhodesia, was posted to Barotseland to establish a native police force.

“Harding was now sent up to Barotseland as Acting Resident Commissioner to relieve Robert Coryndon who left on leave in November 1899. Major Harding had orders, dated 31 August 1899, from the Commandant General in Southern Rhodesia, to take over command of the police detachment at Lealui, consult with Coryndon concerning the enlistment of native police and to enlist twenty-five to thirty... Colin Harding was accompanied by his brother, William, a newcomer to Southern Africa, as private secretary, and Sergeant F C Macaulay.”

Heading to Lealui, Harding obtained the Litunga’s permission to recruit officers, and in early 1900 the first recruits were enlisted into the new force.

“At Lealui in December 1899 Harding approached Lewanika for help with recruiting police. The Litunga was reluctant. He feared that the police would undermine his authority. Harding argued that they would only be trained at Mongu-Lealui and would then be posted to Batokaland, as area so far away that Lewanika could not maintain order there himself. He explained that the police would at any time enforce the Chief’s authority if required, always, of course, under the Administration’s orders and instructions. Harding reported ‘With these assurances he was content, and he promised to get forty of fifty recruits, but I am convinced that his consent was not given spontaneously. ...

“The first 25 recruits for the Barotse Native Police were attested at Lealui on 2 January 1900. There terms of service were explained to them by the Ngambela, Lewanika’s prime minister. The engagement was for 12 months at 10/- a month for privates, 12/6 for corporals and 15/- for native sergeants. Each man was to be issued with a free uniform and a blanket.”

Harding was convinced of the importance of the Barotse Native Police, recording in his annual report of 1899:

‘White police do not prove to be suitable for this territory. Under circumstances which necessitate frequent prolonged patrols at all seasons, and often on very limited or unsuitable rations, I have found them subject to a very large amount of general sickness and fever, and the difficulty of providing transport for white police, the expense of mounting them, and their natural inability to perform the duties required among natives quite unaccustomed to white men, have convinced me that it is necessary to police the territory with natives controlled efficiently by responsible white officers and instructors.’

The British Colonial Office were less convinced, one official referring to them as ‘this dangerous force’.

“On Coryndon’s return from leave [in mid-1900] Haring was appointed Commandant of the Barotse Native Police. There were six Company posts, Mongu, Victoria Falls, Kalomo, Fort Monze (BSAP), Kazungula and Sesheke, the last two having no permanent buildings, but being frequently visited. Kalomo was selected by Coryndon as Government Headquarters.” (Wright, 2001)

Sphere of Influence

On 19th January 1900 Harding, accompanied by his brother, William, and a party of Lewanika’s indunas with their retinues, left Lealui by canoe to explore the Zambezi to its source and map the extent of the Barotse territory and Lewanika’s ‘sphere of influence.’ Harding was especially concerned with Portuguese penetration into the western boundaries of the Upper Zambezi region, territory which he found still suffered from the activities of slave traders.

“On 19th January 1900 Harding, accompanied by his brother and a party of Lewanika’s indunas with their retinues, left Lealui by canoe to follow the Zambezi to its source. Sergeant Macaulay was left in charge at Lealui where he continued training the recruits. Harding had brought with him a photograph with a recorded message to Lewanika from the Administrator of Matabeleland, the Hon Arthur Lawley. At Lealui Harding made a recording of Lewanika’s voice with a message to his vassals calling on them, amongst other things, to send to the Litunga all arrears without further delay, or ‘the Great White Man who now visits you will mete out the punishment you deserve.’ Harding played this message to the various Lovale, Lunda and other chiefs he met and recorded their messages in reply, acknowledging the Litunga’s suzerainty and pledging their loyalty...

“Harding reported many deserted villages in the Lunda country where the people lived in fear of raids by the Lovale and Mambari [Afro-Portuguese] salvers. On his return to Nyakatoro, after reaching the source of the Zambezi, Colin Harding... set off overland to Chisamba in the Bihe country of Portuguese West Africa. He reported, ‘Every day I am seeing traces of the slave trade. The wayside trees are simply hung with disused shackles, some to hold one, some two, three and even six slaves. Skull and bones bleached by the sun lie where the victims fell, gape with helpless grin on those who pass, a damning evidence of a horrible traffic… yesterday we met two caravans and today one, all proceeding to the Lunda country for their living merchandise. Some were carrying spare guns, some calico, others powder.’ The Mambari exchanged calico, guns and powder for slaves and rubber. On 9th May Harding met a caravan eighty four strong on its way to the Lunda country. Harding was in no position to take any action. He was without any force of his own in Portuguese territory where the garrisons of the various forts appeared to ignore the passing trade... They all arrived back at Lealui on 19 June 1900. Harding had travelled a total of 2,235 miles [3,597 km] since leaving Kazungula in the previous October.” (Wright, 2001)

After an extended period exploring the remote western fringes of Barotseland, including travelling to within reach of the source of the Zambezi, Harding returned to the Falls in mid-1900, recouping briefly with Moore at the Company’s Camp.

“The two days spent at the Falls were of a most enjoyable description. Moore, who was in charge, came with me to North Western Rhodesia last October, and, strange to say, we had not met since that time. He was most kind and hospitable, fed me up with milk and eggs, provided two good horses for my further journey, and solved the difficulty of further transport by giving me six donkeys and a cart.” (Harding, 1904)

Sometime soon after, in early 1901, Harding’s brother, who acted as his assistant, died of fever whilst at Fort Monze (Western Zambia). Harding returned to the Falls with a Trooper Lucas, only to find more bad news.

“On my arrival at the Victoria Falls I was grieved to hear of other sad events which had transpired during the past few weeks. Moore had been laid up and nearly on two occasions died of ... fever.” (Harding, 1904)

Gifford Moore departed south soon after, to be replaced by Mr Sykes who arrived in May 1901.

Next page: On the Wagon Road

Further Reading

Baxter, T. W. (1952) The Discovery And Historical Associations [In Clark, D. [Editor] (1952), Chapter 1.]

Clark, J. D. [Editor] (1952) The Victoria Falls: A Handbook to the Victoria Falls, the Batoka Gorge, and part of the Upper Zambesi River Commission for the Preservation of Natural and Historical Monuments and Relics, Lusaka.

Fuller, B. (1954) Bid Time Return. De Bussy, Holland.

Harding, C. (1904) In Remotest Barotseland. Hurst and Blackett, London.

Lawley, A. L. (1898) From Bulawayo to the Victoria Falls: A Mission to King Lewanika. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol.164 December 1898, p.739-759, William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh.

Phillipson, D. W. (1990a) The Victoria Falls And The European Penetration Of Africa [In Phillipson, D. W. [Editor] (1990) Mosi-oa-Tunya: a handbook to the Victoria Falls region. Longman, Salisbury, Zimbabwe. (First published 1975, Second edition 1990) Chapter 7]

Southern Rhodesia Publicity Office (1938) The Victoria Falls of Southern Rhodesia. Government Stationery Office.

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

Wright, T. (2001) History of the North Rhodesian Police. BECM Press.


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

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