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

Early Aviators

The route between London and Cape Town was regarded as one of the challenges for pioneer aviators.

In 1918 the British Air Ministry dispatched survey teams to Africa to pave the way for an air route from Cairo to Cape Town. Three survey and construction teams established landing grounds along the route. After a year of bundu-bashing and levelling anthills, the Ministry declared the "Cape to Cairo" air route open in December 1919, providing 24 aerodrome and 19 emergency landing strips fit for use.

The Times of London announced that it would finance the first flight to the Cape and its aircraft - a Vickers Vimy Commercial, G-EAAV, took to the air on 24 January 1920, piloted by Captains S Cockerell and F C Broome, with Dr Chalmers Mitchell, Secretary of the Zoological Society.

General J.C. Smuts however wanted South African aviators to be the first to complete the trip. He therefore authorised the purchase of a Vickers Vimy, G-UABA, at a cost of 4 500 pounds. Christened the Silver Queen, and commanded by Lt Col H.A. (Pierre) van Ryneveld with Fit Lt Quinton Brand as co-pilot, the aircraft took off from Brooklands (Surrey, England) on 4th February 1920, aiming to overtake the Times sponsored plane.

After an eventful night crossing of the Mediterranean, they arrived at Derna the following morning. Further night flying followed in an attempt to catch the Vickers Vimy sponsored by the London Times, but the Silver Queen was wrecked in a forced landing at Korosko, near Wadi Halfa in the Sudan. A leaking radiator forced a night-time emergency landing, and in the dark the plane ran into rocks. The crew survived serious injury. A second Vimy F8615 was loaned from the Royal Air Force at Heliopolis, in Egypt, and on February 22nd the two pilots returned to the skies.

Silver Queen II
The Silver Queen II - The first aeroplane to arrive in Bulawayo - 5 March 1920.

On February 27th Captain Cockerill's competing Vickers-Vimy plane crashed on take off at Tabora in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). The plane is wrecked beyond repair, although no-one was injured, apparently "some regretable language" was used!

The Silver Queen II arrived at Abercorn, Northern Rhodesia on February 28th, and the next day on to Ndola. On the 2nd March 1920 they moved on to Broken Hill, and left later for Livingstone, where she arrived at 2.45 p.m. The next stage of the journey Buluwayo (Southern Rhodesia) was delayed owing to heavy rains.

By this stage, all the other challengers had abandoned the flight. The De Haviland machine piloted by Lieutenant Cotton, of Australia, smashed its tail and three wings; Major Bradeley's Handley-Page crashed near Atbara, while Major Welsh's Royal Force machine was forced to descend in a damaged state at Koroska.

The plane flew on to the Bulawayo Racecourse, Southern Rhodesia on the 5th March, becoming the first aircraft to touch down in Southern Rhodesia.

The scene of the landing of the plane in Southern Rhodesia was recorded by the Bulawayo Chronicle of the 12th March:

Arrangements had previously been made for the town to recieve a warning of the aircraft's approach by means of gun signals, and at 10.20am these signals sounded at he Police Camp. Cars and bicycles immediately hurried to the aerodrome. Excitement mounted. Work practically ceased throughout the town, as almost the whole populatuon, black and white, assembled at the landing ground. At 12.40, a speck in the sky to the north-west heralded the approach of the Silver Queen II and, within minutes, she touched down smoothly on the grass - the first aeroplane to land on the soil of Southern Rhodesia.

The aircraft was cordoned off to keep the hundreds of curious locals at some distance. The crew were formally received by Mayor James Cowden and Acting Town Clerk F Fitch, after which the party proceeded to the Grand Hotel for a civic luncheon.

On the following morning, 6th March, after the completion of pre flight preparation, the Silver Queen II took off at 7.55am. The engines laboured on take off, the plane just clearing the vegetation at the end of the airstrip. Shortly thereafter the engines failed and the plane crashed in the bush just beyond the Matsheumhlope River. Although badly shaken and bruised, none of the four man crew sustained serious injuries. The Silver Queen II was damaged beyond repair.

The whole town turned out again to cheer the Silver Queen off. The two men climbed back in, waved farewell and the Silver Queen, its motors giving an occasional splutter, taxied down the racecourse and rose into the air — but not for long. In view of thousands, it lost height almost immediately and crashed in the bush between the town and Hillside. The Silver Queen was a complete wreck but neither of the men was badly hurt."
(Scannel, 1970)

Silver Queen II crashes
The 'Silver Queen II', crashed after take-off, Bulawayo - 6 March 1920.

Fortunately, another aircraft, recently recieved from the British Government, was made ready by Smutts in Pretoria, a DH9 H5648 called Voortrekker, which was flown to Bulawayo, still in its RAF livery. Their journey resumed on 17 March and the aviators landed three days later at Youngsfield, Wynberg, Cape Town, at 4pm on 20 March 1920. Their mail cargo of letters had been transferred from aircraft to aircraft and so safely reached its destination, after a total flying time of 109 hours and 30 minutes, spread over 45 days.

After circling over the city, the pilots were given a most enthusiastic reception by a large crowd, and they were cordially greeted by Lord Buxton, Governor-General of South Africa, and Gen. Smuts. The British King has sent the following telegram to Col. van Ryneveld on the completion of the flight from Cairo to Cape Town : "I send to you and Maj. Brand my hearty congratulations on your very successful flight.—GEORGE R.I."

Voortrekker, Bulawayo
The 'Voortrekker' De Havilland DH 9 (H5648). Bulawayo 17 March 1920.

"The art of flying across Africa is to know how to crash", is how The Times of London summed up early aviation in Central Africa.

Supermarine on Zambezi
Converted floatplane on Zambezi

I'd be grateful to hear from anyone with any further information on this photograph or aircraft - Whitehead (2014) records early aerial surveys of the upper Zambezi catchment, the Lunwebungu River, during 1928 undertaken by Capt G N Grace in a DH9 fitted with floats. Perhaps it is one of these?!

Next page: End of Charter

Recommended Reading

McAdam (1965) Early Birds in Central Africa, Rhodesiana. From: http://www.rhodesia.nl/Aviation/early.htm

Scannell T (1960) Aviation in Central Africa. Horizon Magazine, II, 18-22. From: 'Our Rhodesia Heritage' website: http://rhodesianheritage.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/aviation-in-central-africa.html

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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