To The Victoria Falls
Development of the Victoria Falls
The following text is adapted from 'Footsteps Through Time - A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls', researched and written by Peter Roberts and published in 2017. Please visit the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.
Percy M Clark
In May 1903 Percy Missen Clark (born 1875, Cambridgeshire, England) arrived at the Victoria Falls from Bulawayo, travelling by train to the railhead at Hwange, and then by foot to the Falls, on his way into the upper regions of the Zambezi.
"The trip of just over hundred miles from Wankie to VF took us just over a week... Much of our travelling was done by moonlight, and we got along quicker and easier in the coolness of the night than we might in the heat of the day. It was exceedingly rough going between Wankie and Matetsi, but we put in about twenty miles per day on the trek of eight days. The motor-road between Wankie and the Falls nowadays covers 113 miles. In our wanderings, that first safari, we must have covered a good deal more than that...
"The [last] sixteen-mile march the next day was notably strenuous. It was eleven at night before we made camp under a great baobab (the cream of tartar tree) about a mile from the VF. The night was brilliant with moonlight, and it was the time of full flood on the river. Tired though I was I could not let the need of rest come between me and my first sight of the mighty cataract...
"I recorded my arrival at the Falls the following morning by carving my name on the baobab tree, and the date - May 8, 1903. After this feat - not very like myself, but perhaps excusable in the circumstances - we set out for the ‘Old Drift,’ five miles above the Falls." (Clark, 1936)
Fuller (1954) records Clark stayed at Giese's camp at the Big Tree - a detail Clark himself omits - in fact he avoids all mention of the German settler, who he appears to have displaced at the Falls, allowing Clark sole claim to being the first European settler on the south bank.
Clark records crossing the river to the Old Drift by native canoe, stating that larger craft were still yet to arrive.
"At the Old Drift, however, we had to get to the other side of the river. For two hours we sat on the southern bank of the Zambesi popping off a rifle at intervals to attract attention. At long last we saw a native dug-out set out from the opposite shore. It was paddled such a distance directly up-river that we began to wonder if it was coming for us at all. The reason for the manoeuvre, of course, lay in the strength of the current, as we presently saw. It wanted a very long slant indeed from the other bank to bring the dug-out precisely to the post where we were waiting for it. Several such voyages were needed to bring our goods after us to the northern bank. At this time there were no other sorts of craft on the river save such dug-outs, the native boats made by the hollowing-out of tree trunks. Canadian canoes, tubs, and launches began to appear at a later date."
"The Old Drift of this time was a very small settlement of about a dozen white men round two or three stores right on the river bank...
"After crossing the drift, one of the local stores, which was also an hotel, had to be visited. Our stocks had to be replenished and carriers engaged for our trip up-river. The owner of this store ['Mopane' Clarke] was the original white settler. He was of the same name as myself, except that his had the aristocratic ‘e’ hitched to it. This might have been point of contact enough for us, but we hadn’t been chatting together many minutes before I found that he came from Chatteris in Cambridgeshire. It seemed that I couldn’t get away from the old country."
Clark travelled upstream into the heart of Barotseland, visiting Lialui and meeting Lewanika, the Lozi Litunga, before returning downstream to the Old Drift several months later (towards the end of 1903).
"I arrived at the Old Drift just after lunch was over at Mopani's hotel, and all I could get to eat was a hunk of bread and a tin of Vienna sausages. But I was far from particular, and just then anything eatable would have been a feast. After the meal a hut was provided for me, and I needed no rocking into the long, long sleep that ensued. I was completely done up."
Clark settled at the banks of the Zambezi with the intention of starting a photography business.
“I made my headquarters at the Old Drift for the time being, but my intention was to settle at Victoria Falls as soon as the railway was completed, for I believed that there would be great opportunities for those who got in early at the railhead. At the end of the year I engaged a man to build a hut for me near the spot where the railway station would be pitched, and where the hotel would be built, but I had no mind to cross the river until the railway did come up...
A chemist by profession, Clark successfully established himself on the south bank as a photographer, selling many postcards and a popular portfolio of photographs of the Falls entitled a ‘Souvenir of the Victoria Falls,’ of which there were several variations produced over the years. He also developed his own guidebook to the Falls and traded in a variety of African curios and souvenirs.
“While I lived at the Old Drift I spent a lot of my time at the Victoria Falls taking photographs, and I got together quite a good collection. I would camp out for a couple of days at a time in the hut... When that was completed I lived in it, but for most of the time I was over on the other side at the Old Drift. I liked the older haunts, and the old crowd.” (Clark, 1936)
Clark was made Fellow of the Royal Geological Society for helping Henry Balfour, on the visit of the British Association, find stone-age axe heads close to the Victoria Falls. He exhibited his photographs of the Falls at the Royal Geographical Society and was elected Associate of the Royal Photographic Society in 1925. ‘The Autobiography of an Old Drifter: The Life Story of Percy M Clark of Victoria Falls’ was published in 1936. He lived in the Falls area until his death in 1937 - but is buried, however, in Livingstone Cemetery. Clark’s son, Victor, himself a skilled photographer, took over the family business and continued operations for many years.
At The Huts, our residence at the Falls, we often had nightly visitors. Some of them were not very welcome. At this time the bush about the settlement had not been cleared to any extent, and jackals would come and sit, giving tongue to their weird and very exasperating yowling. I would get up, go out, and fire in the direction of the howling, which, for the moment, would cease. But I would be no sooner settled down again than the chorus would rise up as exasperating as ever.
We had a couple of cows that we kraaled just outside our fence. The scent of them often brought lions round in the dark hours. We also had fowls, and leopards came after those - with more success than the lions. At the back of our place, about three hundred yards off, was the police camp, with donkeys and horses used for patrol work. The smell of them was an additional attraction for the lions.
Three young bloods decided one lovely moonlit night to sit up and get the lions that came on the prowl about the police camp practically every night. They climbed - the young bloods, not the lions - to the roof of the stables with a full equipment. This included a bottle of whisky, and the hunters must have fortified themselves well, for they were fast asleep when the lions turned up. Oh yes! The lions turned up all right, because their spoor was to be seen all around the stables in the morning. Which goes to prove a quite elderly axiom that one cannot mix whiskey with lion-hunting.
Clark claims a series of notable 'firsts', being the first resident of Victoria Falls Town, establishing the first tourism business, and also the writer of the first guide to the Victoria Falls. He also makes sure to mention of his own claims to fame in relation to the local history of the Falls:
The Gorge on the south side of the river was descended for the first time (February 1904) by C Beresford Fox, Esq, and Percy M Clark (the writer) the latter of whom caught the first fish known to have been caught in the Gorge, in the same month and year.
Jack Soper later arrived in the Falls as toll-keeper for the bridge and in 1911 he opened up a large shop next to Clark's Curios and with the added attraction of a crocodile pool, set about providing Clark with some friendly competition.
Boats and Business
By 1910 the enterprising Percy Clark had been running a fleet of nine Canadian canoes on the river for some years. Guests could be paddled across to Cataract Island from the southern bank, and to Livingstone Island from the northern shore. In March 1911 Clark announced the arrival of his new motorised launch, called Inyandiza, which operated Sunday afternoon cruises from the old boathouse. All reservations were to be made by the Victoria Falls Hotel, to which Clark paid a percentage.
Clark advertised his river tours through his guide to the Falls:
A whole day should be devoted to a trip up the magnificent Zambesi River. The trip may be made in Canadian canoes, paddled by expert Native boys, or in a modern, roomy and comfortable motor launch. The river trip is one of some seven miles up the river, and above the Falls. Many picturesque islands are visited on the journey, the regatta course is negotiated, and ultimately Kandahar Island is reached, where a most enjoyable picnic can be held. After luncheon the return journey should be commenced, say at about 2.30 pm, and a break made upon one of the charming islands for tea. The return trip is perhaps the more pleasant, as one catches the gorgeous tints of the setting sun on the tree-topped islands with their wealth of palm trees and semi-tropical growths, and the multi-coloured tints of the spray from the Falls, as seen from behind.
Clark also promoted trips to the islands on the lip of the Falls:
From the middle of June until the end of December is it possible to visit Livingstone Island (originally named by David Livingstone ‘Garden Island’), the trip being made by canoe. The trees on which he carved his initials is still to be seen, and visitors should be careful not to mutilate it in any way. The whole of the Rainbow Fall is usually visible, and the view of the Main Fall is unique.
Recognising the business potential, the Victoria Falls Hotel soon made Clark an offer for his boating business, which he politely declined. They promptly bought their own motor-launch, and as nearly all the tourist visitors to the Falls stayed in the Hotel, captured the majority of his business. This was the beginning of the hotel's involvement in providing tourist activities and transport, and established the competitive nature of business in a developing tourism town.
Zambezi motor-launch with tourists preparing for sunset river cruise
By the late 1920's the Victoria Falls Hotel ran two motor-launches on the river, the Daphne, accommodating 10 passengers, and the larger Diana. They ran two or three times a week across the river to Livingstone, and then up the river to Kandahar Island for afternoon tea. A third launch, the Dorothy, was later introduced.
Rickshaws and rail-trolleys
Undeterred, Percy Clark bounced back with the idea of running a rail-trolley service from the hotel to the Falls. The walk to the Falls proved arduous and tiring for many of the elderly hotel guests. His scheme was politely received, but ignored (but eventually installed many years later). Undaunted, Clark then had the idea of importing rickshaws to convey tourists to the various points of interest in the vicinity, and which proved to be very popular. However, Clark was to loose out again after a price disagreement with administration officials led to the Victoria Falls Hotel becoming the owner and operator of the rickshaws. Yet again Clark had lost out to big business.
Rickshaw at Victoria Falls
'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.
Website text © Copyright Peter Roberts 2012, All Rights Reserved.
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