To The Victoria Falls
Development of the Victoria Falls
Early Royal Visits
HRH Princess Christian of Schleswig Holstein, fifth child and third daughter of Queen Victoria (after whom the Victoria Falls were named), and Princess Victoria, were the first Royal visitors to the Victoria Falls on 16 September 1904. They were also the first Royal guests to stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Percy Clark metions their visit in his autobiography:
The first great lady of the many I have met at the Falls was Princess Christian. She came by special train in 1904, and I was commanded to bring post cards and phtographs to the royal train for he inspection. In those rough-and-ready days few of us had complete suits to our names, and I was in like case with the majority. I was in a quandary. I couldn't very well appear before her Royal Highness in khaki slacks and a shirt, so I hunted round the camp to collect what decent togs I could borrow or steal. From a police trooper I borrowed a jacket, got a collar and tie from some one else, and an item of clothing here and there until at last I had the complete outfit in which to present myself to Royality... The interview was satisfactory in its results for both parties to it, but hen I told the aide-de-camp afterwards about my search for a rig-out he roared with laughter. He told the Princess the story subsequently, and I heard that it amused her hugely.
In 1905 the BSAC Director's report (November 6) noted:
"In commemoration of the visit of HRH Princess Christian and Princess Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein and Lord and Lady Roberts, three of the largest islands just above the Falls have been named 'Princess Christian', 'Princess Victoria' and 'Kandahar'.
Pincess Patricia admires the Victoria Falls (1910). Princess Patricia, The Duke of Connaught's daughter, sits in a chair at the edge of a cliff to admire a view of the Victoria Falls.
The Duke and Duchess of Connaught - son and daughter-in-law of Queen Victoria - and Princess Patricia visited the Victoria Falls towards the end of 1910 when on their way from opening the new Union Parliament in Cape Town. They travelled in the first Royal Train, and did not stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel, but instead spent for four nights at Livingstone on their train, which they also used to make the short trip to the Falls for sightseeing.
The Duchess of Connaught smiles as her female companion, probably her daughter Princess Patricia, leans over the edge of the Zambezi above the Victoria Falls.
A pilot train ran ahead of the Royal Train and an emergency train followed 30 minutes behind. A feature of the Royal Train was the haulage of a bogie truck carrying four cows to supply fresh milk each day. These survived the three weeks' tour and clocked up considerable mileage.
Croxton (1967) records:
It was in November, 1910, that Rhodesia welcomed its first royal train when the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and Princess Patricia included the Victoria Falls and Livingstone in their tour of the new Union of South Africa.
It is recorded that the train stopped in the centre of the bridge for quite some time to give the royal party a good view and then proceeded to Livingstone for a four-day stay during which it was used on several occasions for short trips back to the Falls.
An interesting feature of this tour was that the pilot train included a bogie cattle truck carrying four cows which supplied the fresh milk throughout the journey. The animals safely survived the whole tour which lasted over three weeks. Was this a record rail journey for cows?
Wright, in his History of the Northern Rhodesian Police (year of publication unknown) records:
On 14 November 1910, 168 men of the [Barotse Native] Force were on parade at Livingstone for inspection by Field Marshall His Royal Highness The Duke of Connaught. ... The Duke complimented the men on their steadiness on parade and the manner in which they went through their drill movements. A brass band had been formed in 1909 and was, of course, on parade. The Duke, as Colonel of the Corps of Royal Engineers, gave the Barotse Native Police permission to adopt as their own the quick march Wings, the march of the Royal Engineers.
Marchpast for Duke of Connaught, Livingstone, 1910
Prince Edward, Prince of Wales visits, 1925
In June 1925, the Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VIII, and subsequently Duke of Windsor after abdicating after only 10 months) spent a few nights the Falls as part of his extensive tour of southern Africa.
The South African Railways provided two special trains, one of which was specially built for the royal visit and comprised several luxurious saloons for the prince and his party. This 'Royal Train' was painted white with gold lining and lettering and became known as the 'White Train'. This and the pilot train were used throughout the Rhodesian visit.
Travelling with the Prince was the usual hoard of journalists, photographers and reporters, including Ward Price, who records:
...about eleven o’clock on that morning of July 11th, looking out across the forest of tall trees through which the railway ran, we saw at last what we had long been waiting for – the white wall of smoke-like spray which rises eternally from the gigantic Victoria Falls. At first sight it looked like a shrapnel barrage above the green wall of vegetation, and when the train was still hundreded of yards away from the falls the spray was drifting in at its windows like fine rain." (Ward Price, 1925)
External Link: Pathe News Report - Prince of Wales Rhodesia Tour.
The Prince Edward, Prince of Wales at the Victoria Falls, 1925
The Prince toured the Falls for five hours guided by Sir Herbert Stanley, Governor of Northern Rhodesia, and was then taken upriver for an island lunch.
"The dazzling, dizzy gleam of the rushing waters was hardly out of the Prince’s eyes or the roar out of his ears, when he found himself getting into a motor-boat only a few hundred yards above the Falls on a river that looked as placid as the Cambridge ‘Backs’. From there we passed up the broad, blue Zambesi between densely wooded banks, to Kalai Island, where a picnic lunch was set out under huge wild fig tree... The island luncheon party was delightful." (Ward Price, 1926)
And in the evening a dinner was held in Livingstone in his honour.
On his arrival at Livingstone yesterday the Prince received a magnificent welcome from the people of Northern Rhodesia. In the evening he attended the most georgeous ball of the tour, some hundreds of couples taking the floor in an amazing open-air ballroom constructed in the midst of flower borders and tall trees. The supper room also was of native structure, taking the shape of a vast grass hall, roofed with grass and palm leaves. The whole surroundings, in the glow of golden lanterns hanging still in the tropical air, were like a scene from fairyland." (Reuters, 14 June 1925)
Ward Price records:
"...[the] band of the native Northern Rhodesia Police, commanded by a band-master who was formerly of the first cornet of the Irish Guards, was conspicuous at the ceremony." (Ward Price, 1926)
The catering for the evening was provided by Livingstone Bakery, tea Room and Frascati Restaurant, set up in the same year by Herbert Rothkugel and Max Taube.
"That night the Governor gave a dance in the grounds of the Government House, which the Prince enlivened by organizing a race among the black servants who were polishing the floor in the interval by dragging mats of its, one man sitting on the mat and the other towing him. The native ‘boys’ put so much zest into this competition that they swept several of the company, including the Governor, off their feet during its course...
"The Prince left the dance towards midnight and drive down the long straight road that leads to the VF. A great honey-coloured half-moon was hanging low among the stars, and as the Prince’s car stopped by the edge of the eastern falls, a lunar halo could be seen, wan and pale, on the curtain of spray that hangs as a permanent pillar of cloud over the thundering abyss. It looked like the ghost of a lost rainbow haunting the gloomy chasm." (Ward Price, 1926)
One source records that the Prince enjoyed his evening so much he insisted the clocks be put back an hour to allow it to continue!
The following day the Royal Party travelled upstream above Katombora for a regatta reception hosted by Paramount Chief, Litunga, of Barotseland, Yeta III.
"The next day, July 13th, was given up to an elaborate water-festival arranged by Yeta III, Paramount Chief of the Barotse, who had come three hundred miles down river from Lealui, his capital, in his number-two-size State Barge, the principle one being too big to get through the rapids. At Kamujoma, where this up-river regatta took place, a big space had been gleared in the dense bush on the river bank and a series of picturesque huts built there in the native style, to be used as changing rooms, grand stands, and luncheon halls. Just before the Prince arrived, the Royal Barge appeared, driven along by forty paddlers in red kilts, caps and feather head-dresses, all standing upright. Amidships was huge white awning looking like a gigantic roc’s egg, from which Chief Yeta emerged, wearing an elaborately gold-laced uniform designed by order of the Colonial Office for his father, Lewanika, when he was received by Queen Victoria..."
Paramont Chief Yeta III receives HRH the Prince of Wales, 1925
The official reception was followed by luncheon, for which Yeta changed into a top hat and frock-coat, and afterwards there followed the native regatta. The latter had all the essentials for the success of such a function – calm weather, a smooth course, bright sunshine, and most important of all, many pretty girls in pretty frocks looking on. One could not help thinking, however, that the racing itself would have been judged unsatisfactory by the Henley standards. It reminded one more than anything of the race which Alice in Wonderland organized for the purpose of drying the animals who had fallen into the pool made by her tears, of which the only rules wre that the racers started when they liked, stopped when they liked, and must all be held to have won. The course was a very zigzag one, and the last three competing canoes finished locked in a sort of death grapple, with one of the half full of water...
The Prince had congratulated the Barotses on their ability as watermen, which, he said, “appeals to people of our race, for our home, as some of you may know, is a group of islands surrounded by the sea, and from our earliest days we have prided ourselves on being skilled in the management of boats.” Rather to the alarm of his staff he now decided that he would make a short trip in one of the narrowest and lightest of the native craft. Two crocodiles had been seen floating past while we were at lunch, so that the naval members of his suite were dubious about the risks involved. “You had better turn out the guard, I may fall in any moment,” he said, as he pushed off in a frail-looking dugout canoe propelled by five paddlers.
HRH the Prince of Wales in native canoe, 1925
The excursion, which delighted the Barotse tribesmen, passed off, however, without the Heir to the Throne having to swim ashore through crocodile-infested waters, though the Prince alleged afterwards that he felt as if to close one eye while keeping the other open would have been enough to upset the craft." (Ward Price, 1926)
The Prince was due to visit Northern Rhodesia again during the course of a hunting trip with the Duke of Gloucester in 1928, but due to the serious illness of His Majesty King George V, he was urgently recalled to England.
Another story related to the Royal visit recalls the journey of the Paramount Chief's sister, Morena Mukwae, to Livingstone. She wss described as being of exceptional size and weight, and resided at Nalolo on the banks of the Zambezi some three hundred miles north-west of Livingstone. Most of this journey was undertaken by barge, but near Katombora the Barotse royal party transfered to the Zambezi Saw Mills Railway for the last stretch to Livingstone. Due to her girth, it was found to be impossible for the royal lady to pass through the doorway of the carriage. A specially-made large armchair was securely fixed to the open wooden floor of an open sided wagon, a carpet laid, and surrounded by her retainers sitting in smaller chairs the noble lady was solemnly conveyed to Livingstone.
Princess Marie-Louise, daughter of Princess Christian also visited around this time, recording in her memoirs; "We stayed at Victoria Falls for a few days in a very comfortable hotel". She was also to later have an island named after her.
Prince George, Duke of Kent, visits 1934
In 1934 Prince George, Duke of Kent, visited the Victoria Falls, arriving on the morning of 30th March, overnight by train from Bulawayo, and spending the easter weekend exploring the Falls.
[The fifth child, and fourth son, of King George V and Queen Mary, and younger brother to Kings Edward VIII and George VI, Prince George died in a military air-crash, on board RAF Short Sunderland flying boat, on 25 August 1942, marking the first death of a member of the British Royal Family on active service in 400 years.]
The Prince George, Duke of Kent at the Victoria Falls, 1934
"A mile wide and with a drop of four hundred feet, the Falls presented an inspiring sight when the Prince, changing into a vest and shorts soon after his arrival, hurried from the hotel to have a first look at them. The Zambesi was coming down in flood, and enormous quantities of water were hurtling over the falls, estimated to amount to one hundred million gallons every minute. During the weekend the river steadily rose as the result of rain in the heart of Africa, and when the Prince left the Falls two days later, it had reached a new record high level. Because of the vast volume of water pouring into the chasm the spray was very dense, and somewhat obscured the view but the Prince spent so much time around the Falls that he saw every possible aspect of them. Declining to use a waterproof coat, His Royal Highness thoroughly explored the wonders of the Rain Forest, in which he wandered about opposite the Main cataract until he was drenched to the skin. The Prince spent many hours energetically visiting every vantage point, despite the uncomfortable heat. He was particularly impressed by the lunar rainbow...
The Prince did a lot of walking in the countryside around the hotel, the whole area being a game reserve and abounding with animals and birds. But the Prince unfortunately did not see any crocodiles, which thrive on the Zambesi River. The flood waters had driven the reptiles way." (Frew, 1934)
External Link: Pathe News Report - Prince George visits the Victoria Falls.
Clark, P. M. (1936) Autobiography of an Old Drifter. Harrap, London.
Croxton, A. (1982) Railways of Zimbabwe (originally published as Railways of Rhodesia)
Frew (1934) Prince George's African Tour
Price (1926) Through South Africa with the Prince
'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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