To The Victoria Falls
Development of the Victoria Falls
End of the Charter
In the early 1920s the BSAC and British Government began negotiations over the future of the Rhodesias following the end of the Company’s Royal Charter. Many concluded that Southern Rhodesia would become part of the Union of South Africa, and detailed proposals were drawn up in Johannesburg (even including the drafting of postage stamps showing the Victoria Falls). A referendum was held in Southern Rhodesia on 27th October 1922, giving a choice of establishing responsible government or joining the Union. With 59% voting in favour Southern Rhodesia was granted self-governing status on 1st October 1923. Northern Rhodesia became a British Protectorate in on 1st October 1924, setting the two countries on very different paths to eventual independence.
From Far and Wide
In 1925 American South African Lines (renamed Farrell Lines in 1948), initiated a regular service from New York to South Africa stopping at Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. A growing North American market developed with the launch of round-the-world cruises, such as the 96-day ‘Great African Cruise’ undertaken from New York in 1926, including stops in South America, South Africa and Europe.
“Efforts were being made to foster the tourist trade and in 1926, in conjunction with the SAR [South African Railways], two special trains carrying 350 American tourists from a world-cruise liner included visits to Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, the parties staying at the Falls Hotel for a couple of nights. The success of this tour, to be the forerunner of many more, led to the enlarging of the hotel. Another fifty bedrooms were built, with bathrooms and other facilities, along with modern station offices in a style to harmonise with the hotel.” (Croxton, 1982)
Between 1926 and 1939 more than thirty North American cruise liners were met by fifty luxury special train services, transporting some 5,000 wealthy tourists from ports into southern Africa, with the Victoria Falls on nearly everybody’s schedule (Pirie, 2011). Victor Pare, manager of the Falls Hotel’s tourism services, described the reactions of transatlantic voyagers, often drawing comparisons with Niagara Falls.
“Tourists from the United States, when asked what they thought of the Victoria Falls, have time and again declared that they found them beyond all description. Some said they were the most transcendently beautiful natural phenomenon on this earth. Another said: ‘They sure make Niagara look like a trickle of sweat.’ One prominent American cabled to Buffalo: ‘Scrap Niagara. It’s out of date.’” (Pare, 1926)
Visit of The Prince of Wales
In June 1925, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VIII (in 1936, before abdicating in less than a year), visited the Victoria Falls and stayed overnight in Livingstone 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 tour and comprised several luxurious saloons for the Prince and his party. The Royal Train was painted white with gold lining and lettering and became known as the White Train. A guiding pilot train was again used throughout the tour (Clark, 1952).
The Prince toured the Falls for several hours guided by Sir Herbert Stanley, Governor of Northern Rhodesia, and was then taken upriver by motor-launch for lunch on Kalai Island. Victor Pare recalled:
“His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, when asked what he thought of our Rhodesian wonder, replied with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Damned wet.’ But I knew how it had impressed him. I had watched his eyes. He had seen most things worth seeing in the world and, perhaps for the first time, he was wonderstruck.” (Para, 1926)
In the evening an African themed open-air dinner was held at the Livingstone Golf Club (opened in 1909) in his honour.
“[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)
One source recorded that the Prince enjoyed his evening so much he called for the clocks be put back an hour to allow it to continue!
“The Prince left the dance towards midnight and drive down the long straight road that leads to the Victoria Falls. 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)
During the period 1925 to 1928, a dirt road was constructed between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, providing access to the area for the growing number of regional travellers journeying by motor-car. By 1931 a Motor Service Station had been developed close to the Falls Hotel, offering running repairs and spare parts.
“Only a limited amount of growth occurred in the decade between 1920 and 1930. Further additions were made to the Police Camp in 1921 and to the existing hotel buildings. Within the Railway Reserve, additional housing, government buildings and an African location were constructed west of the railway line and, towards the end of this period, a garage was built by the Railways in the north east portion of the Reserve... a curator’s cottage was constructed [in 1926] between the Railway Reserve and the Police Camp. At the same time, land was set aside for an African village to the west of the surveyed township.” (Heath, 1977)