To The Victoria Falls
Development of the Victoria Falls
Growth of Victoria Falls Town
Bathing Costumes and Mackintoshes
With the 1930s defined by the Great Depression, the longest and most severe worldwide economic depression of the twentieth century, global tourism growth slowed significantly. Regional travel to the Falls was encouraged by the Railway Company with the offer of inclusive travel and accommodation fares, with passengers staying at the Hotel. Special fares were not available for the busy public holiday periods when the Hotel often had a long waiting list. A 1930s Southern Rhodesian government guide to the Victoria Falls contained the following advice for visitors to the Falls:
“Visitors are advised to provide themselves with mackintoshes and galoshes (boots) when traversing the Rain Forest, or when exposed to the spray-clouds. Oilskins and sou’-westers can be hired from the hotel... When spray from the Falls is heavy, visitors will find it an advantage to wear a bathing costume only underneath the mackintosh.” (Martin, 1997)
Clothing advice for tourists recommended sunshades for the ladies and wide-brimmed felt hats for gentlemen. Swimming, golf (Livingstone Golf Course opened in 1909), tennis, and fishing were all listed as available leisure and sports activities, and a 15 minute flight over the Falls cost £1. The pioneering travel agent Thomas Cook promoted the Falls in 1930 as a fashionable destination:
“There is a splendid and comfortable hotel at the Falls and during the season the fashionable throngs in the grounds and on the verandas are more reminiscent of a European spa than of a retreat in the interior of Africa.” (McGregor, 2009)
The Falls Hotel was significantly expanded during the late 1920s and early 1930s, with the addition of the ‘hammerheads,’ courtyard and western wings, even including a small chapel. (Roberts, 2015).
“In 1931, the Victoria Falls was declared a ‘protected area’ and the use of the environs of the Falls became more strictly controlled... In 1932... the piped water supply was extended to the Police Camp and to the remainder of the village in the following year.” (Heath, 1977)
In the early 1930s plans were made for the development of the town.
“To the north of the curator’s cottage, however, five stands had been occupied by Messrs. Spencer, Gibson and Lloyd, and further north, by a Mr. J. Piclcen. It was decided to accept the status quo and to re-plan the township incorporating these five stands, the curator’s cottage and the police camp. (Heath, 1977)
The first incident recorded at the Victoria Falls aerodrome was a fatal accident which occurred in 1932 during a round-the-world trip undertaken as a publicity stunt for MGN Films.
“The world flight of Mr. Arthur Loew came to an unfortunate end at Victoria Falls on November 18. It appears that the pilot, Capt. James Dickson, landed at the Victoria Falls aerodrome, mistaking it for the Livingstone aerodrome, nine miles distant. While trying to take off again the wheels of the Lockheed ‘Orion’ monoplane sunk into the soft sand of the aerodrome, causing the machine to turn over and crash into a tree. Mr. Dickson was killed and his two passengers, Mr. Loew and his secretary, injured.” (Flight Magazine Nov 1932)
Visit of Prince George
In 1934 His Royal Highness Prince George the Duke of Kent visited the Falls, arriving by overnight train from Bulawayo and staying at the Hotel. The Prince spent the Easter weekend exploring the Falls.
“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)
Map of the Victoria Falls (from 1950s tourist brochure)
The famous bronze statue of David Livingstone, sculpted by W Reid-Dick, RA, was unveiled overlooking the western view on the south bank of the Victoria Falls on 5th August 1934 by Mr Moffat, CMG, ex-Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia (1927-33), and nephew of David Livingstone’s wife.
The bronze statue, ten and a half feet high stands on a 37-ton rough hewn granite base, at the time claimed to be the largest block of stone ever quarried in Africa. News reports of the unveiling of the statue claim Livingstone’s initials still being faintly visible on the tree he carved them into in 1855.
Livingstone added a significant tourism draw-card with the development of the David Livingstone Memorial Museum, opened in 1934, with Mr A Brew as its first curator. The museum was originally conceived by Mr Moffat Thompson, Secretary of Native Affairs from 1929 to 1934, who envisaged a museum to preserve the material culture of local ethnic groups. Hubert Young, Governor of Northern Rhodesia, expanded the collection to include the life of Dr Livingstone. In 1939, following the addition of collections on Rhodes the name of the museum was changed to Rhodes-Livingstone Museum.
Victoria Falls Reserve
In 1934, the Victoria Falls Executive Committee was set up under the Victoria Falls Reserve Preservation Ordinance with the primary objective to foster tourism. Developments included the first chalets at what would become the North Bank Rest Camp, built in 1935, and establishment of the Game Park, also in 1935.
On the south bank the Victoria Falls Special Area was proclaimed under Government Notice 318 in 1937. Victoria Falls was proclaimed a National Monument in 1935, and in 1937 the Victoria Falls Reserve (an area extending some five miles from the falls) came under the control of the Historic Monument Commission, under the Southern Rhodesia Monuments and Relics Act of 14th May 1937.
Worlds Fair New York
The World’s Fair was conceived in 1939 with hopes of lifting New York City and the U.S. out of the Depression. Four years went into planning, building and promoting the event.
The Southern Rhodesia exhibit, organised by the BSAC, included a 186 feet by 22 feet working replica diorama of the Victoria Falls, one of the feature attractions of the exhibition.
“As you walk up a curved ramp toward the door of the main section of the building, the dull roar drums louder in your ears until it becomes vast thunder. You are in the heart of Africa.” (World’s Fair Guidebook, 1939)
Once inside the show, visitors could browse through displays of “native arts and crafts, Bushman paintings, animal heads and war weapons.”
In the 1930s the Southern Rhodesian Government started laying down strip roads. These consisted of two parallel strips of concrete or asphalt each 0.6m wide and 0.8m apart on which motor vehicles would run. The strip road from Bulawayo to the Victoria Falls was completed in 1941.
The Southern Rhodesia Government Department of Publicity promoting tourism to what they labelled ‘the open air Paradise of the world’ and ‘Unspoilt Playground of Africa’ (BSAC Annual, December 1936, referenced in Arrington, 2009). In a 1941 publicity leaflet the Livingstone Publicity and Travel Bureau promoted Livingstone as ‘the Tourist Centre for the Victoria Falls’ (Arrington, 2009)
Old Rhodesian strip road.
Wings of War
During the Second World War (1939-45) the Falls Hotel played host to many Allied soldiers and airmen receiving their basic training in the country. A major Flying Training School operated outside Bulawayo for trainee airmen from across the British Commonwealth. A total of 8,500 British Royal Air Force (RAF) crew were trained in Southern Rhodesia over the period of the war, and training continued into the post-war period. The Falls was one of several recreational leave locations for recruits, and the Hotel offered special half-rates to RAF members.
Towards the end of the War Spencer Airways were operating four aircraft to provide short pleasure flights over the Falls.