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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Development of the Victoria Falls



The following text is adapted from 'Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls 1898-1905', researched and written by Peter Roberts and published in 2018. Please visit the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.



End of the Drift

It soon became apparent that the location of the Bridge and route of the railway would make the Old Drift crossing, and settlement, redundant - irrelevant of the health concerns over the site. After much consideration, including exploring the option of moving the whole settlement to the south bank, the Chartered Company’s Administration narrowed the choice down to two possible sites on the north bank, both along the line of the railway - one that was ‘close to the Falls and the river’ (known as Imabult’s Camp) and the other on the ‘sand-belt some seven miles (11 km) north’ (at Constitution Hill).

Without consultation with the settlers, Coryndon, the Company’s Administrator, decided upon Constitution Hill, where the Government Station, Post Office and Court House had already been established, believing that a town “so close to the Falls would be bound to mar the natural beauty of the area” (Phillipson,1990).

The Old Drift community, led by Moore, did not agree with his choice.

“The Old Drifters, however, were opposed to a site so far from the Falls, which they felt would deprive them of the profits of the tourist trade. They proposed instead that the town be situated at the camp of Imbault, the Bridge Engineer, which was on a well-drained site overlooking the river.” (Phillipson,1990)

Writing at the end of the following year, Moore summarised the settlers arguments against the site chosen by Coryndon.

“Before Livingstone was inhabited, before even it was surveyed, its political history began in the shape of a unanimous expression of popular dissatisfaction with the site selected... The inhabitants pointed out the distance separating the new site from the Falls; its inaccessibility to tourists and others; the distance from the water supply; and the absence of any industry or enterprise in the neighbourhood to justify its existence in the event of its failing to become a resort for visitors. The danger of an opposition township springing up, in a more favourably situated position, on either the South or North bank was urged, and subsequently, the difficulty of constructing roads or of obtaining suitable foundations for brick building in the sandy soil.” (Livingstone Mail, December 1906)

Whilst the Old Drifters were unhappy with the proposed relocation site, the days of the Drift were undoubtedly coming to a close.

“But the Nemesis that was to destroy the Old Drift was the railway and the railway bridge. No more would the drift be needed; all goods would be transported easily and efficiently by train. Time would be saved and several miles would be cut off the journey of the goods.” (Watt, undated)

With the Bridge open and the focus of railway building shifting north the steam-powered launch the Company had provided at the Drift was relocated to the Kafue.

“One of the vessels was steam powered but after the bridge was completed the ferry barge was sent up to the Kafue, where... it ended its days transporting copper.” (Watt, undated)

A rare image of the Old Drift
A rare image of the Old Drift crossing on the Zambezi above the Falls

Birth of Livingstone Town

The Administration were unmoved by the arguments of the settlers and planning for the new town continued. In November 1904 Coisson visited the site of the proposed settlement.

“The roads have been surveyed, one sees little white flags which mark them through the bush. The railway is near by, all well levelled but without tracks, they will be laid as soon as the bridge over the Maramba will make it possible for the engine to cart the material over it. Next week the land on the township site will be sold in small square holdings. In the centre the price is £100 and the outskirts £50.” (Baxter and Clay, 1964)

Despite plans to hold the auction in late 1904 the Chartered Company finally auctioned 100 stands to the highest bidders on 23rd February 1905 (Baxter and Clay, 1964). To avoid speculation purchasers had to agree to erect on their stands a building to the minimum value of £300 within twelve months.

“The date was widely publicised in the Bulawayo Chronicle and some people from Bulawayo ventured north. In fact thirty of the seventy attending the sale were from that town. The buyers stood on the Market Square (Barotse Centre) with the bush crowding in around them. The roads had been cleared and, therefore, defined the blocks, but the stands were left with their dense growth of trees and shrubs. Despite their antagonism to this position on the sand belt, one third of the Old Drifters, including L F Moore, who was one of the prime movers for Livingstone’s site being more sensibly placed, bought stands in the new township.” (Watt, undated)

Phillipson later recorded:

“The township itself was laid out as a rectangular gird of streets and sanitary lanes forming fifteen blocks, in all covering an area of rather less than one square kilometre. The central street, Mainway (now Mosi-oa-Tunya Road) was to be forty-three metres wide. The central block was to be an open park, known as the Barotse Centre, which still survives. The remaining fourteen blocks comprised two hundred and four stands. Some of these were reserved for the Administration’s offices and others for Old Drift residents who were to be forced to abandon their old settlement.” (Phillipson, 1990)

Stubborn Settlers

Several months after the auction of plots many members of the Old Drift community, including ‘Mopane’ Clarke, Fred Mills and Leopold Moore (who all bought plots in the new township), were still refusing to swap their cool shaded riverside plots for the sun-baked sand-belt, petitioning for the alternative site closer to the Falls. On the 5th May a group of sixteen settlers, who had all bought stands at the new township, held a public meeting at Clarke’s Bar on the issue, with Mr Hawksley, the Secretary for Lands and Mines representing the Administration.

The Old Drifters were unified in their protests that the selected site was “too far from both the Falls and the river” and that the ground was “unsuitable for building and road-making, and the approaches being through heavy sand, make transport expensive” (Arrington-Sirois, 2017). One of the settlers questioned was “the country so beautiful that a township [closer to the Falls] would mar the beauty?” Another demanded: “Do you think people enjoy a six mile [9.6 km] walk or drive through heavy sand?” (Lewis, 2018).

A further meeting was held with Coryndon, the Administrator, on 19th May.

“The ‘Old Drifters’ tried their best, insisting that ‘this is an age of survival of the fittest, and sentiment must give way to practicality’... The settlers did not get their way. Coryndon was adamant that he was not going ‘to handicap for ever the commercial and sentimental prospects’ of the area just because a handful of businesses... believing that sentiment and commerce could ‘run together.’” (Lewis, 2018)

One of the Old Drifters, Carter, felt that Coryndon was compromising the future development of the town and territory north of the river, and not shy to tell him so.

“As Administrator of North-Western Rhodesia I do not think your attitude in this matter will have furthered the interests of North-Western Rhodesia. I consider that by your attitude you have damned the country.” (Watt, undated)

Moore recorded simply: “Matter fully finally settled without reference to us” (Arrington-Sirois, 2017).

Watt records the text of a letter written by Coisson on the 25th May:

“The settlers want the site of the new town to be changed because it is too sandy and the transport of building materials will be difficult. Of course the authorities who have already spent much to clear the site, build a water reservoir, prepare the cemetery, etc., [and] do not want to give way. There may be a big court case in August unless the settlers change their minds.” (Watt, undated)

Coryndon had reported to the meeting on 19th May that £1,500 had already been spent on the cutting of roads and preparations and improvements the site. In response to Coryndon’s defence that a settlement nearer the Falls would mar their beauty the settlers complained that the unpainted steel Bridge was itself a ‘red monster,’ to reach which ‘an ugly gash had been scoured across the countryside.’ They lobbied that the Falls Hotel should be closed and completely demolished, arguing that all tourists should be accommodated and served from Livingstone - as had been intended when the railway had been originally planned (Rhodesia Railways Magazine, August 1955).

The settlers also feared the growth of a rival settlement on the south bank which, if more conveniently situated, could undermine yet further the tourism potential of the town. The Hotel, and indeed also Percy Clark, had already been granted trading licenses to run general stores and curio shops, causing further consternation when others failed to obtain similar licenses.

At the end of June the remaining residents of the Old Drift were individually instructed in writing by Sykes, as District Commissioner, to cease all trading by 23rd August and depart from the site by 23rd September.

Several months later a few stubborn settlers were still refusing to move. Moore later recorded that whilst the majority of inhabitants had moved to the new township by the beginning of 1906 a few still remained.

“It is difficult to say on what date Livingstone actually came into existence; the sale of stands took place on February 23rd 1905, the Government offices were built and taken over a few months later, and by the end of the year a few houses and stores had been erected. A few people still remained at the Old Drift camp, but the bulk of the present inhabitants had taken up their residence here by January 1st of this year.” (Livingstone Mail, December 1906)

The threat of a daily fine of one pound from January 1906 finally encouraged the last remaining settlers to move, and by early 1906 the Old Drift was all but abandoned to the bush, leaving just the small mission station, which remained open on its riverside site until 1907. The Reverend Louis Jalla took over at the Old Drift Mission Station on 8th September 1906, with the Coissons relocating north to a mission near Lealui.

“On 14th January, 1906, Coisson wrote: ‘The few settlers left at the river are moving to the new town, as the have been warned that those who stay at the river will be charged £1 per day. We, missionaries, are again to be alone.’” (Watt, undated)

Starting Over

Many of the settlers were unconvinced that the new town would succeed, with some instead turning to farming to support themselves and their families. Smith & James dissolved their partnership, with George Smith alone establishing the Pioneer Butchery in the new town. Some simply closed their doors, including the Bechuanaland Trading Company, leaving their former employees to seek new horizons (Watt, undated).

Many of the settlers, including Tom King and Wallie Walters, headed north along the line of the railway looking to trade cattle or establish a farms. The Reverend Stones departed in May 1905, having abandoned plans to establish a church on account of ill-health, and the Tulloch’s left their failing farming business and returned south in 1906.

“Among the first businesses to move was F J ‘Mopani’ Clarke’s Zambezi Trading Association, the main supplier of goods to the white population... Leopold Moore was the last to move.” (Macmillan, 2005)

Others who made the move included the Bezuidenhout’s, Jim Elliott and family, Mr and Mrs Mills and Mr Wacks. Life in the new town of Livingstone appears to have continued much as it had at the Drift, with Mrs Coisson writing on 13th December, 1905:

“We live in a bad corner of the world. In the new town there is a bar, which is said to be a disgrace for the town. From morning to evening there are people who drink until they fall down. This cannot go on very long. Surely the Government will put a brake to it. Meanwhile how many people will ruin themselves all round.” (Watt, undated)

Not all who made the move stayed. William Trayner ran the Livingstone Pioneer and Advertiser from January 1906 until September 1906 before shutting up shop and heading north to trade in cattle. The company of A & I Pieters (and who sold their Kalomo store to ‘Mopane’ Clarke) made the relocation to the new town only to go into liquidation during 1906 - a tough year for the town’s businesses.

“Van Blerk ran a store [for A & I Pieters], but when the Old Drift was rendered useless by the bridge and its site moved, he settled on a farm growing tobacco twelve miles from Livingstone on the Sinde River.” (Watt, undated)

George Smith had worse luck, accidentally drowning whilst attempting to cross the Maramba River on horseback in mid-1908.

Leopold Moore and Fred Mills would go on to play significant roles in the early development of the new town. Moore had originally agreed to work with Trayner as editor of the Pioneer and Advertiser, but after a falling out launched the Livingstone Mail in March 1906 in direct competition with Trayner. Mills opened the new town’s first significant Hotel, the Livingstone Hotel, opened in June 1906, and later also became proprietor of the second, the North-Western, built by ‘Mopane’ Clarke and opened in 1909. Clarke soon after sold the Hotel to Mills, leaving with his wife to live and farm in the Kafue region.

Growing Pains

Those traders who invested in establishing the new town of Livingstone had high expectations of the development which would follow.

“The prospect of the arrival of the railway provoked fantasies of economic growth, and global comparisons. It was confidently assumed that urban and industrial developments would be on the scale of Niagara City and Buffalo, which had grown up on the basis of power generated from the Niagara Falls... The South Africa Handbook of 1903 noted that thanks to the proximity of coal, minerals and water power, the site possessed ‘all the factors for the creation of a great manufacturing centre. A new Chicago, let us call it Cecilton, will spring up near the banks of the Zambezi.’ ... [In contrast] Niagara’s precedent was invoked again in debates over conservation, this time offering a negative example. Lord Curzon was not alone in feeling that the Victoria Falls were more sublime than Niagara on the grounds of the ‘lack of signs of civilization,’ and it was widely believed that new industrial prosperity in Niagara had spoilt its aesthetic appeal.” (McGregor, 2009)

But industry, and tourism, was slow to reach Livingstone and residents in their dissatisfaction focussed their blame on the Chartered Company. Moore voiced his varied criticisms against the Company and its Administration through the pages of the Livingstone Mail, identifying the poor transport links between Livingstone and the Falls as a significant handicap to tourism.

“Conductor Holland informs us that there were 101 passengers on board last Saturday’s train de luxe. About a dozen of them managed to get as far as Livingstone. This is most unsatisfactory and it is to be hoped that some effort will be made... to provide transport facilities for our visitors.” (Livingstone Mail, April 1906).

By August 1906 rumours were in circulation concerning the ongoing campaign by the residents, led by Moore and the Livingstone Mail, to relocate Livingstone to a site closer to the Falls. It was believed that the Administration had requested £60,000 in order to move both the capital at Kalomo and the town of Livingstone to a new site in the vicinity of the Bridge Engineers Camp. A front-page headline from the Livingstone Mail in June 1907 claiming that the move had been approved turned out to be wishful thinking.

In August 1907 three of the Directors of the Board of the Chartered Company, Henry William Montague Paulet (the 16th Marquess of Winchester), Sir John Henry Birchenough (later to become President of the Company) and Mr Henry Wilson Fox, visited to review the proposals regarding the capital and address the concerns of the residents of Livingstone, who at that time numbered some 180 individuals.

Sir Birchenough apparently felt that Livingstone should be relocated to the present site of the Victoria Falls town on the south bank. The other two representatives were initially in favour of a move to a new site on the north bank. In the end, however, they decided only to relocate the capital from Kalomo to Livingstone, and left to the residents to decide whether to stay in Livingstone or to move to the south bank, where the development of a small settlement was now officially accepted. Livingstone became the capital of North-Western Rhodesia in September 1907, bringing at least some life, and trade, to the struggling township. The town remained the capital after the formation of Northern Rhodesia in 1911 (following the amalgamation of the territories of North-Eastern and North-Western Rhodesia) up until 1935 when the administration was moved to Lusaka, the current capital.

Despite the commitment to develop a settlement on the south bank, several years elapsed with no signs of progress before it was announced in 1909 that the project had been abandoned for the foreseeable future.

“The project for establishing a township at Victoria Falls has been temporarily abandoned, and it seems to us unlikely that it will be revived while the Company retains the administration.” (Livingstone Mail, December 1909)

North-Western Puts Livingstone on the Map

With the relocation of the capital to Livingstone the Administration purchased the new town’s most significant building, the North-Western Hotel (built by George Pauling in 1906) to become Government House. Within a few years a second, grander North-Western Hotel opened, built by ‘Mopane’ Clarke and managed by Fred Mills, also owner of the Livingstone Hotel (opened in 1906). In March 1909 the Livingstone Mail carried a front page advert for the new Hotel:

“The North-Western Hotel (Proprietor F W Mills) will be opened on Thursday 1st April, Finest brands of liquors and cigars. Banquets and private dinners specially catered for. Special terms for month boarders. Livery & Bait Stables. Moderate charges. Carriages meet every train. Manager: Paul McUlenbergh, Late of Victoria Falls Hotel and Livingstone Club.” (Livingstone Mail, March 1909)

But transport around the growing settlement remained problematic.

“Transport in and around the town remained difficult for some years, due to the deep unconsolidated sand. Mules were the only practicable draft animals as horse-sickness was very frequent. The North-Western Hotel’s ‘carriage’ which ‘met all trains’ was in fact an old Zeederberg stage coach drawn by a team of mules.” (Phillipson, 1990)

An early image of the North-Western Hotel
An early image of the North-Western Hotel

Livingstone Trolley System

In 1908 a local rail trolley system was introduced to Livingstone, running on a two-foot gauge track from the Railway Station down to the river and Livingstone Boat Club. Another line later ran to the North-Western Hotel.

“Rickshaws were used for a short period, but were not popular. Light trolleys consisting of two benches back to back and running on rails were installed in 1907-8 between the North-Western Hotel and the Boat Club. They had a hand brake but no motor, being pushed uphill by four Africans. They were popular among those passengers who were not involved in the occasional derailments.” (Phillipson, 1990)

Trains ran from Livingstone to the Falls twice a day, but only on three days of the week - highly inconvenient for visiting tourists restricted to only a few days to tour the area.

“By 1907 there were, twice daily on three days of the week, return trains between Livingstone and the Falls. Road development was slow and expensive: in the dry season the roads were little more than a strip of deep soft sand. In 1907 a hard road was laid from the Railway Station to Government House and similar work was carried out on a small scale in most years thereafter, but it was ten years before a road was built linking Livingstone and the Falls.” (Phillipson, 1990)

Next page: Victoria Falls Power Scheme

Recommended Reading

Arrington-Sirois, A. L. (2017) Victoria Falls and Colonial Imagination in British Southern Africa: Turning Water into Gold. Palgrave Macmillan.

Baxter T. W. and Clay, G. (1963) The Discovery And Historical Associations [In Fagan, B. M. [Editor] (1963), Chapter 1.]

Clark, P. M. (1936) Autobiography of an Old Drifter. Harrap, London.

Lewis, J. (2018) Empire of Sentiment - The Death of Livingstone and the Myth of Victoria Imperialism. Cambridge University Press.

Livingstone Mail (April 1906) 21 April, 1906. [Quoted in Arrington, 2010]

Livingstone Mail (December 1906b) Livingstone in 1906 - A Retrospect. Christmas Edition, December 1906. [LMA]

Livingstone Mail (March 1909) Front page advertisement for the North-Western Hotel. 13 March 1909. No.155. [LMA]

Livingstone Mail (December 1909) Our Annual Retrospect. Christmas Edition. [LMA]

Macmillan H (2005) An African Trading Empire - The Story of Susman Borthers and Wulfsohn, 1901-2005. I B Tauris & Co Ltd, London.

McGregor, JoAnn (2009) Crossing the Zambezi : The Politics of Landscape on an African Frontier. Oxford : James Currey & Harare : Weaver Press

Phillipson, D. W (1975 & 1990) Mosi-oa-Tunya : A Handbook to the Victoria Falls Region Longman, Salisbury/Harare, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe

Rhodesia Railways Magazine (August 1955) Fifty Years - The Story of a Bridge (Part 2). Vol.4, No.3, p.21-23. [BRMA]

Roberts, P (2018) 'Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls 1898-1905.' Zambezi Book Company

Watt, A. (undated) History of Livingstone (unpublished document held by Livingstone Museum, c1960s).


Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls 1898-1905

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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.

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