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The Great Hunters

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Victoria Falls and The Zambezi | William Charles Baldwin Recalls

In August 1860 the hunter reached the Zambesi (or Victoria) Falls. Their majestic power excited him to descriptive passages unusual in his book.
Here he met Dr. Livingstone.

Zambesi Falls (2) at last. I set off resolutely on the 1st, being determined to find the Falls; walked all day and all night, and towards morning I heard the roar of them. I never rested till I threw myself down, just before daybreak, within 300 yards of the river, and I spent yesterday at the Falls, which far exceeded all I have been led to expect. Rougher traveling I never encountered, but I had the benefit of the full moon.

I struck the river first about two miles wide, covered with islands of all sizes, one at least ten or twelve miles round, wooded to the waters edge mowana trees (3), palmyra (4) and palms (5) and plenty of wild dates (6), some of the former measuring twenty yards round the bole. The river is the finest and most beautiful I ever saw. It is rocky and rather shallow, and, just above the Falls, about one mile wide. And now for the Falls. I heard the roar full ten miles off, and you can see the immense volumes of spray ascending like a great white cloud, over which shines an eternal rainbow. The whole volume of water pours over a huge rock into an enormous chasm below, of immense depth. I counted from sixteen to eighteen, while a heavy stone of about twenty pounds weight was falling. I could not see it to the bottom, but only saw the splash in the water. I stood opposite to the Falls at nearly the same elevation, and could almost throw a stone across. The gorge cannot be more than a hundred yards wide, and at the bottom the river rolls turbulently boiling.

You cannot see the largest falls for more than a few yards down, on account of the spray, and you are drenched with rain for a hundred yards round the falling mist. It is one perpendicular fall of many hundred feet, and I should think there are no less than thirty or forty different cascades, of all widths. The gorge cannot be less than 2000 yards long, and the outlet is not certainly more than forty yards wide. This outlet is not at the end of the gorge, though how far off I cannot say; the streams meet, form a wild, mad whirlpool, and then rush helter skelter through the pass. Looking up the gorge from that point is the most magnificent sight I ever beheld. It is as if streams of brimstone fires were ascending high into the clouds. There was a never ceasing rain for fifty, and in some places a hundred yards, on the high land opposite, and the rocks are very slippery, and the ground where there are no rocks is a regular swamp, where the hippopotamus, buffalo, and elephant come to graze on the green grass.  There is one grand fall at the head of the gorge which you can see to the bottom, about eighty yards wide, but not so deep, as the river forms a rapid before it shoots perpendicular over the rock.

Below the Falls the river winds about in a deep, narrow, inaccessible gorge a strong, swift, rocky stream. I followed its windings for some distance and, after all, was not more than two miles, as the crow flies, from the Falls. It is one succession of kloofs, valleys, mountains, and the worst walking I ever encountered.

The river through this fearful gorge seems not wider than a swollen Highland torrent. The greatest drawback to the otherwise magnificent scene is that the dense clouds rising from below render the main Falls invisible, and it is only the smaller  cascades you can see to the bottom. There are some thirty or forty of these, spreading over a space of at least 1500 yards. The Makololo (7) are very jealous, and very much alarmed at my having found my way hither, and cannot account for it. I show them the compass, and say that is my guide, and they are sorely perplexed. The baboons here are out of all number.

I saw the Falls from the opposite side yesterday, and also from above. No words can express their grandeur. The view from above is, to my mind, the most magnificent; the water looks like a shower of crystal, and it is one perpendicular fall of immense height. There is only one outlet, and it is marvelous how such an immense body of water squeezes itself through so small an opening.

I have punted for three days in all directions in the Makololo canoes, and could spend half my life on the waters. Dr. Livingstone (8) is expected here to day, and I am waiting to see him.

I had the honour yesterday of cutting my initials on a tree on the island above the Falls, just below Dr. Livingstones, as being the second European who has reached the Falls, and the first from the East Coast.

Charles Livingstone (9) says they far exceed Niagara in every respect, and the Doctor tells me that it is the only place, from the West Coast to the East, where he had the vanity to cut his initials.


Mapani trees. The Mapani (or Mopane) Tree ( Colophospermun mopane) is a sturdy plant with durable hard wood. It is also known as Rhodesian Ironwood or the Turpentine Tree.

Zambesi Falls at last. Baldwin arrived on August 4th. The name which Livingstone had given to the Falls in 1855 as a mark of honour to Queen Victoria had not yet apparently become widely known.

Mowana trees. Bechuana or Makololo term for the Baobab Tree (Adansonia digitat). This is remarkable for its barrel like trunk. It is so strange in shape that an Arab legend suggests that the devil plucked up the baobab, thrust its branches into the earth, and left its roots in the air.

Palmyra. Baldwin may be describing Borassus  flabellifer. This tree attains a height of 18.30 metres. Its summit id crowned with a radiating tuft of fanlike leaves. It bears clusters of brown fruit rather like cocoanuts.

Palms. Probably Hyphaene ventricosa with long clean stem and radiating crown.

Wild Dates. (Phoenix reclinata). Found in Rhodesia, Natal, the Eastern part of the Cape Province and Angola. The leaves are suitable for making baskets and mats.

The Makololo. A local tribe.

Dr. Livingstone. David Livingstone 1813 1873. Famous African explorer and missionary.

Charles Livingstone. Davids younger brother who was accompanying him as moral agent on the expedition. It was not a successful appointment.