The Victoria Falls history and its home on the Zambezi River have a long and fascinating story.

Victoria Falls History 1904
Victoria Falls 1904

The Beginnings of Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls history and the beginnings of the waterfall go back centuries to the very beginnings of nature’s influence on the planet and the changes our climate and seasons have wrought on this earth.

The waterfall we know today was very different 1.5 million years ago. The constant flow and turbulence of the currents carved out successive gorges through the fissures in the basalt rock, creating 8 different precipices and waterfalls throughout the ages.

The Zambezi River is a major river in the region and is a life source both for the wildlife and the different tribes who have inhabited the region for centuries.

The Human Story of Victoria Falls History

The Bundu people of Zambia believe that there is a spirit living in the Zambezi River which they call the Nyami Nyami. This entity brings the water which allows them to fish and water their crops, thus the river is known to them as “the river of life”.

Today it is just as important to humans as it always has been – we still use it for irrigation, transportation, hydropower, and now, tourism.

English is the official language of the region although the many different tribes that live along the length of the Zambezi River through the different countries it flows through speak more than 70 other languages.

Who Discovered Victoria Falls?

When Was Victoria Falls Discovered?

The Victoria Falls discovery of the current gorge was by the explorer David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary, in 1855, when he was on an expedition to discover a route from the Upper Zambezi to the coast.

The tribe that lived closest to the Falls was the Makololo. They took David Livingstone down the Zambezi River in a dugout canoe towards “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – the native expression for “The Smoke that Thunders”.

A very apt description that is imprinted into the history of the waterfall and made famous by David Livingstone on his return to England.

Statue of David Livingstone

Livingstone Discovers Victoria Falls

A statue of David Livingstone is positioned across the waterfall. The site is opposite the position of his discovery of the waterfall.

Livingstone first saw the Falls from an island in the middle of the river and wrote later “no-one could perceive where the vast body of water went; it seemed to lose itself in the earth…”. He then crawled towards the edge on his stomach to peer over the precipice and view the stunning sheer drop to the gorge below.

His description of the beauty of this waterfall is legendary:- “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight…”.

Later David Livingstone renamed the falls, Victoria Falls, after Queen Victoria who was monarch of England at the time.

Early History Of The Town

As word spread about the discovery of the incredible waterfall, Anglo traders started including the route in their trading endeavours. Soon a crude trading settlement was set up on the Zambian side of the riverbank around 1900.

The wide river was crossed above the waterfall using a steel cable to tow a dugout canoe or barge, to the original town, called the Old Drift. Soon the very first tourism started as visitors from the Transvaal in South Africa started trickling in to view this amazing sight on foot, horseback, or using the famous ox-wagon to cross the bushveld.

Unfortunately, the settlement at the Old Drift was infested with malaria and eventually repositioned to the present-day site of the town on the Zimbabwean side of the river.

The Old Drift Town

This makes the history of Victoria Falls town an adventurous one, with much hard work and many interesting characters molding the town to what it is today.

The Old Drift Town

The development of the steel Bridge in 1905 by Cecil John Rhodes at a height of 128 metres, and the subsequent railway, encouraged more European visitors. The Victoria Falls Hotel was built in 1906 and still is the landmark hotel in the town. The remarkable view of the Bridge over the gorge is still a favourite from the grounds of the hotel.

66 years later, the expanding village was granted town status and is now the main tourist centre of the region.

The remarkable Victoria Falls history remains one of the greatest stories told.