History Archive Icon

History Archive

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Collection

History Archive - Victoria Falls Collection

Victoria Falls is one of the greatest waterfall in the world, forming the most remarkable feature of the river Zambezi, Central Africa. The falls are about midway in the course of the Zambezi in 17° 51? S., 25° 41? E. For a considerable distance above the falls the river flows over a level sheet of basalt, its valley bounded by low and distant sandstone hills. Its clear blue waters are dotted with numerous tree-clad islands. These islands increase in number as the river, without quickening its current, approaches the falls, whose nearness is indicated only by a veil of spray.

At the spot where the Zambezi is at its widest—over 1860 yds.—it falls abruptly over the edge of an almost vertical chasm with a roar as of continuous thunder, sending up vast columns of vapour. Hence the native name Musi-oa-tunya, “Smoke does sound there,” The chasm extends the whole breadth of the river and is more than twice the depth of Niagara, varying from 256 ft. at the right bank to 343 ft. in the centre.

Unlike Niagara the water does not fall into an open basin but is arrested at a distance of from 80 to 240 ft. by the opposite wall of the chasm Both walls are of the same height, so that the falls appear to be formed by a huge crack in the bed of the river The only outlet is a narrow channel cut in the barrier wall at a point about three fifths from the western end of the chasm, and through this gorge, not more than 100 ft wide, the whole volume of the river pours for 130 yds. before emerging into an enormous zigzag trough (the Grand Cañon) which conducts the river past the basalt plateau. The tremendous pressure to which the water is subjected in the confinement of the chasm causes the perpetual columns of mist which rise over the precipice.

The fall is broken by islands on the lip of the precipice into four parts. Close to the right bank is a sloping cataract 36 yds. wide, called the Leaping Water, then beyond Boaruka Island, about 300 yds. wide, is the Main Fall, 473 yds. broad, and divided by Livingstone Island from the Rainbow Fall 535 yds. wide. At both these falls the rock is sharp cut and the river maintains its level to the edge of the precipice. At the left bank of the river is the Eastern Cataract, a millrace resembling the Leaping Water. From opposite the western end of the falls to Danger Point, which overlooks the entrance of the gorge, the escarpment of the chasm is covered with great trees known as the Rain Forest, looking across the gorge the eastern part of the wall (the Knife Edge) is less densely wooded.

At the end of the gorge the river has hollowed out a deep pool, named the Boiling Pot. It is some 500 ft. across, its surface, smooth at low water, is at flood-time troubled by slow, enormous swirls and heavy boilings. Thence the channel turns sharply westward, beginning the great zigzag mentioned. This grand and gloomy canon is over 40 m. long. Its almost perpendicular walls are over 400 ft. high, the level of the escarpment being that of the lip of the falls. A little below the Boiling Pot, and almost at right angles to the falls, the cañon is spanned by a bridge (completed in April 1905) which forms a link in the Cape to Cairo railway scheme. This bridge, 650 ft. long, with a main arch of 500 ft. span, is slightly below the top of the gorge. The height from low-water level to the rails is 420 ft.

The volume of water borne over the falls varies greatly, the level of the river in the cañon sinking as much as 60 ft. between the full flood of April and the end of the dry season in October. When the river is high the water rolls over the main falls in one great unbroken expanse; at low water (when alone it is possible to look into the grey depths of the great chasm) the falls are broken by crevices in the rock into numerous cascades.

The falls are in the territory of Rhodesia. They were discovered by David Livingstone on the 17th of November 1855, and by him named after Queen Victoria of England. Livingstone approached them from above and gained his first view of the falls from the island on its lip now named after him. In 1860 Livingstone, with Dr (afterwards Sir John) Kirk, made a careful investigation of the falls, but until the opening of the railway from Bulawayo (1905) they were rarely visited. The land in the vicinity of the falls is preserved by the Rhodesian government as a public park.


See Livingstone's Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (London, 1857) for the story of the discovery of the falls, and the Popular Account of Dr Livingstone's Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries 1858-1864 (London, 1894) for a fuller description of the falls and a theory as to their origin. How I crossed Africa, by Major Serpa Pinto (English trans., London. 1881), contains a graphic account of the visit paid to the falls by the Portuguese explorer. In the Geographical Journal for January 1905 is an article by A. J. C. Molyneux on “The Physical History of the Victoria Falls.” The article is illustrated by excellent photographs and gives a bibliography. Consult also “The Gorge and Basin of the Zambesi below the Victoria Falls,” by G. W. Lamplugh in the Geog. Jour. (1908), vol. xxxi.


1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28. pp. 44-45.

Available Books


Image Name
Front Cover
The Falls by Sunrise with the Spray Cloud Rising 1,200 Feet
The Start From Kikoka 18th July 1867
Mpwapwa in the Usagara Mountains
Book Display I
Dryiophis oatesii
The Leaping Water or Westernmost Cataract
Map of Mr. F. Oates's Route from Tati to the Umgwanya River
The Falls from the Western End of the Chasm
Anthericum oatesii
Bradyornis oatesii
Saxicola shellyi
Hunters' Camp on the Semokewe River
Matebeles in Martial Costume
Entrance Gate to Bukindo, Island of Ukerewe
Encampment in Potchefstrom
[Insect Parts]
View from the C.M.S Station Mpwapwa Looking West
My First Gnu
Victoria Falls, Zambesi (Western Extremity)
Hunting Hippopotami
[Butterflies - II]
Wreck of the Dhow
A Street in d'Uurban
A Buffalo Hunt
View of the Tati Settlement
Front Cover
Grant Bay, Victoria, Nyanza from the Island of Ukerewe
[Butterflies - I]
Book Display II
Centre Rock Fall and the Eastern Cataracts
Adiantium oatesii
C.M.S Camp at Magubika, Usagara
Coronella tritaenia
The Victoria Falls of the Zambesi
C.M.S Camp and Building Yard, Bukindo, Ukerewe
Court House and Entrance to King's Palace, Bukindo
Zanjueelah, the Boatman of the Rapids
The Profile Cliff, Narrow Gorge and Torrent of the Zambesi
The Falls from the Narrow Neck Near the Eastern Headland of the Outlet
Harbour of Durban
View from the C.M.S Camp Mkundi River Usagara Looking East
Nguru, Capital of Usukuma
Marketing at the C.M.S Camp Ukerewe
High Veldt, Transvaal
C.M.S Camp in Western Ugogo
Book Cover
Herd of Buffaloes Driven to the Edge of the Chasm
Grave of John Smith at Kagei
Sketch Map of East Africa
A Doomed Rhinoceros
Map of South Eastern Africa
Caught in the Act
Title Page
Dry Bed of the Inkwesi River
Map of Mr. F. Oates's Route from Shoshong to Tati
Title Page
Great Western or Main Fall
View in the Nguru Mountains Near Mamro on the Wami
On the March
Shoshong, Bamangwato
Front Cover
Panoramic View from the C.M.S Camp, Mkundi River, Usagara, Looking West
Village of Rosako
Back Cover
Rapids on the Wami River
Back Cover
Repairing the Daisy at Kagei
A Night Encampment in the Forest
Plan or Bird's Eye View of Victoria Falls
Back Cover
Tati Settlement
The Falls from the East End of the Chasm to Garden Island
Book Display III
Title Page


View All Regions
History of Humanity - History Archive Logo
History of Humanity - History Mysteries Logo
History of Humanity - Ancient Mesopotamia Logo
History of Humanity - Egypt History Logo
History of Humanity - Persian Empire Logo
History of Humanity - Greek History Logo
History of Humanity - Alexander the Great Logo
History of Humanity - Roman History Logo
History of Humanity - Punic Wars Logo
History of Humanity - Golden Age of Piracy Logo
History of Humanity - Revolutionary War Logo
History of Humanity - Mafia History Logo