Life and Death at the Old Drift

Victoria Falls 1898-1905

Albert Giese

Albert Giese may have first visited the Falls as early as 1896 (Sykes, 1905, on first visitors to the Falls).

"Born at Cassel, in Germany, in 1865 Albert Giese received medical training at Bonn University. Later, he migrated to South Africa to join his uncle who was a surgeon. But soon the young man grew restless. He wished to become a hunter and explorer. So, in 1889, he left his uncle's home, crossed the Limpopo, and in the course of adventurous journeys met Cheif Lobengula and, later, Chief Lewanika of Barotseland. It was then that he joined the Bechuanaland Border Police." (Fuller, 1954)

Albert Giese

Albert Giese (1865-1938)

After a brief period in the police, Giese panned for gold in the Tati goldrush of 1893, where he apparently heard stories of ‘black stones that burn,’ brought by emissaries of Chief Wankie, who sought defence against the ruthless raids his people suffered at the hands of Mzilikazi and his successor, Lobengula. After seeking the Chief’s permission to explore the region, Giese discovered exposed outcrops of coal thirty feet thick and evidence of ancient surface workings, returning later to stake his mining claim.

The Wankie (Rhodesia) Coal, Railway and Exploration Company was formed in 1899 to exploit the coal reserves on an industrial scale, eventually evolving into the Wankie Colliery Company Ltd. Coal was produced for the first time in November 1903.

“Meanwhile, he traded... beginning the chain of stores which, ultimately, he established between Wankie and the Falls. The final post in this chain stood near the spot where the statue of David Livingstone [now] overlooks the Devil’s Cataract. Near the store he kept two large canoes for trading on the Zambesi. Giese’s Drift is still marked on some modern maps.” (Fuller, 1954)

Baxter (1952) recorded that Harding meet Giese at the Falls around 1900 in the process of establishing a trading post and rest camp for travellers on the south bank.

“On his return, Harding travelled down the Zambesi to the Victoria Falls, where he met Albert Giese (the discoverer of the Wankie coalfields and still living in their neighbourhood), who was engaged in the work of erecting a store and rest-huts for the use of travellers on a grant of land received from the British South Africa Company - the beginning, surely, of the tourist industry at the Victoria Falls.” (Southern Rhodesia Publicity Office, 1938)

Giese later settled and farmed in the Hwange region until his death in 1938.

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