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

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.

"After the Matabele War of 1893 and the flight and death of Lobengula, impis ceased to ravage the country. Then Giese returned and pegged the original location on an outcrop of shales in the bed of the Kanamdama River, at a spot a few miles west of the present No 1 Colliery, where he found an outcrop thirty feet thick. Later, he put down a small shaft which further convinced him of the great importance of his find. Nevertheless, he realised that the development of the property would constitute a task far beyond private means... in 1895, he visited Wankie a third time to peg a concession of 400 square miles." (Fuller, 1954)

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.

Giese appears to have recieved a grant of land in return for his claims and settled down to farm in the region, providing produce for the growing mining community. He also established a series of trading posts to link north to the Falls.

“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 also became an agent of the Rhodesian Estates Office, and spent the next few decades trying to draw fellow farmers to settle in the region.

"Giese, expected to receive some deference to his status as an Estates Agent of sorts, and some respect for his historical place in the district. His neighbours found him an intense man, with a 'keen desire for power'...

"Newcomers into the district soon learned Giese’s darker side. He was accused of living with black women, taking the wives of his Bushman 'retainers' as mistresses, picking up African prostitutes in Wankie town, and illegally supplying liquor to the Africans, an offence for which he was convicted. To some whites he seemed to be 'unscrupulous,' a 'distinctly dangerous type of man,' yet to others (such as the Colonial Administrator R. Coryndon) he was looked upon affectionately, a one-time compatriot in adventure during the early ‘frontier’ days..." (Haynes, 2013)

Giese farmed several areas in the Hwange region, finally building a homestead and farming at Mbala Farm near the Lukosi River.

"Albert Giese had two farms divided from each other by the headwaters of the Deka River. These farms were near to the old P-m-T road, and perhaps, some twenty miles from the site of Matenga's hunting kraal... These farms were known as Big Deka and Small Deka. However he spent most of his time at the farms M'Bala and M'Bala Junction, situated near Lukosi, almost due south if Wankie and in wild country bordering on the present official confines of the great Game Reserve...

"In 1923, Giese accepted a contract to cut timber for the Colliery on the Wankie Timber Concessions, work which he continued until his death in 1938, in his seventy-third year. Throughout his life Giese had been of an adventurous disposition, and, at the very time of his death, he was planning an expedition in search of alluvial gold and of a field of opals which he had found in earlier days." (Fuller, 1954)

A loner for much of his life, Giese married in his later years.

"When he was an old man he married a Cambridge widow and acquired British nationality, having been a stateless person since 1883, when he had denounced his German citizenship. He died in 1938, 72 years old. He is buried – alone – at now derelict Mbala Lodge (right), on the Lukosi River, a few kilometers in one direction from the coalfields and a few kilometers in the other direction from the boundary of the National Park." (Haynes, 2013)

His wife, Mary Margaret Giese (nee Remmington-Negus), lived on Mbala Farm until the 1950s when it was sold to the Arnott family and later purchased by Rhodesian Government (in 1963). Mary Giese died in Bulawayo in 1971 aged 91.


Fuller, B. (1954) Bid Time Return. De Bussy, Holland.

Haynes, G. (2013) Hwange National Park The Forest with a Desert Heart. Hwange Research Trust.

Southern Rhodesia Publicity Office (1938) The Victoria Falls of Rhodesia. Public Relations Department of Southern Rhodesia.

Amazon's UK site

Amazon's US site

Discover Victoria Falls with Zambezi EcoTours