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

Life and Death at the Old Drift

Victoria Falls 1898-1905

The following text is adapted from 'Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls (1898-1905)', researched and written by Peter Roberts and published in 2018. The book is available to order online through Amazon and specialist book suppliers.

Frank Vigers Worthington

Frank Vigers Worthington (b.1874 - d.1964) arrived at Kazungula on the banks of the Zambezi with Major Robert Coryndon (on his way to Barotseland to take up the role of Company Representative, and soon after also Resident Commissioner on behalf of the British Government. Coryndon would later become Administrator of North-Western Rhodesia, 1900-1907) on 17th September 1897.

“[I]n September 1897, Major R T Coryndon, in the dual capacity of British Resident and the representative of the BSAC, arrived [on the banks of the Zambezi], accompanied by Mr F V Worthington, Sergeant Dobson, Corporal Macaulay and Troopers Bird, Aitkins and Leek (Mr F Aitkens became District Commissioner, Barotseland, and Mr F V Worthington District Commissioner, Batoka District - afterwards Secretary for Native Affairs for North-Western Rhodesia.) They were met at Kazungula by Leita, Lewanika’s son, who escorted them to Lealui the Capital, at which they arrived in October...

“Worthington and one policeman were left at Kazungula which was then a large native town and an important place, being the terminus of the Bulawayo-Zambesi road, and the way-in to the Victoria Falls. The wagon road [from Kazungula] to the Falls was cut by Worthington in 1898, but in a couple of years or so, a more direct route was cut to Livingstone, and Kazungula fell into disuse; curious when one realises that four territories meet here.” (Clark, 1952)

Worthington gives an interesting account of the meeting:

“I remember distinctly my first sight of this splendid river, seeing it as I did before daylight. We had trekked through the night to avoid a belt of Tsetse Fly, or rather to pass through the belt without risk to our oxen, as they, the fly, are not so active during the night as during the day. There was nearly a quarter of a moon left, just sufficient to enable use to distinguish the Mission Station at Kazungula across the river.

"As day began to dawn, we were enabled to pick out the objects one by one as the greys became pinks and the dark neutral tints became greys; the sky in the east became light blue shot with red and crimson, reflecting curiously on the water. Looking up and down the river one could see the white mist rolling away from the water revealing every moment some new beauty in the shape of an island covered with tall palm trees, or tangled masses of reeds swaying slowly with the current, whose perfect surface reflected every detail of growth and cloud, which fringed it or floated overhead. Presently a diver flew partly across, and then up the river, her wings, as she flapped along coming in contact with the water, started hundreds of circles, which widening, faded, leaving a perfect mirror. Then the sun came up and everything stirred into life and my first day on the Zambezi had dawned. I turned as the boy came up to say that breakfast would be ready in a few minutes, to which, after a wash, I did full justice.

"We did not waste much time over breakfast. Leita, the King’s son, was to come over that morning and welcome Major Coryndon to the country as British Resident. So we put on our uniforms and the men were inspected and told the orders of the day. Shortly after this a message came from the King’s son to ask if Major Coryndon was ready to receive him. On hearing this the Major said he was perfectly ready. Then from the other side of the river forty canoes, each containing eight to ten natives, started in a body, one slightly advance of the rest. The distance from bank to bank, about 400 yards, was quickly traversed, and Leita stepped on shore. He is a tall man with a remarkably well shaped head, a pleasant smile reveals a rather prominent but splendid set of teeth, he wears a ‘Barotse’ beard on his slightly receding chin. Altogether he has a pleasing appearance.

"The indunas have no authority or power over the common people, or the King over the indunas, the slaves are the only people who suffer and they their owners starve and, for the slightest offence, kill.

"However, to return to the river. We had a long talk with the prince, amongst other things arranging about canoes to transport ourselves and goods to the capital. Letia then left us and recrossed the river.

"We had lunch with the missionary over the river, and after lunch, Major Coryndon sent for a bicycle (we brought with us) and gave small exhibition ride before the prince, who had never seen one before. The missionary, who is a Swiss, had ridden a bicycle four years ago in Paris, and was anxious to ride again, so he mounted and rode round the compound, and then towards a gateway with a post in the middle. He rode at a great rate, and soon we could see that he was uncertain as to which side of the post he should go. Of course he ended by charging the post and coming a perfect crumpler, much to the native’s delight. However, he jumped up all smiles and joined in the laugh against himself.” (Clark, 1952)

Worthington acted for several years as Coryndon's secretary at Lealui, the first Administrative capital of North-Western Rhodesia, before being appointed as District Commissioner for the Batoka District in April 1901, and serving as Secretary for Native Affairs for North-Western Rhodesia from 1904 until 1911 (Wright, 2001).

"Frank Vigers Worthington was a former bank clerk who had left Johannesburg in April 1896 to join the Matabeleland Relief Force as a trooper. He was an accounts officer at Bulawayo when appointed Coryndon’s confidential secretary in May 1897. He remained as such until appointed District Commissioner, Batokaland, in April 1901. From 1904 until his retirement in 1914 Worthington was Secretary for Native Affairs for North-Western Rhodesia and, from August 1911, Northern Rhodesia." (Wright, 2001)

Worthington's support role to Coryndon often saw him posted to the Old Drift:

“By 1899 traders had arrived at the Old Drift and were trading with the local population. One trader, Veal, established his store near Sekuti’s Village but his drunkenness caused much trouble amongst the tribes... Major Frank V Worthington went to the village to see Sekuti, with Rev. Coisson, to look into the matter. Veal was asked to leave the territory and told not to make any further trouble north of the Zambesi.” (Watt, undated)

Mr E Knowles Jordan arrived at Lealui in 1905 and records:

"...the versatile F V Worthington, known to the natives as N'gaka (the Doctor), [was] in charge of native affairs. Worthington, in addition to his other qualifications, was a first class black-and-white artist and made many clever and realistic drawings of native life." (Northern Rhodesia Journal, 1951)

Henry Rangeley, the first Magistrate for North-Western Rhodesia, arrived at Lealui in mid-1902, later recording the origin of this nickname.

"[The] Secretary for Native Affairs (F.V.Worthington), was an old hand. He had been secretary to Mr Coryndon when the concession was obtained from Lewanika. He had the native name of N'gake – 'the doctor.' When the party went to Barotse to get the concession signed, one of the Royal family was having great trouble with childbirth. How they came to pitch on Mr Coryndon's secretary as an obstetrician I do not know, as his sole qualification was that his father had been a medical man. But the Secretary was not a man to let them down... But when he came near the hut where the lady was in trouble, all the drums in the village were beaten and the old women made such a wailing... [and with] a great effort... produced twins. It was supposed that the Secretary's mere presence on the threshold had done the trick... So as N'ake he was known to every native in the country and they were all a bit afraid of him." (Northern Rhodesia Journal, 1965)

Rangeley records Worthington had more than one unusual pet:

"He collected strange and not always pleasant pets. One was marabou stork, with a bill like a pickaxe. 'Darwin,' who had a free run, was quite a humorist. He would walk quietly up to a sleeping dog, contemplate it for a time as if choosing a particularly tender spot, and then give the animal a tremendous blow with his beak and, as it went away hurling, would clatter his beak and dance around with delight. But he used to do the same thing with the little doctor, for whom he seemed to have a dislike. He would stalk up behind him and give him a sudden and tremendous blow. And I'm afraid we usually endeavoured to distract the doctor's attention when we saw Darwin stalking him.

"Another 'pet' was a large bush-pig. It was kept in a post I and behave just like a domestic pig. It seemed quite amiable and when it dug its way out of the sty, which it occasionally did, it could always be persuaded to go home by one boy pushing it and another scratching its back with a garden rake. Once, when the Secretary for Native Affairs was away, he got the police storekeeper to stay at his house and look after things. This man, a New Zealander and a very good fellow, had a wooden leg up to the thigh, as he had been hit by a pot-leg whilst in Greys Scouts in the rebellion. Whilst he was looking after the house, he was roused one night by disturbance and found that the pig had got out of it sty and was being attacked by a big boar-hound he owned. When he went near, the pig, which had quite lost its temper, charged him and knocked him down and it was only the intervention of the boar-hound, which hung onto an ear of the pig, saved him from a bad mauling. He got a gun and shot the pig, but had to go to the hospital to get a few wounds and bruises fixed up. The pig had devoted quite a lot of attention to the wooden leg and had chipped bits out of it. After the doctor had fixed up the cuts and bruises, the storekeeper showed him the wooden leg. The doctor was most indignant and said that he was a doctor, not a carpenter." (Northern Rhodesia Journal, 1965)

Gann (1958) records Worthington as undertaking the role of Acting Adminsitrator of North-Western Rhodesia from April-July 1904.

By 1918 Worthington was working as a Deputy Chief Censor for the War Office. He was awarded the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1920, when he is credited as Director Gerneral, Awards Branch, Ministry of Pensions.

Worthington wrote and illustrated several books, noteably supplying illustrations for Frank Sykes' book 'With Plumber in Matabeleland,' published in 1897, and later writing a book of short anecdotes of his African adventures, 'The Witch Doctor and Other Rhodesian Studies,' which among other stories includes an entertaining account of the short life and times of Darwin the Marabou stork.


Clark, J. D. [Editor] (1952) The Victoria Falls: A Handbook to the Victoria Falls, the Batoka Gorge, and part of the Upper Zambesi River Commission for the Preservation of Natural and Historical Monuments and Relics, Lusaka.

Gann L H (1958) Birth of a Plural Society - The Development of Northern Rhodesia under the British South Africa Company 1894-1914.

Northern Rhodesia Journal (July 1951) Early Days in Kalomo and Livingstone. Vol.1, No.4, p.16-23.

Northern Rhodesia Journal (January 1965) Memoirs of Henry Rangeley. Vol.6, No.1, p.35-52.

Youé, C. P, (1986) Robert Thorne Coryndon: Proconsular Imperialism in Southern and Eastern Africa, 1897–1925.

Watt, A. (undated) History of Livingstone (unpublished document held by Livingstone Museum, c1960s).

Worthington, F. V. (1922) The Witch Doctor and Other Rhodesian Studies. The Field Press, London

Wright, T. (2001) History of the North Rhodesian Police. BECM Press.

Amazon's UK site

Amazon's US site

Discover Victoria Falls with Zambezi EcoTours