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  • Writer's pictureFootsteps of Livingstone

Deka Camp : Hwange Zimbabwe

The "Hunters Road", an early trail used by the explorers to access the Zambezi River.

The present international boundary between Botswana and Zimbabwe, is of significant importance, as it follows the old Hunters Road, which the explorers in the 1860's used to access the Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls.

Of significant importance is Deka Safari Camp, situated within the vast Hwange National Park, in the top northwestern corner bordering Botswana. This photographic safari camp, my favourite in Hwange, is owned and operated by the renowned Machaba Safaris, who have 4 top class camps in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Here's the historical facts:

Map of the Explorers routes

Deka (spelt Daka in the early explorer’s books) Camp: A Chronology.

· 1853: James Chapman (1831-1872) arrived at Linyanti en-route to view the Victoria Falls, but was refused passage by Chief Sekeletu, he became ill, so returned to Kuruman. He would have been the first Westerner to view the falls, 2 years before David Livingstone, “discovered” the Victoria Falls on 16th November 1855.

· 1860: Helmore and Price missionary massacre at Linyanti, poisoned by Chief Sekeletu.

· 1860: William Charles Baldwin becomes the second westerner to view the Victoria Falls.

· 1862, 4th July: James Chapman returns with Thomas Baines via Makagadikgadi Pans (Baines Baobabs and Chapmans Baobabs) and Deka Camp, which they used as their base, as this was a safer and easier route to the Victoria Falls, due to the Helmore/Price incident 2 years before.

· Baines camped at Deka and completed his paintings of the Falls, the first painting ever to be done in what is now Zimbabwe.

· 1863; Baines mentions Pretorius Grave at Deka, the Boers laagered there, while hunting Elephant.

· 1863, 25th February: James Chapman returns to Deka, in the company of William Finaughty, an Elephant hunter.

· 1870 Eduard Mohr stays at Deka, on his way north to the Victoria Falls.

· 1874, 23rd December: Frank Oates stays at Deka en-route to the Victoria Falls. He mentions Blockley’s store, Deka is now a trading centre!

Blockley Store Ruins, ( captured September 2021)

After 1875 a number of later hunters, tradesmen and explorers came up via Deka, it was now the main route north, avoiding the Tsetse fly belt and the Linyanti Swamps which were fever ridden, to the west. Deka was firmly on the map!

It’s interesting to note that our history books mention the Pioneer Column and Fort Tuli, Fort Victoria, up to Fort Salisbury, in the late 1890’s, but Deka Camp was actually established 30 years before!

So Deka should actually be the first place in what is present day Zimbabwe, that the Pioneers established.

Deka Camp, Machaba Safaris.

Following David Livingstone's visit to the Falls, in 1855 and again in 1860, and that of William Charles Baldwin, a few Boer hunters are known to have visited the Falls in 1861 but it is known that only one, Martinus Swartz, survived the return journey.

In 1857 Baldwin travelled north west to the present day Transvaal. He visited Lake Ngami in 1858 and two years later, in 1860 claimed to be the second white man to set eye on the Victoria Falls.

David Livingstone, whom he met on this expedition, had first sighted the Falls on 16th November 1855.

These adventures are recorded in Baldwin’s African Hunting and Adventure from Natal to Zambesi, published in 1863.

Thomas Baines and James Chapman:

After this, James Chapman and Thomas Baines visited in 1862, and both published interesting accounts of their travels.

James Chapman, a hunter and scholar, had been near the Chobe River in 1853, and - like David Livingstone and William Cotton Oswell, on their first visit to the region two years previously - had been told stories of the Falls.

Thus he would have been in a position to anticipate Livingstone's discovery of the Victoria Falls by two years.

Chapman, in his book Travels in the Interior of South Africa, published in 1868, mentions Deka as being a safe area with good water, in which to laager their cattle and wagons, before heading on foot to the Victoria Falls

Chapman met Thomas Baines at Cape Town and they decided to journey to the Falls together. Baines had also been part of Livingstone's second ill-fated Zambezi expedition, but had been dismissed after disagreements with Livingstone's brother Charles.

It is said that Baines hoped to meet Livingstone, and vindicate himself of the charges of dishonesty which he had made against him (He had been accused of appropriating stores for his own use, during the Zambesi and Shire expeditions.)

Such was the draw of the Falls that both men were determined to witness it for themselves.

Chapman and Baines journeyed from Cape Town to Walvis Bay (in modern day Namibia) by sea, and then by ox-wagon across the desert and dry bushlands, via Lake Ngami, discovered earlier by Livingstone and Oswell, a journey taking 16 months.

On 22nd July 1862 they camped under a big tree, and throughout the night they heard a roaring sound ‘like the dashing of a mighty surf upon a rockbound coast’.

When Chapman climbed the tree in the morning, he saw the smoke pillars of the Falls.

Baines spent 12 days sketching the world's greatest river wonder and completed most of his paintings along his return journey.

His watercolours, prints and oil paintings gave the outside world their first pictorial impression of the Falls, and no artist has ever since captured them with such skill.

Thomas Baines Painting of the Victoria Falls

His portfolio of prints, 'The Victoria Falls, Zambesi River: sketched on the spot', was published in 1865.

Baines, during and after this visit, painted many pictures of the Victoria Falls and these have now become world famous.

Several of these are in the possession of the National Archives in Harare, having been presented by G Carleton Jones in 1945, and there are examples of his watercolour sketches painted when he was at the mouth of the Zambesi with Livingstone in 1858, in the Livingstone Museum at Livingstone.

He mentions in his portfolio text that he camped at Deka in order to complete his paintings.

Many followed in Livingstone’s footsteps to the Falls - explorers, missionaries, hunters, prospectors and traders - travelling via different routes and means. The names of some are forgotten, whilst others published detailed written accounts of their travels. Some returned with dramatic tales of survival against adversity - and some simply failed to return at all.

Sir Richard George Glyn, with his younger brother Robert and friends, travelled to the Falls, via Deka in 1863, inspired by Livingstone’s famous book, Missionary Travels, published in October 1857.

Sir Richard kept a diary of his four-and-a-half-month journey up from Durban, and hunting played a significant role, lured by tall tales of wild animals and places where

“a man could shoot until his arm grew too tired to lift his rifle and not make a dent in their masses.”

Thomas Leask, a hunter from Natal, arrived at the Falls, via Deka in July 1869.

The German explorer, Eduard Mohr, visited the waterfall in June 1870 and is credited with naming the Rainforest. Mohr was overawed by the Falls:

“It seemed to me as if my own identity were swallowed up in the surrounding glory, the voice of which rolled on forever, like the waves of eternity... But I threw down my pen. No human being can describe the infinite; and what I saw was part of infinity made visible and framed in beauty.” (Mohr, 1875)

By 1870 twenty-five Europeans are known to have visited the Falls, but there were undoubtedly others whose names have been lost.

Over two years, 1874 and 1875, however, these numbers doubled, an indication of the rate at which the area was being drawn into the sphere of European activity.

Frank Oates, uncle of the heroic Lawrence Oates (A member of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic), arrived at the Falls on New Year’s Day 1875. Oates was one of the first Europeans to see the Falls in full flood, but succumbed to fever on the return journey, sadly without updating his journal.

However, by the end of 1880’s, the herds were rapidly declining after three decades of uncontrolled hunting, especially in the areas south of the Zambezi, such as Deka.

Frederick Courtney Selous, the hunter and pioneer conservationist, visited the Falls for this first time in June 1874, returning in October 1877.

Selous was struck by the wealth of wildlife inhabiting the Rainforest:

“This damp and shady retreat forms (especially during the hot weather) a favourite resort of elephant and buffalo, besides water-buck, koodoo [kudu], impala, etc. The fresh spoor showed us that a herd of buffaloes had not long left before our arrival, and the huge footprints of elephants and hippopotami bore evidence that some of these animals had also been here very recently.” (Selous, 1881)

Returning to the Falls a third time from October to December 1888, Selous recorded a different scene.

“On this occasion he rode a horse along the narrow strip of open ground between the Rain Forest and the Chasm, and he alludes to the fact that buffalo, which travellers after Livingstone, including Baldwin, Baines, Chapman, Mohr and himself, had found so plentiful only a few years earlier, had now practically disappeared from the vicinity of the Falls.”

Selous was described by Roosevelt as ‘the last of the big game hunters,’ but as early as 1881 even Selous was lamenting the decline of the elephant herds.

“I had already spent ten years of my life elephant hunting in the interior and every year elephants were becoming scarcer and wilder south of the Zambezi so that it had become impossible to make a living by hunting at all.” (Selous, 1881)

He also expressed concern about the reduction in the number of white rhinoceros from his experiences on the Chobe River, where in 1874 the animal had been a common sight. In 1877 only tracks could be found and by 1879 even those had disappeared. The conclusion was inevitable;

“it must be almost extinct in that portion of the country” (Selous, 1881).

He repeated his misgivings in 1893, convinced that the species was

“upon the verge of extinction... some few white rhinoceroses no doubt still survive, but it is not too much to say that long before the close of the century the white rhinoceros will have vanished from the face of the earth”(Selous, 1893).

Fortunately, today, thanks to the efforts of conservationists, anti-poaching units, and dedicated photographic safari outfitters placing safari camps in strategic locations, the wild life numbers have rebounded, and this area is being restored to its former glory, almost as it was in the 1860’s.

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