James Chapman was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He left school and Cape Town at the age of 13 to work in Durban. He had various jobs but eventually became a hunter and trader. He loved to travel and collected specimens of plants, learned Setswana, and wrote down vocabularies of any other people he met. He spent most of his time in present-day Botswana and Namibia, but, at the age of 32, he visited the Victoria Falls. On this journey he travelled with Thomas Baines, the famous artist, with whom he got on well. Their plan had been to go to the Victoria Falls and later build a boat at Wankie’s on which they would sail down the Zambezi River to Tete. They spent some months at Wankie’s but became ill with malaria and abandoned the project.
James Chapman is a well-known historical figure in Botswana with Chapman’s Boabab near Gweta named after him.
Thomas Baines was born in England in 1820. He had an artistic bent and followed this passion throughout his life. Thomas Baines had joined David Livingstone’s journey up the Zambezi to the Shire River in 1860. He and David Livingstone had not got on well, I think mainly because, as team leader, David Livingstone was not a ‘leader of men’ and found it difficult to work with people of his own origins.
Thomas Baines was 42 when he joined James Chapman on the journey to the Victoria Falls. He did write a journal of their trip but it does not go into the same detail as James Chapman’s. So I am ignoring most of his scribblings in favour of James Chapman’s. I will, though, add one of his drawings of the Victoria Falls. Below is an interaction, as written by James Chapman, between himself and Thomas Baines when viewing the Victoria Falls:
We approached the wet and slippery brink in a perpetual shower of rain, and, holding on to one another, looked down into the awful chasm beneath us. One look for me is enough, but my nerves were sorely tried by Baines, who, finding everywhere new beauties for his pencil, must needs drag me along the very edge, he gazing with delight, I with terror, down into the lowest depths of the chasm. We continued along the grassy bank, preceded by numerous lovely little rainbows spanning round us, a forest to our right, the chasm on our left, until at length, not wishing to see any more at present, but gradually to accustom myself to the stupefying effects of the uproar and tumult at work in this “cauldron”, I fairly fled from my companion.