24 original photographs taken by the Chief Site Construction Engineer of the building of the Victoria Falls Bridge, part of Cecil Rhodes’s Cape to Cairo scheme.
Professionally produced album for ‘Photographs’ bound in textured gun metal grey cloth over thick bevel-edged boards (19x16cm) On the front pastedown is written in English in red chalk: ‘Imbault’s Photos of Zambisi Bridge’. The twenty four photographs are window-mounted, recto and verso, on the twelve thick card leaves, 113x88mm in size. The album begins with four general images of the Victoria Falls location followed by a photo of cranes and a little crowd of workers followed by one of the early crossings: a single man suspended above the gorge in a bosun’s chair. Next are seen a dozen white workers crossing in a larger cradle with two further images of this scene taken from a greater distance. Workers are seen building the abutments, assembling steel girders clearly stamped ‘For Victoria Falls Bridge’. Following on from the construction images there are further photographs of African huts, a European-style bungalow and an image of a pith-helmeted European being carried over a little pond or stream by two African helpers, one smiling broadly at the ridiculous situation. The images are in excellent condition. We can find no record of the existence of these photographs elsewhere. Provenance: this album of Imbault’s photographs seems likely to have been retained by one of the British workers on the project. There is no further clue to its history beyond the preliminary inscription which certainly dates from close to the album’s date.
The Victoria Falls Bridge was built over the Second Gorge of the falls and links Zimbabwe and Zambia. It was the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes who is recorded as instructing the engineers to ‘build the bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls’. It was designed by George Andrew Hobson and constructed in England by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Co before being shipped to the Mozambique port of Beira and then transported by railway to the Victoria Falls.
The Chief Site Construction Engineer was Georges Camille Imbault, a gifted young French engineer. The bridge took just 14 months to construct and was completed in 1905. The trussed steel arch bridge is 198 metres (650 ft) long, with a main arch spanning 156.50 metres (513.5 ft), at a height of 128 metres (420 ft) above the lower water mark of the river in the gorge below. It carries a road, railway and footway. As Hobson wrote in 1923: ‘The Cleveland Company... deserve credit for their skill in devising a simple, economical apparatus for the erection of the bridge. This is due to the ingenuity of their engineer, Mr G C Imbault, whose special knowledge, amongst his other qualifications, of the use and manipulation of wire ropes stood him in good stead in the present instance, and at the same time raised the reputation of this firm to the front rank.’