Emil Holub's South African Exposition 1892

19 December 2016 – 21 May 2017

Archive Case (First Floor)

Models showing members of the household of chief Mapanza of the Toka people in Zambia (2009.113.12)

The photographs in this exhibition are from a commemorative album produced by the firm of J. Mulac to mark the 1892 opening in Prague of a large exhibition relating to southern Africa’s peoples and fauna by the famous Czech traveller Emil Holub (1847-1902). The exhibition is notable for its dioramas illustrating scenes from Holub’s travels, alongside case displays of the animal specimens he collected.

Holub was born in Holice in eastern Bohemia (then within the Austrian Empire, now the Czech Republic). After studying medicine at Prague University he was inspired by the writings of people such as missionary David Livingstone to explore Africa. In 1872 he travelled first to Cape Town and then Kimberley, practising medicine to gather funds for an expedition into the interior. 

A scene illustrating Holub's account of meeting the Lozi chief Sepopo at his residence in Sesheke (present day Zambia/Botswana border). The activity taking place is the tasting of the chief’s food by a female servant and a headman, to prevent poisoning (2009.113.11).

Over the course of the next few years he would make a number of journeys north, collecting artefacts and making observations and drawings. In 1875 Holub reached the Zambezi River and made a detailed map of the area around the Victoria Falls. In 1883, after a period back in Prague to raise funds, he set out with his wife on an ambitious journey to travel the length of Africa, from south to north. 

Troubled by illness and unable to gather support from some indigenous groups, he reached Zambia but was forced to turn back in 1886. Holub published his earlier journeys in English in 1881 as Seven Years in South Africa: Travels, Researches and Hunting Adventures, Between the Diamond-Fields and the Zambesi (1872–79).

Models of two Ndebele warriors from Zimbabwe, holding spears, club and shield collected by Holub on his travels (2009.113.10).

Holub organised two major exhibitions of his southern African collections, the first in Vienna in 1891. The 1892 exhibition in Prague was highly successful with many people coming to view it. He was unable to find a permanent home for it however, and so the collections were distributed widely to museums and scientific institutions after his death in 1902. In 1970 a statue of Holub was unveiled and a museum was opened in his home town of Holice, where a number of the models and animals used in the 1892 exhibition are still displayed.


Exhibition curated by Christopher Morton as part of a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship 2015-16.