Emil Holub

Emil Holub

Emil Holub (October 7 1847February 21 1902) was a Czech doctor, explorer, cartographer, and ethnographer in Africa.

Early life

Holub was born in Holice in eastern Bohemia (then within Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic) in the family of municipal doctor. After studying at German-language grammar school in Žatec (Saaz), he was admitted at Prague University where he obtained a degree as a doctor of medicine (1872).

Expeditions in Africa

Inspired to visit Africa by the diaries of David Livingstone, Holub traveled to Cape Town, South Africa shortly after graduation and eventually settled near Kimberley to practice medicine. After eight months, Holub set out in a convoy of local hunters on a two-month experimental expedition, or "scientific safari", where he began to assemble a large natural history collection.

In 1873 Holub set out on his second scientific safari, devoting his attention to the collection of ethnographic material. On his third expedition in 1875, he ventured all the way to the Zambezi river and made the first detailed map of the region surrounding Victoria Falls. Holub also wrote and published the first book account of the Victoria Falls published in English in Grahamstown in 1879.

After returning to Prague for several years, Holub made plans for a bold African expedition. In 1883, Holub, along with his new wife and six guides, set out to do what no one had done before: explore the entire length of Africa from Cape Town all the way to Egypt. However, the expedition was troubled by illness and the uncooperative Ila tribesmen and Holub's team was forced to turn back in 1886.

Holub mounted two highly successful exhibitions, in 1891 in Vienna and in 1892 in Prague. Frustrated that he was unable to find a permanent home for his large collection of artifacts, he gradually started to sell or give away parts of it to museums, scientific institutions and schools.

Later Holub published series of documents, contributed to the papers and magazines, and gave hundreds of lectures. His early death came in Vienna on February 21 1902, from lingering complications of malaria and other diseases he had acquired while in Africa.


  • In 1949, a monument to Holub by Jindřich Soukup was unveiled in his hometown of Holice
  • In 1952, the movie Velké dobrodružství (Great Adventure) was filmed about Holub's expeditions
  • In 1970, the town of Holice opened a museum dedicated to Emil Holub
  • On February 20, 2002 the Czech National Bank issued a CZK 200 silver coin commemorating the 100th anniversary of Dr. Emil Holub's death
  • In September 2005, exactly 130 years since Holub visited the Victoria Falls for the first time, a statue of him was unveiled in front of the National Museum of Zambia in Livingstone, the Zambian city adjacent to the Victoria Falls

Further reading

In Czech

  • Bauše, Bohumil (1907). Život a cesty dr. Emila Holuba (The life and travels of Dr. Emil Holub). Praha: J. Otto.
  • Dlouhý, Jindřich Maria (1940). Dr. Emil Holub. Studie z dějin českých přírodních věd (A study of the history of Czech natural science). Holice: městská rada.
  • Valenta, Edvard (1943). Druhé housle (Second fiddle). Praha: ELK.
  • Běhounek, František (1946). Na sever od Zambezi (North from Zambezi). Praha: Toužimský a Moravec. (Also in Romanian edition as (1963) La nord de Zambezi. Bucureşti: Editura Tineretului)
  • Lev, Vojtěch (1947). Za velkým dobrodružstvím. Vypravování o českém cestovateli (After the great adventure. Tales of the Czech explorer). Praha: Komenium.
  • Baum, Jiří (1955). Holub a Mašukulumbové. Kapitoly o největším českém cestovateli (Holub and Mashukulumbs. Chapters about the greatest Czech explorer). Praha: ČSAV.
  • Votrubec, Ctibor (1954). Jihoafrické cesty Emila Holuba (The south African journeys of Emil Holub). Praha: Mladá fronta.

In English

  • Dark Deeds. Some Hunting Memoirs of the Nineteenth Century Czech Traveller Emil Holub (ed. Rob S. Burrett. Gweru: Mambo Press 2006)
  • The Culture and Society in South Africa of 1870s and 1880s - Views and Consideration of Dr. Emil Holub (Josef Kandert. Prague: Naprstek Museum 1998)
  • Emil Holub's Travels north of the Zambezi (ed. Ladislav Holy. Manchester: Manchester University Press 1975)
  • Seven Years in South Africa. Travels, Researches and Hunting Adventures, Between the Diamond-Fields and the Zambesi, 1872-79 (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington 1881, reprinted Johannesburg: Africana Book Society 1976)
  • The Victoria Falls. A few Pages from the Diary of Emil Holub, M.D., written during His third Trip into the Interior of Southern Africa (Grahamstown: no publisher, reprinted Bulawayo: Books of Zimbabwe 2004)


  • Novák, J (1987). "140 years since the birth of Emil Holub". Časopis českých lékařů 126 (46): 1447–8.
  • Kops, J (1975). "From the history of medicine. Conqueror of the black continent (Emil Holub)". Zdravotnická pracovnice 25 (11): 678–9.
  • Slavĕtínský, M (1972). "Anniversary of a physician-traveler Emil Holub M.D. (Oct. 7, 1847-Feb. 21, 1902)". Vnitřní lékařství 18 (6): 601.

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