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Czech travellers: Part 1

photo:  (wikimedia.org)

All nations have famous personalities, whose names immediately evoke adventure, exotic countries, and new discoveries. Let’s look together at the life stories of the most famous Czech travellers. The first part will introduce the well-known explorer of the black continent, Doctor Emil Holub.

This Czech doctor, traveller, cartographer and ethnologist was born on 7 October 1847 in Holice. He started dreaming of travelling to Africa from the age of thirteen, when he first got a book by Scottish traveller David Livingstone. Holub’s father was a doctor and did not hinder young Emil’s dream under the condition that he will also study medicine. In 1872, Emil Holub finished his studies at the Faculty of Medicine of Charles University in Prague. Shortly after that, he left for Cape Town, where he settled near Kimberley and engaged himself in medicine and gathering money for his first expedition into the interior of Africa. Eight months later, he finally joined an expedition of local hunters for a two-month journey, during which he started to collect his large natural collection. 

In the course of the first seven years of his stay in Africa, he underwent three expeditions, but it was the final one that took him to the place of his childhood dreams, into the area along the Zambezi River leading to Victoria Falls, which he knew of from Livingstone. He collected much valuable natural scientific and ethnographic material on his journey and also created the first detailed map of the area surrounding Victoria Falls.

He returned to Bohemia in 1879, where he finished his very successful book Seven Years in South Africa and was also married. He left for yet another African expedition in 1883 together with his wife Růžena. The planned route crossed the whole of Africa from Cape Town to Egypt but the expedition experienced one disaster after another. Several of its members died and their definitive return in 1886 was incited by a dangerous encounter with the natives. The Holub Family never returned to Africa as a result of the aftermath of their last distressing journey. 

Emil Holub finally settled in Vienna, where he spent the last 15 years of his life organising the materials from his journeys and planning lectures and exhibitions. He died in Vienna on 21 February 1902 after long-term problems resulting from malaria.

You may learn more about the work and life of Emil Holub in the African Museum of Doctor Emil Holub in his native town of Holice (Map).

Author: Petra Hubálková
Added: 05.10.2012

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