Zambesi, a river of South Africa, known in its upper portions as the Leambye or Leeba. It rises in about lat. 11° S., Ion. 23° E., flows S. about 700 m. to the great cataract of Mosioatunya or Victoria falls, then turns E., making a wide bend to the north and afterward to the south, and discharges by several mouths into the Indian ocean in about lat. 18° 45' S.; Ion. 36° 40' E. Its entire length is about 1,800 m. The Quilimane, formerly supposed to be the main mouth of the Zambesi, is a separate river, although the waters of the two interlock in the flood season. Above the falls the Zambesi flows sluggishly through a level country, often attaining a width of more than a mile. Below them for nearly 100 m. it is said to flow through a deep narrow ravine, but this portion is entirely unexplored. Reaching the flat region, it expands to the width of a mile or more, with sufficient depth at all seasons to be navigable by small vessels. Its mouths are obstructed by shifting sand bars. It receives several large affluents, among them the Shire, which has been explored by Livingstone; it rises in Lake Nyassa, and after a course of 300 m. falls into the Zambesi 90 m. from its mouth.
The Victoria falls, in lat. 17° 55', Ion. 26° 32', were first seen by Livingstone in 1855, and again in 1860, and they have since been visited by about 20 Europeans. The river here falls into a chasm 400 ft. deep, bounded by perpendicular walls of basalt. The outlet, beginning near the E. end of the chasm, is only 270 ft. wide at top with the same depth, and makes short zigzags directly E. and W., nearly parallel with the falls, as far as it has been explored. Between these are narrow ledges or promontories of rock, sometimes barely wide enough for the passage of a single person. There are three falls separated by islands, the first or western 100 ft. wide, and the other two about half a mile each. After a descent of a few feet the water breaks into a white mass like a sheet of driven snow, and sends up columns of vapor reaching a height of 800 ft. above the brink of the falls. At the entrance of the outlet is a whirlpool, above which are several concentric rainbows.
The falls cannot be readied from the coast without a journey of at least three months, with a like period for the return, during which a party must carry their supplies with them. - See Livingstone, "Expedition to the Zambesi" (1866); Baines, "Travels in Southwestern Africa" (London, 1864), and " The Victoria Falls, Zambesi River, sketched on the spot" (1866); and "To the Victoria Falls of the Zambesi," by Ed. Mohr (London, 1876).