Emil Holub

Written by Kristina Forbergerova

Category: Notables

Emil Holub

One of the most famous explorers of the nineteenth century, Emil Holub was a doctor who fulfilled his dream of traveling throughout Africa.  

Emil was born in 1847 in a town in eastern Bohemia named Holice. He studied at German-speaking schools and followed in his father’s footsteps when he applied at D Prague University to seek a degree as a doctor of medicine. Although his father wanted him to be a doctor, Emil was always more attracted to traveling and cartography. Primarily, he was passionate about traveling through Africa and discovering places where no human was before. 

Emil Holub managed to fulfill his dream and visited Africa twice. For his first trip, he voyaged to the South African Republic. He practiced medicine in Dutoitspan in diamond mines. In 1973, the explorer joined local hunters on a two-month journey to get to better know natives. During the expedition, Emil assembled a scientific collection of objects of African natives. After Vojtech Naprstek made an exhibition using the assemblage in Prague, Holub received the earnings to support his future journeys. In November of the same year, he joined locals on another scientific exploration, where he made the first detailed map of Victoria Falls and the surrounding. Emil and some natives also navigated on the river Zambezi, but unfortunately, they shipwrecked, and many of Emil’s journals and assemblages were destroyed. After this accident, Emil Holub decided to return home. 

Before he went on his second journey to Africa, Emil wrote many articles and published one travelog. After four years, he planned a march from Cape Town to Cairo. This time, he went with his wife Rosa and six men Emil chose for their traveling skills. This journey wasn’t without difficulties. Two of his chosen men died of malaria, and another had to be sent home due to poor health. The team made it to Zambia, where their camp was attacked by Ila people, and another member of the team died. The natives also destroyed most of Holub’s collections and journals. Emil, Rosa, and the two remaining explorers had to flee from the territory of the Ila people. Not long after the attack, one of the two team members got seriously hurt by a leopard, and Emil and his wife fell ill. They could not continue with their expedition, so they returned to Europe. 

Although Emil Holub’s expeditions were not easy, he collected many materials and findings significant for many European countries. He wanted to give his collections to the National Museum in Prague, but they declined Emil’s offer. That is why he sold parts to museums, schools, or other institutions. 

After his return from Africa, Emil Holub suffered from several tropical diseases, and finally in the end cancer. Emil Holub died in 1902 in Vienna.

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