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Madagascar, Mauritius and other east-African islands online

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full accordance with that of the sister isle.


The impression made by the capital, which lies in the
north-west of the island, is thus described by Baron
Claus von der Decken: — "At last the City of Port Louis
emerged from the woods which had hitherto concealed
it — a smiling prospect, with the pleasant white-washed
houses on the shore in the European quarter, the huts of
the Malagasy and the negroes further up, the groves of
Casuarina and other trees of unwonted appearance, and the
luxuriant landscape with its misty heights in the back-
grround. The figures which we met here were most
striking. There were Malagasy, tall robust forms of
chocolate colour, with their well-greased hair twisted into
elegant plaits; Hindoo coolies or load-bearers, who in
Mauritius take the place of the Arab labourers in Zanzibar;
lastly, Chinese with their long pigtails. Then the English
soldiers attracted our attention by their free and easy
bearinof. We wandered throueh the broad macadamised
streets bordered by low houses, till the darkness came
on and the rain drove everyone indoors."

Near to the quay, among beautiful buildings, we find
the statue of Mahe de Labourdonnais, who founded the
city in 1735. In the interior the city has a poverty-
stricken appearance, as the well-to-do population live in
the suburban country houses.

The city is commanded by a battery above, and there
are two forts on the two sides of the entrance to the

Crossing the river in the north, we reach, at a small
distance, the classical spot Pamplemousse. Here it was
that Poivre, in the year 1768, laid the foundation of the
splendid Botanical Garden, which is still much visited. At
this place was enacted the last sad scene of " Paul et
Virginie". The Creoles shew to strangers what purports
to be the grave of the Creole children, so poetically de-
scribed by Bernardin de St. Pierre, united in a common
place of rest after their tragic death. A memorial, the


creation of a Creole artist, has recently been erected
there in honour of these beings, who are held sacred by
all inhabitants of Mauritius.

The remaining towns of the island are not of importance.

Curepipe, which lies high up, has made progress, being
used as a place of recreation during the hot season by
the planters, on account ofits fine air; but the well-to-do
people more frequently go to Reunion, to spend the hot
winter months in the mountains of Salazie, where the
reception of visitors has become a regular industry, or
to make use of the curative hot springs of the island.
On the east coast, near a well-sheltered harbour, lies the
village of Mahebourg, which possesses a certain historical
interest, as it was here that the Dutch founded their first
settlement. South of this village the '' Souffleur " or spout-
ing-rock is pointed out as a curiosity. This is a basaltic
rock hollowed out by water in such a manner as to throw
up a jet of water 50 ft. high when struck by the waves
of the sea.

Extensive lines of rail lead inland to the several plan-
tations, and a diagonal railroad connects Port Louis with

The country is litde suited for breeding catde, and most
of the meat is brought from Madagascar, where catde
are to be had in abundance.

Industry is almost limited to planting, and the pre-
dominant object of culture is the sugar-cane. In the
sixties the sugar industry sent out as much as 120,000
tons of sugar, and the 40 distilleries produced 450,000
gallons of rum besides. The whole of this branch of
industry has seriously retrograded, owing to keen compe-
tition, to exhaustion and deterioration of the soil, and
also to destructive parasites, among which the borer has
proved especially injurious.

Trade, which is carried on almost exclusively at Port
Louis, has diminished in a corresponding manner, the



diminution being furtlier substantially increased by the
opening of the Suez Canal. The harbour of Port Louis
is, notwithstanding, visited at present by over 500 ships
a year, whose burden for 1 896 was put down at 64 1 ,000
tons. In the same year the whole amount of trade in
Mauritius was 520 lacs (52,000,000) of Indian rupees, of
which 210 lacs were for imports, 310 lacs for exports;
these numbers prove that the trade has diminished by
about a third in the last twelve years.

The intellectual life of the island has preserved its
French character. Not only the language of intercourse,
but also that of the periodical press is pre-eminently
French. About 16,000 pupils, white and coloured, receive
instruction in the 114 existing schools. Among scientific
institutions we must give prominence to the Natural
History Museum as well as to the admirably conducted
station for meteorolosfical observations.

The people of Mauritius are almost exclusively Catho-
lics; they are distributed among thirteen parishes.

The system of laws is a mixture of French and English
jurisprudence, a circumstance which has given rise to
many complications.

At the head of the colony is a Governor, named by
the Crown, with whom there is a Governine Council of
5 members, also named by the Queen. There is, besides,
a Legislative Council of 27 members, partly named by
the Governor, to which one member is chosen by each
of the nine electoral districts, except Port Louis, which
has the right to choose two representatives. The colonial
budget of 1886 showed an expenditure of i' 840,000
against a revenue of i.' 750,000. The military establishment
numbers 450 soldiers.

Let us, in conclusion, throw a glance on the earliest
setdement and the gradual development of the colony
of Mauritius.

After the discovery Portuguese navigators came occasion-


ally to the island, which sometimes bears the name of
Cirne in the earliest maps, but was sometimes called Cainas ;
apparently Cienos was the proper designation, meaning
something like Swan-island. This name may have been
derived from the ground-pigeons or dodos, as large as
swans, which were then numerous on the island. As
the Portuguese put forward no claims to possession, the
Dutch next planted themselves there and gave the land
the name of Mauritius, in honour of one of the Dutch
stadtholders. No real settlement took place till 1642,
when several Dutch families, with a military post and
some slaves, took up a permanent abode on the eastern
side, where stands the Mahebourg of to-day. They began
the clearing of the forests and introduced the sugar-
cane from Batavia. In 1712, however, the Dutch families
emigrated to the Cape, where they hoped to find better
means of livelihood.

Soon there arrived some French Creoles, and in Sep-
tember 171 5 Captain Guillaume Dufresne appeared with
his ship the "Chasseur", took official possession of the
island and gave it the name of He de France. The
colony did not begin to flourish till the year 1735, when
Mahe de Labourdonnais came to the Mascarenes as
o-overnor. It did not escape his practical eye that the
spacious harbour on the west side was far more conve-
nient for trade than the roadsteads of the island of
Bourbon, lying, as they do, at the mercy of all the winds.

In the first years of his administration he brought
about the transference of some 2000 Creole setders
and negroes, and expended public money in favour of
the He de France, thus slighting Bourbon and bringing
down upon himself much hatred and even calumny.
The centre of gravity of the sister colonies was soon
shifted to the He de France, and Reunion had to take
second rank.

At the beginning of this century this possession, then


rapidly increasing in prosperity, was lost, passing into
the hands of England.

After conquering Reunion a strong British fleet made
its way to the He de France, the resistance of General
Decaen was overcome, the island had to capitulate on
the 3rd December, 18 10, and has since remained in the
possession of the English.

The first Governor of Mauritius — as the island was
now again called — was that energetic and far-seeing Sir
Robert Farquhar, whom we have already got to know
in the history of Madagascar at the time of Radama I.



Rodriguez is the smallest of the Mascarene Isles, hav-
ing a length of only 21 miles and a breadth of 8 miles
with 42 square miles of surface. It lies in 19° S. lat. and
63° 20' E. long, at a distance of 400 miles from
Mauritius. The surface is a chaos of irregular masses
of lava. At several places these are cleft into mighty
basaltic columns, as, for instance, behind Oyster Bay in

Map of Rodriguez.

the north. A broad encircling reef surrounds the island ;
stretching in the south as far as 5 nautical miles into
the sea. Only a few narrow channels permit of access
to the island, and it is thus only with difficulty that it
is reached by vessels of any size. Of greater elevations


in the interior, Mount Limon, placed at the centre of
the island, is only 1300 ft. high.

The island, which was occasionally visited by Portu-
cruese and Dutch, was originally called Diego Rais ; in
the year 1726 it was declared a French possession by
Diore, who was then governor of Bourbon, and it was
called Marianne Island; this designation, however, was
not permanently retained, but was converted into Rodri-
o-uez. The first settler who lived for any long time on
the deserted island was the French emigrant Frangois
Leguat, who left his fatherland after the Revocation of
the Edict of Nantes and came to the Mascarenes in a
Dutch ship. He lived on Rodriguez from 1691 to 1693
and very valuable information concerning the Natural
History of the island was given in his travels which
appeared in 1708. The island was then rich in tortoises;
the solitaire, too, was still found In great numbers.
Leguat's statements were shown to be founded on fact
by Newton, who in 1866 went to Rodriguez with a band
of coolies from Mauritius and dug up some 2000 bones
of this bird.

In the last century, tortoises still formed an important
article of export and provided the Colony of He de
France with fresh meat. In 1760 four ships appointed
to the provision trade brought away the enormous num-
ber of 30,000 tortoises in the course of 1 8 months.
The island was settled by several Creoles, but princi-
pally by black labourers living partly in the valleys of
Port Mathurin, partly in the inland town of Gabrielle ; it
attained continually increasing importance as a provision
market for Mauritius, by the cultivation of vegetables
and maize, because, owing to the engrossing sugar cul-
ture in the latter island, a sufficiency of provisions could
not be grown. A notable trade in dried fish is also
carried on in Rodriguez. In 1845 the number of inhabit-
ants was not more than 250. By the year 1886 it had risen


to 1 780; the increase seems to have continued, for in
1893 there were 2332 inhabitants.

After Mauritius was conquered by England ifi 18 10,
Rodriguez also passed into British possession, but only
formed, as to its government, a dependency of the first-
named colony. A commissioner named by the Gover-
nor attended to the business of administration. The
annual budget was placed in 1896 at 39,000 hidian
rupees. Trade returns in the same year showed an
import of 633,000 rupees as against an export of 764,000



The Seychelles Islands may be called fragments of
the old continent " Lemuria " which was submerged at
the formation of the Indian Ocean. They form an archi-
pelago of twenty-nine variously sized islands, whose
formation was apparently coeval with the terrestrial mass
of Madagascar. These islands were not upheaved by
volcanic power, for their nucleus consists of primitive
rocks, masses of granite which are either exposed, or,
in the case of the lowest lying islands, cased with recent
coral formations. Apparently we have to do with small
pinnacles of rock which remained above water when the
mighty ocean bed . was formed. All of them, and this
seems to support the above hypothesis, stand on the
mighty submarine plinth which extends from the south
of Madagascar to the equator, at a depth of only 900
fathoms, and upon which rests also the colossal island
of Madagascar. Next to this last lie the uninhabited
Farquhar Isles ; then follow to the north the small island
of Providence, the Amirantc coral islands, and then, as
far as the 3rd parallel, the Seychelles in the narrower
sense. These last take the foremost place, in consider-
ation of their extent, for they have a surface of 103
square miles, while the Amirante Isles only cover an
area of 32 square miles. Mahe, the most extensive of
all the Seychelles, lying between the 4th and 5th parallels,
has a coast-line of 15 miles with a surface of 46 square
miles; then comes Praslin which is to the north-east of
Mahe and easily visible from it, with 16 sc|uare miles


of surface. Among the smaller islands in the neighbour-
hood, some of which are uninhabited, La Digue, Curi-
euse, Felicite, Les Securs, and Silhouette are the most

The Portuguese, in their voyages to India, were the
iirst to obtain a knowledge of the Seychelles. It seems












*sa£,v« .piM





" "^^;2u_g/\«^,- . ■ \




Coast view in llie Island of MaliL- uilh Masstfs Drilranile. ii) ihe fi">r(\i;i"()iui(l is a Creole Setllciucllt.
(From .1 pliotoLJiaiili 1)}' 1 *r. A. Urauer.)

that under the name ol Amirante Isles or /Admiral Isles
they understood th(_'So; larger islands, which r(;cei\xxl their
present name ab(.)ut the middle ol the last ccntui'\- from
an eminent French ofhcer of the iM'ench Indian llret,
Morando de Seychelles, while we nciw apply the name
Amirante t(j a group ol low unimportant islands lying


to the west of the Seychelles proper. They were not
known in any detail until the renowned governor, Mahe
de Labourdonnais, sent Capt. Picault to the Seychelles
to take possession of them for the French. The prin-
cipal island received the name of Mahe in his honour.
From that time dates the first survey and exploration
of the island, and shortly afterwards several Creole
families emigrated from the Mascarenes to the Seychelles.

The larger islands rise into considerable mountains,
the highest of which is on Mahe and attains an
elevation of 3240 ft., while Praslin reaches 3000 ft. and
Silhouette 2444 ft. The primitive rock composing them
is granite, which has the closest correspondence with
that of Madagascar. The valleys are covered with a
layer of fertile soil ; coral reefs exist almost everywhere
in greater or less extent. Mahe is fringed by coral reefs
on the east side, though there is proof that the area
is one of elevation, as coral formations occur on the
coast at 80 ft. above the sea. Praslin has reefs on the
north and south-west sides, Curieuse on the north, while
Silhouette seems to be entirely fringed with reefs. The
Amirante Isles, according to Capt. Moresby, consist of
coral and shell detritus, and project only some 60 ft.
above the water.

The climate is an excellent one according to A. Brauer,
the heat being moderated by the trade wind, so that
fevers are almost unknown ; this is also indicated in the
remarkable fact that the percentage of births among
the inhabitants is largely in excess of that of deaths.
The oscillations of temperature during the year are
strikingly small, ranging only from 79° to 84° F. The
average obscuration of the sky is 5-3, that in January
is 6-1, in April and May 4-9 and 4-8.

Formerly it passed as an established fact that whirl-
winds do not reach the Seychelles ; this is not quite
accurate, though it is true that cyclones occur but seldom.


The first observed was in 1862 and, according to the
accounts of eye-witnesses, it raged in a fearfijl manner.
Col. Pelly says that the roaring and howhng of the sea,
of which nothing was to be seen but froth and foam,
was quite awful. "The aspect of the land after the
storm was a sad one : precipices undermined by the rain
slid down into the deep, burying gardens, houses and
man in their fall ; brooks swelled into rivers and their
floods swept everything into the sea ; trees were rooted
up, cocoa-nut palms snapped off, and on the land lay
wrecks of vessels that had been dashed to pieces by
the elements." Since then little has been heard of any
further storms.

The fertility of the soil is very great. The land ex-
hibits a luxuriant covering of vegetation, which the travel-
ler coming from the Red Sea and its dreary coasts
hails with pleasing emotions.

The cocoa-nut palm flourishes on the islands in rare
beauty, and, whereas elsewhere it is to be seen chiefly
on the shore and the belt of coast, it reaches here high
up the slopes of the mountains. The flora exhibits
some 340 species, of which 60 are indigenous. Areca
palms and sago palms, side by side with cinnamon trees,
mangoes, and the picturesque bamboos [Masius borbonictts)
adorn the gardens and hill sides. One fan palm, which
has attained great celebrity, is peculiar to the Seychelles,
viz., the apparently almost extinct Lodoicea Scychellarum^
the fruit of which, the so-called double cocoa nut or
Maldive nut, was known to the Portuguese under the
name "Coco do Mar". These were fished up at the
Maldives and on the Malabar coast, their origin being
unknown; they were said to have grown in the depths
of the Indian Ocean, and even so respectable a
writer as Rumphius in his Herbarium amboincnse tries
in all seriousness to make this credible. But in the
year 1789 the home of this palm was discovered to be

Lodoicea SeyclicUarimi in ilie I-land uf Pra^ili

(Kr-Hii :. I'h'.trv^r.ii.li l.y Dr. A. lln.iirr.)

To /,:,;■ p. 204.



on Praslin. Here the nuts are jiruduced: they are washed
into the sea Ijv the rain and then driven Ijy the south-
west inonsoun to hnHa, where they are fished up.



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jBig^s^^H^:j-.r ■ii^^^#^'?^^3BuB'








ut^ft 'j^^jgBrPfi


Vegetation on the Island of Alahe.
(From a photogiaph by Fir. A. rirauer.)

Sonnerat, that great investigator of nature, transplanted
the fan palm in question to the Mascarenes. The brownish
black nut takes seven years to ripen ; it is about a foot


in length and is deeply bifurcated in the middle. It is
still looked upon in India as curative ; Indian princes used
to hold it in high esteem, as its nut was said to render
all poisons innocuous. At one time a single nut cost
as much as £ioo\ they can now be purchased in Aden
or Bombay for two or three rupees (some three or four
shillings). The number of places where these beautiful
fan palms are found has so seriously diminished of late
that fears have been entertained of their total extinction,
and they have had to be placed under the protection of
the authorities. This is all the more necessary as the
extremely hard wood of the trunk, which appears to be
almost indestructible, is useful in house building. At
present, according to A. Bauer, this palm only occurs in
two small valleys of the island of Praslin and on the
north side of Curieuse Island. Accordingly, the English
Government, to prevent the total extinction of the palm,
have taken these localities into their own possession.

In the mountain region, ferns and mosses are found
in the lower belt, higher up are extensive grass plains,
where pine-apples grow wild. Pandanus groves and tree
ferns appear in still higher regions, the former having
aerial roots 20 to 25 ft. long. In this region grows the
pitcher plant {Nepenthes) which at the points of the leaves
has receptacles of the shape of a tobacco-pipe bowl for
holding water. The summits of the mountains are covered
with woods of the indigenous Wo7nnia femiginea.

The animal world of the Seychelles, as is the case
elsewhere in the tropical islands, appears to be decidedly
poor. Indigenous mammals seem to be quite wantino-;
birds, on the other hand, have been better able to reach the
islands ; a dark-coloured parrot {Coracopsis Barklcyi)^ appar-
ently coming from Madagascar, has become modified into
an endemic species. A red-breasted pigeon {Erythrcenas
pulclmnamd), a honey-sucker {Ncctarinea) and sparrows
of a distinct species must be mentioned. Among the


Reptllia are the turtles, which are kept for their flesh
in special tanks and are chiefly imported from Aldabra.
The hawks-bill turtle, so useful on account of its tortoise-
shell, is frequent on the coasts. The Indian gavial is
said to be found in the waters. An elecrant lizard
[Pacliydactylus cepediamis) is of a brilliant green with
bright red spots on the back. Geckoes are numerous
and even coecilice have been mentioned. The g-raceful
Mascarene frog {^Rana mas car aliens is) is not to be found
here among the representatives of the Amphibia, although it
is frequent over the whole of the East African Archipelago.
The Insect world is poor. There is a strange locust,
remarkable for its mimicry, the leaf insect i^Phylliiiin
siccifoliuni)^ which, however, does not, as the name im-
plies, resemble a dried-up leaf, but one of light green, so
that it requires some practice to detect it. Boys of the
place catch these wonderful creatures in order to earn
pocket-money by offering them to strangers at tolerably
high prices.

Domestic animals are scarce; the goat is the only
animal besides the dog which is kept in' any considerable
number; humped cattle or zebus are but seldom met
with, so that meat has to be obtained in some other way.
The turtle is principally used here to' supply meat, and
its flesh takes the place of beef The island of Aldabra
is the chief source of supply, and as yet this has always
proved a prolific one.

The turdes are imported alive and taken when wanted
from the tanks in which they are kept. As, however, many
of these animals perish from being cooped up in the ship,
people are beginning to send the meat in a dry state, and
it is then sold in the Seychelles at 50 centimes per pound.
Husbandry, as regards the cultivation of profitable plants,
might be carried on far more skilfully than is actually
the case. The inhabitants, enervated by the mild climate,
are just a little indolent. The chief plant of cultivation


is the cocoa-nut palm, the produce of which is exported
in the shape of copra and forms the most important
source of income in the islands. The owner of a hun-
dred palms is considered prosperous enough to live
without labour. Latterly the cultivation of vanilla has
gained some importance. Bananas, tobacco, coffee, rice,
manioc, sugar-canes are not extensively cultivated, but
enough is produced for the wants of the inhabitants.

The inhabitants of the Seychelles are Creoles from
the Mascarenes, and their customs and language bear
the stamp of their origin. The first settlement took
place towards the middle of last century, but the colony
did not make any great progress till Mahe de Labour-
donnais had incorporated it with the French possessions.

The number of the population amounted at the begin-
ning of this century to some 6000 souls, of whom the
majority were slaves. By 1861 this had increased to some
7 500; though on the chief island, Mahe, it is said to have
been only 1327. By the year 1894 the number of in-
habitants of the Seychelles had risen to 17,600 souls.

The population is a mixture of European, African,
Indian, Malay and Chinese elements, to which must be
added numerous Mulattoes of all shades of colour. The
central point of the population is the island of Mahe,
where ships call at the picturesque harbour of Port
Victoria. Creole-French with its peculiar turns of ex-
pression has maintained itself as the predominant

The inhabitants are considered hospitable and possess
the amiable sociality of the Creoles in a high deo-ree.

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Online LibraryC. (Conrad) KellerMadagascar, Mauritius and other east-African islands → online text (page 14 of 17)