Bourbon, or Reunion, and Madagascar.
LEAVING Mauritius, our usual course was to visit Madagascar, the Seychelles, and return thence to India or Ceylon, or take them the reverse way; but the former is perhaps the more convenient, and was so for the Boadicea, as by following that round we were able to make a fair wind of it. At the time of the hurricane, when the Mauritius was in such trouble, the inhabitants of Reunion had been most prompt and generous in offering assistance, which was the more creditable from the fact that Reunion is not a rich island, and the French Government devotes annually large sums for its maintenance. I was therefore desirous of visiting the place, and personally thanking the Governor for his sympathy; so with that object the Boadicea anchored in the roads, and saluted the French flag. But, owing to the vexatious quarantine laws obtaining at Mauritius, which are equally stringent at Reunion, I was unable to land, and after an exchange of complimentary letters we took our departure.
Reunion, or Bourbon, is, like Mauritius, of volcanic formation, one mountain, the Grande Brule, being an active volcano. Lying in the track of hurricanes,
REUNION AND MADAGASCAR.
it is also liable to these visitations, which cause great damage to the crops. Heavy rollers, locally called "ras-de-maree," occasionally appear on the coast without previous warning, doing great damage to the harbour works and stopping all communication with the shore. At such times all ships had better put to sea. The island possesses no natural harbour, the anchorage off St Denis being merely an open roadstead ; but a wet dock has been constructed to the westward of Point de Galets, capable of accommodating ships 300 feet long. The dock is 40 acres in extent, with a depth of 26 feet inside and 29 feet at the entrance. From seaward Reunion presents a magnificent appearance, the mountains, which are often enveloped in clouds, rising to the height of 10,000 feet above the sea, the Piton-de-niege being capped with snow in the winter months.
From Reunion we stood across to Tamatave, the principal sea-port of Madagascar. Tamatave, although of commercial importance, has little to recommend it. The harbour is a poor one, and the town a dirty, tumble-down place. I paid an official visit to the Hova Governor, and exchanged visits with the French commodore, Captaine de Vaisseaux Richard, a charming man, as most French naval officers are.
From Tamatave we proceeded to Diego Suarez, where the French had established themselves for some years preparatory to the conquest of the island, which at that time (1892) was under French protection. Diego Suarez is the finest harbour on the whole coast of Madagascar, and equal to Brest in strategic importance: it is easily defended, and might be made impregnable from an attack by sea. The entrance is bold and deep; on the heights above
BOURBON, OR REUNION, AND MADAGASCAR.
heavy guns have been mounted, and torpedoes could be placed in the narrows. The harbour is spacious enough to shelter the navies of the world. The climate is delightful. Through the winter a strong tradewind blows regularly during the day, and the nights are cool. This part of the island is well suited for raising stock, and large herds of cattle roam over the pastures. The surrounding country is well timbered and watered, and is well adapted for big game, but no large game is indigenous to Madagascar. In the woods are some semi-wild cattle, pigs, a kind of lynx, and many kinds of lemurs, but no lions, antelopes, or other animals such as abound on the adjacent mainland of Africa.
I should be curious to know if any of the deer introduced into Madagascar lived. My friend, Mr George Robinson of Mauritius, kindly gave me a stag and a few hinds for that purpose. On our second visit to Diego there were twelve of them, including a couple of stags. They were in an enclosure, and were well fed, and the Governor was very proud of them ; but one stag escaped. On our last visit the fence had blown down and they were all free. If unmolested they would form the nucleus of a fine herd, and ought certainly to thrive and multiply as they have done in Mauritius and Rodriguez, but I fear the French soldiers will have turned them into venison long ere this.
Guinea-fowl are plentiful in the neighbourhood of Diego, also quails, and our sportsmen seldom returned empty-handed. During our annual visit to this place we made expeditions inland, on either foot or muleback. In the forests we met with specimens of the celebrated traveller's tree containing water, also india
rubber trees, wild cotton, &c. There is a poisonous tree of the acacia species which it is as well to avoid. I managed to get stung by this tree, and it put me in a fever for an hour or so : the irritation, spreading up the arms, made me feel sick; bathing in the river only made it worse. It is probably allied to the manchineel-tree of the West Indies, which is poisonous to man or beast. I once saw a poor donkey which had been nearly skinned by standing under one of these trees in the rain.
A line drawn on the chart from the north end of Madagascar to the Seychelles will pass close to a speck called St Juan de Nova, or Farquhar Island. Like other islands of coral formation, Farquhar lies low, and is not visible from a ship's deck till the breakers surrounding it are seen; consequently vessel give it a wide berth, especially as the tides run very strong in the neighbourhood, and set dead on to the reefs. On the lee or north-west side an opening in the barrier reef forms an excellent harbour. I visited the place three years running: on the first occasion we found the people in want of the necessaries of life, so we supplied their immediate needs, promising to return again. The island, a dependency of Mauritius, is leased to a company for the manufacture of cocoanut oil : a considerable trade is also done with turtle, which visit it for breeding purposes, but at the time of our visit no ship had called for eighteen months. Maize has been cultivated with great success. Millions of sea-birds breed in the scrub, and land-crab of gigantic size and repulsive appearance abound. Mr Spurs, the manager, introduced a few guineafowl some years ago, and they have increased so rapidly that he estimated there are several thousand
BOURBON, OR REUNION, AND MADAGASCAR.
on the island, and they destroyed the maize; so we organised a chasse with such success that we bagged over two hundred of these wily birds in two days. If we had had good dogs we might have bagged many more, as we lost quite 30 per cent in the bush. Partridges would do well there also, and I sent a cage of them from India; but Spurs would have none of them, and sent them back, so I landed the survivors on the island of Felicite, one of the Seychelles group, also six couple of guinea-fowl and some rabbits, and I was pleased to hear from Mr Baty, the proprietor, that they were doing well by last accounts.
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