A RUN of 400 miles with a "soldier's wind" will carry a ship from Farquhar Island to this lovely group, where H.M. ships frequently resort to give leave to their crews - for here the bluejacket is in his glory, and even for officers the attractions are not to be despised, social entertainments of all kinds, such as dances and picnics, being the order; also boat-sailing, fishing, and seining parties. Possessing in Mahé one of the finest harbours, a ship lies secure moored inside the reef: hurricanes, though not unknown, are exceedingly rare, and the climate is salubrious.
The Seychelles are remarkable for being the home of the cocoa-de-mer or double cocoa-nut, which flourishes on several islands of the group, notably on Praslin. This handsome tree has been successfully introduced into other islands of the archipelago, but the endeavour to introduce it elsewhere has not generally been successful. I believe they have a specimen at Kew Gardens. I sent some germinating nuts to the Government Gardens at Calcutta, and to the Peradinya Gardens at Ceylon; but as the tree takes fifty years to bear, I am not likely to hear the
result. I also planted two nuts in Admiralty Ground at Trincomalee, but they died through want of knowledge in planting them. It is only necessary to dig a hole sufficient to cover one-third of the nut, leaving the remainder exposed.
View from Mr Baty's Garden, Mahé, Seychelles
The principal industry at Seychelles is the cultivation of vanilla and cocoa-nuts. The inhabitants are mostly French creoles with a mixture of African negroes, and the language a patois of bad French and broken English. Nevertheless, from its other attractions - a fine climate and lovely scenery - it would be difficult to find a more peaceful and charming winter resort, especially for an invalid. Situated
THEIR STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE
as they are in the direct route between Aden and Mauritius - 1200 miles distant from the former and 800 from the latter, and 600 from the nearest point of Madagascar - it would be difficult to overrate the strategic importance of these islands in time of war ; but while Mauritius and most of our colonies are more or less defended, and able to protect themselves against an attack of hostile cruisers, the port of Mahé is entirely unprotected, and there is nothing to prevent an enemy from taking possession of the place in the absence of our ships, or helping themselves to as much coal as they required, and destroying the rest. And yet the Seychelles occupy the same relative position in the Indian Ocean as does Bermuda in the Atlantic.
Mahé is now connected by cable with Zanzibar and Mauritius, and several lines of steamers touch regularly there, going to and from these ports. The Messageries Maritimes vessels used to call there on their way to Australia, and again on their return voyage, but have since diverted their route and go via Colombo, so as to compete with the P. and 0. and Orient lines.
On arriving at Mahé direct from Bombay, on our last visit, we heard that two English ladies had been left on one of the outlying islands, and had been there for some days. It seems that they were homeward bound from Australia in one of the French steamers, and whilst the ship was coaling they landed on the small island for a picnic, intending to return in time; but unfortunately they delayed too long, and on their way back to the ship their canoe stranded on a coral reef: the tide was falling, and there they had to remain all night.
Meanwhile the ship sailed without them, carrying away all their baggage and leaving them only the clothes they stood up in. As soon as I heard of their condition I made all haste to the island with my flag-lieutenant. The poor things came down to the beach to receive us with bare feet, their only pairs of stockings being hung up to dry. We made arrangements to transport them to the Boadicea, and in the mean time took their measure for a new suit of clothes, which we had made on board. I gave up my cabins for them, and took up my quarters on shore, coming off to spend the day with them and have our meals together.
Measuring the Ladies for Dresses
Picnics and fishing parties were arranged every day for them, and in the evening the decks were cleared for dancing, so altogether they had a very merry time. From the ship's-stores we were able to supply them with almost all the things necessary to replenish their kit, and we were not a little proud of our fair shipmates, who looked remarkably well in their neat navy serge dresses, blue jean collars and white trimmings, straw hats with Boadicea ribbons, and knife-lanyards, all complete. And I take some credit also, as I took their measurements, and Hickley noted them down in his pocket-book. The ladies remained with us for three weeks, till the next French steamer arrived. Our last dinner on board was a very sad one, but time was up; the galley, manned by officers, pulled them on board, with the Admiral steering, and as she left the Boadicea the strain of "Home, sweet Home," floated,
Mrs Pen-Curzon and Miss Mordaunt In Nautical Costume
over the calm waters. We commended them to the care of the polite French captain, and parted with mutual feelings of regret. I have the ladies' permission to reproduce their photographs in sailor's dress.
On the island of Aldabra, situated off the northwest coast of Madagascar, the giant land-tortoise (Tortuga elephanta) still flourishes, and is protected by law. Several specimens have been imported to Mahé, where they live to a great age. Through the kindness of Mr Baty I obtained some of these interesting creatures, and I sent a pair to the Zoological Gardens and another pair to Lord Lilford. One of the latter weighed 350 lb. on its arrival at Lilford. I estimated its age at about 150 years. There was one living at Mauritius in 1894 whose age must have been close on 200 years, as it was an old tortoise at the time of the English occupation, 100 years ago. We kept a pair of these creatures in our garden at Trincomalee, where they were perfectly at home, feeding on fruit and vegetables of all sorts - bananas and pumpkins for choice. They require but little water so long as they get juicy food. There are only two places in the world where they are indigenous - Aldabra, and the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific; but I doubt if there are any left at the latter place - we certainly saw none when we were there in 1872. Dr Gunther, in his interesting book on `Gigantic Land-Tortoises,' describes the difference between the two species, which the illustrations clearly show.
Since writing this I have refreshed my memory with Dr Gunther's account, and find I am mistaken in claiming Aldabra and the Galapagos as the only places where these giant tortoises were indigenous, as they appear to have been very numerous on
Mauritius, Reunion, and Rodriguez when those islands were first discovered, and shiploads were carried off by sailors for food, each tortoise yielding from 80 to 300 lb. of excellent meat. These creatures must have lived for ages in perfect security from all enemies prior to the earth being inhabited by human beings. It seems also that so late as the year 1875, three years subsequent to my visit to the Galapagos, they were still abundant in Albemarle Island, one of the group, though extinct in Charles Island.
Remains of the dodo have been found in Mauritius and at Rodriguez. A complete skeleton of the bird was found in a cavern in the latter island, also a stone, found near the bones, which the dodo always carried in its stomach, probably for the purpose of digestion. I sent some of these bones and a stone to Mr Phipson, the Curator of the Natural History Museum at Bombay, believing them to belong to the dodo; but I am bound to say that Admiral Sir William Wharton, the Hydrographer of the Navy, who surveyed Rodriguez, assures me that the dodo did not exist on that island, and that the bones belonged to a bird called the solitaire, a large kind of pigeon. I had always been under the impression that the dodo had existed on Rodriguez, as it undoubtedly did on Mauritius.
Before taking leave of these delightful islands I must relate one or two adventures which befell us there. I had embarked the Governor of Mauritius, Sir Hubert Jerningham, and took him to Rodriguez, as he was desirous of visiting the place. We arranged a deer-drive for his Excellency, and the guns were posted along both sides of a ravine in which deer
"WIPING THE ADMIRAL'S EYE."
were always to be found. The head stalker, a creole named Numa, accompanied me as usual. Soon after the drive commenced, a herd of deer, with one big stag, appeared, making across the open, so I fired to turn them, whereupon they all crossed the burn in front of me. I made so sure of the stag that I had not even loaded my second barrel, and I missed him clean, the shot going over his back, to Numa's great disgust. " Oh, mon Amiral ! " said he, " jamais je ne vous ai vu manquer comme ca ! " The stag bolted out of my sight up the opposite bank, and was missed by every one of the party till the last, a young middy named Corbett, who rolled him over with a ball from his smooth-bore. I was much pleased at this, and told Numa that it gave me far more pleasure than if I had killed the stag myself, especially as it was the boy's first stag. Still the audacity of "wiping the Admiral's eye" was a crime not to be looked over, though not mentioned in the Articles of War. So Corbett was placed under arrest, with a view to being tried by court-martial; but the following morning it was reported to me that the prisoner had escaped, and when last seen was far up the mountain looking for deer, and, it was said, with the Admiral's pet rifle in his hand!
On our last visit to this sporting paradise I embarked my friend Tom Farr, who hunted the staghounds in Ceylon, with several couple of his best hounds, intending to have a grand chasse; but it proved a failure, for, owing to the rocky nature of the ground, the hounds, accustomed to the soft moist soil of Ceylon, got footsore, and were lost in the woods; and though Tom worked like a Trojan, and hunted his hounds in most sportsmanlike style, not a
deer did we get in that way, though we killed some fine beasts, stalking and driving. Altogether, during four visits to the islands, we killed some eighty deer, mostly stags, and left a good breeding stock for our successors. So ended our sport on Rodriguez, a place I shall ever remember as one of the few spots on the globe where one can still enjoy sport without interference or expense.
The Sultan of Perak was a prisoner at Seychelles whilst we were there, on account of the murder of an English political agent in his dominions, in which affair he was said to be implicated. Being desirous of starting a navy on his return to power, he asked me to assist him, and as an inducement he offered me one hundred wives and twenty for my flag-lieutenant ! I was obliged to decline this handsome offer, but I suggested that the numbers should be reversed, and that Hickley ought to have the hundred.
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