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Mauritius and Madagascar

Journals of An Eight Years' Residence in the Diocese of Mauritius, and of a Visit to Madagascar
by Vincent W. Ryan, D.D.
Bishop of Mauritius

London: Sheeley, Jackon, and Halliday, 1864.

Chapter VII.
Conclusion--Hurricane at Seychelles-Bourbon--Mahé--Devastations of the Storm--Praslin--Return to Port Louis.

VERY soon after my return from Madagascar we were startled by the intelligence that a severe hurricane had visited the Seychelles, and that there had been great loss of life and property from the effects of its violence. Those islands are so completely out of the usual track of hurricanes, that in former days, when men-of-war were stationed at Mauritius, they were sent to the Seychelles during the hurricane season. Consequently, when one of those fearful tempests burst upon Mahé, on the 12th of October, many of the houses were unable to resist its violence; and there were no outlets provided for the torrents, which rushed down the watercourses from the hills surrounding the chief town--Port Victoria. The result was, the destruction of many dwellings from the force of the wind, and the carrying away of houses and trees, and many human beings, by the flood. It was a providential circumstance that H. M. ship "Orestes" was in the harbour; as effectual relief was at once administered by Captain Gardner, in the supply of food for the poor whose houses had been swept away and their stores of provisions destroyed; while the officers and men helped to restore the communication between different parts of the town. It was very gratifying to hear, through the report sent by the Acting Commissioner, Mr. Dupuy, of the zeal with which the Acting Chaplain, the Rev. H. Vaudin--who was supplying the place of Dr. Fallet, absent on leave--had applied himself to the work of attending to the sufferers and helping to alleviate their sorrows. Dr. Brooks, the Government Medical Officer, had been incessantly employed in the care of the wounded and the relief of the distressed; and Mr. Brunton, the Inspector of Police, had not only supplied assistance to the town, but was gone to examine the state of the country districts. In Mauritius, the Mayor of Port Louis had proposed to hold a meeting in aid of the Lancashire Distress Fund, but it was felt to be necessary to delay that measure, and to make an appeal at once for the suffering population at the Seychelles. This was done, and by the next mail I went to visit them. The Surveyor-General, Captain Morrison, R.E., went by the same opportunity; and Mr. Prince, Superintendent of Police, had gone some days previously by a sailing-vessel.

We landed at Bourbon, now called Réunion, the next day, and were very kindly received by the Consul, Mr. Hay Hill, who took us to see several of the public buildings; amongst them the Library, which has a good collection of books, in the Historical Department especially. We called on the Governor, Baron Darican; and were shown over the barracks by an officer, whom I had seen at Antananarivo a few weeks before. The monument to Captain Munro, who was killed in the action which was fought when the English took the island, was pointed out to us on an open piece of ground, just outside St. Denis. We spent about three hours in going round the town; and were chiefly struck with the size of some of the houses, the large extent of garden-ground attached to them, and the luxuriant growth of some of the trees.

Leaving Bourbon on the evening of the 7th, we made He Platte at two o'clock on the 11th, and Mahé long before sunset; and then we went at slow speed for a time, and afterwards stopped altogether till towards morning. When I came on deck we were beyond St. Ann's, so that I had not the opportunity which I had expected of observing the state of the island from the southern point onwards. One of the passengers, the Rev. P. Pennington, made a remark on the exceeding beauty of the view from the roadstead, which was quite in accordance with the testimony of many other observers; but there were changes visible to me, which made a great difference in my impressions of the scene. The tremendous landslips which had taken place, especially to the left of the town, as we looked from the ship, gave the idea of most complete and overwhelming destruction. On shore we found all the cocoa-nut trees blighted; the traveller's trees with their large leaves broken; and many other trees, a very fine tamarind among them, level with the ground. The fine trees by Dr. Brooks's house were completely spoiled. Looking towards Government House, from the bridge by the Church, we saw what a wide sweep the flood had made, reaching to our schools on one side, and beyond Royal Street on the other. Between these two, the Police buildings, the Church, and Mr. Vaudin's house, are situate. A very little more destruction in some parts, or less egress for the water in others, might have led to the most disastrous consequences for those buildings, and for the people in them. Two children were carried by the flood into Mr. Vaudin's yard, one dead and the other just expiring. A most thrilling account was given me afterwards by a woman, who had been driven with her children from one refuge to another; and, as all had been blown, down or carried away, just managed with help to get through the mud to the church, where several families were gathered, with the corpses of the children near them. After it was dark, and the lamps were lit in the church, they heard the voice of a man shouting, "Sauve moi! sauve moi!" and it gradually diminished in strength, till, as they supposed, he was drowned.

But to return to the account, which it will perhaps be better for me to give in the order in which I saw the places or heard the narratives of the people. I shall now mention the visit to the Cemetery, where the marks of the raging flood were really terrific. On looking up what had been a very beautiful valley, with houses large and small, and avenues of trees and gardens, and humbler plantations, a wide surface presented itself covered with masses of granite rocks, some of which, at the distance of at least a mile from the first fall of the cliff, had been dislodged from their bed and hurled against the wall, with such violence as to knock it down level with the ground, and to make a passage for the flood, which brought the débris of a house, which it had demolished outside, right among the graves; and to carry away entirely the building which had been used to receive the coffins, and to shelter the minister and attendants at funerals. As the Cemetery rises abruptly to a considerable height, the stream was sent hack through the lowest corner, and again mingled with the other waters and flowed towards Government House. Here a tree-covered mound diverted it by a few yards from the straight course towards the house, or all would have been swept away. On looking from Government House towards the sea, the change from former days was very mournful. The whole of the richly cultivated ground was now covered with grey mud and sand, and detritus of granite, as the waters had flowed round the elevated land on which the Government House stands.

After a little while, I went with Dr. Brooks, Captain Morrison, Mr. Prince, and Mr. Vaudin, to the main channel by which the flood had rushed down, the damage at the Cemetery having been caused by a slight turn to the right. Here the size of the blocks of granite was enormous, Captain Morrison estimating some at more than 100 tons. The ravine was greatly deepened in some places. One large house, with several Sisters of Mercy in it, and a Capuchin Friar and children, and others who had fled thither for refuge, was raised from its foundations, and then collapsed amidst the water and mud, by which many of the inmates were suffocated. The Friar's escape was very remarkable--nearly five hours were employed in digging him out. This body of water seems to have been the cause of most of the deaths which occurred in the town. One poor young woman was rescued who gave birth to a child on the following day. Her aged mother perished.

During the afternoon and evening I received four visits, which brought the reality of the scenes strongly to my view. One was from Mons. Dubois, living about a mile and a-half to the south of the town. Destruction of life and property took place very near him, and he said that as the strong gusts of wind swept over the store which he was trying to secure, he remarked how merciful it was that the house was sheltered by those large trees; alluding to two very fine caoutchouc trees, which I had often admired. On reaching his house, he found both level with the ground. Mr. Mulloy told me, that as they were in the house, which is on an elevation, he heard a sound as of thunder, and on opening the door, he saw the vast rush of water and stones going down, destroying the houses as I have mentioned before; and that the houses in the midst of it looked like ships tossed about in the sea. The great aunt of three motherless boys, whose father is in the Mauritius police-force, came to tell me that their grandmother, who kept them, was carried away by the flood. I saw them afterwards, and took care they should be relieved for the present. P. Annette's brother-in-law called, and described the efforts made for rescuing sufferers and dead bodies in a very animated manner. His caze was injured and his leg hurt; but he had struggled to work, "pour me debattre, et Dieu merci j'ai réussi." He had a very vivid recollection of warnings given by Dr. Pallet, "peut-être cocas perdis, peut-être maladie, peut-être ouragan; beaucoup di monde parlé ca dans les rues à present."

On the next day, Nov. 13, I was in-doors almost entirely the whole day, occupied in the intervals between the visits, which were very numerous, in preparing a sermon on Psalm ix. 5, which I preached in the evening. It was a subject most congenial with the current of my thoughts, and the tone of conversation kept up by those who came to me. A plaintive and solemn impression seemed to be upon them all. The service was well attended, and my text had a power of application to the circumstances which made it very impressive. "Tu les emportes comme par une ravine d'eau," was no longer a similitude, but the description of a reality.

One heartrending case of bereavement was that of Mr. Arthur Barallon, whose emotion in describing it to me was very touching to witness. When the dead were counted, lie had lost his father, two sisters, two nephews, three nieces--eight in all. Such instances as these may serve to give an idea of what the work of desolation has been. Distress in many forms prevails in the land, and there will be need of much patient investigation of the varied wants of different individuals, that the money voted by Government and that collected by public subscriptions may be judiciously and effectually applied. At a committee-meeting, with the Acting Commissioner in the chair, at which I was present as a member of the Central Committee of Mauritius, a classification was made of four classes eligible for relief. 1st. Those who needed rations. 2nd. Those who needed tools and materials. 3rd. Those whose loss of relatives and bad state of health made them dependent on help from others. 4th. Those whose losses of property would make it desirable to offer them some compensation. I mentioned a strong case of this kind, where a deserving and industrious young man had worked hard at a cocoa-nut property, and was giving material assistance to au aged father and other relations, when the tempest came, and the flood carried away a large quantity of the oil already in store, and several thousand cocoa-nuts ready for crushing were spoiled in the ruins of the magazine, in which they had been stored. My own inquiries were prosecuted carefully during the whole time of my stay, and I had many opportunities of administering relief which was most gratefully received, after I had ascertained that it was really wanted.

The more strictly ecclesiastical part of my visit had much that was very interesting connected with it. To see the Church not only unhurt, but with its towers so thoroughly finished, and to connect with it the preservation of human life and the large distribution of food to the destitute and hungry which has taken place since the hurricane, was very gratifying. The tower was filled with bags of rice, of which there were many also piled up in two corners of the church, as no other building was available at the time, and the. strictly eleemosynary character of the transaction made it resemble the collection of alms at our offertories. The church-yard has also been partly occupied, there being no access to the cemetery. This will be a solemn and impressive memento of the visitation which came upon the town on the 12th October, 1862; and it may prove advisable hereafter to have a tablet in the church with a suitable commemorative inscription.

On the 14th, Captain Morrison, Mr. Prince, Mr. Vaudin, and I, went to Praslin, starting just before sunrise, and reaching the island after midday. In a plantation near our church there, a large number of cocoa-nut-trees had been blown down; but the chief effect produced, as far as I could learn, was from the immense deposit of water, which seems to have been some feet deep on the plain below the mountains. No notice had been given of our coming, so that we found even the catechist away on one of his regular services in another part of the island; but we sent messengers about in different directions, and the people came, though in smaller numbers than on previous occasions; and some arrived at nine o'clock at night, after we had finished. We sang three times, had the Litany, and an address, and the Confirmation service. I had baptized the daughter of a neighbouring proprietor just before the service. I was greatly encouraged by what I saw of several of the members of our Church there. The account given by old Constant's wife of her difficulties in learning to read the Bible, and of the comfort which she derives from even her limited ability to read, was very pleasant; and I found her very earnest about the education of a child whom she has adopted. One of our boatmen helped in Mr. De la Fontaine's time; another is schoolmaster at Praslin, and was confirmed, his wife having been confirmed by the Bishop of Colombo. Candidates of former times came to greet me, and the catechist seemed to me to be going on in his usual, sensible, hardworking manner, with simplicity and success. The chief material improvement since my last visit is a house for the schoolmaster, and the purchase of eleven acres of land to serve partly as a cemetery. We found one member of the congregation occupied in finishing the tomb of his child.

At Mahé, Philippe's half-sister was particularly brought to my notice, and a most striking character she is. For many years she has been studying the Bible, and has read the histories of the Old Testament with enlightened application, and stored up both the narratives and the lessons they convey. Her vivid description of the comfort she derives from reading the Bible at night, without which she cannot sleep, was coupled with expressions of happiness in being able to speak to her Heavenly Father for herself and others, which made me feel very thankful to hear that her Bishop was one of those for whom she prayed. She spoke with deep gratitude of Dr. Brooks's kindness to her, and her aged mother, whom she afterwards brought to see me.

On Sunday, the 16th, we had the Sunday-school at half-past one, after the morning service in French, during which I held the Confirmation and addressed the candidates on three portions of Scripture,--The 1st Psalm,--showing the Book (or law) of God's servants; Matt. v. 1-12, showing their character; and Rev. vii. 9-17, describing their end.

A sermon in English in the afternoon, and one in French in the evening, left me completely tired; and very soon after daylight the next morning there were persons standing outside, come to visit me and to ask me for relief, or to send messages to their friends in Mauritius.

It would be difficult to conceive a more impressive contrast than that presented by the Government House as we knew it in 1856, and in its desolate condition on the occasion of this visit in 1862. At the former period we were enjoying the hospitality of Captain and Mrs. Wade, whose open house was the resort of the officers of the ship, while the inhabitants were continually coming in numbers to welcome their Commissioner on his return; at this latter time Capt. Wade was in his grave, in an elevated part of the Cemetery overlooking the valley, now become a scene of desolation and ruin. Mrs. Wade had died in Jersey, and their orphan children were in Europe. The ground-floor of the house was occupied by a detachment of the police-force, with the exception of the room in which I was sleeping; and in the upper story was a large gang of Indian prisoners, sent to help in clearing the debris and re-opening the communication in the town. In the excitement of such sorrowful circumstances it was difficult for me to get to sleep, and on one wakeful night I had recourse to the practice of earlier days, and beguiled the hours by composing some Latin verses, which I committed to paper the next morning, and I insert them here as a part of the recollections of that solemn visit, and in order to introduce what seems to me a very elegant reproduction of the ideas in the French language, by a fellow-passenger on the return voyage to Mauritius,--

Quae domus infantes, matremque, patremque fovebat
Laetitia et risu, tristis et orba silet.
Nam matris cineres tellus longinqua tuetur;
Hic propior tumulus condidit ossa patris;
Vallis, quae magnas sedes humilesque tabernas
Monstrabat, rapidis obruta sordet aquis:
Hic strata est, vulsis alte radicibus, arbos;
Hic rupea mira mole voluta jacet;
Donaque naturae videas, hominumque labores;
Communi moestum strage replere solum.
Sic cito transibunt humanae gaudia vitae,
Sic cito terrestris spes ruitura viget.
Arripe, mortalis, coelestes arripe sedes,
Queis nunquam saevas mors paret atra vices;
Quas neque ferri acies, dirove incendia fumo,
Nec tempestatum vis tetigisse valet.

Government-House, Seychelles, Nov. 1862.

Translation of the above by Count S.,--

Ce foyer qu'emplissait de bruit et d'allégresse
Le rire des enfants--des parents la tendresse
Est vide maintenant.

La mère a succombé sur un autre rivage,
Et le tombeau du Père est là près de la plage,
Funèbre monument.

Le torrent a comblé la riante vallée,
L'arbre est déraciné--et la roche ébranlée,
Dans un suprème effort,

A déchire les flancs de la vaste montagne
Jonché de ses débris la ville et la campagne
Semant partout la mort.

Ainsi passent, hélas! les bonheurs de la terre,
Rien ne dure ici bas que l'humaine misère
La désillusion!

Vers le ciel seulement portons nos esperances,
C'est la qu'on trouve un terme à toute souffrance,
A toute affliction!

It is hoped that the preceding pages will convey to those who are interested in the operations of the Church of England in our colonies and dependencies an accurate impression of the nature of the work to be done in the Diocese of Mauritius; of the circumstances under which that work has to be carried on; and of the various nations and kindreds of the earth who are likely, under God's blessing, to derive advantage from it. A clear call to proceed to "the regions beyond" was given by the openings in Madagascar; and it was so evidently the duty of the Bishop of Mauritius to avail himself of the nearness of his position--the distance between Port Louis and Madagascar being not quite half as great as to the Seychelles--that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts asked me to proceed to the capital, and make the necessary inquiries for the establishment of a Church-of-England Mission. That request was not received till after my return. I then ascertained that the subject of Madagascar had been fully and frequently brought to the notice of the members of the Church of England at home, in connexion with a scheme for sending at once a Bishop and six Clergymen to the capital.

This scheme, which would, doubtless, have been the best to adopt if no antecedent circumstances had made the situation a peculiar one, appeared to me so unadvisable in the actual condition of affairs at Antananarivo, that I felt I could not co-operate in carrying it out. That condition, when I left Mauritius in April, 1863, was as follows,--A king was on the throne who had been favourably impressed for Christianity under the teaching of converts of the London Missionary Society. Books were ready for our use, such as Grammars, Dictionaries, Vocabularies, and an excellent translation of the Scriptures, through the instrumentality of Missionaries of the same Society, who had reduced the language to writing, and then prepared those books in it. Large numbers of people in the capital had attached themselves to that body as soon as the persecution ceased, and it was felt very strongly by the representatives of the London Missionary Society in Antananarivo, and by the Directors at home, that a Mission from us would tend to distract and confuse the minds of the native Christians, if carried on just in the one place where thousands had attached themselves to their congregations. Strong remonstrances were made against the establishment of such a mission just there, while the most cordial encouragement was given to us to occupy other parts of the island. It therefore seemed to me the best plan for the present to commence Church-of-England Missions in Madagascar under my episcopal superintendence from Mauritius. Many advantages would result from making that island the basis of operations at first. All Missionaries go to Mauritius before proceeding to Madagascar. By having institutions in the former island, where newly-arrived clergymen and teachers may become acclimatised to the tropics, be brought into contact with natives of all the parts of their field of work, and thus learn the language, and prepare a body of native helpers to go forth with them, or to which they might send promising youths to be trained for the several departments of Missionary work, it is clear that much solid practical good would be secured; and in cases of suffering from the fevers of Madagascar, the better climate of Mauritius would afford a near and easily accessible sanitarium. And then, as any Mission developed in its extent, or advanced towards the interior, which would he the certain result of success, a Bishop might be appointed, whose experience of the work and knowledge of the language made him able efficiently to direct and to superintend the various operations of the Mission. In discussing such a subject, the physical geography of Madagascar must be carefully considered. A Bishop at Antananarivo would be separated fifteen days' journey from missions on the coast. [This number of days is given by Commodore Dupre, in his Narrative of a Three Months' Residence in Madagascar, as the time required for the journey.] From Mauritius, the same coast is reached in three days. The Romish missions in Madagascar have their basis of operations at Bourbon; and one cannot but feel, that if there had been an island situated with reference to the Zambesi Mission, as Mauritius is with reference to Madagascar, there would be in all probability a different tale to tell as to the results of so much liberality on the part of the Church at home, and so much self-denial and devotedness on the part of those who went forth to the work, and are now classed amongst the "unreturning brave."

The previous summary of matters of fact contained in this book supplies the reasons which have induced me to offer my personal superintendence, as long as it pleases God to give me the opportunity of doing so; and I do most earnestly commend the work, with its responsibilities., which are weighty, and its difficulties, which are great, and its encouragements, which are solid and cheering for all believers in God's promises, to the sympathy and the prayers of all who love that Saviour through whom those promises are given for men of "every nation, and kindred, and tribe, and tongue, and people."

But I should very much regret any impressions about the work in Madagascar which would divert the current of prayerful sympathy from the other objects which have been noticed in the preceding pages. To have the opportunity of making known the salvation of Christ amongst tens of thousands who have come from many heathen, lands, is in itself a most powerful reason for seeking to stir up amongst friends and brethren at home the spirit of prayer and intercession for the bestowal of that grace of the Spirit, which applies the Word for conversion and edification to the soul of man. And when we draw the inference which we are warranted to do, by the further consideration of plain facts, that good results obtained in our work in the diocese itself are likely to be reflected in the regions of Eastern Africa, and in many parts of Hindostan,--then we feel that an occasion is presented for strong desire, and believing prayer, and earnest expectation, that the work in our own districts, in the churches and schools of our many islands, may be well sustained, and largely blessed, and made in abundant measure a blessing in the earth.

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