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A Month at Seychelles

By A. Jones

From Mission Life, Vol. 1 (July 1, 1867), pages 142-50.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006


OUR readers who have taken an interest in the native school founded by Bishop Tozer in Zanzibar will be interested in the following account of the manner in which the pupils were first placed under the care of the Central African Mission. It is extracted from the private letters of Miss A. Jones, who for the past year has been assisting the Bishop and Miss Tozer in the work of the school:--

"May 25th, 1865, (Ascension Day.)

"These are the most glorious islands. The mountains, the mountain streams, the granite interspersed with bright orange and scarlet sand, vegetation of every description--tree ferns, palms, spices, rosewood, teak and maple, together with glorious flowering shrubs--the bay, to which Naples is moonshine--render Seychelles a very dreamland of delight; an artist would be in rapture. The houses are all built of white coral, with just the roughness sawn off; they have high-pitched roofs, and gables with alcoved windows. The little town called "Fort Victoria" lies at the foot of the highlands, and extends about three-quarters of a mile along the bay; there are picturesque little residences perched in all parts of the mountain. This is the principal island, about thirty miles long and four or five broad. There are two enterprising Englishmen here, and one Frenchmen; the inhabitants are Creole, Mauritians, and liberated slaves, in all about seven thousand.

"We arrived here on Sunday, 21st May ; very glad were we to be again on shore. The hospitality here is so primitive and charming, my only fear is it may spoil us for Zanzibar. On Sunday I stayed at the Doctor's; I am now living in a garden-house, where Dr and Mrs Seward are staying; these last are over for a ten days' cruise from Zanzibar.

"One sees here clever, well-bred people, cooking and washing their own clothes: the refinements of life are kept up without the nonsense.

[143] "On Monday, May 25th, we dined at the Government House. Mr ----- is picturesque in his costume: white shoes, scarlet stockings, white knickerbockers, white shirt, scarlet silk shawl round the waist, white or dark blue coat, and pith helmet with a scarlet or white turban. Dr ----- dresses in white from head to foot, and the costume of the naval officers on shore is magnificent. Yesterday was the Queen's birthday, and we should really go to the colonies to learn loyalty; we heard the officers talking much of dressing the ship, but did not expect such a day.

"There was a British and a French ship of war at anchor; at 8 A.M. the gun fired, and all flags hoisted; then the French captain went on board the English ship to congratulate the English captain on her Majesty having attained another birthday. All the Creole inhabitants of the town go up first to the Government House, and then to the smaller houses for rum. We talked to them in bad French, and worse Creole, asking why they came. The ugly old creatures, some of them said to be one hundred years old, all knew it to be the feast of 'la Reine d'Angleterre.' At 10 A.M. the Governor held a levee; all the officers and recent comers went up to make their salaam, and partake of a déjeûner. This lasted some time; and in the evening there was a dinner-party. We all dined at the Doctor's. But I should have said, that in the morning a man-of-war had been seen from the other side of the island, but at so great a distance that no one could make her out. About 4 P.M. she came in sight of the port, and all the 'Lyra's' officers were on the qui vive; owing to Mr Seward's hospitality, glasses were in great requisition. Eventually she turned out to be the 'Wasp.' Captain Bowden had captured a dhow with 283 slaves on board, some of them men and women, but for the most part children from five years to fourteen. There had been a terrible engagement with the Arab crew; the dhow was boarded by a small boat from the ship. The following is extracted from the official account of the engagement:--

Her Majesty's ship "Wasp," Seychelles,
May 26th, 1865.

SIR,-- I have, the honour to report, that on the night of the 12th [143/144] May, an Arab dhow was captured by the pinnace and cutter of this ship, under the charge of Lieutenant Charles C. Rising, at a distance of from eight to ten miles from the port of Zanzibar, with 283 slaves on board.

She had a large crew of northern Arabs, who made a desperate resistance; but owing to the gallantry displayed by the officers and their boats' crews, the vessel was carried, the Arabs taking to the sea and to a boat they cut from the stern, but leaving three dead and thirteen prisoners.

I regret to say that John New, (coxswain of pinnace,) the first to board, was killed, and three officers and eight men wounded.

I cannot speak too highly of the judicious way in which the attack was conducted, and the gallantry displayed by Lieutenant Rising, who has received three very severe wounds.

Lieutenant Theobald received a severe wound at the onset, but, notwithstanding, boarded, and afterwards remained in charge.

By the prisoners' statement, there were seventy Arabs on board at the time of the attack.
(Signed) W. BOWDEN, Captain.

Her Majesty's Ship "Wasp," Seychelles,
May 26th, 1865.

SIR--In obedience to your orders of the 12th May, I proceeded with the pinnace and first cutter, manned and armed, to endeavour to intercept a dhow which was to sail from Zanzibar the same evening.

On leaving the ship, I at once sent Lieutenant Charles B. Theobald, in the pinnace, down to Chapney Island, giving him direction to look out for the dhow, and also for me in the cutter. I then went in to where the dhow was at anchor, at sunset, but found that she had sailed. On inquiring on board another small dhow, I heard that she had sailed about half an hour with only part of her slaves on board, and that the rest had gone after her in three large canoes. I immediately proceeded to pick up the pinnace; and having come to the conclusion that she must have anchored somewhere close in-shore to receive those slaves, I proceeded in company with the pinnace to search the shore, intending to go down to Cokotoni if we did not find her in our way, the pinnace being about a mile from the shore, and the cutter about half a mile.

After proceeding about two miles, I observed a canoe in-shore of me, and immediately chased her. As soon, as she saw me, she made for the shore, and on reaching it all the crew ran into the bush. I searched the canoe, and found in it several baskets of yams and a copper kettle; and from what the interpreter said, I had no doubt she was one of the three canoes. I took her in tow, and shoved off; and just as I hoisted the sail, I observed a sail coming round the point, and stood off towards her. As I closed her, I saw that it was a large dhow with her sail half hoisted, apparently looking for something. When I was within 200 yards of her, she appeared to make me out, and hoisted her sail, at the [144/145] same time firing at me. I at once chased and commenced firing at her; she returned it, and finding that the cutter was sailing faster than the dhow, I kept about eighty yards astern of her, intending to wait for the pinnace. After chasing her about half a mile, I observed the pinnace commence firing on her from some distance a head, and at once got the oars out. About ten minutes after, I saw the pinnace close to the dhow, and almost immediately she boarded her on the port bow. I at once boarded with the cutter on the starboard quarter; and after about ten minutes' severe fighting, we succeeded in capturing her, many of her crew jumping overboard, and, owing to the darkness succeeded in cutting the boat away from the stern of the dhow, and escaping in her.


I must leave Lieutenant Theobald to finish this report, as I regret to say I became insensible from loss of blood, and on coming to I found myself in the cutter with several wounded men, on our way to the ship, which we reached at 7.30 A.M. on the 13th.

I have now only to say that it is my firm conviction we should never have captured her if Lieutenant Theobald had not at once stood across to cut her off on seeing the firing, and then without hesitation boarded. I wish also to bring to your notice the manner in which Mr W. Wilson, midshipman, John Williams, able seaman, and coxswain of the cutter, and Charles Proudley, yeoman of store-rooms, behaved--the latter saved my life, when, owing to loss of blood and my sword being broken, I was hardly able to defend myself.


In consideration of this service, Lieutenants Rising and Theobald [145/146] have been ordered to be promoted to the rank of commander as soon as they are respectively eligible; and the names of the other officers and of the men mentioned in the despatch have been favourably noticed.

"The first lieutenant is still in danger of his life from lock jaw; he has lost three fingers and half of his right hand, has received a frightful sword wound at the back of his neck, and several spear wounds; five have died, and ten others are severely wounded; some of the slaves have received horrible spear wounds. It was beautiful to see the kindness of officers and men, especially to the poor children; they carried the little ones and sick on shore as tenderly as any mother would; prepared their food, washed, and attended upon them. The Zanzibar Consul being here, they would all be brought here for liberation.

"With this ship came Bishop Tozer, not expecting his sister for some time, and your humble servant not at all; at 9 P.M., after dinner, all the Government House party came down to the Dr's house.

"I have had a glorious walk every day this week; the other ladies here never walk at all. This morning I went with the Bishop to see some of the little Africans, our future pupils at Zanzibar. Every one had foretold that there never would be any girls to be had, when here were seventy-six at once. We could only take eight or nine girls and five boys, as the consideration was how they were to be maintained. There are some 250 in the station, close to the house; don't they make a noise!

"I think I have mentioned most things of interest during the voyage except the phosphorescent light at sea. In the Mediterranean we often had it in flashes in the water at night; here, in the Indian Ocean, we often float in a sea of stars. The stars above are so bright that they are often reflected as small moons.

"I have just had a specimen of one of those wonderful leaf insects brought here upon a nutmeg branch; they are either bright green or like a leaf turning yellow; but the feelers are all bright green, with a touch of crimson round the outer edge.

"May 28th, 1865.--In all probability we shall not leave this island for two or three weeks, as the captors of the slaver are [146/147] to remain here until convalescent. Captain Bowden came ashore for us in his gig soon after 8 A.M. We five pilgrims and Mrs Seward were in readiness. Mrs Brooks had a beautiful bouquet ready to take to the sick folk; and Miss Tozer some fine fruit: The ships lay nearly two miles from the shore, on account of the long sandy beach and coral reefs. Of course ladies are not usual on board a man-of-war, so the preparations were very different from those on board an ordinary steamer. The Captain here has a charming room, in which we breakfasted; then all hands rigged for church; a boat had brought Dr Brooks' harmonium; the muster was called; and at half-past ten we had service, the Bishop officiating. Then the ladies went to visit the sick, who have an hospital upon deck. Mr Rising, the officer who was so severely wounded by the Arabs in the slave capture, was sitting up with his head in a frame, his arm in a sling, his leg in a splint, and a wound on his right shoulder. He is quite a hero, having charged the Arabs single-handed with his sword, which broke in the encounter. After luncheon the Captain of the 'Lyra' came on board to make a call; we returned to shore in the Captain's gig. At 3 P.M. there was service on shore in the church, and a very good congregation present. The Padre was charmed, and begged to have the harmonium in the evening; the sermon was in French, but the Bishop gave the blessing. Miss Tozer played. Captain Bowden is always laughing at the rate at which I walk; in six months' time, he tells me, I shall never think of taking a walk, but just go up upon the roof for some few minutes in the evening, to take the air; I hope, however, I may exist in such a state as to belie his prophecy.

"May 29th.--I went to the girls' school here this morning, but not being well-up in Creole French, it was slow work with the children; they are taught English and French, but not being their home dialect they are not apt at either; there were forty in all, with an English teacher from Mauritius, and a native assistant. I heard them all read or say their letters. I likewise went to see our little slaves; they are looking sickly, and one has fever. I have become quite accustomed to the dark faces about me; yes, and to 'no clothes' too. I hope our few children will soon get [147/148] over their present skin disease; some of them have horrible sores on the legs, like white scales.

"Yesterday was our first day of housekeeping. One's knowledge of cooking is rather astray here, in a land of no fire-places, and fruits and vegetables quite unknown in our climate. I dare say the way to do things will be picked up as one goes along; our beginning has been rather a 'dash.' The hours kept here by the inhabitants are just starvation to English habits. Up 6 A.M.; take a bath and a cup of tea; breakfast somewhere between 10 and 11; fruit and wine for tiffen at 3 P.M.; dinner, 7 P.M.; and a cup of strong tea at 9; bed about 10. The tea keeps one tossing about for hours. We determined to try English hours; so this morning I called Miss Tozer before 6. We then went to the bazaar and bought fruit and vegetables, and hired a boy to bring us water: bathed, dressed, and breakfasted at eight; walked, returned home about 1 P.M.; dined, walked, and tried to sleep. My whole journey here was accomplished with but one mosquito bite upon my wrist; but the ants on board from Aden teased me dreadfully. This week the mosquitoes have attacked my ankles and round my knees terribly. The heat is beyond description; the prickly heat has affected my fingers; the backs of them are skinning as if from scarlet fever.

"I have sent every readable book to the sick on-board, there being a great drought of novelty just now.

"June 2d.--I have just been trying to cook some bananas in claret, by way of pudding. It has been infinite trouble to get the lad to understand how to make a fire in a brazier, and to bring it into our rooms. It has turned out well. My gimlets are in use now, and the swing-tray has become a bread basket. I have screwed the gimlet some ten feet high, between the doors, and hung it thereon, to prevent the ants from purloining our bread and making nests in it; it has proved a success. I have not tasted butter since leaving Malta. I believe I shall become an orange eater.

"June 4th, Whitsunday.--This morning there has been a mixed Holy Communion service, the Bishop using English, and Dr Follett reading the Epistle and Gospel in French. We cannot go [148/149] to the sermon on board to-day, so must endure sixty minutes of a French sermon in the heat of the morning.

"June 6th.--The Bishop, Governor, and Captain have been off for a two days' expedition by sea and land. It has rained torrents the greater part of the time, so we devoted ourselves to reaccommodating the naval and episcopal wardrobe. They have just returned, and been in to tell us of their adventures, which were many. They have been carried across creeks, waded mountain torrents, put up in a boat-house, then arrived at a Frenchman's, where they had a broken slop-basin to bathe in, after being chest-high in muddy water.

"June 12th.--I have not yet been done up with the heat since I left the vessel; of course, one has to be careful in the middle of the day; and then there are no evenings. At half-past six it is quite dark, except when the moon shines. The moonlight is glorious; but I only manage to see it coming home from dining out, unless I take my chair under the verandah. To-morrow we dine at the Government House. These parties are always pleasant, as Mrs Ward is so good-natured; and anything you admire or wish for in flowers she always gives you directly, although it is the only garden laid out in the place. On Sunday we strolled all round it, after service, and also through the cemetery; such an odd mixture as the latter is of French affectation and sentiment; anti-macassars on the wooden crosses; and bottles with flowers in them.

"June 8th.--After two days' rain it is getting tremendously hot, and I must bring this letter to a close."

Writing a few months later from Zanzibar, Miss Jones says "My children here are getting on very fairly. I must not expect too much from their intellectual capacities; they are improving in their English very rapidly, and seldom misunderstand me when I speak to them. I wish I could send a specimen of their needlework; for the short time they have been taught, and never seeing either needles or cotton before, I think it wonderful. I begin to fear daily that my supply of needles will not last until a fresh supply arrives; this is, however, one of the minor griefs of a far [149/150] away land; but these trifles make me understand of what importance very small things are to us. Our dear little boys are already beginning to sing nicely; they know the Evening Hymn, Keble, and St Leonards, and a few other tunes, besides plenty of chants."

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