Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/7

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Madagascar, the largest island in the world after Australia and Borneo, is separated from the African continent by the channel of Mozambique, which, at its narrowest point, is about two hundred miles wide. It lies almost wholly between the southern tropic and the equator, and has a length of nine hundred miles, running northeasterly, in a general parallel direction with the African coast. With an average breadth somewhat exceeding two hundred miles, it contains an area of more than two hundred thousand square miles, being nearly twice as large as Great Britain and Ireland, and five times as large as the State of New York.

The existence of this island was first made known to the European world by Marco Polo, who, in his travels in the East, which were performed in the thirteenth century, mentions it by the name of Magaster. The origin of this name is not known; nor do the inhabitants of the island recognize it as applied to their country, for which they have no distinct appellation. There are evidences that it has been visited by Moors, Arabs, and Hindostanee from very early times, but the first arrival of Europeans upon its shores dates from the year 1506, at which time it was discovered by Lawrence Almeida, son of the Portuguese Viceroy of India. The Portuguese soon established a settlement upon it, and built a fort, which however never flourished. Nor did the Dutch, who also found it a convenient stopping place on their way to the East, ever make much progress in the island.

The situation of the island seemed to render it a very desirable stopping place and depot for the European vessels that were beginning to enter upon the commerce of the East. It lies about eighteen hundred miles from the Cape of Good Hope,