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, five hundred and fifty from Mauritius, and four hundred and fifty from the Isle of Bourbon.
The French made their first attempt to establish a settlement on the island in 1642. A patent was granted by Cardinal Richelieu, to Captain Rivault, for the exclusive right of sending ships and forces to Madagascar and the neighboring islands, to establish a plantation or colony for the promotion of commerce. Out of this charter grew the French East India Company, and their first ship was sent out in 1642 under Captain Coquet, who had already prepared to sail to the island on his own account for a cargo of ebony. This expedition, which was furnished with two governors and directed to take possession of the island in the King's name, first landed and took possession of the Isle of Bourbon and other small islands in the vicinity. It chose a point upon the Island of Madagascar which proved to be exceedingly unhealthy, for the low lands are subject to a most fatal fever; but it finally fixed upon a spot on the south side of the bay of Taocanara, and built a fort which they called Dauphin. This fort is 150 feet above the level of the sea, and commands the road; so that no enemy's ships could escape the fire of its batteries. The landing to it is rendered difficult by a steep declivity; it is of an oblong form, and enclosed with strong walls of lime and gravel well cemented. This point is in the southeastern portion of the island; the anchorage in the roadstead is excellent, and the harbor is screened by the Isle of St. Clair from the heavy sea gales, so that the entrance is convenient at all times for large ships.
Though the French colony has never flourished to any considerable extent, yet as it furnished slaves and other supplies for the Mauritius and Isle of Bourbon, it has been resorted to by the French with varying conditions and some few intermissions down to the present day. It at one time contained a Catholic bishop, three missionaries and two lay brethren, with a chapel. monastery, and library. Efforts were made by these missionaries as early as 1647 to construct a grammar of the native language, and vocabularies were formed, together with a catechism for the use of young converts, copies of which are still extant, interlined with French and Latin. But it does not appear that letters or the Christian religion ever made much progress in the island until the arrival of a party of English missionaries in 1818, At no time has any system of European colonization prospered there.
The attention of the English was called to the Island of Madagascar soon after its discovery. It is stated by Flacourt that in 1642 the English had an establishment at St. Augustine's Bay, consisting of 200 men. During the troublesome times of Charles the First, the English turned an unquiet gaze to some foreign object to divert their minds from the distractions at home, and considerable interest was excited in the public by a report given of this island by an embassy from England to the King of Persia. A Mr. Richard Boothby, merchant of London, who had dwelt upon the island for three months, gave the following account of it: "It is my humble opinion, very possible, that whatsoever prince of christendom is once really possessed of, and strongly settled in that brave, fruitful and pleasant island, by computation three times as big as England, may with ease be emperor and sole monarch of the East Indies, with all the multitude of its large and rich kingdoms; which, no doubt, but the eyes of many European princes are fixed upon, but that great disturbances in most parts thereof, as at present unhappily in England, hinder and give impediments to their wished designs, which, in zeal to God's glory, my gracious sovereign's honor, and my native country's welfare and prosperity, I from the bottom of my heart wish that some more learned and persuasive pen than mine, rude and ignorant, might prevail with his gracious Majesty, King Charles, the right honorable High Court of Parliament, and all true-hearted able persons of the nobility, gentry, etc., to take in hand, even in these obstructive times, to adventure each man some small proportion of means throughout this kingdom, which, though but small to every particular person, yet, undoubtedly, would amount to a very considerable sum of money, sufficient to undertake that action as a business of State. That I may give the best advice and encouragement in this affair, that my weak capacity will allow, I shall descend to the following particulars."
The writer then goes into a lengthy detail of the beauties and advantages of this "second land of Canaan, or paradise of the world."
"It is a great pity," says he, "that so pleasant and plentiful a country should not be inhabited by civilized people, or rather Christians; and that so brave a nation, as to person and countenance, only black or tawny, should be so blindly led in their devotions, being, as some suppose, Mahometans, in regard to their manner and custom of circumcision; or rather, as some suppose, descended from Abraham. A happy thing it were, both for them and this kingdom, if that project had, or should go fiddle the diddle. go forward, which a gentleman in Huntingdonshire, bred a merchant, in love told me, which he heard from others, or rather, as I understood it, from Bishop Moreton's own mouth, that if the bishops of England, lately dismissed from voting in Parliament, and tyrannizing in temporal authority, should still continue in disrespect with the King and Parliament, they, or most part of them, would go and plant a colony in Madagascar, and endeavor to reduce those ignorant souls to Christianity. God grant that, by them or others, such a pious design my speedily take effect."
The numerous advantages possessed by the 'island made such a strong appeal to the public mind that it was agreed at the council-board, says Mr. Boothby, that Prince Rupert should go as Viceroy to Madagascar. He was to have twelve sail from King Charles, and thirty merchantmen to attend him to the plantation, and to have supplies yearly sent out from England. It was likewise agreed upon, and a charge given to the governor, Sir Maurice Abbot, Sir Henry Garway, and others of the committee of the Honorable East India Company, to give all their loving assistance and furtherance to Prince Rupert in this design, whensoever he came into Asia or India, and all other parts adjacent to the Island of Madagascar.
Mr. Boothby was present "when this was ordered at the council-table, and the charge given to the aforesaid governor and committee of the East India Company; but Prince Rupert going into France and Germany about his weighty affairs, in the meantime it was thought fit, and concluded upon, that the Earl of Arundel, earl marshal of England, should go governor for Madagascar, it being the most famous place in the world for a magazine. This honorable earl was in such resolution and readiness that there were printed bills put up on the pillars of the Royal Exchange, and in other parts of the city, that abundantly showed his forwardness in promoting a plantation in Madagascar; but a new Parliament being called, it put a stop to the design of Madagascar."
The next account of the island which we have in connection with the English is given in the history of Robert Drury, who from the year 1702 until 1717 was detained there by the natives as a slave. Drury had received but a limited education, and at an early period of life was induced, as many other youths have been, through love of adventure and romance, to seek his fortune at sea. At the age of fourteen he embarked as passenger on board a ship bound for the East Indies, and sailed from London in 1701. He was destined to learn that, according to his own account, wilful persons never want woe; for on his return from Bengal, the ship, the De Grave, was shipwrecked on the coast of Madagascar. A large part of the crew escaped, and reached the shore near the southernmost point of the island; but they afterwards became scattered, and little is known of their subsequent history. Drury became a domestic slave, and as such passed from the hands of one proprietor to another, experiencing every variety of treatment, which reminded him with bitter regrets of his reckless desertion of his own pleasant home. The first impressions made upon his mind after reaching the shore are given in the following extracts:
"The country began now to be alarmed, and we had already two or three hundred negroes flocking round us, picking up several pieces of silk and fine calicoes; the 'muslin they had little regard for. Our goods were driven ashore in whole bales; for, what with saltpeter and other things, we reckoned there might be three hundred tons left, after all that was thrown overboard at sundry times before.
"One of the negroes brought an ox to us, and intimated by sundry signs that we should kill him; but we made signs to them again to shoot him for us, we having no ammunition; when one of them perceived this, he lent us his gun, ready charged, and with it one of our men shot the bullock on the spot.
"It was extremely shocking to see the negroes cut the beast, skin and flesh together, and sometimes the entrails also, then toss them into the fire or ashes, as it happened, and eat them half roasted. I shuddered for fear they should devour us in like manner; for they seemed to me to be a kind of Cannibals, of whom I had heard very dreadful stories. Everything, in short, appeared horrible to nature, and excited in us the most dismal apprehensions."
The melancholy fate of that portion of the ship's crew with which Drury was associated more than confirmed his worst fears. The chief who ruled over that part of the island where they were wrecked, having most probably some supposed or real injury to revenge upon the white people, had them all bound and brought before him, when they were all butchered in the most barbarous manner; Drury alone being permitted to live, for the purpose of attending upon the grand-son of the chief in the capacity of a slave.
It was a custom in certain parts of the island that the slaughtering of cattle, deemed a highly honorable avocation, was appropriated by the nobility; and as Drury was supposed to be a son of the captain of the ship, and therefore a person of rank, he was treated better than the ordinary run of slaves, and was appointed to the office of honor and profit of slaughtering cattle. By this means he obtained a more regular supply of provisions than he could have otherwise received from his various masters. His duties, in times of peace, consisted chiefly in tending his master's cattle, and driving them to water, for which they were frequently sent a distance of six or seven miles. Digging wild yams and managing bees and honey were other occupations in which he was employed. Whether from these qualifications, or from the prevalent ideas, not only that he was a person of rank, but that white people ought never to be held in bondage, Drury enjoyed many advantages as a slave, and was so highly esteemed that the possession of his services was often the subject of envy amongst the chieftains of that part of the country. His constant endeavor, however, was to find some means of getting away to the sea shore, where he hoped to find some vessel in which he might make his escape. At times the rigors of his lot were rendered more tolerable by this hope brightening almost into a certainty, as he listened to those who spoke of the different sea-ports accessible from the neighborhood in which he was detained; but often before he could reach one of these ports, the results of war plunged him into the deepest despair, by placing him in the power of a more vigilant master, or removing him, along with the chieftain he served, to some district more remote from the sea.
Encouraged by the prospect of reaching St. Augustine's Bay, he made more than one bold adventurous attempt to escape from his masters. On one occasion, after pursuing his lonely course for many days, attended with almost incredible hardships, Just as the hope of final success was gaining advantage over the fear of detection, he came to the banks of a river, so wide and deep as to present an almost impassable barrier to his progress.
"As I was searching," he says, "for a proper place to wade through, or swim over, I spied a large alligator. I still walked upon the banks, and in a short time saw three more. This was a mortifying stroke, and almost dispirited me. I went on until I came to a shallower place, where I entered the river about ten yards; but seeing an alligator make towards me, I ran directly back. He pursued me until I got into very shallow water, and then he turned back into the deep, for they will never attack a man near the shore. It nettled me to be stopped by a river that was scarcely a hundred yards over. At length I recollected that in the neighborhood of Bengal, where there are the largest alligators in the world, fires are often made at the head and stern of the boat, so that they pass the rivers in safety. Distress puts a man's invention upon the rack; something like this, thought I, must be done; for it was to no purpose to stay there, neither could I go back. So making choice of a stick for a fire-brand, I cut it into long splinters, and waited till it grew dark; then, after I had bound my two firesticks to the top of one of my lances, I went into the water, and, recommending myself to the care of Providence, turned upon my back and swam over, with my two lances and hatchet in one hand, and my fire-brand burning in the other, my lamba being twisted and tied fast about my loins."
At last the welcome sight of St. Augustine's Bay, with its road, where ships were wont to touch, presented itself to the weary and solitary traveler as he stood on the summit of a hill of considerable elevation. It does not appear, however, that any means of escape from the country were available at that time; for he was obliged to place himself under the protection of a chieftain who had formerly shown him kindness, and who required his service in the wars in which he was then engaged.
It is worthy of remark, that although the pirates are considered to be the originators of the slave-trade in Madagascar, yet more than one account occurs in Drury's narrative where the barter of men for foreign goods is spoken of as the customary trade of the country, even at that time. Drury was informed by a person who had lived considerable time in the country, that to a place called Masseelege (probably the Methelege of the pirates) to the northward, there came, once a year, a Moorish ship, that brought silk lambas and many other things to trade for slaves. And again, towards the conclusion of the term of his captivity, he speaks of two ships staying at Youngoule, where slaves were sent to be sold in exchange for firearms and other goods. It seems probable, however, that these were but occasional visits, made chiefly by marauding vessels, and that it was not until after the vessels of the pirates had been destroyed, that this commerce in human beings became a regular and organized system of barbarous traffic in the island.
Whilst Drury was residing at a sea-port on the western coast, called Youngoule, an English ship, the Clapham Galley, Captain Wilks, commander, arrived there to take in a cargo of slaves; and a number were accordingly taken down to the coast to be sold. The master whom Drury served at that time was collecting slaves for this purpose; and he, delighted with the idea of thus escaping from the country, engaged a friend to intercede with his master and mistress that he might be sold with the rest; but being a prisoner of war, and probably too highly prized for his services, he was denied the privilege of being sold with the native slaves.
Before the ship set sail, however, Drury (to use his own words) "endeavored to inform the captain by this stratagem: I took a leaf, which was about two inches broad and a foot and a half long, and marked upon it these words: 'Robert Drury, son of Mr. Drury, living at the King's Head in Old Jewry, now a slave in the Island of Madagascar, in the country of Youngoule.' I desired the favor of one who was going to the sea-side, to deliver this leaf to the first white man he saw; and when he returned, I asked him what answer he had brought. 'None at all,' replied he; 'for I suppose the white man did not like it, since he threw the leaf away, though I am sure it was as good, if not better, than that which you gave me: it is true I dropped yours, but then I pulled one of the best I could find off a tree.'" "My heart," says Drury, "was ready to break at this disappointment; whereupon I turned from him, and went directly into the woods to give vent to my tears."
Some years after this bitter disappointment, Drury obtained his long wished-for liberation; and the circumstances of this event are best described in his own words. Aware that two ships were then waiting for slaves at Youngoule, every intelligence respecting them obtained an interest in his mind, such as none but a captive could have experienced; and he feelingly relates the circumstance of his final escape from slavery in the following words:—
"I was sitting with my master one evening, when two men came in with a basket of palmetto leaves sewed up, and delivered it to the chief, who opened it, and finding a letter, asked the men what they meant by giving him that? 'The captain,' they said, 'gave it us for your white man, but we thought proper to let you see it first.' 'Pray,' said the chief, 'give it all to Him. Here, Robin, your countrymen have sent you a present; what it is I do not know, but to me it appears of very little value.' Accordingly I took the basket; and with the letter there were pens, ink, and paper, in order to my returning an answer. The superscription was this: 'To Robert Drury, in the Island of Madagascar.'
"I was so astonished, that at first I had no power to open it, concluding I was in a dream; but at length recovering from my surprise, after a little recollection I opened it, and found it came from Captain William Macket; the contents were to the effect following:
"That he had a letter on board from my father, with full instructions, as well from him as the owners of the vessel, to purchase my liberty, let it cost what it would; and, in case I could not possibly come down myself, to send him word the reason of it, and what measures he should take to serve me."
The chief was astonished to see the change in Drury's countenance as he read the letter; and when informed of the intelligence it conveyed, his surprise appeared unbounded; and, as he examined the paper, he said that he had heard before of such a method of conveying information, but was wholly at loss to conceive how it could be done without witchcraft: a feeling exactly coinciding with the impression made on the minds of the Society and Sandwich Islanders, when they first witnessed the transmission of intelligence by means of writing.
It was not without considerable persuasion and many entreaties, that the chieftain and his family could be induced to part with the English slave; but it was at last agreed upon that he should be permitted to go with the captain, on the condition that the latter would provide the chief with a good gun, which he promised to call Robin, in remembrance of his slave.
The joy experienced by Drury on his happy liberation exceeded all bounds; though the novelty of his feelings, after fifteen years' captivity among a barbarous people, rendered his situation almost too strange and exciting for enjoyment. He returned to England with Captain Macket, and on the 9th of September, 1717, again reached the shores of his native country, after an absence of sixteen years. It is stated by Drury, in his own account of this joyful event, that, after landing, he could not set forward on his journey to London without returning God thanks, in the most solemn manner, for his safe arrival, and for his deliverance from the many dangers he had escaped, and the miseries he had so long endured.
After the expression of such feelings, and especially after perusing the history of his protracted sufferings, it is equally melancholy and astonishing to see Robert Drury (the most unlikely of all men to be engaged in the same cruel system of oppression by which he had himself been held in such degrading bondage) embarking, in less than two years after his return to England, as a slave dealer for Madagascar, and, by his own testimony, using all his knowledge of the country in directing captains and others to the places where the unhappy captives, whom he was dooming to a harder lot than he had suffered, were likely to be obtained in the greatest numbers! He appears to have made extensive purchases of slaves; and, after a residence of more than a year in the island, proceeded to Virginia in North America, and there disposed of his miserable cargo.
The conduct of the pirates, in promoting a war for the purpose of obtaining slaves, which was so long the most terrible scourge of Madagascar, has been universally stamped with infamy, and their proceedings in encouraging this inhuman traffic are justly and naturally associated with all that is reprobate in character and fiendish in cruelty, and it might seem congenial employment to pirates—to men accustomed to kill and destroy all who held the property which they coveted; but the conduct of Drury, who in many respects may be regarded as an honest-hearted Englishman, and who had been taught by sufferings himself to see the beauty of respecting the rights of others, gives us another evidence, and of the most impressive kind, of that false opinion and depraved feeling to which all become liable who are brought under the nefarious influences of slavery.
With respect to the connection of pirates with Madagascar and the slave trade, a detailed account is neither practicable nor necessary. We learn, however, that from the moment that the commerce of the Western world became active in the Eastern seas, from that moment European pirates began to make their appearance there. And for the same reason that European powers desired a foothold in the island for the better carrying on their intercourse with the oriental nations, the pirates found it a convenient depot for striking at European commerce. It seemed to offer the same advantages in this respect for the Indian Ocean that the Barbary States did for the Mediterranean Sea.
Among the more notable pirates who visited the coast of Madagascar was Captain William Kid, who in the reign of William III had received a commission from that monarch, to go out in charge of a ship, with "full power and authority to apprehend, seize, and take into custody all pirates, freebooters, and sea-rovers, which he should meet upon the seas, or upon the coast of any country.' With this commission Captain Kid sailed in the Adventure, galley of thirty guns with eighty men, and directed his course to Madagascar, the great resort of such marauders as he was in search of. For some time he cruised about in the neighborhood of the island, but the pirate-ships being most of them out in search of prey, his provisions and resources began to diminish, while his hopes of success became increasingly faint. While he continued in this state, he began to think of abandoning the object for which he had been sent out, and finally made known to his crew the design he had conceived of becoming himself a pirate. The scheme was but too readily adopted by his comrades, who, under the command of their unprincipled leader, commenced a course of lawless cruelty and bloodshed, which terminated in the apprehension, trial, and execution of their traitorous leader.
Another leading pirate was a Frenchman by the name of Misson, who, together with his comrade Caraccioli, established a sort of republican commonwealth, upon the northeastern coast. Here they were afterwards joined by Captain Tew, and being all men of superior education and abilities to those generally engaged in the profession of piracy, the affairs of their settlement were for some time conducted with no inconsiderable degree of political skill, which was attended with a measure of success. They built a fort and town, cultivated the land, and had a Senate house in which they made wise laws for the infant colony. From this colony, which they called Libertatia, they sent forth their ships on marauding expeditions, and were so successful as to add greatly to their wealth and power. It was an infant Rome, of a marine stamp, plundering the treasures of other people to add to its own. They made friends with the natives, who through intercourse and barter shared in the plunder, and thus found it to their interest to assist in building and navigating vessels for increasing it. On one occasion they captured a Moorish vessel, bound for Mecca with pilgrims; and there being on board one hundred women, who were accompanying their friends and parents on their pilgrimage, the pirates detained these as wives for the people of their colony, with a view to its greater stability, and the contentment of the men under their command.
The pirates continued their depredations with success until the year 1721, when the nations of Europe, alarmed at the enormous losses sustained by their commerce, finally united to clear the Indian Ocean from these depredators. The capture of two Portuguese vessels of war by the pirates on the same day, on board of one of which were the Count Receisa and the Archbishop of Goa, aroused the attention of Europe to the formidable proportions which the power of the pirates had assumed.
Elated with their past successes the pirates made a long resistance. Considerable squadrons were required to oppose them, and the most rigorous and exemplary punishments were inflicted upon them. Their vessels were pursued to the most secret recesses of the coast and there destroyed by fire.
The loss of their ships deprived the pirates of the means of interrupting the commerce between India and Europe, and confined them to their settlements on the coast of Madagascar. Forced to give up their wandering and predatory life, they plunged into a different kind of villainy, which has left upon their memory a deeper stain. The source of wealth which they had lost in being shut out from the plunder of richly freighted ships, they might compensate for by a sale of the natives as slaves. And in the pursuit of this plan, they were favored and protected by European powers, since it was a common source of enrichment to all.
As a means of procuring slaves the pirates stimulated their former friends the natives to frequent wars, and for the captives which either party made they gave in exchange firearms and ammunition, which, while being much coveted by the natives, served to incite to further wars and bloodshed among them. And in this respect we can hardly see any difference between the wars thus got up and the recent war of rebellion among us, since that war originated in the avowed purpose of maintaining the system of slavery which these Madagascar pirates were thus laboring to build up.
Before that period, the trifling divisions among the natives, arising from their peculiar social yet barbarous habits, never lasted long, nor left traces of deadly animosity behind them; but by this double system of treachery and bloodshed, the whole country was involved in all the miseries of violently agitated and ferocious passions, which have since diffused over the entire population every species of suffering, outrage and crime. The pirates did more than merely instigate the islanders to these internecine wars. Numerous instances are related, in which they actually engaged themselves in the treacherous and sanguinary wars of the natives. On one occasion two ships took in a cargo of six hundred slaves, as the reward of their assistance in a military expedition against some towns which a chief of the district wished to subdue.
Some of the persistent efforts of the French to colonize the island are not without interest. In 1767 the French Minister, the Duke de Praslin, presented a plan for the establishment of a colony at Fort Dauphin, which received the royal approbation. This plan was founded on the conviction that a purely military establishment was unsuitable; and that it was only by conciliatory means that the confidence and attachment of the natives was to be gained. It laid down as leading ideas that—"There was no necessity for sending troops and squadrons for conquest, nor for transporting a whole society at great expense: better arms and better means will promote the establishment, without expending much money. It is only by the force of example, morals, religion, and a superior policy, that we propose to subdue Madagascar. The society there is already formed; and nothing is necessary but to invite it to us, and to direct it according to our views, which will meet with no obstacles, as they will interest the Malagasy themselves, by the advantage of a reciprocal exchange."
Monsieur Maudave, who was sent out to establish this colony, reached the island in 1768, took formal possession of the government of Fort Dauphin, and made immediate preparations for the execution of the plan. It was not long, however, before this equitable and benevolent project was entirely relinquished, on the plea of having discovered that the establishment was founded on impracticable principles. It was doubtless found to be very difficult to make a barbarous people the chief means of their own civilization and refinement, without first converting them to the Christian religion.
The next effort made by the French at the colonization of Madagascar was through the agency of an extraordinary character by the name of Count Benyowsky, a Polish nobleman. This person was distinguished by an adventurous career and a life of romantic incident which bordered on the marvelous. In early life he had taken an active part in the political affairs of his own country; and falling under the displeasure of the Russian government, was banished to Siberia, whence he speedily effected his escape, by engaging a number of his fellow-sufferers in a conspiracy of so daring and extensive a nature that they finally left Kamtschatka in possession of two ships, and at the head of more than a hundred men, of whom he was elected commander.
After enduring all the strange vicissitudes incident to a voyage commenced under circumstances so unusual, and touching at several places, Benyowsky at last sold his ships at Canton, and, embarking himself and his crew on board two French treading vessels, arrived at the Isle of France in the year 1772. From there he set sail for France, with the view of receiving a commission to colonize the Island of Madagascar. This, after much trouble, he finally accomplished, and returning, he landed with a small expedition at the Bay of Autougil, in the island, on the 4th of February, 1774.
The Count was favorably received by the chiefs, and it would appear that he was animated with the most benevolent designs in their behalf. Among other measures he succeeded in gaining their assent to the abolition of an old custom of infanticide which prevailed in the island. But though opposed to the slave-trade, there are instances where he yielded to its baneful seductions himself. He drew up and designed for the inhabitants of the island a very liberal form of government, and succeeded in having himself solemnly recognized by three of their kings sovereign of the whole country. Soon after this event he again set sail for France, in order to form a treaty of commerce and friendship with the king, and to obtain thence proper persons to instruct the natives in the various arts of civil life. On his arrival in France he had a long and violent altercation with the government; at the close of which, however, he so far gained his point, as to obtain swords for his conduct during his command of Madagascar. While in France his cause was ably advocated by Dr. Franklin; but as the French Minister would have no further transactions with him, he entered the service of the Emperor of Germany, to whom he made proposals respecting his scheme of colonization. Not meeting with success, he left the service of the Emperor and went to London, where he drew up a declaration with proposals to his Britannic Majesty, offering "in the name of an amiable and worthy nation, to acknowledge him lord paramount of Madagascar; the interior government, and all the regulations of civilization, police, cultivation, and commerce remaining independent; the chiefs and people being only vassals to his Majesty."
Meeting with no encouragement from the British Ministry, the Count set sail for America in the Robert and Ann, with a cargo suitable for the Madagascar market. He reached Baltimore in July, 1784, obtained another vessel and cargo, and sailed for Madagascar in the following October. On the 7th of July, 1785, he again cast anchor in Autougil Bay. He renewed his former friendship with the chiefs; seized a storehouse belonging to the French, and commenced building a town, intending to establish a factory there. Whilst thus engaged he was attacked by an expedition from the Isle of France, and fell mortally wounded while defending a fort against an assault.
It was in 1776 that Benyowsky abandoned the French settlement which he had formed in Madagascar, and for some years afterwards the French government appear to have given up all idea of establishing a colony in that island, confining their efforts to the maintenance of military posts and factories, for the purpose of trade with the natives, to obtain supplies of rice and bullocks for the Isle of France. It was made an auxiliary to the Isle of France as an important depot for those engaged in the slave-trade, which continued to be carried on to a great extent throughout the whole island, notwithstanding the declarations of the French Minister, that he considered the tendency of the traffic to be prejudicial to the Isle of France.
The French revolution, which took place soon after Benyowsky had abandoned the colony, so fully engaged the attention of the French government, that, amidst the tragical and appalling events which crowd the page of history, it was scarcely possible to entertain any new project relating to the occupation of a distant island. St. Domingo was a scene to which much of the public attention of France was at that time directed, and its subsequent separation from that country was an alarming indication of the power which such colonies possess, when they have acquired a practical knowledge of their own physical strength and resources.
In the year 1792, the French National Assembly deputed Mons. Lescallier to visit Madagascar, in order to ascertain whether it would be practicable to establish a colony once more in the island. In a report rendered by him he said that "Europeans have hardly ever visited this island but to ill treat the natives, and to exact forced services from them; to excite and foment quarrels amongst them, for the purpose of purchasing the slaves that are taken on both sides in the consequent wars: in a word, they have left no other marks of having been there, but the effects of their cupidity. The French government has, at long intervals, formed, or rather attempted to form, establishments amongst these people; but the agents in these enterprises have attended exclusively to the interests and emoluments of the Europeans, and particularly to their own profits; while the interests and well-being of the natives have been entirely forgotten: some of these ministerial delegates have even been dishonest adventurers, and have committed a thousand atrocities. It cannot, therefore, excite surprise, that sometimes they have experienced marks of the resentment of the Malagasy, who, notwithstanding, are naturally the most easy and sociable people on earth.”
After the visit of Lescallier, no other attempt was made by the French to establish a settlement in the island; the wars which succeeded the revolution giving full employment to the national resources; so much so, that it was at one period in contemplation to extend the conscription law to the Isle of France, for the purpose of supplying the army at home; and during the short peace of 1801, Borg de St. Vincent was sent on an errand of this kind to Madagascar. The island, he said, “is capable of being made the first colony in the world, and would supply the loss of St. Domingo, if the French government chose. It possesses advantages far superior in many respects to that unhappy country. It would form a fine military position in any war that might ensue in the Indies. Its productions are infinitely more various, labor would be cheaper, its extent is more considerable, and it would afford a good retreat to those Americans, who, having lost everything by the revolution, are now dependent on our government, who might distribute lands amongst them, with the means of conveyance, and temporary existence there.”
The French government had often been interrupted, as will have been seen by the perusal of these pages, in its plans for colonizing Madagascar. After the lull in the revolutionary tempest of 1801, the war broke out in Europe with greater violence than ever, and notwithstanding her successes at home, France saw her colonies fall, one after another, into the hands of her persevering rival. It was, however, a long time before Great Britain could effect the reduction of the Isles of France and Bourbon. Engaged in extensive enterprises in the European seas, her fleets were fully employed, and the squadron sent against those distant islands was too weak to effect the purpose. Great bravery was displayed in the engagements between opposing squadrons, and a landing was at length effected by the English on the Isle of France; but an unfavorable circumstance having occasioned the destruction of some of the British ships, the troops on shore were thus cut off from all hope of relief, and were compelled to surrender. The French therefore remained triumphant in those seas some years longer; and in 1807, an attempt was made to form a settlement at Foule Point in Madagascar by some Frenchmen from the Isle of France; but unfortunately having chosen the sickly season for the expedition, they were carried off almost to a man, by the fever incident to that part of the island.
But the continual interruptions which the British East India trade experienced from the French cruisers, rendered it absolutely necessary for the English to effect the reduction of the French strong-hold in the Isle of France. The French continued their annoyance from this favored island long after their power in India was extinct. It was calculated that the value of the prizes carried into the Isle of France during ten years, amounted to over 12,000,000 of dollars. The vessels thus taken were emptied of their cargoes, and sold to the Arabs, by whom they were afterwards taken again to Calcutta and sold.
It was not until the year 1810, that a competent expedition was fitted out, and dispatched by the English government against the Isle of France. On its arrival, the resistance it met with was comparatively feeble, and, after a short contest, the governor offered to capitulate, and finally surrendered the place. There were at that period in the harbor, six frigates, three Indiamen, and twenty-four large merchant vessels, all of which fell of course into the hands of the victors. Soon after this, the Isle of Bourbon was also taken possession of by the British; and immediately upon the conquest of these islands, the English sent a detachment to Foule Point, and another to Tamatave, to take possession of the forts formerly occupied by the French in Madagascar.
When the peace of 1814 was arranged, the Isle of Bourbon, which had changed its name to Reunion, was by treaty ceded to the French; but the Isle of France, or Mauritius, as it is more generally called, a name given to it by the Dutch when the island was in their possession, remained in the possession of the English, to whom it still belongs.
Soon after this period, a proclamation was issued by the governor of the Mauritius (Sir Robert Farquhar) taking possession of Madagascar in the name of the King of Great Britain; but this act was loudly protested against by the French governor of Bourbon. It is probable that amongst other reasons for objections to this measure, the French governor was influenced by the fact, that the Isle of Bourbon, as well as the Mauritius, was deeply involved in the slave-trade, which the British government had recently renounced, and to which governor Farquhar was avowedly and openly opposed. The abolition of the slave-trade by the British, in 1807, during the prevalence of the French revolutionary war, may in fact be regarded as a strong distinctive difference in favor of liberty in the struggle between the English and French, and which had no small effect in the direction given to the successes of the war.
The efforts of Governor Farquhar to introduce civilization and Christianity into Madagascar, and to suppress the slave-trade there, aided by the London Missionary Society, and thwarted mischievously by fellow officers of his own government, much to the injury and discredit of the national service—would furnish an interesting history of themselves. We shall give a succinct account of them; but before doing so, and to their clearer understanding, the reader will desire to form some idea of the island, its productions and inhabitants.