Madagascar and the Malagasy, by S. P. Oliver

  Introduction Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter V Chapter VI Appendix  

On the death of Ranavalona, the old Queen of Madagascar, in August 1861, her son Rakoto was placed on the throne under the name and title of Radama II. The government of Mauritius soon after received a letter from Ra Hani-raka, the Malagasy Minister of Foreign Affairs, a man who had had an English education, to the effect that Madagascar was reopened to all foreigners as in the time of the first Radama. Ra Haniraka also suggested that the Governor of Mauritius should send a mission of congratulation to the King.

Accordingly, in September, Colonel Middleton, of the Royal Artillery, Lieutenant Marindin, of the Royal Engineers, and some civilians, were sent over by Governor Stephenson with some valuable presents. They reached the capital, where they stayed five days, and returned as quickly as possible, owing to the danger of being on the coast in the fever season. Letters and presents were also sent by the French towards the end of the same year.

The importance of responding to the invitation of the new sovereign of an island, so long closed to European civilisation and trade, was evident. Mauritius and the neighbouring French colony of Réunion deiive the whole of their supplies of beef from Madagascar, and the trade in rice and other produce is capable of being increased indefinitely.

Meantime, the King sent an autograph letter to our most gracious Queen Victoria, at the hands of Mons. Lambert, a French adventurer, who had played a conspicuous part in the affairs of Madagascar. The Queen replied by an autograph letter sent to the care of the Governor of Mauritius, and at the same time instructions were received from the Home Government that some officer of rank should be chosen to present King Radama with Her Majesty’s letter, as well as with the accompanying presents :—

A quarto family Bible; a scarlet silk umbrella; a silver-gilt tankard and goblets ; Wilkinson rifle ; gold-mounted Field Marshal’s scimetar and sword-belt; a Field Marshal’s uniform complete; a full-length portrait of Her Majesty ; and a set of musical instruments for a band of twenty-five performers.

On the 27th June, 1862, the Governor appointed Major-General Johnstone to take the Queen’s letter, and the Lord Bishop of Mauritius to present the Bible, both the above having volunteered to go.

Captain Anson, R.A., was selected to take the remaining presents; Captain Wilson, of H.M.S. “Gorgon,” was offered a place in the mission, but declined ; Lieutenant Oliver, R.A., accompanied it as aide-de-camp to the Major-General.

The presents were sent in a merchant vessel to Tamatave, the chief seaport of Madagascar, under the care of Mr. Caldwell, who had visited the country before, and undertook to get them up to the capital with as little delay as possible.

The French Government despatched a mission to the court of Madagascar at the same time that the English Government did ; the head of this was Commodore Dupre, who was accompained by a numerous staff.

Madagascar is so little known by the English public, and its semi-civilised people have in a general way excited so little interest, that it may be as well to mention very briefly a few facts connected with it.

It is peopled by various tribes, chief among which, both in civilisation and importance, are the Hovas. This tribe was originally limited to the central province of Aukova, but the chief of it is now looked upon as the king of the whole island ; to it also belong all the great officers of state and principal nobility. The capital, Antananarivo, is situated in the province of Ankova, and in the very centre of the island.

The people are intelligent, gentle, and hospitable. Christianity has made considerable progress among them in spite of the persecution it met with in the latter part of the late Queen’s reign. King Radama II., at the time of his accession, was about thirty-three. He was a friend of the Christians, and had been himself baptized in 1846. He was married to his cousin, the Princess Rabodo, who was considerably his senior.

Madagascar has had a standing army ever since 1816, when a few British soldiers sent from Mauritius assisted the first Radama in organising and disciplining his troops according to European methods. The different grades in the army are designated by the word Voninahitra, which we have translated, “ Honour.” They originally ranged from the lowest, or first Honour, i.e., the private soldier, up to the thirteenth Honour, or Commander-in-chief, but some additional ranks have been added of late years, bringing the number of Honours up to sixteen, or even seventeen.

The power of the first King, Radama, was greatly strengthened by an alliance into which he entered in 1817 with the Governor of Mauritius. On consideration of his putting a stop to the slave-trade in his dominions, the British Government agreed to make him an annual payment,—this payment was to consist partly of money, and partly of arms and ammunition, and to these means is to be ascribed much of Radama’s success in extending the power and influence of the Hovas.

The instructions given to the English mission of 1862 were, to proceed as quickly as possible to the capital, to present the letter of congratulation and the gifts of Her Majesty, to attend the coronation, and to return as soon as was consistent with comfort.

The “ Gorgon ” left Port Louis with the mission on board on Saturday, the 12th of July, and anchored in the roadstead off Tamatave, on Tuesday, the 15th of the same month.

The following extracts from a diary, kept by a member of the mission, will perhaps best connect and explain the accompanying illustrations. They commence from the day when H.M.S. “Gorgon” arrived at Tamatave.

  Introduction Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter V Chapter VI Appendix