Mahe and Praslin — the only inhabited island of the Seychelles

How to get there

Routes and Fares: There is no scheduled inter­national air service to any of the islands. British India and Eastern Shipping Corporation (of India) vessels link Port Victoria to Mombasa and Bombay, and Royal Interocean Lines ships sail occasionally between Singapore and the Seychelles. Fares by sea via Mombasa will total a minimum of about £300.

Formalities: A valid passport is required, and visitors must have been vaccinated against cholera, smallpox and, if they have come through infected areas (including parts of British East Africa), yellow fever as well. Typhoid and paratyphoid vaccination is recommended for travellers to British East Africa.

Accommodation: Hotels in Port Victoria, and one just outside the town, charge £30 a month or less all in.

Hotels in Port Victoria

Internal Communications: The main island of Mahe has 60 miles of motorable roads; taxis are available. Government steamers sail twice weekly from Mahe to Praslin and La Digue.

Information: Seychelles Trade Representative, 340 Grand Buildings, Trafalgar Square, London, W.C.2.

Mahe island

Dr Ommanney is the author of Shoals of Capricorn (Longmans); it vividly described Mauritius and the Seychelles. His latest book, Eastern Windows, is on the Far East

BEGINNING with several hundred terrorists after the French Revolution, following an attempt to assassinate Napoleon, a long procession of dis­tinguished political exiles has found a temporary home in the Seychelles. It includes King Prempeh of Ashanti, Zaghlul Pasha of Egypt and, more recently, Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus. He described the Seychelles contemptuously as ‘a rock in the middle of the Indian Ocean’, but in fact no lovelier or gentler place of exile could possibly be imagined. Many less notable people have chosen voluntary exile there and many have chosen it as a place in which to end their days.

The Seychelles form a group of over ninety islands in about latitude 7° S., 700 miles east of Mombasa on the coast of Kenya. They are the central bosses, projecting above the surface, of a vast submarine plateau 12,000 square miles in area. The depth of the sea over most of the plateau is between twenty and forty fathoms, but its edges rise to within ten fathoms of the surface and its sides go down almost vertically into 2000 fathoms and more. From every part of this area the islands can be seen with their heads among the clouds. Some of them are high and mountainous, their skirts covered with coconut palms. Others are grass-covered knobs of rock with only a few trees, and others again are mere sand-spits, tufted with sparse casuarina trees, haunts of sea­birds and turtles. Most of them are fringed with coral reefs, and the luminous, shallow lagoons lie hot and dappled between the white palm-fringed beaches and the winking lines of surf.

 Praslin island

Only the two largest of the islands, Mahe and Praslin, are permanently inhabited, though there are copra estates on some of the smaller ones. There are about 35,000 people on the two islands. The European section of the population is of French descent, but the poorer and labouring section consists of the descendants of slaves. The first arrivals were brought to the islands from Mauritius to work on the copra plantations at the end of the 18th century. Later came liberated slaves from West and East Africa. Every shade of skin, therefore, is to be met with in the Seychelles, from coal black through golden brown to white.

The islands were originally settled by the French from Mauritius, largely by refugees from the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. They became the base for pirates, most of whom were Frenchmen, who preyed upon the ships of the British East India Company sailing round the Cape and Madagascar. During the Napoleonic War they were a base for the `corsairs’, privately owned commerce raiders, who threatened the supremacy of the British in the Indian Ocean at the beginning of the 19th century. Most of them were recruited in the Seychelles, and the islanders are still bold and. intrepid seamen, taking their double-ended fish­ing pirogues a long way out over the plateau, and their two-masted schooners far afield among the islands and reefs. It was the menace of the corsairs, mostly based on Mauritius and the Seychelles, which determined the British to send an expedition against Mauritius and led to its investment in 1814, together with its dependency of ‘les Iles Séchelies’. Today the dependency is a British Crown Colony, divorced from Mauritius, with a Governor, a Legislative Council and, some think, a top-heavy administration, a judi­ciary, a police force and a delightful gaol full of contented, well-fed prisoners to whom the Governor takes presents every Christmas.

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