Mauritius - Geography
Mauritius is of volcanic formation and of considerable height; its geographical position rendered it most valuable in affording a convenient resort for repairs and supplies, especially of coal to vessels engaged in the Indian and China trade; also with the Eastern Archipelago and Australia. It lies 470 miles eastward of the coast of Madagascar, Tamatave being the nearest port; is 34 miles long north-northwest and south-southeast by 22 miles wide, with an area of 705 square miles. Its shores rise somewhat steeply from the sea, a depth of 100 fathoms, or upward, being found at from 1 to 1.5 miles offshore in most parts; but, off the northeastern end, the base of the island is prolonged by a bank of sounding some 15 miles in extent on which are several small islands and shoals.
The western and central parts are mountainous, attaining a height of 2,711 feet in the Piton Riviere Noire, the highest summit; this peak is pointed, appears dark in clear weather, and is then visible from a distance of 50 miles; but, as the summits are frequently enveloped in clouds, the land is not generally seen from so far. Pieter Both, or Pieterboth, as it was originally named after a Dutch admiral drowned on this coast in 1616, is a remarkable mountain, 2,676 feet high, having a huge knob on the summit; it is only 3 miles southeastward from Port Louis Citadel. Piton du Milieu, near the center of the island, is a steep-sided cone, 1,932 feet high. Corps de Garde presents a straight, perpendicular shoulder, and Mount Rempart shows three needle-pointed peaks; all are good landmarks, the upper parts being generally bare basaltic columns; and amongst them are many extinct craters and caves of great extent. The whole island is picturesque, the scenery varied and beautiful.
Mauritius is surrounded by numerous coral reefs; it has many small streams, generally flowing through deep ravines, but none are navigable beyond a short distance from the sea. In the dry season they are little more than brooks, but become raging torrents during heavy rains. The principal stream, the Grande Riviere, has only a course of about 10 miles. A very deep lake, the Grand Bassin, near the southern end of the island, is doubtless an extinct crater; and there are other lakes of that description. Though there are several ports and anchorages of minor importance, the two principal harbors are Port Louis, on the northwestern side, and Grand Port, on the opposite side; they are directly connected by railway.
Mauritius is free from shoals or dangers far detached from the shore except off the northern end, from whence a bank of soundings extends northeastward about 15 miles, having on it general depths of from 20 to 35 fathoms, but deepening very quickly in all directions toward its outer edge in 100 fathoms, beyond which are ocean depths. Vessels striking soundings on the edge of the bank in thick weather will be in no danger so long as they do not shoal the water to less than 50 fathoms. On this bank are a number of islands and shoals.
The soil is generally red clay and very stony, but some parts are flat and fertile; being well watered, it produces most of the tropical trees and herbs; a species of pandanus is largely grown, the leaves being made into sugar bags. The fruits include the tamarind,mango, banana, guava, shaddock, fig, avocado pear, litchi, custard apple, and mabolo. The pineapple grows to perfection without cul-tivation; but the chief productions are sugar and rum.
Mauritius originally contained large forests with valuable trees; the wood from these trees was very durable, and in many cases exceedingly beautiful; but the need for land for sugar cultivation and the need for firewood has caused a disastrous shrinkage of the old indigenous forests. The necessity of a policy of re-afforestation has been recognized, and a forest department is now doing good work. There were, in 1908, 84,529 acres of ground under care of this department. Experiments are being made with rubber plants, but definite judgment could not be given. Cocoa plants and the ylang-ylang scent tree are also being experimented with.
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