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Seychelles - History

The Seychelles islands remained uninhabited for more than 150 years after they became known to Western explorers. It is probable that these islands were known to the Portuguese under the name of the Amirante Islands, a term which now belongs to a much smaller group lying southwest of the Seychelles, consisting of several low small islands, which are uninhabited, and only visited occasionally for the turtles and cocoa-nuts with which they abound. The islands appeared on Portuguese charts as early as 1505, although Arabs may have visited them much earlier.

In 1742, the French Governor of Mauritius, Mahe de Labourdonais, sent an expedition to the islands. The Seychelles were partially explored by Lazarus Picault, in 1743, by order of Mah de la Bourdonnais, then governor of the island of Mauritius. The name of Seychelles is derived from Moreau de Seychelles, who was an officer of rank in the French East India service when they were first explored by the French.

A second expedition in 1756 reasserted formal possession by France and gave the islands their present name in honor of the French finance minister under King Louis XV. They were proclaimed a French colony in 1756 but the first French settlers did not arrive until 1770. About the year 1768 the French formed a colony on the island of Mah ; and as about that time Poivre took much pains to transplant the spices of the Moluccas into the French colonies, they were also cultivated in Mah : but they did not succeed, with the exception of cloves, of which there are still a few trees. The new French colony barely survived its first decade and did not begin to flourish until 1794, when Queau de Quincy became commandant.

The French ruled the islands with delegated powers from Mauritius. The Seychelles islands were captured and freed several times during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Both the British and the French were keenly interested in the strategic value of the islands and during the late 1790s and early 1800s Seychelles changed hands several times. The Seychelles capitulated to the English in 1794, after which their flag was considered neutral by the English and French, when belligerents. On the capture of Mauritius the islands were taken possession of as a dependency of that colony, and since continued under the superintendence of an agent deputed from Mauritius.

The plantation at the Seychelles was tended with great care as a national undertaking, but as the French were apprehensive that the islands might be attacked by a British squadron, orders were given by the Governor of Mauritius to surround the spice garden with bundles of dried faggots, and other combustible matter, and the moment a British vessel of war hove in sight, to set fire to the whole. A large vessel shortly after appeared off the island with English colours, the spice trees were immediately burned, and the ship of war came into Malie harbour, with the tricolor flag, it being a French man-of-war that had used a ruse, to try whether the islands had a British force on them. The feelings of the French, when the valuable plantations were being consumed, may be readily imagined.

Following the Napoleonic wars, Seychelles was ceded to the British under the 1814 Treaty of Paris and was administered from Mauritius until 1888, when an administrator was appointed to govern from Victoria. Under the British, Seychelles achieved a population of some 7,000 by the year 1825. Important estates were established during this time producing coconut, food crops, cotton and sugar cane. During this period Seychelles also saw the establishment of Victoria as her capital, the exile of numerous and colourful troublemakers from the Empire, the devastation caused by the famous Avalanche of 1862 and the economic repercussions of the abolition of slavery.

The Seychelles possess many excellent harbors, and being never visited by tornadoes, the neighbourhood is frequented by whalers who fill up their vessels rapidly with sperm oil. The inhabitants cultivate cotton of a superior quality, spices, coffee, tobacco, rice, maize, cocoa nuts, &c., and carried on a lucrative trade in the numerous small vessels which they possess, in articles suited to the Indian, Mauritius, and Bourbon markets.

From the date of its founding by the French until 1903, the Seychelles colony was regarded as a dependency of Mauritius, which also passed officially from the French to British rule in 1814. In 1888, a separate administrator and executive and administrative councils were established for the Seychelles archipelago. Politically considered, Seychelles, like the Amirante Isles, were a dependency of the Mauritius Government. The subordinate administration of Seychelles is in the hands of a Civil Commissioner. The chief judicial functionary is a District Magistrate, who becomes administrator ad interim in the absence of a Commissioner. There was also a Medical Officer and an Inspector of Police, with a detachment of some 22 constables. The cost of the Seychclle administration was about 6000 per annum, against a revenue of from 1300 to 1500 per annum, collected on the islands, and derived mainly from an excise on rum, together with a customs receipt of about 100, being an import duty at 6 percent, ad valorem, gathered on the spot. It is asserted, however, that the bulk of the Seychelle revenue should be customs, but that these are principally collected at Mauritius, and appear in the Mauritius returns; since nearly all imports, whether of provisions, miscellaneous goods, and even coolies from India, were passed through the Custom House at Port Louis before being transmitted to Seychelles.

The inhabitants of Mahi asserted that they suffer from being a dependency of Mauritius. They would prefer that Seychelles should be a separate government, so that their Commissioner might enjoy more real power, especially in financial matters, and for the prosecution of works of public utility. They considered, further, that the desired change would preclude references and consequent delays; that justice would be brought to their doors; and that there would be a greater incentive to development of the resources of the islands on the part of the local Government. They would like also some degree of Municipal Government to be initiated in the more considerable islands, such as Praslin, so as to save the necessity for reference in minor matters to Mahi. So in 1897, the administrator acquired full powers of a British colonial governor, and on August 31, 1903, Seychelles became a separate British Crown Colony.

By 1963, political parties had developed in the Seychelles colony. Elections in 1963 were contested for the first time on party lines. In 1964 two new parties, the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP) led by James Mancham, and the Seychelles People's Unity Party (SPUP) led by France-Albert Rene, replaced existing parties.

In March 1970, colonial and political representatives of Seychelles met in London for a constitutional convention. Elections in November 1970 brought the resulting constitution into effect. In the November 1970 elections, the SDP won 10 seats, and the SPUP won 5 in the Legislative Assembly. Under the new constitution, Mancham became the Chief Minister of the colony.

The campaign for independence began in 1964, and was a divisive issue until James Mancham, Chief Minister and leader of the Seychelles Democratic Party, dropped his opposition in 1974. Further elections were held in April 1974, in which both major political parties campaigned for independence. During the April 1974 elections, the SDP increased its majority in the Legislative Assembly by 3 seats, gaining all but 2 of the 15 seats. Demarcation of constituencies was such that the SDP achieved this majority by winning only 52% of the popular vote.

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Page last modified: 26-07-2017 19:17:10 ZULU