Small 4° Notebook (23.5 x 18.5 cm / 9 x 7 inches): Original Manuscript, 1 f. (Title), 93 pp. numbered and handwritten in brown ink on laid paper (watermarked Yeeles & Medhurst 1813), including a table transliterating Sorabe script (pp. 88-89) and a chart with a ship’s log (pp. 93-93); 2 ALS (each 2ff.) bound in before Title; folding Mss. sea chart of Tamatave Harbour (23.5 x 44 cm / 9 x 17.5 inches), drafted in pencil, inserted between pp. 6 and 7; 3 ff. of text in brown pen on different paper inserted between pp. 56 and 57, 1 f. of text in brown ink inserted between pp. 84 and 85; 1 f. with pastedown newspaper article and tacked on strip bearing Mss. inscription bound after text; tipped in large folding Mss. map of Madagascar (36.5 x 44.5 cm / 14.5 x 17.5 inches), in pencil, ink and coloured crayon on laid paper (watermarked ‘J. Whatman 1810’); all bound in contemporary red stiff paper boards, handwritten title to front cover (Overall Very Good, narrative leaves are generally clean with only slight wear to edges of some leaves; covers worn with some loss to spine; Mss. map of Madagascar with some fraying to edges, wear and old repairs to old folds).
Presented here is a highly important original manuscript archive covering a critical 1817 British diplomatic mission to the court of Radama I (reigned 1810-28), the legendary ruler of the Merina Kingdom, who was responsible for uniting most of the island under his rule, considered the fonder of modern Madagascar. The archive comes in the form of the original manuscript journal, manuscript maps and other unique elements of Lieutenant T. Locke Lewis, a Welsh military engineer, who was one of the members of the British delegation. The British mission was one of he key elements of a British design to gain suzerainty over Madagascar, by materially supporting Radama’s quest to unite the island, an so hopefully making him a client of Britain. This occurred during a relatively brief period in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, when French power in the Indian Ocean was at its nadir. Even as Radama was on his way to dominating Madagascar, the Merina people, who hailed fro the island’s central highlands, distant from the coasts, was scarcely known to Europeans. Indeed, Lewis’ detailed accounts of the Merina people comes barely six months after the first recorded European expedition to the Merina Court.
The heart of Lewis’ present archive is his manuscript journal, taken during his mission from Mauritius to the Tamatave (modern Toamasina) region of Eastern Madagascar, which occurred from June 29 to July 29, 1817. Lewis travelled as a member of a British delegation that had as its objective the conclusion of a treaty with Radama that would give Britain a formal stake in the internal affairs of the burgeoning Merina Kingdom for the first time. This came at a critical juncture, as at that very moment, Radama was in the process of conquering the Tamatave region, which would represent the Merina’s first coastal possession, and their window to the outside world. It was hoped that such an accord could form the basis for strengthening and deepening British involvement within Radama’s domains going forward.
Importantly, Lewis’ account contains some of the earliest, and highest quality, first-hand European observations on the Merina people, including their physical appearance, dress, economy, social customs, political organization and religion. Of particular note, Lewis includes vivid recollections of two audiences with Radama, providing fascinating information on his appearance, behaviour and the nature of his transformative rule. Notably, Lewis provides the best eyewitness account of the singing of the treaty of July 9, 1817, which includes a chilling description of an actual ‘Blood Oath’. Additionally, Lewis was one of the first people to interview those who had returned from the first (and so far only) European expedition to Antananarivo, the Merina capital, located deep in the interior of Madagascar.
Beyond the journal, highlights of the archive include an original manuscript “Sketch” map of Madagascar, which is one of the earliest politico-ethnographic maps of the island. Also featured is geodetic information, backed by calculations that allowed Lewis to approximate the size of Madagascar. Additionally, the archive includes Lewis’ original manuscript survey of Tamatave Harbour, Madagascar’s most important port.
Of great interest in the archive, is the manuscript chart of the Sorabe (Arabic-Malagasy) alphabet that was used in Madagascar prior to 1823. James Hastie, the era’s most significant British figure in Madagascar, drafted the chart under the supervision of Radama’s chief scribe.
Lewis’ narrative is written in a fluid and pleasing manner, and reveals him to be a highly observant traveller, keenly interested in all natural and human aspects of Madagascar. Beyond his accounts of the Radama and the Merina people, Lewis shows an expert interest in the botany, zoology, anthropology, geography and politics of the places he visited on his brief, but action-packed, trip to Madagascar. His journal has the feel of an Enlightenment Era travel work, and written in a neat, almost secretarial hand, it seems that Lewis intended the journal to serve as the basis for a full feature printed book. Indeed, the journal is marked “Part 1st.”, and is supposedly the first section of a narrative the originally included Lewis subsequent adventures during his 1824 return to Madagascar and, as the title says his “notes made on a voyage to the Island of Mombassa” in the HMS Andromache. The second part now appears to have been lost, yet the present journal is a complete and self-contained work, in and of itself. The present journal was seemingly assembled in 1825, although aspects of the archive definitively date from as early as 1817.
While Lewis never published a book, his present narrative served as the basis for an article, ‘An Account of the Ovahs, a Race of People Residing in the Interior of Madagascar: With a Sketch of Their Country, Appearance, Dress, Language’, published in The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London (1835). While this article competently summarizes many of Lewis’ observations upon the Merina people, it omits the richness and liveliness of his narrative. It also does not include any reference to his manuscript maps of the Sorabe alphabet able. Nevertheless, the article is viewed as one of the most authoritative and valuable early accounts of the Merina people, often cited in scholarly publications, even to this day. It should be noted that the first published except of Lewis’ Madagascar narrative was a short article within the Hull Packet and Number Mercury (November 20, 1827), that presented the text of a short paper that Lewis had submitted to the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society.
It is important to note that Lewis’ use of the term ‘Ovah’ refers to Hova. Hova was commonly used by Europeans during the 19th and early 20th Centuries to refer to the Merina people in general. Technically, the word only refers to one of the castes within the Merina society, and so it is incorrect to refer to the Merina people as a whole by that term.
The present archive features one of the earliest and richest European accounts of the Merina people and King Radama I, the father of modern Madagascar. It also presents one of the most valuable insights into the British design to gain colonial dominance over Madagascar during the critical period following he Napoleonic Wars.
As far as we know, Lewis present work is the finest and most interesting original manuscript archive concerning Madagascar from this era that is not held by an institution.
Historical Background: King Radama & Britain’s Design to Dominate Madagascar
Locke Lewis’ adventures in Madagascar occurred during a brief, but consequential period, during which Britain made a concerted effort to back King Radama I in his mission to unite the island under his rule, with the objective that Madagascar could be placed under British suzerainty, notably at the expense of France. The 1817 British mission to Tamatave and the resulting treaty was a foundational element of this design, and the present manuscript archive is one of the seminal surviving records of this important endeavour.
Madagascar is a truly vast and magnificent land that perhaps mentally should be viewed more as subcontinent than as a mere island. Home to many endemic species of flora and fauna, its human history is likewise extraordinary. The Malagasy people possess a fascinating ancestry that is mainly the consequence of Trans-Indian Ocean sailing routes than its technical classification as a part of Africa. The first Austronesian peoples (the Vazimba and Vezo) are though to have arrives in Madagascar around 300 BC. Arab traders from Oman and Zanzibar followed by the 7th Century AD. Beginning the 8th Century, there were great waves of Austronesian immigration (Malays, Javanses, Bugis and orang-orang laut). The 9th Century saw a significant migration of Bantu peoples from East Africa.
These origins resulted in a culturally rich and diverse population, such that by the time of the arrival of Europeans, in 1500, the Malagasy peoples could be divided into 18 distinct ethic groups, with numerous subdivisions, occupying different parts of the island. Additionally, there were small pockets of Islamic communities along the coasts that had maintained their cultural identities. Due to the immense size of the Madagascar, these ethnic groups generally formed their own independent national polities, such that there was no conception of Madagascar as being a single socio-political entity.
Madagascar lay immediately along the main sailing routes between Europe (via the Cape of Good Hope) and India and the Far East. The Portuguese mariner Diogo Dias became the first European to set foot on Madagascar, in 1500, and, from that point onwards, the island became an important stopover for European vessels, either by design or through mishap. During the 17th Century there were numerous European attempts to found permanent settlements on the islands, of which the most notable was the French base at Fort Dauphin (Tôlanaro), founded in 1643, at the southern tip of the island. However, none of theses settlements endured, as they were abandoned due to a combination of tropical disease, Malagasy attacks, and poor logistical support. While Ile Sainte-Marie (Nosy Boraha), located off of the northwestern coast of Madagascar served as the world’s premier pirate base, from the 1690s until around 1720, its existence had a limited impact on the island as a whole.
The Merina Kingdom, founded in 1540, came to occupy much of the island’s central highlands, a land called Imerina, and ultimately became Madagascar’s dominant nation. However, for much of the 18th Century, the Merina were engaged in a fierce four-sided civil war. The various Merina factions also fought on-going wars with the Sakalava Kingdom, which occupied much of the western and northwestern parts of Madagascar. These conflicts wrecked havoc on the island’s interior and made it a ‘no go’ zone for Europeans, while the ripple effect made many of the coastal areas unstable. This discouraged Europeans from founding permanent settlements.
However, the King Andrianampoinimerina (reigned 1787–1810), leader of one of the Merina factions, successfully vanquished or cajoled his internal opposition, reuniting the Merina Kingdom for the first time in three generations. He then set about modernizing the country and its army with the objective of conquering all of Madagascar and uniting it under his rule. He started by subduing the rival Betsileo nation and inflicting heavy defeats upon the Sakalava.
Meanwhile, Britain and France were engaged in an epic contest for dominance over the Indian Ocean. Until the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, France maintained an edge across the Indian Ocean Islands, and indeed Madagascar itself, where French traders were seen to be one step ahead of their counterparts from Britain’s East India Company (EIC). France had a geographic advantage in Madagascar, having colonized the relatively nearby islands of Bourbon (Réunion, settled 1665); Isle de France (Mauritius, settled 1715) and the Seychelles (settled 1756).
However, the might of Britain’s Royal Navy tipped the conflict in Britain’s favour. Britain seized the Seychelles in 1794 and, in 1810, conquered Réunion and Mauritius. Upon Napoleon’s defeat, in 1814, Britain would gain permanent title to Mauritius and the Seychelles, although Réunion would be returned to France.
The (temporary) removal of France as a major power in the Indian Ocean created an unrepresented power vacuum that Britain was determined to fill. In addition to her gains in the Indian Ocean Islands, Britain had also conquered the South Africa’s Cape Colony; was in the process of consolidating its dominance over the Indian Subcontinent; while aggressively expanding into Southeast Asia. Madagascar now appeared prominently on Britain’s imperial radar.
The year 1810 also saw the emergence of two regional leaders who ambitions were to align, so greatly affecting the course of events in Madagascar and the greater region.
Upon Andrianampoinimerina’s death, his crown was inherited by his son, Radama I (1793-1828, reigned 1810-28), a brilliant, ambitious and transformative leader, intent on realizing his father’s dream of conquering and uniting all of Madagascar under Merina rule. Andrianampoinimerina’s dying wish was that Radama would ensure that the “The sea will be the boundary of the rice field [i.e. of his kingdom]”.
Enter Robert Townsend Farquhar (1776 – 1830), a hard-charging figure who spearheaded the British designs to gain dominance in Madagascar and the Mascarene islands. In 1802, as a young man, Farquhar was an EIC official on the Indonesian island of Amboina, whereupon he mounted a successful attack upon Dutch positions at Ternate. While Britain was then at war with the Batavian Republic, the Governor of Madras was affronted by Farquhar’s unauthorized aggression and had him demoted and unceremoniously sent home. Farquhar then wrote a daring letter to Lord Wellesley, the Governor-General of India, defending his conduct and lamenting that his zeal in advancing the EIC’s interests was unappreciated. The gamble paid off, as Wellesley admired Farquhar’s chutzpah, and immediately promoted him to become the Lieutenant Governor of Prince of Wales Island (Penang, Malaysia), whereupon he served with great distinction from 1804 to 1805.
Upon the British conquest of the Mascarene Islands and the Seychelles, in 1810, Farquhar was promoted to become the governor of these islands (Réunion was handed back to France in 1816). Farquhar was not merely satisfied with consolidating British rule over Mauritius and the Seychelles, but had aggressive schemes to make the French rule of Réunion a nightmare, while gradually building British suzerainty over Madagascar. In fact, at one point, Farquhar even advocated for Britain to formally colonize and annex Madagascar. However, this plan was vetoed by the Colonial Office as too risky and expensive. Farquhar had to settle for trying to make Madagascar a British client state.
Farquhar was apprised by his agents of the Andrianampoinimerina and Radama I’s campaigns to conquer the interior of Madagascar and their supposed desire to take control of the entire island. However, Radama and the Merina people remained an enigma, as no European had ever made a recorded visit to their kingdom, or forged any meaningful contact with their representatives. Farquhar knew, that as in India, the only way for Britain to gain suzerainty over such a large area was to gain the active cooperation of a strong and reliable local partner. In theory, Radama, an inarguably powerful personality, who greatly admired European culture and military customs, would be the ideal vehicle to advance British interests. However, more information was needed.
In 1816, Farquhar dispatched an official mission to the Merina capital, Antananarivo, under the leadership of Captain Bibye Le Sage (Le Sage’s manuscript account, “Mission to Madagascar” is held at the National Archived UK, CO 167/34). While the mission was a nightmare for those involved, as the majority of Le Sage’s thirty-two were felled by tropical fevers, it proved to be a diplomatic success. Le Sage managed to gain Radama’s trust, such that the king agreed to allow his two young brothers, the princes Ratafike and Rahove, to return to Mauritius to be educated in the British ways by Farquhar, whom the Merina king considered a kindred sprit, as a bold, visionary leader.
This is where Locke Lewis and his friend James Hastie enter the picture. James Hastie (1786 - 1826) was a British infantry sergeant who had extensive experience fighting the Marathas in India. Upon his reposting to Mauritius, in 1815, he was a well-regarded, but low-profile soldier. That was, until he impressed Farquhar with his exceptional bravery and skill while rescuing people from a house fire. Hastie befriended the governor, who recognized him to be unusually perceptive, intelligent, and adept at mastering new languages and cultural customs. Farquhar entrusted him to be the guardian of Ratafike and Rahove and their entourage. The Merina delegation came to revere and adore Hastie, and Farquhar knew that he had found the perfect agent to advance his designs in Madagascar.
At the end of June 1817, Lewis, as recounted in the present manuscript archive, accompanied Hastie and the Merina delegation on what was to be a critical mission to Madagascar. At that very moment, Radama’s armies had descended from the island’s central plateau, and were on the verge of conquered their first coastal region, the area around Tamatave (modern Taomasina), a part of the territory of the Betsimasaraka people. This region was to become Radama’s window to the world and the nexus for two consequential audiences with the British, both of which were attended and recounted here by Lewis.
During this mission, the Merina delegation that had returned from Mauritius, was reunited with Radama, upon which they gave glowing reports of Farquhar, and the British regime in general. Radama received, with great favour and respect, the British party, led by Captain Francis Stanstall, R.N., of the HMS Phaeton, but which also including Hastie, Lewis and Mr. Pye, the British agent in Tamatave. On July 9, 1817, the British became the official arbiters of a complex treaty that consolidated Radama’s conquest of the coast around Tamatave. Not only did this mark a watershed moment in the Merina king’s quest to conquer the island, but it gave Britain an official role in the internal affairs of Madagascar and the workings of Radama’s court for the very first time. The fascinating details surrounding this accord are vividly recollected here by Lewis. The Tamatave Treaty was proved to be highly consequential, as it underpinned the intense British-Merina relationship that was shortly to develop.
While Lewis would return to Mauritius soon after the signing of the Tamatave treaty, Hastie remained in Madagascar. He led an embassy to Radama’s court that proved to be one of the most consequential in the modern history of Madagascar. Hastie’s party arrived in Antananarivo, on August 6, 1817, whereupon he successfully gained the king’s trust, leading to the signing of a comprehensive Treaty of Friendship and Commerce, signed between Madagascar and Britain on October 23, 1817. Under terms designed by Farquhar, but ably negotiated by Hastie, Britain officially recognized Radama I as the “King of Madagascar”, and agreed to assist him in uniting the entire island under his rule. Britain would supply Radama with an annual stipend in gold and silver, as well a constant supply of modern weapons, ammunition and military uniforms.
However, in return, Britain required Radama to give up the slave trade. This was a ‘big ask’, as that ignoble industry was long the lifeblood of Madagascar’s economy. Britain had complex motives for wanting to ban the slave trade. It should be noted that while many of the British officials were morally opposed to the slave trade, killing the industry would also serve to ruin the economy of Réunion, France’s main base in the Indian Ocean.
Additionally, Britain also required Radama to grant Britain extensive trading privileges, at the expense of France. Radama agreed to all of the British requests. However, it must be noted that while the British believed that they had played Radama to their favour, in reality, Radama also cleverly played the British. He seems to have had no intention of abolishing the slave trade, merely curtailing its excesses, or at least those visible to the British, while clamping down on the trade with France, so satiating Britain’s revanchist inclinations. Moreover, in the lead up to the treaty singing, Radama skilfully played the British off against the French in order to gain the best possible deal. However, under any reading of events, both sides we more than happy with the accord.
As time progressed, Hastie formed an extremely strong personal and professional bond with Radama, in effect becoming his consigliore. In 1820, Farquhar ensured that Hastie was given the official title of British Resident in Antananarivo, and from that time onwards Hastie would remain by Radama’s side, accompanying him on all of his campaigns. Radama modernized his army with British-supplied weapons, military training and uniforms, utterly overwhelming his domestic opposition. By 1827, Radama had conquered two-thirds of Madagascar, mostly realizing his father’s dream. Even though the island was not entirely under his rule, he was now recognized as the ‘King of Madagascar’ and the father of what would become the modern, unified nation.
Meanwhile, the British design to gain influence over Madagascar had come into place brilliantly. The British enjoyed a massive boost in trade, in a many places gaining a complete monopoly on the exports of Malagasy resources. Radama had also clamped down heavily on the formerly strong French presence, evicting France from many of their bases, relegating them to being fringe players in the economy and political non-entities. While Radama did not actually abolish slavery, he ensured that the trade was redirected away from Réunion, crippling that island’s economy and French economic interests in the Indian Ocean.
Radama, long a great admirer of all things European, came to follow British models, as recommended by Hastie. Importantly, in 1820, he opened Imerina to the Protestant London Missionary Society (LMS), which quickly opened 23 schools in the region, teaching 2,300 students. The LMS dramatically improved literacy and did much to ‘Westernize’ the Merina elite and aspiring classes. By 1825, Britain enjoyed immense economic, political and social influence over what was becoming a unified state, controlling an ever-growing majority of the island.
However, a series of events were to hail to collapse of the British designs in Madagascar. Farquhar, after over 25 years service in Asia, retuned to Britain. He was replaced as governor by Sir Galbraith Lawry Cole, who while supportive of his predecessor’s policies, did so with far less vigour. In October 1826, Hastie died suddenly in Antananarivo and was accorded the highest funeral honours by a grief-stricken Radama. He was irreplaceable, as no British official in Madagascar would ever again exercise anything close to a fraction of Hastie’s power (Hastie’s journal and some of his correspondence from his time in Madagascar are today preserved at the National Archives UK, CO 167/34, and PRO 30/43/89).
Most importantly, Radama died in July 1828, while only 36 years old. While at the height of his power, he had ruined his health through alcoholism. Unfortunately for Britain, he was succeeded on the throne by his wife Queen Ranavalona I (reigned 1828-61). Unlike her late husband, Ranvolana was a traditionalist and bitterly resented the European influences upon Madagascar. In essence her policies could be described as isolationist, and she sought the make the county self-sufficient, while wedded to traditional customs. She (righty) saw the LMS missionaries as a mortal threat to the Merina culture and religion and she believed that the European interference in the island’s economy would eventually lead to Madagascar being bled dry of its resources. She had special scorn for the British, and set about systematically deconstructing all that Farquhar and Hastie had built. Many British officials and merchants were expelled from the island, and while they lobbied tenaciously to stay, the LMS missionaries were sent packing in 1835.
Initially, Ranavalona’s polices placed a damper on both British and French operations in Madagascar. That being said, some dissident members of the royal court, as well as some regional rulers, remained partial to the European presence. Consequently, in some isolated cases, British and French trade thrived. However, over time, the British cause in Madagascar stagnated, while the France cleverly regrouped. They found an ally in the Crown Prince Radama II (who would reign as king for only two years, 1861-3), who forged the Lambert Charter (1855) with France. Although this agreement, which gave wide privileges for France, was never implemented, through the 1860s and 1870s French influence and ambitions in Madagascar grew. The British were meanwhile preoccupied with events elsewhere, namely in South Africa, and did little to contest the French designs in Madagascar. Franco-Malagasy tensions led to the Franco-Hova War (1883-96), during which France conquered the island and toppled the Merina monarchy, annexing Madagascar as a colony in 1897. Madagascar would remain a French colony until the nation achieved its independence, as the Malagasy Republic, in 1960.
Locke Lewis’s Narrative: “Voyage to Madagascar in H.M.S. Phaeton, from the 29th June to the 29th July 1817”
The core of the present archive is Locke Lewis’ fascinating account of his participation in the British mission to the Tamatave region of Madagascar in June-July 1817. The account is written in a sophisticated, but highly readable style, generally executed in a neat, almost secretarial hand, but with occasional areas of overwriting and corrections. There are also extensive marginal notes, which seek to clarify points or to provide references to relevant passages in scripture or published recent works on European Asiatic voyages, altogether indicating that Lewis as extremely knowledgeable and well-read. Most interesting, are Lewis’ extensive passages in which he gives his first-hand accounts of the geographical and natural resources of Madagascar and his experiences with the local people, including their behaviour, physical appearance, political-military activity and customs. Of particular interest is his detailed recording of his two audiences with King Radama and his witness to the signing of the Treaty of Tamatave. Lewis also provides a fine account of the first recorded European visit to Antananarivo (in 1816), as recounted to him by one of the survivors of that expedition. While clearly maintaining a Western-Christian bias, Lewis clearly had considerable respect and sensitively for the Merina people and their customs, even in cases where his did not agree with their ways and means.
Lewis’ narrative takes the form of a 93-page journal written in daily entries from June 29 to July 29, 1817, plus the addition of important inserted documents. The story begins on June 29 (p. 1), when Lewis, his British colleagues, and large Merina delegation departed Port Louis, Mauritius aboard the HMS Phaeton, bound for the port of Tamatave, Madagascar. Lewis gives an extremely detailed account of the Merina delegation, which was headlined by King Radama’s younger brothers, the 15-year old Price Ratafike, described as having a “rather an implacable disposition” and Prince Rahove, 13 years-old, whose character was described as being “mild and tractable”. The princes’ chaperone was Dremundersheman, described as Radama’s “right hand Man, and his Writer”. Lewis lists all of the 20 other members of the party by name, including “a Dwarf named Rassus” (p. 2). James Hastie is described as the guardian and guide of the delegation.
After an easy passage, recorded in detail by Lewis, the HMS Phaeton anchored off of Tamatave on July 4, 1817 (p.p. 3-4). On July 5, Lewis landed in the town, whereupon he was greeted by the “unexpected report” that Radama, at the head of an army 20-30,000 strong was encamped at a location only ten miles down the coast. He was supposedly in the vicinity on a mission to capture and punish “Chief Fish” of the nearby village of Yvandou for “a misdemeanour”. While this was true, Radama’s overarching interest was overseeing the conquest of the coastal region around Tamatave. Awkwardly, the British were currently aligned with John Réné, the chief of Tamatave, and Lewis’ host, who happened to be the target of Radama’s military expedition. While Radama and Réné had recently agreed on a truce, in order to discuss terms, the situation was tense. Lewis and his colleagues would have to think fast to avoid being burned by what amounted to a conflict of interest (pp. 4-8).
Next, Lewis recounts his participation on trip to visit Radama’s encampment (pp. 8-24). Accompanied by other British officials, Lewis travelled along the coast southeast of Tamatave, first arriving at the village of Yvondrou. Yvondrou, the village of the fugitive Chief Fish, was found to be almost completely abandoned. There the British party met Mr. Pye, the local British agent, inside the Chief’s vacated house. Lewis gives a detailed description of house construction in the region and remarks on the fact that the houses all featured sprigs of straw hanging from their doorways. This was held as a sign of submission to Radama’s rule, and would supposedly save the homes from being torched by Merina troops. Lewis and his party then travelled up a river by canoe, whereupon he witnessed the ingenious construction of a suspension bridge fording the river by Merina engineers. They then encountered a party of Merina scouts who agreed to escort them to Radama, sending a message ahead to the King.
Lewis’ party arrived at Radama’s camp, whereupon they were greeted by a grand spectacle of 20,000 troops and a sea of tents. Suddenly, “a shout announced the approach of the King”, who met the British delegation in his great tent. A detailed description of Radama is given, showing him to be wearing elaborate French-style military dress, seated upon an Indian-style throne. Radama stated that he was “amicably inclined towards the English and their friend John Réné” and “that he had undertaken this journey [to the coast] as a friend of the English and of Mr. Farquhar, for whom he had the highest esteem and friendship”. He also noted the he was there “to punish the Chief Damanazac, who had insulted His Majesty’s Representative”. This refers to the fact that, in 1816, Chief Damanazac, a local leader of a region 90 miles inland, had held up Captain Le Sage’s British expedition, agreeing only to let him pass if he paid a toll of 50,000 Spanish Dollars. Réné, an English ally had since then raided Damanazac’s village in reprisal. Radama noted that while he was in the process of conquering the region, he had purposefully held his troops back from attacking Tamatave, as he did not wish that town to be plundered, while there was some chance of reaching an amicable settlement with John Réné (pp. 24-31).
Upon the conclusion of the audience with Radama, Lewis’ party promptly left the camp, travelling back to Tamatave (pp. 31-3). Tamatave was found to be nearly deserted, as its residents we unclear as to whether or not the town would be attacked by Merina troops, in spite of Radama’s assurances. Lewis likened his encounters with the Malagasy people to the scene from a plate within one of the great travel and exploration books, like Cook’s Voyages.
In the entry dated July 6, 1817, Lewis provides interesting discourses on the exotic “Vegetables & Plants”; “Forests and Fruit Trees”; “Animals”; “Insects”; and “Birds” of Madagascar (pp. 33-6). Lewis also gives an account of the manner of agriculture and diet of the local people. He notes, “The natives are very fond of drinking, even to excess, and of using intoxicating drugs” (pp. 36-8).
Importantly, Lewis gives a detailed description of many of the cultural practices of the Merina people, which are amongst the first recorded European observations on the subject (pp. 38 - 48). He discusses how slavery, the “Inhuman Traffic”, is the mainstay of the Merina economy, and that wars are created for the sole purpose of taking prisoners of war who can then be enslaved. He gives a detailed account of the contemporary prices for slaves. He goes on to discuss that the Merina place a high value on precious metals and that “The Ovahs well know the use of Money and their love of it is extreme”. He relates that they also “carry on a trade by barter & by Money; that by barter chiefly consists in Slaves, Rice & Cattle which are exchanged for Arms, clothes, ammunition & Money, that by money if for Scents, Baubles & the like.”
Lewis claims that there is virtually no civil crime in the Merina Kingdom, but that they are very aggressive in wartime situations, such that “In times of peace they commit few trespasses which tends to show the quite disposition of the People, but in War all possible plunder is commended and they lay everything to waste”. He describes their love of a game called “Knocks” and then gives a detailed description of the Merina funerary and marriage rituals, noting that almost all marriages are arranged. Polygamy is common, as a man rends to have “as many Wives as he can support”. Transportation in Imerina is very difficult, as “Respecting the intercourse between the Provinces – there are no roads, the Paths very bad”.
All positions of power in the kingdom is hereditary, although Radama seemed inclined to want to grant privileges to Westerners, as he “is anxious to attract Foreigners on any terms as settlers, a want of hereditary claim would not be questioned”. The Merina Kingdom is an absolute monarchy, as the “King prides himself on his Word being the Law”. All laws were conveyed orally, as there was no written legislation. The King’s local chiefs are responsible for organizing the national army, providing and commanding their tribal regiments. Lewis notes that of the Merina troops, “The only object that excites the people to bravery, is a desire to plunder”. He notes, on good authority, that Antananarivo is defended by 20,000 men at arms, with three field pieces, at any given time.
Next, Lewis records a valuable account of the first recorded European expedition to Antananarivo, led by Captain Le Sage, in 1816 (pp. 48 - 50). This account was directly related to Lewis, by one of the few surviving participants in the expedition, “Mr. Byrnes, a Gunner”. Byrnes recalled that the British expedition arrived in Antananarivo on December 21, 1816, and remained there until February 5. The expedition consisted of Le Sage, a doctor, a commissary, a naturalist, a clerk, a conductor, and twenty-six soldiers. Byrnes noted that the Merina capital had a population of 8,000 and was located 160 miles form the coast, and 300 miles from Tamatave. He described the land around Antananarivo as being surrounded by rice fields, while the territory between the sea and the capital was largely covered in dense woods, with a very healthy climate. The locals had recently suffered a great epidemic of smallpox. The day after their arrival in Antananarivo, the British party fell ill from a “disease producing fainting fits, swellings on various parts of the legs and body, Ague and Fever”. Only eleven of the original party of thirty-two survived to leave the city. Three more men died on the return sea voyage from Tamatave to Mauritius. Byrnes noted that, as of June 13, 1817, only five members of the original party, including himself, were alive and that all were in a “very sickly state”.
Lewis returns to his own observations upon the Merina people (pp. 50-55). He notes that there is never any shortage of food in Madagascar, as the island is so fertile. People have a very long life expectancy, of around 80 years, which was about double that in European countries. While Radama was an absolute dictator, he was a benign ruler, who seriously listened to the concerns of his people, remarking that “The native is always admitted to the presence of the King to report cases of oppression, & tho despotic [Radama] causes such cases to be investigated with care”.
While titles are inherited, there is a meritocracy of some kind, as “No native is excluded from Employment as merit meets with due regard”, and that noble birth does not automatically guarantee the King’s favour. The King technically owns all property, but actually respects the de facto property rights of his subjects. Emigration from one’s home district is not generally permitted, and is considered to be a form of treason. Lewis remarks that while the Merina were traditionally banned from using tobacco “on pain of death”, Radama permitted its use, allowing his men to smoke it in Tamatave.
Next, Lewis gives an account of James Hastie and his charges, the Merina princes Rafike and Rahove (p. 55 - 61). Lewis holds Hastie in very high regard, describing him as “a man firm in his conduct and of the strictest veracity, mild and benevolent in his disposition and moreover viewed everything with an unprejudiced eye”. He notes that it was Hastie who supplied him with the first account of the Merina people, noting that “never till this period that I have heard of, have ever had any satisfactory information on the Natives who reside in the interior of the Immense Island”.
On July 7, 1817, the Princes Rafike and Rahove left the HMS Phaeton and entered Tamatave, wearing the “most showy Suits” of European materials, having been supplied by Farquhar and Le Sage. Local dignitaries greeted them in an elaborate ceremony. Radama was known to be waiting for them at a nearby camp.
On July 8, Lewis conducted a maritime survey of Tamatave Harbour, which is discussed in detail below (pp. 61-68).
Lewis, in vivid, fascinating detail, recounts the events of July 9, 1817, in which the British delegation was a party to an important treaty that formally gave Radama possession of the Tamatave coast, while granting Brian a formal role in the internal affairs of Madagascar for the first time (pp. 68 - 75). This accord marked a watershed moment in the history of Madagascar, and here Lewis provides by far the best and most authoritative first-hand account of the event.
Lewis recalls that on the morning of that day, he, Captain Stanstall and Mr. Pye breakfasted together in Tamatave. The local merchants were assembled and informed of the gravity of the day’s business. Otherwise, the town was quiet, as Radama had ensured that none of his troops entered the town, so as to pay his respects to the locals in advance of the treaty that would cede their lands to his rule. Suddenly, Radama’s messengers arrived with the news that the King was ready to receive the British delegation (including Lewis).
A short while later, the British party arrived at Radama’s camp, whereupon they were immediately shown into his grand tent. There they saw Dremundersheman, who, assisted by translators, was preparing to record the upcoming “Treaty of Friendship” in triplicate, in Malagasy, English and French.
Upon this occasion, Lewis was seated directly opposite and close to Radama, granting him an unprecedented opportunity to provide a detailed description of his physical appearance:
“I set down, in some detail, the features of the King, being enabled to do so from being very near and opposite to him. His nose was much dilated at the nostrils, his complexion between a deep black and copper colour, lips broad and prominent, teeth a little black at that part near the Gums, on account of some substance which he had used, as I was afterwards informed was for the preservation of them – a slight appearance of beard on his upper lip, with a bunch of hairs of some length on his chin; his eyes deep brown colour, and his eye brows and eye lashes as well as his hair black”.
To make a long story short, the purpose of the treaty was to establish Radama’s rule over the Tamatave Coast, granting the Merina Kingdom access to the sea for the first time. Britian were to function as the guarantor of this accord, granting her a formal role in the internal workings of the Radama’s kingdom for the first time. Radama agreed to allow John Réné to remain the chief of Tamatave, with considerable autonomy, but as a vassal of Radama. He would publicly “acknowledge John Réné as his Brother or Ally, and [they would] pledge to mutually assist each other in repelling an external or internal Enemy”. Chief Fish and Damanazac, the local rulers who had offended Radama and the British, respectively, were to be pardoned and forgiven by all parties. The goal was to create a British-backed Pax Merina along this coast.
Perhaps the most powerful passage in the Lewis’ entire narrative is his graphic recollection of the ‘Blood Oath’ that was to seal the treaty. Radama, John Réné, Captain Francis Stanstall and Mr. Pye were all principals of the treaty, and were each required “to cut their breasts with a small pen knife”, whereupon they each had to touch their blood to all of four pieces of ginger. They were then each required to eat a piece of said ginger! Lewis, with considerable understatement, remarked, “surely this Oath cannot fail to bind in the strongest manner the Engagement just entered into”. With this gesture, Madagascar and Britain were bound together by blood, which was exactly what Governor Farquhar desired.
Radama, wearing a bright red robe, then left his tent and stood upon a hillock. In a majestic scene, he addressed his people as to the treaty and publicly embraced Réné as his “brother”. The Merina field pieces and the HMS Phaeton’s guns then traded salutes.
In another trust-building gesture, Radama asked Captain Stanstall if he would transport a Merina delegation back to Mauritius aboard the HMS Phaeton, in order that they could have an audience with Governor Farquhar. Stanstall happily agreed to this request (p. 78).
A curious insertion into the narrative (between pp. 84-5) is a leaf noting that, along the coasts of Madagascar, the crews of European ships have left many inscriptions upon rocks. Lewis incudes a copy of a inscription related to him by the geographer Lislet Geoffrey, that notes the visit of the VOC ship Veera, which arrived on September 23, 1632 at the Baye de la Bourdonnais,
Late in the narrative, Lewis provides a detailed account of the importance that the Merina placed upon circumcision and the ritual surrounding it (p. 78).
Lewis, aboard the HMS Phaeton, left Tamatave, bound for Mauritius, on July 15, 1817. On the passage home he provides some curious observations upon the Merina religion (pp. 87 - 90). He notes that “the Holy scriptures & Priestly Offices are untied in the Person of the King”, and that the Sun is considered to be the “symbol of the sacred fire of the Ever living god”.
Lewis’ narrative ends with a summarily of the HMS Phaeton’s ships log, “Log / Voyage to Madagascar in H.M.S. Phaeton, from the 29th June to the 29th July 1817”, which features notes on the weather and daily events (pp. 92-3).
Lewis’ “Sketch” Map of Madagascar
A highlight of the archive is the large manuscript “Sketch of MADAGASCAR”, that while certainly as “sketch” nevertheless provides a wealth of fascinating information. Indeed, the intention of the map is not to provide a precise topographical rendering, but to convey information on the ethnographic and political divisions of the island, as well as to provide the basis for calculating its overall surface area. The approximate outlines of the island are drafted in pencil, with major coastal headlands and towns marked, notably Tamatave, Fort Dauphin, while the northwestern coast is labelled, “This part of the coast not well known”, featuring the “Manzangor Arab Settlement”. This refers to Mahajanga, which since the 1780s, had been home to a community of Indian Muslims, and which is today Madagascar’s second most important port.
The major headlands marked on the map include “Cape D’Ambre”; “Foule Pointe”; “Matombagh”; and “Cape St. Marie”, which are all laid down on their (as close to possible) correct geodetic locations as set forth by the listed astronomical readings of key mapmakers and mariners. Lewis notes in his narrative that “In laying down the principal points of the Island of Madagascar for the purpose of ascertaining its length and Breadth, as well as its Superficies; I have availed myself of the observations of M. D’Après Mannevillette, Captain Purvis of the H.M.S. Magicienne, Le Gentil, Steel, and those furnished by the Admiralty; assisted by the Manuscript Chart of M. Lislet Geoffrey.” (pp. 82-84). Specifically, he would have consulted the excellent charts of Madagascar within
Jean-Baptiste D’après De Mannevillette’s Le Neptune Oriental (1775); information from Captain John Brett Purvis of the H.M.S. Magicienne, who visited Madagascar in 1818, and would have made contact with Lewis on Mauritius; and intelligence from Guillaume Le Gentil de la Galaisière (1725 – 1792), a French astronomer who mapped the east coast of Madagascar during the mid-1760s. Additionally, Lewis had the benefit of an identified manuscript chart of Madagascar supplied by his friend Jean-Baptiste Lislet Geoffroy (1755-1836), a Réunion native and resident of Mauritius, who was a brilliant geographer, best known for conducting the first scientific surveys of those islands. Upon the British conquest of Mauritius, Lislet Geoffrey become a senior adviser to Governor Farquhar, leading to the publication of his excellent chart of the greater region, Carte réduite de l'archipel du N.-E. de Madagascar corrigée sur les observations les plus récentes (London: A. Arrowsmith, 1819). Other sources include unnamed works by the British chartmaker David Steel, as well as various charts issued by the British Admiralty.
Between the aforementioned main headlands, Lewis drew vector lines, in neat, coloured crayon, delineated in an effort to calculate the land area of Madagascar. Showing his calculations, in the lower left, Lewis estimated Madagascar’s land area to be “256,730 [square] Miles”, an impressive effort for this time, long before Madagascar had been scientifically surveyed. We know today that Madagascar’s true land area to be 226,658 sq mi (587,041 km2).
Lewis, albeit crudely, expresses the ridge of mountains that runs through the eastern side of the island, as well as delineating the course of the Betsiboka River, a critical corridor that connects the Imerina Highlands with the Mozambique Channel.
Importantly, Lewis’ map provides far more detail with respect to the ethnographic and political divisions of Madagascar than is present on contemporary maps. He notes the current extent of “Radamas Territory”, showing the Merina-controlled lands as being within a semicircle encompassing Imerina and a large stretch of the island’s east coast, nearly centred upon “Tananarivoux or Tananariva” (modern Antananarivo). He notes several of the island’s ethnographic territories, including the “Ovah District” (Imerina, ancestral homeland of the Merina people); “Ankaran” (Antankarana); “Sacalove” (Sakalava); “Baysimesarac” (Betsimasaraka); “Betsiloo” (Betsileo); and “Antanozsy” (Antanosy). Additionally, Lewis designates other territories, such as “Feorain” (Fiheranana), an archaic name for a southern part of the Sakalava territory; and “Matatana”, the ‘Land of Death, a stretch of the east coast that was especially prone to fatal tropical diseases.
Additionally, the map includes several annotations, in pencil, alluding to locations mentioned in the famous account of Richard Drury (1687 – 1743/50), an English mariner who was shipwrecked on Madagascar, remaining on the island for fifteen years. His experience was recounted in a best-selling book, Madagascar; or, Robert Drury’s Journal, during fifteen years captivity on that island (London, 1729).
The dating of the present sketch map can be traced to some point between 1818 (the date of the latest information to appear on the map) and 1825, when Lewis compiled the present archive. The map is drafted upon paper watermarked ‘J. Whatman 1810’.
Lewis’ Manuscript Sea Chart of Tamatave Harbour (Taomasina)
Also included in archive is a manuscript sea chart of Tamatave Harbour (modern Taomasina), today Madagascar’s premier commercial port, finely executed in pencil and folding between pages 6 & 7 of the narrative. The chart was likely drafted by Lewis, who was, after all, a professional military engineer. The chart is the result of a careful survey of the harbour made by Lewis, accompanied by Mr. A. Lewis, the Master of the HMS Phaeton, which took place on July 8, 1817. This survey and the two Lewises’ experiences along the way are recorded in detail in the narrative (pp. 61-68).
The “Plan of Tamatave Bay”, drawn to a “Scale of 1000 yards to One Inch” embraces the entire harbour and the adjacent coastlines in both directions. While not a precise trigonometric survey (which would have taken some days), the map is a fine and broadly accurate maritime reconnaissance survey done to Royal Navy standards. It features an accurate delineation of the coastlines, numerous bathymetric soundings, the locations of reefs and other hazards, the entrances to the harbour, being the “North Channel” and “South Channel”, “The Best Anchorage”, and the location of the “Isle aux Prunes”, where the fugitive Chief Fish of Yvondrou was then hiding from Radama’s scouts. The “Reference”, in the upper right, employs letters to identify several key locations: a. Rivulet Mannery-a-raze; b. Eminence of Simarohoo; v. Village of Tamatave; o. Point of the Longue du Barachois or Landing Place; l. Pointe du Tanion; and y. Village of Yvouline. A note at the bottom left concerns local ocean currents: “N.B. Lieut. Hay R.N. states that the current along this coast sits strong to the Southward during the easterly Monsoon.”
James Hastie’s Sorabe Alphabet Table
A valuable and fascinating addition to Lewis’ narrative is a double page manuscript table of the Sorabe alphabet, on which appears the descriptive note “This Alphabet was written on Board H.M.S. Phaeton 3d. July 1817”. Sorabe is an Arabic-based alphabet by which characters were adapted to the Malagasy language and was commonly used throughout Madagascar from the early 17th Century until 1823. Prior to that time, the alphabet was used exclusively by the Antemoro people of southeastern Madagascar before it proliferated throughout the island. It is still disputed by scholars as to whether Sorabe originated from the Antemoro’s contact with Arabic traders or with Muslims from Java. Sorabe takes it name from Arabic sura (writing) and Malagasy be (large).
As Lewis describes in his narrative, the present Sorabe alphabet table was drawn by James Hastie, under the supervision of Dremundersheman, King Radama I’s Chief Scribe (whose name is signed in both English and Sorabe under the table), while the party was travelling aboard the HMS Phaeton en route from Mauritius to Tamatave.
Lewis recalls that Hastie “…drew up for me an Alphabet or the letters that enter into the Madagascar Language with a corresponding pronunciation in English, which I have prefixed to this this voyage for the inspection of the curious; it is written from right to left and its genuineness may be relied upon as it bears the signature of [Dremundersheman] Radama’s Scribe who is written of it” (p. 55).
Below the main Sorabe table is, for comparison purposes, a table of the conventional “Arabic Alphabet”. Also included is the remark: “Note, The Natives write with a pen formed of the fine joint of a Bamboo”.
King Andrianampoinimerina held literacy and the teaching of Sorabe alphabet to be of paramount priority and he hired Antemoro scribes to educate all of the members of the court in reading and writing the characters. This way, Radama received tutelage in Sorabe and likewise fostered literacy and calligraphy in the alphabet at his court, an endeavour overseen by Dremundersheman. Ironically, it would be Radama who would be responsible for virtually killing the Sorabe alphabet when, in 1823, he ordered that Malagasy henceforth be written in Latin script. This change done at the urging of British missionaries in an effort ‘modernize’ (Westernize) Madagascar.
The Pair of Autographed Letters
The archive also includes two original manuscript signed letters, addressed to Lewis, which are bound in before the beginning of the narrative. The first letter, written by Governor Robert Farquhar, dated Reduit (Mauritius), June 2, 1821, thanks Lewis for lending him the present journal. Farquhar writes, “I find it an extremely interesting narrative, and view it as a very favorable specimen of your enterprise and literary talent.”
The second letter, by Charles Telfair, dated Bois Cheri (Mauritius) May 21, 1821, thanks Lewis for allowing him to make excerpts from the present journal. Charles Telfair (1778-1833) was an Irish botanist who established both the Mauritius and Réunion botanical gardens, and was a leading intellectual figure on the Mascarene Islands. The letters prove that Lewis’ present account of Madagascar was disseminated to key figures in the British colonial firmament.
Locke Lewis: Eyewitness to Momentous Events in Madagascar’s History
Thomas Locke Lewis, commonly known as ‘Locke Lewis’, was a Welsh soldier with an extraordinary interest in natural history, anthropology and the sciences. Although little is know of his early life, he was seemingly born sometime during the 1780s, the son of Percival Lewis of Downton Hall, Radnorshire, Wales, a member of the landed gentry.
Lewis was evidently well educated and broadly knowledgeable, as his sophisticated writing style and his frequent references to specific works ranging for the Bible to recent scientific tomes. Lewis became a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, in 1813, and shortly thereafter is recorded as being stationed on Mauritius, where he gained the confidence of Governor Farquhar. Based in Mauritius for at least a decade, in addition to his 1817 voyage to Madagascar aboard the HMS Phaeton, in 1824, Lewis returned to Madagascar and visited Mombasa (Kenya) aboard in the HMS Andromache.
Lewis was actively engaged in the vibrant scientific scene on Mauritius, befriending intellectuals such as Listlet Geoffrey and Charles Telfair. Lewis remained continuously engaged in scientific observation and his analysis of the hurricanes which struck Mauritius in 1818 and 1824 are recorded (Reid, ‘XV. - On Hurricanes’, Papers on Subjects connected to the Duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers, vol. II (London, 1838), pp. 137-208, esp. pp. 200-5), as is his description of the geology of Mauritius (James Holman, Travels in Madras, Ceylon, Mauritius, Cormoro Islands, Zanzibar, Calcutta, Etc. (London, 1840), pp. 176-185).
Lewis seems to have retuned to Britain shortly after 1825, whereupon, in 1830, he was promoted to captain, working for the Office of Ordnance. He retired from active service on half-pay in 1833, as seems to have dedicated the rest of his life to managing his family land holdings and participating in intellectual and community endeavours. He was an active freemason, a member of church groups and was induced as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1836. In the late 1830s, he is recorded as living in Hull. In 1840, he was appointed to serve in the ceremonial, yet prestigious, role as Sheriff and Deputy-Lieutenant of Radnorshire. Lewis died in Ibsley Cottage, near Exeter, Devon, on November 17, 1852. His will, probated January 13, 1853, is preserved in the National Archives UK (PROB 11/2165/146).
References: N / A – Present Archive Unrecorded. Cf. [Lewis’ publications:] T. Locke Lewis, ‘An Account of the Ovahs, a Race of People Residing in the Interior of Madagascar: With a Sketch of Their Country, Appearance, Dress, Language’, The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, vol. 5 (1835), pp. 230- 242; T. Locke Lewis, [Letter to the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society], Hull Packet and Number Mercury (November 20, 1827); ‘Manners and Customs. The Ovahs of Madagascar’, The Mirror (January 26, 1836); [Re: Lewis citations and historical background:] Gwyn Campbell, An Economic History of Imperial Madagascar, 1750-1895 (2005), pp. 143-5; Gwyn Campbell, David Griffiths and the Missionary "History of Madagascar"(2005), pp. 405, 455, 527-8, 565; Zoë Crossland, Ancestral Encounters in Highland Madagascar (2014), pp. 142, 249, passim.