Pre-colonial History of the Seychelles

Carved Coco-de-mer

The Seychelles was uninhabited throughout most of recorded history.
Arab traders did brisk business in the Coco-de-mer nuts that only grow on the Seychelles islands of Praslin and Curieuse.

These curiously twinned palm nuts are hollow and float long distances. They were highly valued by Arabs and Europeans alike who would decorate their shells with precious jewels and display them in private galleries.

Age of Discovery

Though the islands had been visited by settlers from Madagascar and Arab traders, they were first charted by Vasco da Gama in 1503, who named them the Admiral Islands in honour of himself.
But, English were the first to alight on the shores of the Seychelles. Early in the year 1608, an English East India Company trading vessel called the “Ascension” was set upon by natives near the Portuguese island of Pemba. The ship lost its course. On January 19, the Ascension’s boatswain sighted North Island, and the ship made anchorage in its natural harbor. “It is a very good refreshing place for wood, water, cooker nuts & fish,” the East India Company merchant John Jourdain wrote in his journal. The British, however, made no attempt to settle the islands.

The Ascension

French Colonization of Seychelles

On 15 June 1744, Lazare Picault set off his sails and visited the nearby island of La Digue, which he first named Ìle Rouge because of its reddish granite rocks.

He also visited Praslin island, which he called Isle de Palmes because of its large palm groves, and the island of Frégate, which he baptized because of the large number of frigate birds.

The islands were mainly used by pirates until the French took control in the 1750s. They were then named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Minister of Finance under Louis XV.

Story behind actual exploration of Seychelles by French is rather interesting.

It started in year 1742, when colonial administrator of Mauritius Bertrand François Mahé de La Bourdonnais ordered expedition to chart waters northeast of Madagascar, captained by Lazare Picault and his two ships, Elisabeth and Charles.
3 months into the journey, being low on drinking water, and on November 19, 1742, the command of Elisabeth stumbled upon Island unknown to them. Further exploration rewarded them with plenty of fresh water, rivers full of fish and abundance of turtles.

That’s the reason why he named that Island “L’Île d’Abondance” or “Island of Plenty”. Afterwards, in honour of Bertrand François Mahé de La Bourdonnais, Picault renamed the island to Mahé.

Lazare Picault monument

During the Seven Years’ War, in 1754 the French staked a claim on the islands. They went on to establish a colony on the main island, Mahé, in August 1770. First settlers arrived on board French ship “Thélemaque”. The party consisted of 15 white colonists, seven slaves and five Indians.
At first the colonists grew spices like nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and chili peppers; later they switched to more traditional plantation crops like cotton and sugarcane.

1976 - Year of Seychelles independence

Following the French Revolution in 1790, the colonials declared their independence from Mauritius and subsequently from France. For 20 years, an independent Seychelles provisioned French and British ships alike as well as Arab slave traders.

However, in April 1811, after taking control of other French colonies in the Indian Ocean, the British took control of Seychelles.

The Seychelles under British Rule

Although slavery remained legal in Britain until 1835, slave trading was illegal. The Seychelles colonials and the British clashed over the former’s support of the slaving vessels that pulled into Mahé’s port. Wealthy slave owners began to emigrate from the islands with their households and slaves.
Between 1830 and 1840, the Seychelles lost nearly half its population. The British had a policy of raiding Arab slave ships and when these ships were apprehended south of the Equator, their human cargo were brought to the Seychelles, freed, and apprenticed to plantation owners who’d remained on the islands. Between 1861 and 1874, close to 2,500 men, women and children were rescued and resettled in the Seychelles.
Despite being taken over by the British and becoming an official British Crown Colony in 1903, Seychelles retained its French identity in terms of language and culture.

First capitulation 1794


seychelles independence

The movement for independence began during the World War II, but only really gained political momentum in the 1960s. Elections and conventions in the early 1970s brought the idea of independence to the forefront.

The left-leaning Seychelles People’s United Party (SPUP) was formed in 1964, espousing a platform of socialism and independence from Britain.

The Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP), formed that same year, represented the interests of landowners and lobbied for a stronger relationship with Britain. A constitutional convention was held in London in March 1970, and in November of that same year, James Mancham, the leader of the SDP, became the island nation’s chief minister.

After elections in 1974, when both political parties in Seychelles campaigned for independence, negotiations with the British resulted in an agreement under which Seychelles became an independent republic within the Commonwealth on June 29th 1976.

This landmark date in the country’s history is marked every year on Independence Day.

Did you know?

The current flag of Seychelles was adopted in 1996 and is the third flag design the Seychelles have had since independence in 1976. The previous design featured the colours of the political party that came to power in the coup of 1977. The striking design of the flag now represents the colours of both the main political parties after other parties were allowed under the constitution of 1993.

Tales of buried treasure just waiting to be found are widespread throughout the history of these beautiful islands…

The Seychelles’ geographical location and its physical features made it an ideal hideaway for pirates. In the 17th Century, the pirates came with their wenches and for a time lay siege to the sun, sand and sea.

Pirates & Burried Treasure

The history of Seychelles is so fantastical that it could have been used as story-line for a children’s book. It is a tale of fearless explorers, formidable pirates and brutal battles for the island’s bountiful treasures. It is claimed that a fabulous treasure, valued at about £150 million, lies buried beneath the pristine white beaches. Other valuables have been found over the years, including marbles, a statue of a waterlogged woman, a stone horse’s head, a 300-year-old cipher and a quartz-lined cave. These are among the many mystery-clouded valuables still gossiped about by the Creole population.
It all began with Oliver le Vasseur (1688-1730), also known as ‘La Buse’, ‘La Bouche’ or ‘The Mouth’, who was a gentleman pirate born in Calais, France, in the late 1690s. In 1716, he began life on the sea as a corsair, but later turned to the dark side as a rogue pirate and started terrorising the Indian Ocean. He made a living from the rewarding maritime trade routes, which criss-crossed that part of the world. Eventually he and another pirate, Englishman John Taylor, teamed up and together they raided copious merchant ships and struck terror into the hearts of the seafaring communities.
By a stroke of luck, the two pirates came across ‘Vierge du Cap’, a treasure ship, at anchor in the harbour of the island today known as La Réunion. This Portuguese vessel was carrying the Archbishop of Goa and Count d’Ericiera, along with the count’s bountiful collection of jewels and priceless valuables. The treasure on board included silver and gold bars, dozens of boxes full of golden guineas, pearls, diamonds and other gems, silk, spices, art and Church regalia particularly from the Se Cathedral. The hoard was so vast that the passengers were simply allowed by pirates to keep their personal valuables with them and set free, an occurrence unusual for piracy. In monetary terms, the takings were estimated to be worth £1 million, though some inflate it to £400 million, others to a fantastic £1 billion, nevertheless, its still regarded as the largest heist in pirating history. One of these valuables was a breath-taking, seven foot tall, solid gold cross encrusted with diamonds, emeralds and rubies, known as the Fiery Cross of Goa.

Most mariners of the time were extremely superstitious about destroying, damaging or disposing of religious artefacts. They believed that they would be cursed with ill-fate should they commit any of these unthinkable acts. The pirates decided to conceal the treasure on an island which was nestled between countless of other islands, among which they could lose themselves and where vast, treacherous reefs would confound, and possibly deter, any pursuing warships. They chose to conceal the treasure somewhere along the north-eastern coast of Mahé, the main island of the Seychelles archipelago.
For a period of several years during the 1720s, La Buse vanished from the pirate scene. There are those who are convinced that he made Seychelles his lair and lived for years on the same soil which housed his buried treasure. A Portuguese map detailing a specific area on Mahé, now known as Bel Ombre, flaunts a telling phrase: ‘Owner of land…La Buse’. Many Seychellois believe that the famous treasure lies buried beneath their home soil, and hope that someday it will be discovered. The search continues…