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Green Conquest: Naturalists and 1810

Green Conquest: Naturalists and 1810


Green Conquest: Naturalists and 1810

Among the British soldiers and sailors who arrived in the Indian Ocean in the course of the Napoleonic wars were a few remarkable individuals who were to become renowned as much for their achievements as naturalists and writers as for their military and maritime occupations. By noting their observations in diaries, letters and memoirs, men like Matthew Flinders, naval officer and explorer, Charles Telfair and James Prior, naval surgeons, and army officers Dugald Carmichael and Richard Bayly all helped to disseminate interest in the island’s unique ecosystem to the Anglophone world. This volume presents some illustrated examples of their work.

Belfast-born Charles Telfair, first arrived in the Indian Ocean as a naval surgeon aboard a ship sent to blockade the Isle of France during the Napoleonic Wars.  After the conquest Telfair settled on Mauritius. He helped to found the Natural History Society and established a worldwide network of correspondents. He received and forwarded seeds and cuttings of plants and live or preserved specimens of fauna thereby contributing greatly to the advancement of scientific pursuits in these fields. The correspondence of Charles Telfair with individuals and organizations around the world, but particularly with Sir William Jackson Hooker at the Kew Botanical Garden and with the Zoological Society of London, has left a fascinating record of his role in the dissemination of knowledge both about species new to science and the extinct avifauna of the Mascarenes. He played a part in the sending of bones thought to be a dodo but now known to be the Rodrigues solitaire to European institutions.

Dugald Carmichael, born on the Scottish island of Lismore, in 1772, trained as a surgeon and enlisted in the British army. He accompanied the force which was sent to occupy Mauritius in 1810. Carmichael spent several years on the Mascarenes with his regiment, during which time he kept a journal, and made numerous observations about the flora and fauna he came across. A Mauritian endemic Pandanus carmichaelii, was named after him. In later life he took up the study of marine plants full time. In our day Carmichael is honoured as the ‘Father of Marine Botany’. Carmichael made detailed notes about the geckos and a species of skink which he encountered on the islands.

Son of a ‘country squire’ of Gloucestershire, Richard Bayly joined the 12th regiment of foot and embarked from Madras to participate in the expedition to capture the Isle of France in 1810. Stationed at Mahebourg after the capitulation of the island, Bayly’s diary entries about Mauritius include an interesting account of shell collecting on the Isle de la Passe, and his observations of the bird life he saw during his walks in the countryside around Grand Port. Bayly left Mauritius in 1817.

James Prior was a naval surgeon serving aboard the Nisus in 1810. He made valuable observations about the offshore northern islets later published in his book  Voyage in the Indian Seas in the Nisus frigate 1810-11. A number of extracts from his work are reproduced in the book.

Finally, some insights of  British navigator and cartographer, Matthew Flinders, who spent the years 1803 – 1810 on the island, and who died in 1814, aged only 40, are included.

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