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Voyage to Madagascar: Thomas Locke Lewis and the Anglo-Merina Treaty of 1817
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Voyage to Madagascar: Thomas Locke Lewis and the Anglo-Merina Treaty of 1817

Manuscript text relating to a voyage to MadagascarTitle page of Voyage to MadagascarThis online exhibition was curated by Conal Priest, an MA History student at King’s who undertook an internship​ in the Foyle Special Collections Library from January to April 2020.

The focus of Conal’s internship was the transcription of and research into a first-hand account, by Lieutenant Thomas Locke Lewis (ca 1780-1852), of the 1817 British diplomatic and commercial mission to King Radama of Madagascar, which resulted in a treaty of formal alliance between the two countries. The mission was sponsored by Robert Farquhar (1776-1830), governor of Mauritius. The manuscript includes an account of the mission and detailed descriptions of Madagascar and its people.

The manuscript was purchased by King's College London in 2018 from Maggs Bros Ltd with the aid of a grant from the Friends of the National Libraries.

Its acquisition has strengthened our existing holdings on Madagascar, notably in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Historical Collection, where manuscripts by Matthew Flinders and James Hastie and printed works, such as Robert Drury’s Pleasant and surprising adventures, complement Lewis’s account of the island.

Link to item on the Library catalogue: Thomas Locke Lewis (ca 1780-1852) Voyage to Madagascar.and the island of Mombassa. Compiled variously in Madagascar, at sea and in Mauritius; 1817-1826

The manuscript

Lewis seemingly produced much of this account on the island, with limited access to reference material, so it is replete with later corrections, additions and footnotes. These are of interest historically, not only as an indicator of the possible scientific and linguistic interests of an early 19th century officer of Lewis’s educational background, but also because they indicate an interest in publication. It is clear that in later life Lewis had access to an excellent library.

Scientific societies were open to educated officers and Lewis appears to have capitalised upon his experiences and the account he produced to garner the attention of the Royal Geographical Society, to which he contributed essays on Madagascar, and eventually the Royal Society itself, to which he was elected a fellow in 1836. The account is therefore a mixture of report, diary, scientific essay and entertaining literature; and therein it raises interesting genre considerations as a source over time.

Prefatory notes on the transcription

  • A PDF of the full transcription and a gallery of images is available to view at the end of this exhibition
  • In this transcription we have generally followed Lewis’s spelling, with one or two exceptions: for example, we have standardised the spelling of ‘John René’ (given variously as John Rene, John Réné or John Réne). 
  • Where we have been unable to transcribe a word or passage or where our transcription is uncertain, we have indicated this by [?]. We welcome suggestions, comments and corrections.
  • Some parts of the manuscript, due to crossing and the difficulties in providing access to the manuscript during the Covid-19 pandemic, remain untranscribed. These include: a section concerning plants on pages 15 & 16; pages 40-43; pages 46 & 47; pages 86 & 87; the back cover and other smaller passages which are highlighted in yellow
  • Page numbers quoted in this online exhibition correspond with those of the transcription.
  • Our Select bibliography includes a list of the principal sources cited by Lewis in the manuscript

If you are interested in obtaining higher resolution images of the manuscript, to assist us in the completion of the transcription please email

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