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

Plans for trade

Manuscript text relating to a voyage to MadagascarOpening showing pages 34 & 35In his analysis of the land and its climate, Lewis also considers Madagascar’s potential for trade. He took the time to acquaint himself with what could be grown on the Island. He relates, for example, that there was tobacco of nine different varieties, sugar cane, and rice of eleven different kinds.

There were also useful trees, such as sago palm, gum elastic, wild nutmeg, citron and lime. Some trees could be used for timber, such as the fouraha, whilst others could be used for dyeing. Bamboo and wood aloe could also be found on the island (pp 34-35), as is documented in the reproduction here.

Given the British interest in trade with the Island, as alluded to in correspondence between Chief John René and the governor of Mauritius, Robert Farquhar, it is likely that Lewis was aware of how important an understanding of what could be cultivated on the island was.

Indeed, whilst Lewis regards the native peoples as taking a lax approach to the management of their crops, he did believe that the soil was of good quality and able to produce high yields.

It seems that Lewis considered that, with some infrastructural support and the fostering of relations, agricultural output could be improved and British trading opportunities with it. Despite what he saw as the supposedly ‘Indolent disposition of the people & the deceitful conduct of persons who have visited their country’ and the ‘obstacles to commerce’ entailed, he acknowledged ‘the country is susceptible to Improvements’.

To Lewis, there seems to be plenty of land available for such improvements. He states that: ‘In the Ovah district there has never been known a scarcity of provisions; rice is their principal food and this is so easily cultivated, that there is always an abundance of it; for the arable land far exceeds the quantity necessary for producing a sufficient subsistence for the population and the king allots each person an ample portion.’ In fact, a man could have ‘any quantity of land he pleases to demand on the promise of cultivating it.’ (pp 36, 44, 50-52).

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