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

The land and climate

Hand-drawn map of MadagascarMap of the island, from Voyage to MadagascarMoving inland from the coast, Lewis notes that ‘there are no roads, the paths are very bad, & in some place where they pass over swamps, are even dangerous’. The same could be said of the inland waterways, which Lewis believes could be unsafe due to the debris within and across them.

Though the roads and rivers appeared challenging, the terrain was fertile and rich. Lewis states that the Ovah people survived off their own land, ‘as the country affords them all they stand in need of.’

Considerations of how to supply forces with food, whether foreign or native, would have likely been an important military consideration (pp 44-45).

As well as topology and the availability of sustenance, the weather and diseases of the island were of note. When one considers the staggering losses that British forces had incurred from sickness on colonised islands during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, a phenomenon David Arnold has noted as often linked to climate, the reason for Lewis’s interest in these themes becomes obvious.

On weather, Lewis states that afternoon and evening storms were frequent at the capital, Tananarive, from October until around February, with ‘mild and foggy’ weather in the morning, and ‘the sun hot at noon’.

Regarding disease, Lewis states that ‘lately the small pox has crept among them, and carried off many of this populous district [Ovah].’ For foreign visitors, to travel inland meant to be ‘affected by intermittent fevers and agues’. Indeed, Lewis recounts that inland travel could prove fatal (pp 48-50).

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