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Pages from the Past

-  The Maldive Islands

By  C. W. Rosset

One of the earliest travelogues on Maldives, this article was written by C W Rosset and published in The Graphic in 1886. It is an account of Rosset's stay in the group of Maldive Islands in 1885.

Maldives were a dependency of the Government of Ceylon before that colony passed into the hands of the English in 1796.

I am not by any means the first European who has paid a visit to the Maldives; but I can justly claim to be the first who has undertaken a systematic exploration of the groups.

By the courtesy of the English Government I had been given a passage in the steamer Ceylon, the vessel in which Captain Wilding makes his periodical visits to the lighthouses of Minicoy and the Basses. It was arranged that, as she was to proceed to Bombay to have some repairs effected, I should be left on the way at Male, and that she should return and fetch me away in two monthsí time.

At length, on the morning of the 25th October, 1885, the Ceylon steamed out of Colombo harbour and shaped her course for Male, the capital of the Maldive group, situated on the island of the same name, at the southern end of North Male Atol, exactly in the centre of the group. We sighted land about 9 AM on the morning of the 29th, but there were no landmarks to indicate which of the twelve thousand islands which constitute the Maldive group was then before us. Soon a number of fishing boats could be seen approaching and the engines were stopped to enable us to get a pilot on board, from whom we learned that we had shaped our course correctly, and had arrived directly opposite to the island of Male. The panorama, which was now spread out before us, was beautiful in the extreme. The low shore, marked by the thin white line of the beach, was covered to the height of about seven feet with a thick growth of jungle, above which waved the graceful heads of thousands of coconut trees, to which the slight breeze then blowing imparted a scarcely perceptible motion. As I leant over the bulwarks, admiring the scene, I suddenly became aware of a painfully pestilential odour, which at once dissipated the romantic thoughts, which the beauty of the scene had conjured up. This was the much-dreaded fever-laden breath of the lagoons, the cause of the deadly Maldive fever. This stench is due to a peculiarity in the Atols, or clusters of islands and reefs which constitute the Maldive group. Most of the islands are small, varying from a hundred yards to a mile in length and breadth, and are seldom more than six feet above the level of the sea. In many cases the islands form part of a ring of coral rock without any opening, the consequence being that when the sea is calm, the enclosed water becomes rapidly putrid under the action of sunís rays, and emits the odours to which I have referred. Indeed, many of the islands are quite uninhabitable, owing to the coral ring having grown to a height sufficient to exclude any but the highest waves. I discovered afterwards that the lagoons which emitted the odours did not affect the town, or island of Male.

 

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