IT IS AN OLD PLACE OF MOURNFUL beauty and sweet, peaceful gloom that arouses a titillating sensation of poignancy in the visitor. The "Mission Ruins" are actually the ruins of Venn's Town, an industrial institution and sanctuary that accommodated children of liberated African slaves between 1876 and 1889.
Situated in the hills of Sans Soucis on the east side of Mahe, the main island (151 sq km) of the Seychelles archipelago, the institution was named after Henry Venn, an Anglican missionary, who in 1799, together with William Wilberforce, the English abolitionist, co-founded the Church Missionary Society to spread Christianity in Africa and Asia, as well as creating orphanages for children of slaves. If today the place lures locals and foreign visitors alike to experience the contemplative serenity of its hushed isolation and the beauty of its resplendent gloom, it is its historical past that constitutes the quality of its melancholy charms.
And although that past does not lie in remote antiquity, the chronology of events that brought about the existence of Venn's Town goes back to the 16th century--to the time of the egregious slave trade that was carried on by the nations of Europe for more than four centuries.
During the 16th century, Brazil, which the Portuguese colonised in 1530 (and where slavery was not abolished until 1888) and the Caribbean colonies of several European nations, developed a plantation economy and consequently slave labour was used on sugar cane, cotton, tobacco and coffee plantations. From the early 16th to the late 19th centuries, over 10 million Africans were taken across the Atlantic in chains to become the foundation of the New World's plantation economy. It was an ignominious trend that likewise took place in many parts of the world, including the Mascarenes (the group of islands in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar which includes Mauritius and Reunion). Thus, the demand for slaves tended always to exceed the supply.
In addition to English, French, Dutch, and Portuguese slave traders, merchants from Sweden and Denmark also engaged in the lucrative business of buying slaves in West Africa and selling them to European planters in their respective colonies.
Between about 1640 and 1750, a great number of forts and trading-posts were established on the shores of West Africa and their ownership constantly changed as the slave trading nations fought with each other in bloody attempts to gain supremacy in the trade. In fact, by the 18th century, England, where the slavery of Europeans had been abolished since 1772, had gained the ascendancy in the West African slave trade. English ships from London, Bristol and Liverpool carried slaves to America and the West Indies. Paradoxically enough, it was also during that time, in 1787, when King George III (1738-1820) occupied the throne and William Pitt (the Younger) was prime minister, that the British government founded Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, as a haven for freed slaves.
As early as 1770, when the first French settlers, led by DeLaunay, arrived to establish themselves on St Anne Island, they brought along a small contingent of slaves to clear the land and to build their settlement. In 1772, when the administrator of Mauritius and Reunion, Pierre Poivre, concocted his grandiose scheme to introduce cinnamon to Seychelles, it was slave labour that created the legendary Jardin du Roi, the spice garden at Anse Royal.
Later, in May 1780, the ship that the French authorities mistook for a British vessel, where they consequently ordered the destruction of the spice garden, lest the precious spices should fall into enemy hands, was actually a French slave ship flying the British flag and bringing slaves to Mahe.
Before the British occupation, slaves from Madagascar and mainland Africa were brought to Seychelles to work on cotton plantations which occupied around 1,600 acres of land on Mahe. …