There has been a lot of articles about the new “Memorial” on the “Gran Lavalas” of 1862 in the Seychelles media from which I received a lot of interesting questions. I found it strange that there are no names of those who died on the “Memorial” even though it has been erected for the victims. Many names of the victims are known, but those in authority have decided to ignore them. The exposed picture of the Lavalas on the “Memorial” is from Kantilal Jivan’s collection and not from the Seychelles Archives or Museums. Its provenance should have been respected.
The authority concerned should have instead erected a simple plaque with the names of those recorded to have died and allocated enough space to add more names later after a proper research had been done.
According to the official police records there were seventy five (75) deaths. They should also have made deeper research instead of taking what has been written previously as true. For example, Egidio Picucci in La Croix sur les îles 1990s (?) (p 34) wrote that “two sisters die along with eleven girls and a third sister was found nearly dead near the sea”. While Webb in his Story of Seychelles, (1963, p 24) wrote “besides those washed out to sea, many bodies were buried without registration. Indeed with the cemetery cut off and half its area covered with debris, the dead had generally to be interred where they lay. Even then, tradition tells, interment in the water-sodden earth provided a problem, often being accomplished only by pushing the corpse down with a long pole, and weighting it down with a heavy stone”.
Whereas, Reverend Aldolphus Vaudin who was a witness of the disaster wrote in a letter to Bishop Ryan in Mauritius and said: “at the convent eight persons were killed including two sisters, four girls and two others, five persons were buried in the church yard with three feet of water in the graves”.
Picucci and Webb do not give their sources and their narratives can now be questioned. The other sister mentioned by Picucci was Sister Saint Denis Berthoud of Brandon Saône-et-Loire, France. She was with her two deceased friend (listed below) at the convent, she was swept away but survived. The flood did not take her up the sea as Picucci wanted us to believe.
It is not easy to believe Webb as it must have been also impossible to carry heavy stone in a water-sodden earth. His theory that bodies were buried without registration cannot be taken for granted. However, all the deaths were reported to the police. The Church of Rome and the Church of England should have records of deceased who were under their denomination.
They have mounted the poem of Bishop Vincent Ryan on the “Memorial”. Ryan arrived in the Seychelles one month after the episode and wrote that poem in Latin. Mostly all that he wrote in his book about the Lavalas were hearsay. However, after the tempest in Mauritius, Sir Virgile Naz, Seychelles’ most brilliant son, made a passionate plea in the Council for a substantial grant for the Seychelles. He was also instrumental in setting up the Seychelles Relief Appeal in Port Louis which collected a large amount of money. Sadly his name is not on the memorial.
The following are some who died on (12/10/1862) in the tempest and whose name should have been on the “Memorial”
Eprad (Sister Victor) 22 years daughter of Etienne Eprad and Marie Perrine of Sainte Suzanne, La Réunion and Desquelles (Sister Denise) 37 years daughter of Pierre Desquelles and Eliza Desquelles of Esserteaux, Somme, France.
Both Sisters were buried in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, at the foot of Saint Joseph Hotel. Their tomb was found in 1923. It is now near the second column where they read the Gospel.
Amelia Barallon 23 years; Aurelie Barallon 34 years; Jean Barallon 49 years, was jeweller and his shop was in the vicinity of the present ex Continental Hotel; Gerin Philogene 18 months son of Amelia Barallon and Tomy Philogene.
Porphyre, 70 years of Mozambique also died in the tempest.
According to one of the articles, the “Gran Lavalas” was a disaster in waiting to happen. The question now is what lesson we have learn from it? One might say nothing so far.
After the Lavalas of late 1970s at Serret Road an eminent South African expert came to study the disaster. He made an outstanding report in which he outlined the natural precautions that should be maintained in the area to avoid any future similar disaster and nothing has been done yet. Perhaps the Minister should read his report and demand that all his recommendations be put into practice before it is too late.
Those who were in charge of this project made a serious mistake by taking all that has been written on the Lavalas as true. They have failed to realise that the meaning of the word “history” is “inquiry, knowledge by investigation”. They should have realised that their duty was to preserve the memory of the past by putting the records straight and liberate history from myth. It would be very interesting to know how much was spent on the project and how much more it will cost to eradicate all the myths they have created. They said that the Lavalas created the Gordon Square, but this is totally false, because according the photos taken some ten years after the disaster does not show a sign of it.
Official records state that at the low tide the day after the Lavalas, on the sea side of Saint Paul Cathedral there was only about 30cm of mud higher than usual.
The row of sang-dragon (Pterocarpus indicus) trees in front of the now taxi stand which was still in existence in the late 1950s, was planted in late 1874, that is from the old Post Office (now Liberty House) to end of Albert Street up to ex PWD Headquarters to mark the Government sea boundary.
An old photo showing part of the long row of San-dragon in front of the Old Post Office
They did so before the construction of the Fibre Factory Company on the site of the present Camion Hall. It was the residue of the fibre that slowly started the reclaiming Gordon Square.
The notion that the three French sisters who arrived in February 1861 spoke Creole is a farce. In the late 1960s we used in despair the following expression “les lavalas trenn moi”. One wonders what saying the history teachers will have to invent when dealing with students regarding this new myth invented by the Ministry Culture.
I end with the famous quote of Herodotus the father of history: “I write this thing as they seem true to me; for the stories told by the Greeks are various are in my opinion absurd”.