Friday, 8 April 2011

Maldivia Gardens

My original blog about Maldivia, St Helena, has over the years attracted a lot of interest in the Maldive Islands, but I have never before been able to provide a photograph of the location of the gardens. John Grimshaw has kindly sent this photo of the place in the upper Jamestown Valley where he thinks the Maldivian Gardens were situated: he thinks it is the area around the tree enclosed detached house. If anyone can confirm or counter this please let us know. [ Regrettably this is a photo of Palm Lodge not Maldivia Gardens! See comment below. Palm Lodge was in the nineteenth century the home of the St Helena born Governor Hudson Ralph Janisch who was not allowed to reside in Plantation House ]

In January my wife and I managed to get back to the Maldives and on our last evening were very pleased to meet up with our friend Naz. She had arranged a memorable evening for us: a private launch to Bandos island to be greeted by the proprietor;

a fine meal on Bandos with Naz and a number of her family; an exciting after dark return in the launch to Hulhule island; an interview for a local television station.

The television interview made me realise once more how little we know about those Maldivians picked up by Captain Polly in 1735. There must be some information about them hidden in the archives at Jamestown, but archives will not show us how they thought or felt about their fate. Their initial relief at being saved from death (three of their party had died before they were picked up) must surely have given way to a great sadness when they realised that they would never see home nor loved ones again. What one knows about the treatment of slaves and free blacks on St Helena does not provide much confidence in their lot, but then again perhaps the lives of ordinary people in the Maldives would have been equally hard at that time. These seem to me to be issues for the novelist rather than the historian: an authentic treatment of the experiences of the St Helena Maldivians demands the talents of a creative writer steeped in the culture of the eighteenth century Maldives, ready and able to visit St Helena and to research its very different social life and culture. Naz could do the job, but she is very busy!

Amidst these ruminations I have also come across a further couple of references to Maldivia Gardens from Janisch's records which I will now reproduce:

Feb. 25, 1745.—Gov. complains that some Melons sown in the Maldivee Garden and Mr. Dixon had appropriated them. I could enumerate many instances of his little insults and slights shewn to me which are not worth notice, but one I cannot omit because it is an act of injustice as well as an affront. A superannuated Negro Gardener belonging to the Company had sown some Melon seeds in the Maldivee Gardens where they produced in much greater perfection than any I have seen upon this Island. The Melons Mr. Dixon has taken on him to dispose of at his pleasure as his own without even ever mentioning them to me except that he was pleased in his generosity twice to send me one. At the first I could not help laughing and at the second to countenance the farce gave his servant one of Comps. blacks a piece of money. Those Melons of right belonged to the Table.

One of the issues that has been raised in the past is whether the Maldivians were slaves or free blacks. If the gardener mentioned in this passage was a Maldivian then the fact that he belonged to the Company indicates he was not free.

Sept. 22, 1794.—The Maldivia Gardens to be let—the best watered and fenced in of any on the Island,—to be subject to quit rent 5/ per an. and ground rent equivalent to the value of the Yam, Fruit and vegetables supplied from time immemorial therefrom for the Lt.-Governor.

By this date even the child who had arrived on St Helena in 1735 would if alive have been past working age. Whether he or any of the other Maldivians had any descendants is a question I have often been asked but am unable to answer.


John Tyrrell said...

I have had this comment from my friends on St Helena: "the house surrounded by trees is actually Palm Villa which is just about 100 yards going down from what used to be a Botanical Garden. There are still a couple of very old trees of unique species growing there but the Government has built houses and flats in the old gardens which carry the name of Botanical Gardens. I have never heard anyone say this area was connected to Maldivia."
I will leave the photo in place, but it looks as if we still have not properly located Maldivia Gardens!

Anonymous said...

Contact the St Helena Information office who I am sure will confirm that Maldivia is a few metres behind the hospital in upper Jamestown.

John Tyrrell said...

Much of this posting is out of date and inaccurate. I have since returned to St Helena and established the precise location of the Maldivia Gardens both visually and from the archives, and have discovered the fate of the Maldivians: contrary to local legend they left the island hopefully to return to their homeland. Most of this can be found if you click the label Maldivia/Slavery etc.