Hard Times in Paradise

Book Review

"Hard Times in Paradise" by William McAteer; 322 pages, hardback with illustrated dust jacket, 44 black & white illustrations on 16 (glossy) pages; published by Pristine Books, Seychelles, 2000; ISBN 99931-809-1-0. 

Bill McAteer has done it again. 9 years after he published his first definitive volume on the history of Seychelles, he publishes his 2nd superb volume. The first book, "Rivals in Eden", (now out of print) described the French discovery and settlement of the islands and covered the years under French sovereignty. "Hard Times in Paradise" - subtitled "The History of Seychelles, 1827 - 1919" - deals with the first 100 years or so of Seychelles under British Administration and follows logically, and chronologically, the earlier book. As before, it is meticulously researched with detailed references to source documents and records examined by the author in Seychelles, Mauritius, UK, France, and USA. 

There are 15 chapters, 18 pages of potted biographies of some 70 individuals among whom are virtually all the key administrators of Seychelles during the period covered and many others e.g. J-F Hodoul, Marianne North and General "Chinese" Gordon, a chronological list of those administrators with dates of office, 60 pages of primary sources and end notes for each chapter and a more than useful index of 23 pages.

The 15 chapters deal, in a narrative style, with: the declining years of slavery and the developments which followed its abolition; early attempts to introduce organised religion by Protestants (less successful) and Catholics (more successful); the first scheduled regular shipping services by Messageries Maritimes and British India - and their withdrawal; the avalanche of 1863 and health epidemics; the  whaling industry  in the Indian ocean - largely of USA origin - and the behaviour of the ships Captains and their wives; the introduction of education for the privileged and the less privileged; activities designed to protect the coco-de-mer and the tortoise; the constitutional transition from being a dependency of Mauritius to a Crown Colony in 1903 and the contribution the Seychellois made to the allied effort in World War I in which, of a contingent of nearly 800 in the Seychelles Carrier Corps, over 40% died from illness or other causes without ever seeing enemy action.

The summary biographies are particularly helpful  as is the table of Chief Administrators in maintaining a chronological "feel" for the period as, inevitably, a number of chapters overlap each other in the years they cover. The end note section for each chapter is prefaced by a list of the primary sources used for that chapter while the end notes themselves are extremely comprehensive and detailed. The numbers used for the end notes in the body of the chapters are easy to miss and the entire text would benefit from a bolder inking to improve legibility. This reviewer would also prefer to see the end notes at the end of each chapter rather than, en masse, at the  end of the book but the latter system has been adopted, presumably to be consistent with the earlier volume. But these are very minor quibbles and they do not detract in any way from the pleasure of reading this excellent work.

This is not a philatelic book (though it does make reference to the founding of the first post office in 1861, the early sea mail services, the first issue of Seychelles stamps in 1890 and the first local postal service in 1893) but it is a very readable, thoroughly researched and historically accurate chronicle and should be on the bookshelves of anyone with an interest in the Indian Ocean and its history. I now look forward to reading the third volume of this history (it is already underway) which should bring us from 1919 up to much nearer the current times!

KBF