Rodriguez - Encyclopedia

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RODRIGUEZ (officially Rodrigues), an island in the Indian Ocean in 59° 41' S., 63° 23' E.; the most important dependency of the British colony of Mauritius, from which it is distant 344 nautical miles. It is a station on the "all-British" cable route between South Africa and Australia, telegraphic communication with Mauritius being established in 1902. With a length of 13 m. E. and W., and a breadth of 3 to 6 m. N. and S., it has an area estimated at 422 sq. m. On all sides it is surrounded by a fringing reef of coral, studded with islets. This reef, only loo yds. wide at the eastern end of the island, extends westward 3 m., and both N. and S. forms a flat area partly dry at low water. Two passages through the reef are available for large vessels - these leading respectively to Port Mathurin on the N. coast and to Port South-East.

The island was at one period believed to consist of granite overlaid with limestone and other modern formations, and its supposed formation caused it to be regarded as a remnant of the hypothetical continent of Lemuria. The investigations made by an expedition sent by the British government in 1874 showed, however, that the island is a mass of volcanic rock, mainly a doleritic lava, rich in olivine. The land consists largely of a series of hills. The main ridge, which runs parallel to the longest diameter, rises abruptly on the east, more gradually on the west, where there is a wide plain of coralline limestone, studded with caves, some stalactitic. Of several peaks on the main ridge the highest is Mt. Limon, 1300 ft. above the sea. The ridge is deeply cut by ravines, the upper parts of which show successive belts of lava separated by thin beds of cinders, agglomerate and coloured clays. In places the cliffs rise 300 ft. and exhibit twelve distinct lava flows. The climate is like that of Mauritius, but Rodriguez is more subject than Mauritius to hurricanes during the north-west monsoon (November to April).

Flora and Fauna. - When discovered, and down into the 17th century, Rodriguez was clothed with fine timber trees; but goats, cattle and bush-fires have combined to destroy the great bulk of the old vegetation, and the indigenous plants have in many cases been ousted by intrusive foreigners. Parts are, however, still well wooded, and elsewhere there is excellent pasturage. The sweet potato, manioc, maize, millet, the sugar-cane, cotton, coffee and rice grow well. Tobacco is also cultivated. Wheat is seldom seen, mainly because of the parakeets and the Java sparrows. Beans (Phaseolus lunatus), lentils, gram (Cicer arietinum), dholl (Cajanus indicus) and ground-nuts are all grown to a certain extent in spite of ravages by rats. Mangoes, bananas, guavas, pineapples, custard-apples, and especially oranges, citrons and limes flourish. Of the timber trees the most common are Elaeodendron orientale, much used in carpentry and for pirouges, and Latania Verschaffelti (Leguat's plantane). At least two species of screw-pine (Pandanus heterocarpus, Balf. fil., and P. tenuifolius) occur freely throughout the island. The total number of known species, according to Professor I. B. Balfour, is 470, belonging to 85 families and 293 genera. The families represented by the greatest number of species are Gramineae, Leguminosae, Convolvulaceae, Malvaceae, Rubiaceae, Cyperaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Liliaceae, Compositae. Mathurina penduliflora (Turneraceae) is interesting, as its nearest congener is in Central America. Of 33 species of mosses 17 are peculiar. Variability of species and heterophylly are characteristic of the flora to quite an unusual degree.

At present the only indigenous mammal is a species of fruiteating bat (Pteropus rodericensis), and the introduced species are familiar creatures as deer, pig, rabbit, rat, mouse, &c.; but down to a recent period the island was the home of a very large landtortoise (Testudo Vosmaeri or rodericensis), and its limestone caves have yielded a large number of skeletons of the dodo-like solitaire (Pezophaps solitarius), which still built its mound-like nest in the island in the close of the 17th century, but is now extinct (see Dom). Deer, once plentiful, had become very scarce by the beginning of the 10th century., having been indiscriminately hunted by the inhabitants. Of indigenous birds 13 species have been registered. The guinea-fowl (introduced) has become exceedingly abundant, P artly owing to a protective game-law; and a francolin (F. ponticerianus), popularly a "partridge," is also common. The marine fish-fauna does not differ from that of Mauritius, and the freshwater species, with the exception of Mugil rodericensis and Myxus caecuticus, are common to all the Mascarenes. Thirty-five species of crustaceans are known. The insects (probably very imperfectly registered) comprise 60 species of Coleoptera, 15 Hymenoptera, 21 Lepidoptera, 15 Orthoptera, and 20 Hemiptera. Fortynine species of coral have been collected, showing a close affinity to those of Mauritius, Madagascar and the Seychelles.


Rodriguez or Diego Ruy's Island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1645. In 1690 Duquesne prevailed on the Dutch Government to send a body of French Huguenots to the Island of Bourbon, at that time, he believed, abandoned by the French authorities. As the refugees, however, found the French in possession, they proceeded to Rodriguez, and there eight of their number were landed on the 30th of April 1691 with a promise that they should be visited by their compatriots within two years. The two years were spent without misadventure, but, instead of waiting for the arrival of their friends, the seven colonists (for one had meanwhile died) left the island on the 8th of May 1693 and made their way to Mauritius, where they were treated with great cruelty by the governor. The account of the enterprise by Francis Leguat - Voyages et aventures (London, 1708), or, as it is called in the English translation, A New Voyage to the East Indies (London, 1708) - is a garrulous and amusing narrative, and was for a long time almost the only source of information about Rodriguez. His description of the solitaire is unique: From the Dutch the island passed to the French, who colonized it from Mauritius. Large estates were cultivated, and the islanders enjoyed considerable prosperity. In 1809-10 Rodriguez was seized by the British, in whose possession it has since remained. The abolition of slavery proved disastrous to the prosperity of the island, and in 1843 the population had sunk to about 250. Since that time there has been a gradual recovery in the economic condition and a steady increase in population. In 1881 the inhabitants numbered 1436; in 1904 the total had risen to 3681. In 1907 the total population was 4231. The inhabitants are mainly of African origin, being descendants of slaves introduced by the French and negro immigrants direct from Africa. There are a few families of European descent (besides the comparatively large staff maintained by the Eastern Telegraph Company) and a small colony of Indians and Chinese. The bulk of the people are French-speaking and Roman Catholics. There are two small settlements, Port Mathurin, the capital, and Gabriel, in the centre of the island. The chief industries are fisheries and cattle-rearing. Salt fish is the principal export, next in importance coming goats, pigs and horned cattle and tobacco. The value of the exports for the four years 1903-06 was 50,894; of the imports for the same period, f54,710. The island is administered by a magistrate appointed by the governor of Mauritius, and the laws are regulations issued by the governor in executive council. The revenue, some £1000 a year, is about half the expenditure incurred, the balance being furnished from the Mauritian treasury. The government maintains a hospital and schools, and pays the salary of a Roman Catholic priest.

Leguat's Voyage, edited by Capt. P. Oliver, forms vols. 82 and 83 of the Hakluyt Soc. publications (1891). See also C. Grant, Hist. of Mauritius and the Neighbouring Islands (1801); Higgin, in Jour.

R. G. Soc. (1849); the Reports of the Transit of Venus Expedition, 18 74-75, published as an extra volume of the Philosophical Transactions (clxviii., London, 1879) (Botany, by I. B. Balfour; Petrology, by N. S. Maskelyne, &c.); Behm, in Petermann's Mittheilungen (1880); and the annual reports on Mauritius.

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