ACCOUNT OF THE MALDIVES. 17 Feb 1837. “the south-east side of an island in Phaidee Pholo Atoll is entirely gone, but is marked by a banyan tree in the water.”

ACCOUNT OF THE MALDIVES. (1837, February 17). The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), p. 4. Retrieved February 9, 2024, from

The following interesting account of the Maldive Islands is copied from a publication, which has recently emanated from the Bombay Geographical Society, a, branch of the Parent Society, in London.
It is written by Lieutenant Young, and Mr. Christopher, of the Indian Navy.—


These intentions, however, were frustrated by severe illness, obliging first one and then the other to leave, but during their short residence they managed to collect a good deal of statistical and other information which has been laid before the society, and forms one of the most interesting portions of their publication.
Unfortunately the document is too long for our columns. We must, therefore, confine ourselves to the following short abstract of a paper by Captain Moresby on the same subject.
After noticing the difficulties he had to encounter from the suspicion of the natives as to his object, he states with regard to the present state of the clusters of islands or atolls which comprise the Maldives, that ‘ The natives observe the atolls to be wasting away; in some the cocoanut trees are standing in the water ; in another the black soil of the island is discernible at low water thirty feet from the beach ; the south-east side of an island in Phaidee Pholo Atoll is entirely gone, but is marked by a banyan tree in the water.
They say that some islands have disappeared entirely and instance near the island Wardoo a rocky shoal, which (they say) was once an island in Atoll-Milla-Dou. Some of the outer edges of
the islands have fallen into the sea, which is fathomless in those parts.
It is, however, acknowledged that reefs, have arisen from the water and gradually formed islands ; and the inhabitants of Male remember the outer edge of a circular reef in their harbour to have had two fathoms in the shoalest part, which is now dry at low water.’
They mark the approach of evil days also in the diminution of population and general de-
terioration : yet the necessaries of life are so abundant, that a beggar is never seen ; nor can
this retrogression be attributable to war or dissension, for they have been at peace for many
years ; and now have no army with the exception of a militia formed out of about four-fifths of
the male inhabitants of Male ; the whole population of that island being only between 1,500
and 2,000, of whom the majority are females.
The awkwardness of their sword and spear exercise on festivals, shows that they are little
accustomed to use them. Their only duty is to serve in rotation (forty together) with musquets
at the palace.
‘ The declining state of commerce is, probably, the chief cause of their present distresses.
Lieutenant Robinson observes, that Pyrard speaks of thirty or forty vessels loaded with cowries, and one hundred with cocoanuts, annually leaving the island ; but now not more than one-fifth that number of vessels altogether visit the islands.
Nevertheless, the profits of the Maldiva trade are considerable. The vessels in which it is carried on are of about one hundred tons burthen, commanded sometimes by Europeans, and sometimes by natives.
Presents having been made as port dues, godowns are assigned, and shops opened, where the traders barter for the country produce. Then natives bring dried bonito coir, cocoanuts, cowries, and tortoise-shell. There is abundance of the last article. Cowries are valued at Male at one rupee per goolah, which is a bundle of 1,200.
Cocoanuts of the island are prized for keeping much longer than those of the coast. Coir from
Tila-dou-Matis is estimated at thirty per cent. more than that from any other atolls. Bonito
is usually taken to Sumatra, where a lac is sold for 2000 Spanish dollars, having been purchased at Male for something less than 2,000 rupees.
In 1824, no less than seventy-six lacs of fish were purchased by English vessels alone; in another subsequent year, fifty-six; but in another, only ten. Mats also are exported; they are made of grass which grows on the southern islands. In exchange are given rice, betel-nuts, tobacco, common crockery ware, red handkerchiefs, and sugar.
There is little demand for the two last mentioned articles ; as the natives extract from the cocoanut a kind of sugar called ‘ ghoor,’ which tastes like honey, and they wear the native cloth, which is woven principally at Malos Madow Atoll. They often spend weeks in the manufacture of a single piece, which enables them to make it both pretty and strong; notwithstanding their ill-constructed looms.
Rice is purchased at Calcutta and Chittagong at eight rupees per candy, and is sold at Male for goods to the value of sixteen or twenty rupees. This system of barter, however, detains the masters of vessels four or five months, during which their crews suffer from sickness.’
‘ The sickness to which strangers are most liable, is a bowel complaint, which appears peculiar to these islands. The only remedy is, immediate departure for the continent.
About fifty years ago, the Malibars took Male, and held it for some time, when they were attacked by this disease, and compelled to give up their conquests. Since that event the Malibars have believed that the Maldivans in revenge supply traders from their coast with poisoned waters.
Dr. Campbell has collected many cases, in which its destructive effects upon foreigners is
shown ; but the natives also appear liable to it; for in one instance nearly the whole population
of an island was carried off. There appear to be few other diseases of importance, with the
exception of beriberry. Fevers are common, but the small pox is unknown, except in cases of
importation from the continent.
Quarantine laws, however, exist to prevent such cases. Dr. Campbell attributes the unhealthiness of strangers partly to the lagoons, and marshes formed by the lagoons throughout the islands, and partly to the unvarying temperature of the climate.
When the Benares first visited the islands, the monsoonad just cleared away ; the thermometer ranged between 80° and 82°, when the violent monsoon showers set in, it fell as low as 75°, but rose only to 80°; and after the monsoon the range was between 82° and 85°. The dews were at times hardly perceptible on shipboard.’
‘ The unhealthiness of the climate has been long notorious, and it has doubtless been the great obstacle to foreign intercourse and internal improvement. But the intellectual and moral
disposition of the inhabitants appears such as would justify warm expectations in the philan-
thropist. Among themselves, the Maldivians are quiet and inoffensive.
‘ War and murder are scarcely known : theft is uncommon ; timidity is their greatest weak-
ness ; but this is not sufficient to overcome their humane feelings, as many shipwrecked strangers (among others Laval) have borne ample testimony. Extreme gentleness of disposition and disinclination to crime have imparted mildness to an ultra despotic government. No man may presume to sit in the royal presence.
The Sultan attires himself after the manner of an Indian Mussulman ; but no other dare wear more than a cloth around the loins, and a plain red handkerchief on the head. The pilot of the Benares wore a blue vest on board, but invariably took it off before landing. The property of the princi- pal ministers, as well as of all other government servants, falls to the Sultan in case of death.
Notwithstanding this contempt of freedom, the severest punishment is scourging and exile to
one of the barren islands in the south. Crimes of greater or less magnitude are punished with
banishment to more or less barren islands.
Minor offenders are merely scourged. Some time since, some culprits escaped to the Malabar
coast, and were pardoned by the Sultan in con- sideration of the perils which they had en-
countered. No bad consequences follow this leniency, for here the government is secured, as
well by the mildness of its subjects, as by the veneration with which the Maldivians regard all
‘ Their mats, mosques, tombs, and boats, evidence great mechanical ingenuity. Considerable taste is shown in constructing the tanks which are used for ablution in the burial grounds.
Some houses (but in ruins) were observed to be built of madrepore ; one of them being of two
stories. All the houses are very neat, and are shut out from the road by a fence five or six feet
high. Rows of betel and cocoanut trees line the roads, which are excellently constructed in all
the islands, but particularly at Male.’
‘ Nor do the natives appear indifferent to improvement : for all (but particularly the chief)
evinced a strong desire to become acquainted with our language, and with our knowledge.
But no great exertion can at present be expected from them. Habitual idleness has debilitated
their constitution ; although this might be much strengthened by an improved diet and the cultivation of their soil, which, in its present state, is a fruitful source of disease. In the southern island is the least cultivation, and the most rain, which falling upon a light sandy soil, produces a vast number of wild plants, whose decay infects the air with disease ; and here accordingly were observed a great number of infirmities: the water also of these islands is bad and brackish in the wells, but this is partly remedied by collecting the rain from the trees in the rainy season.
At Male and in the northern islands, the appearance of the people is improved.’