1862 Lavalas-Memorial pays tribute to landslide victims


President Michel and Prof. Payet unveil the memorial

Before joining President James Michel in unveiling the memorial mural commemorating the 150th anniversary of the devastating landslide, Environment and Energy Minister Professor Rolph Payet said the story around 10pm on October 12, 1862 was a different one.

It was pitch dark and after raining for about a week, the sound of thunder was deafened by the sound of hundreds of tons of rocks, mud and soil hurtling down Trois Frères towards Victoria, taking everything in its wake – the wooden houses, coconut palms , bridges and not least some 80 human lives.

The mural is an initiative of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture in collaboration with that of Environment and Energy, the Seychelles Heritage Foundation and the department of risk and disaster management (DRDM), who were all represented by top officials, joined by Vice-President Danny Faure, ministers and other dignitaries at the unveiling ceremony.

Besides the names of President Michel and Prof. Payet, and an artist’s impression of the widespread devastation, also on the mural is a poem on the landslide written by Anglican Bishop Vincent Ryan. This has been translated and was recited to the guests.

Before the unveiling, Prof. Payet noted that the Seychelles population was only about 7,000 at the time.  Residents had little in terms of personal belongings, but had much to lose on that sad day. Seychelles lost more than 1% of its population, 200 houses, coconut plantations as well as other crops were lost and even a police boat anchored in port sunk.

“Today, we are gathered  here to pay tribute to those who perished due to the terrible event; fathers, mothers, children; entire families – in fact documents from the archives have shown that Arthur Barallon lost eight members of his family,” said Minister Payet.

He added that a nunnery, including two ‘Sisters of Charity’, was also swept away.

Prof. Payet also urged everyone to remember our heroes – “all those who worked tirelessly to remove people trapped under debris and restore life to Mahe”.

He recalled that crew from the HMS Orestes and liberated slaves helped with the recovery of bodies. St Paul’s Church, near where the guests were assembled, was used as a refuge centre during the avalanche and later as a depot for food to the destitute and hungry. Money was collected locally and in Mauritius – to which we were still bound as one colony – and through other sources.

A letter was sent to Bishop Vincent Ryan in Mauritius by Rev John Ridley, chaplain on board the Orestes. Bishop Ryan arrived from Mauritius on November 11 to bring solace to his flock and was so moved that he wrote the poem which is engraved today on the mural.

Bishops Wiehe and Wong blessing the memorial

But, Dr Payet pointed out, from an environment point of view, the October 1862 avalanche was a disaster in waiting as, he noted, “there had been a massive clearing of the forests for timber to repair war vessels and for other construction needs.

“Today’s unveiling of the plaque in remembrance of this event and to all those who lost their lives, is important  for us to reflect on the devastating force of nature and how we as mere beings can, through better disaster prevention, avoid such a terrible loss from ever occurring in our country. What happened 150 years ago can never be allowed to happen to our small nation,” he said.

Dr Payet noted that Seychelles remains vulnerable to a number of risks and disasters, with the tsunami added to the list. He said we need to be prepared and to take all efforts seriously.

It is for this reason, he said, that he has also launched activities for Disaster Reduction Week and urged everyone to reflect on their own contributions towards minimising disasters.

The mural was blessed by the Catholic and Anglican Bishops Denis Wiehe and James Wong following which all guests observed a minute silence for those who lost their lives in the avalanche 150 years ago. The brass band also played the Rann Omaz tune.

The memorial pays tribute to those who lost their lives in the devastating landslide of 1862

Students from the Anse Boileau secondary school heritage club sang about the history of discovery, settlement and other milestones of our islands.

But singer Joe Samy was warmly applauded when he played and sang Pei byenneme – which talks about the many blessings and wonders of Seychelles. The song is being adopted as a national theme song by the Ministry of Environment and Energy. 

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