Up-Close … with Tony Mathiot, freelance writer, researcher and historian-‘I have an almost pathological passion for writing and literature’


30-October-2012

Tony Mathiot, freelance writer, researcher and historianTony, who is 50 but looks much younger, says he is very happy.
“I feel I always have something to do. So many books to read and so much to write about. There are the mist forests to explore. I never feel bored.”

Let me hasten to add there is his god-daughter Gaelle, daughter of Lise, one of Tony’s colleagues at the National Heritage and Eddy, a driver-messenger at State House. Tony dotes on her and watches her grow into a sturdy and pretty little girl.

Tony is the younger brother of Pat Mathiot of SBC, and it appears the two brothers share this passion for nature and research. He in fact comes from a family of two brothers – Pat and Ralph --  and two sisters -- Nan and Barbara. His dad, Albert, is one of Seychelles’ veteran electricians and mum, Rose-Mary, is a long-serving school teacher, who clearly passed on her good looks to Tony.

And if you still want to know him more after reading this “Up-Close”, pop into the National Archives any Tuesday and Wednesday. That is Tony’s second home and where he has a desk piled high with books and papers.

You will not find a computer and Tony mostly writes long hand, churning out over 2,000 words a day.

“I consider myself the adoptive son of the Ministry of Culture,” he says proudly.
Tony has been a regular contributor to the Air Seychelles in-flight magazine Silhouette. One 2007 issue he showed me had this article about Anse Marie-Louise, the beach where he goes to swim every Saturday.

The article starts: “Seychelles is blessed with the world’s most beautiful beaches and Tony Mathiot falls in love with Marie-Louise.”  He tells me that he has Marcel Rosalie, the director general for Culture, to thank for introducing him to Marie-Louise. So anyone claiming to have seen Tony Mathiot at Beau Vallon is either telling a blatant lie or has impaired eyesight!
Tony travels there every Saturday as if on a pilgrimage. He catches the bus going to Takamaka and getting off at Anse Forbans, walks a considerable distance along the beach and over granite boulders to get to his favourite haunt.

He also writes for the magazine New African based in Ghana and which is distributed in some 26 countries on the continent.

But it is through the column of Seychelles Nation that Tony Mathiot appears every day, on page 4, as part of the series “Calendar of events: a year of dates in our history”.

Tony tells me that this was an initiative of Patrick Nanty, chief executive of the Seychelles Heritage Foundation. He consulted the old gazettes, criminal reports and ordnances and various other old documents over a period of nearly six months, before coming up with over 500 events.  In some instances, he had found three events to a particular date.

He remembers the first event which appeared in Nation’s first issue this January.  It matches the corresponding date in 1609 when the first landing of Alexander Sharpeigh Expedition was recorded.

And every April there is “Monuments Week” and for ten years now, Tony has been commissioned by the National Heritage to write a centrespread in this newspaper. He recalls that this year’s article featured our sacred burial sites. This was initiated by National Heritage director Gabriel Essack.

He is now researching for an article on “Domus” which is the massive residence of all Catholic priests , next to the Cathedral.

In the past, articles have ranged from the Bel Air cemetery to the bust of Pierre Poivre (who introduced cinnamon and some other spices here) and the Clock Tower, which are all part of our colonial heritage.

Tony writes: “Our heritage sites perpetuate the memory of entrepreneurship and industry of the time, exemplified in the kalorifer (cinnamon and coprah kiln) as well as the generosity and foresightedness of individuals such as Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist who funded the construction of the Carnegie Building, which currently houses the Natural History Museum.”

“I feel I know all the intimate secrets of all our national monuments!” Tony says, but is quick to add that this however did not come overnight, but through a gradual self-imposed role of reason. He can even work on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and even his birthday.

“I have an almost pathological passion for writing and literature. The only reason I’m scared to die is that there are still so many books I still want to read.”

For my part, I love listening to Tony talk of national monuments and important national events. He is very factual and meticulous in his research and above all he never exaggerates or is biased.

This commands him the respect of readers, as well as listeners and viewers of SBC. Nobody can change history!

As we talk, Tony shows me a Governor’s Correspondence – dating 1850, which he had been using a magnifying glass to read. It was a letter written by Governor Augustus Mylius to the Secretary of State  for the Colonies on capital punishment and the setting up of a court building in Victoria.

Tony has been commissioned to write a judicial history of Seychelles for release when the new “Palais  de Justice” is inaugurated at Ile Perseverance next year.
  
But, he cannot think of a more important building than the one housing the National Archives. 
“Kept safely here is Seychelles’ earliest document -- the Treaty of Capitulation, signed by Quéau de Quincy, right down to today’s newspaper.”

When Tony is not writing or reading, going to Marie-Louise and spending time with Gaelle, he is off to the mist forests, such as Congo Rouge, Trois Frères or Morne Seychellois.

He is occasionally joined by Pat or his mum, Rose-Mary. The latter only took up hiking after her retirement 10 years ago. Proof that it’s never too late to exercise and remain young and in good shape!

“I feel very happy and fulfilled,” says Tony. Such happiness is clearly reflected in how healthy and  youthful he looks.

 

by John Lablache

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