A new book, Seychelles, Ships and the Sea, was launched on 14 November 2019 at an event hosted at the British High Commission residence at Bel Air attended by the President of Seychelles, Minister Didier Dogley, MNAs, members of the diplomatic community, members of the business community of Seychelles and visitors from UK, South Africa and Kenya.
The book is a major historical work sponsored by Mahe Shipping Company in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the company. It is a unique collaborative effort between some of the leading experts on the history of Seychelles and maritime affairs in the region, lavishly illustrated with photographs and maps.
Adrian Skerrett, Editorial Director, contributed twelve chapters and Judith Skerrett, Assistant Editor contributed a further four chapters to the book. There is a chapter each contributed by William McAteer (whaling ships), Julien Durup (schooners), Tony Mathiot (lighthouses), Malinda Skerrett (pirates) and Gerry Adam (the modern port and the future). There are also personal stories from Lorna Drake and Gitanne Gendron, two Seychelloise whose lives have been hugely influenced by the shipping links of Seychelles. The book is published by Camerapix International. It is the twenty-first book led by Adrian Skerrett as author or editor and the eleventh of these to be published by Camerapix Publishers, based in Nairobi.
“There is a symbiotic relationship between ships, the islands and the people of Seychelles”, write Adrian and Judith Skerrett in the introduction to the book “Islands are vital to ships as stepping stones across a vast ocean, ships have provided Seychelles with the means for cultural diffusion and for interaction between the people of Europe, Africa and Asia and maintain the supply of goods and provisions on a major highway of maritime trade. The sound and sight of the sea is ever-present to those who live in Seychelles, and the sea is in the blood of Seychellois”.
The book begins with a history of the Indian Ocean in the form of maps, including those of Roman, Greek, Arab, Chinese and European cartographers. It explores the early trade links in the region, the Portuguese Armadas, the English East India Company, the French settlement of Seychelles and conflict in the region including the Napoleonic Wars, World Wars and piracy. There are chapters on each of the major types of vessel that serve Seychelles from tankers and fishing vessels to steamships and cruise ships.
Attendees at the book launch included Nicholas and Deborah Bentley-Buckle, the son and daughter of Tony Bentley-Buckle, founding Chairman of Mahe Shipping. Tony Bentley-Buckle was a British war hero, an Olympic sailing competitor who competed for Kenya at the 1960 Olympics and a pilot, who founded Air Mahe, forerunner of Air Seychelles, and he landed the first private plane to arrive at Mahé in March 1971. During the Second World War, he was recognised for his heroism in rescuing hundreds of British Prisoners of War in Italy during the Allied invasion, before he too was captured and imprisoned.
Tony Bentley-Buckle then plotted with other Prisoners of War to construct a life-size dummy christened Albert, used in one of the most daring escape plans of the war. The prisoners fooled German guards into believing Albert was a real person while a prisoner remained undetected in the showers, to make their escape when the coast was clear. Tony contributed to the cunning scheme by designing the moving eyes to add a life-like realism to the dummy. The story was featured in a full length black and white drama movie, Albert R.N., produced in 1953. After the war, he sailed to East Africa and set up Southern Line, serving the region including Seychelles for many years.
Later, Tony established Mahe Shipping in partnership with a consortium of shipping lines from six European countries, some of which had served the islands going back to the 19th century at a time when commercial steamships provided the only links between Seychelles and the outside world. His life is featured in his autobiography, Through Albert’s Eyes: Volume 2 of The British Navy at War and Peace.
The new book Seychelles, Ships and the Sea is available from Mahe Shipping and from Antigone bookshop and other outlets.