The District of Saint Louis and its Cantons.
By Julien Durup, a student of history
Saint Louis District has a lot of little Cantons, with interesting names and some with unknown origins. However, with the continuous changing of the district boundaries, it has made it difficult for any residents, especially the school children, to know their borough. We still do not have a name for its inhabitants, could it be Saint Louisian or Saint Louisiane?
The name of the district came from the river Saint Louis, a name given by the early French colonisers. On that river the French wanted to build a saw mill to exploit the timber. However, the name of the river came from the French King Louis IX, commonly known as Saint Louis the confessor, the only French Monarch to be declared a Saint. He was born in 1214 at Poissy, a commune in the department of Yvelines, and died in 1270 in Tunis during the 8th Crusade.
The hub of the first public school and the Freemason’s lodge belonging to the Grand Orient de France (GOdF) was also in the Saint Louis district. Their first lodge was down at La Grande Rue (Royal Street), now Revolution Avenue, and the second one was further up at the place of the now lower Belonie School, formerly Saint Joseph of Cluny Convent and School managed by the Sisters. Later, they built another lodge of which Lodge Street was named after. Nevertheless the Masons, with their egalitarian principles, contributed to the early development of education in the Seychelles. They gave that place to the Roman Catholic Church to start a school and they also looked after the early arrival of Priests and Sisters.
The Sisters moved out after the avalanches of 1862 and then the place was later taken over by the Christians teaching brothers. The name of their institution was the Saint Louis College, in line with the district’s name. It was also known as Saint Louis de Gonzague’s College, which was run consecutively by the De La Salle and Marist Brothers. When the Marist Brothers left the College was renamed after Saint John Bosco, the Italian Catholic educator, priest and writer.
The first public maternity hospital was also situated in Saint Louis. That place later became the Government Printing Office. The Saint Louis College was quite good and produced many famous Seychellois surgeons, doctors, dentists, pilots, sea captains, accountants, and lawyers etc... even many well-known musicians and politicians including Monsieur France Albert René the second former President of the Seychelles and his vice President Dr Maxime Ferrari. Monsieur René had his early education in an elite school run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny and there he was named le petit Jesus by the Sisters. Because, according to them, he bears a resemblance to Jesus… However, the sisters had it wrong because, according to Pope Leo X (1513-1521), Jesus never actually existed. He said “It has served us well, this myth of Christ.” If he did so live he could not have been a white man.
At the Saint Louis College, René behaved like any other boys… and was alleged to have participated in damaging the bicycle of Hassan Ali, and proved that he was no more le petit Jesus.
Saint Louis was the worst place to be affected by the continuous rainfalls that affected the whole of Mahé due a nearby hurricane in 1862. The marks of the avalanche are still visible by ravines near Serret Road and along the road opposite Waterloo going up to the Saint Louis water reservoir.
If the present Saint Louis District boundary goes down up to the town, then according to old plans the Mile Zero (M.0) of Mahé was situated at the now Taxi Stand opposite the traffic lights. It was demarcated by a “Trois Bras”, a post with three arms, one pointing towards Saint Louis, the second facing the clock tower, and the third towards the Roman Catholic Church. It was from the “Trois Bras” that distances were traditionally measured by miles. En route to Beau Vallon the first Mile stone with Roman numbers was placed near the main road on top of Saint Louis. On the way to Anse Etoile the first one was next to the Frichot Property, near La Bastille. Going to of East Mahé, the first one was opposite the former blacksmith shop of Mr Vidot, just after the Chung Faye shop. Mile stones were visible at every mile on the main road on Mahé.
Part of Plan Terrier de l’ile Mahé by CJ Hoart August 1829. NB Port Victoria
The Taxi Stand was formerly called the “Banc de Blagueurs”. That place was first used by horse carriages, oxcarts, and later rickshaws. It was known locally as pousse or pousse-pousse station. On the riverside of the present Taxi Stand is the Basin Cheval, built during the time when horse and oxcart carriages were in use for the public and the animals had a place where they could drink water. The cooper plaque recently erected there gives the wrong historical facts; it should be removed immediately because the lavalasses did not create the Gordon Square (now Freedom Square).
The Japanese invented-pousse was introduced by the early Chinese to improve the mode of transport and soon became the most popular method of transportation. Most of the early pousse were imported from Tamatave (Toamasina), Madagascar, where there had been a big Chinese community since 1862. The Chinese initiated the cinnamon distillery and were at first agriculturists. They opened their first shop in 1886 and later their Pagoda in Saint Louis District. There were two ethnic groups, the Hakka and the Cantonese who conspired with the authorities and managed to keep away the Hakka out of the town for nearly fifty years.
Recently the Hindus built their Devalayam but before that they had a yearly celebration behind an Indian shop called Kot Longaille. Strangely, according to oral tradition Longaille was not Indian but an African from Mozambique who had a small shop there. Afterwards that place was acquired by an Indian Merchant and Longaille remained until today the name of the shop.
The most famous cabaret in the district was the Capitol, owned by the late Julien Parcou, and practically opposite was another Cabaret run by the Lai Lam. Further down at the bottom of Market Street are two headquarters of former rich Indian Merchants. One is now the property of Jivan Jetha and was originally owned by R S Naiken and opposite that was one belonging to K C C Chetty. This property is still for the heirs of K C C Chetty, however, a new building was built on the site in the 1970s. Their two shops face each other on Market Street; one was called Paradis des Dames and the other Paradis des Enfants.
Facing the present Taxi Stand is the Saint Paul Cathedral of the Church of England which was one of the oldest buildings. It had many modifications and additions until the recently newly restored Cathedral.
Opposite Saint Paul Cathedral is the Premier Building, known for its cinema attractions. Before the building was built that place was the old Taxi Stand, but prior to that there was a house which was the residence of the Chaplain of the Church of England. It later became on the Magistrate Court which was under the jurisdiction of Paul Camille, a brilliant Seychellois jurist. It was in that building that the last contingent of Seychellois were recruited in 1951 to join the British forces in the North African Campaign. The adjacent building was the former Continental Hotel owned by Richard Mancham. Previously the Continental was called Hotel de Mascarenas and now it has been converted into a supermarket.
If ma mémoire est bonne, just after Premier Building on the way to the Roman Catholic Church, there was the only cul de sac in town that used to go up to the market wall. This public domain does not seem to have legally been transferred to a private individual. Next to it was the Headquarters of the Moulinie & Company, who was the general manager of the Chagos Archipelago, Farquhar, Agalega Island, and also of Astove. That company used to employ over 3 000 people and sadly no archives of the company are left. According to the late Robert Kim-Koon, what was left in that building were many documents and old medical books of two famous Seychellois, Mr Tony D’Offay FRCS and Dr. Arthur Henri Chenard de la Giraudais. The documents were stored there by Paul Chenard who was an employee of the company. Those valuable documents were taken out recently by the Chinese contractor to the dumpsite? If this had happened in China they would have been prosecuted; in the Seychelles nobody bothers.
The footpath between the Police Headquarters and Cathedral is called “Keate Lane” after Robert William Keate, Civil Commissioner, 1850-1852. It was built by Church of England congregation on their own land before the Cathedral was built in order to get access to their temporary Church and School which was then behind the now Teemooljee Shop. Legally “Keate Lane” is still the property of the Church of England, and the colonial government used to lease it for 50 cents per year. The first Roman Catholic Church of Saint Anthony of Padua was near the present entrance of the State House.
As we have previously pointed out, the first police station was at the now first Seventh Day Adventist Church. The present Police Headquarters was built on the second Police Station and was alongside the first British-built colonial prison. Opposite the police station was the former headquarters of recent Union Lighterage Company (ULC) which later became “Mahé Shipping”.
The first lighterage company was started by a certain Mr. Adrien Jouanis and was later acquired by Harold Jacques Law Baty and Court Bergne which was known in 1899 as ‘Baty Bergne’ & Company. Baty died on 8th September 1903 and in 1904 Bergne took as partner Harry Pare, a Royal Navy engineer (Pare later built the Carnegie building). Later Harry was joined by his brother Maurice in running the company.
In 1907 Mr. Newsam bought out the shares of Bergne and the company became known as Newsam & Pare. With the departure of the Pare brothers to South Africa in 1916, the company was acquired by Captain Jouanis, Edouard Lanier and Maurice Esnouf. Its offices were based on the first floor of that building. On the ground floor was the ‘Clarion’ Printing Press of Dr Thomas Bradley. The Clarion was the first newspaper to start an article written in the Creole language. The weekly article was titled “Mon Cher Jean-Jacques”. It was written and composed for the printing press by Emmanuel Laval. His articles were much appreciated by the public. The Creole that Laval wrote was the common Creole used by the Police and the Court, and was closer to the French language. Sadly our modern Creole of Danielle D’Offay and Guy Lionnet made no mention of our previously written creole and gave the wrong impression that our written creole was invented by them.
Later on, in the 1970’s, the ULC was managed by Lieutenant-Commander Anthony William Bentley-Buckle, the son of a tea planter. Bentley-Buckle was the man who started Air Seychelles and also the African National Shipping Company. When he left the company all the old files belonging to the company were taken to England. Tony died on the 24th May 2010 at the age of 88. Maybe the Seychelles National Archives can now request copies of those priceless documents from his surviving families in Beaulieu, in Hampshire, England.
The Royal Street, now Revolution Avenue, was formerly the hub for the lawyer’s chambers. Interestingly, Mr James Mancham and Mr F A René started their careers in the same building which is now a snack bar. Next door is the former Continental Hotel. Behind the snack bar was the printing press of the Seychelles Democratic Party, led by Mr. Mancham who later became the first unelected President of the Seychelles.
Albert Street was previously called Victoria Street and together with Port Victoria and the Victoria Town, is now part of the Saint Louis District. It is interesting to note that it was in 1841, according to Ordinance 12, that the Town, previously named Port Royal and Establisment du Roi by the French, became Victoria and the Port, Port Victoria. According to some historians it was named in honour of our little Queen Victoria (1819-1901). It is now doubtful that the Port was named after her; historical documents seemed to say otherwise. Documents in the Seychelles National Archives proved that the Port was in fact named Port Victoria in 1829 or even before, when Queen Victoria was only ten years old. Most probably it was first named after her mother Princess Marie-Louise Victoria who spoke no English.
Later, the long reclaimed road from the Roman Catholic Church to Mont Fleuri was completed under Charles Augustus Mylius, Civil Commissioner 1839-50. The section of the road leading to Mont Fleuri was called Bathurst Road, named after Henry Bathurst former British Foreign Secretary, and the part leading to North East Point was named Hodoul Road; we are unsure if it was named after the Corsair Jean-François Hodoul.
If the State House, formerly Government House, is in the Saint Louis District and under the Mayor of Port Victoria, then something should be done to remove the recently made plaque which indicates the wrong date of its opening. This superb colonial building was designed by a woman, Margaret Agnes Fielding (presumably she was the first woman to have designed a colonial mansion in the Seychelles). Margaret was the wife of Governor Edward Walter Davidson (1904-1912). The architect, Mr W M Vaudin, took her design too seriously only to realise after two years of construction that it had no staircase.
Work on the building started on November 1910. The masonry part was under the charge of Astride Collet, (the father of Charles Evariste Collet) and the head mason of the Public Works Department (P.W.D). When Davidson left on 17th December 1912 to take an appointment as Governor of Newfoundland, the building had not been finished. However, he decided to have a going-away party on the ground floor.
Davidson was replaced by Charles Richard Mackay O’Brien, who arrived on 28th December 1912. The construction of Government House along with the front lawns were finished in August 1913 and O’Brien moved in as the first occupant. The first Seychellois to occupy that place was Mr James Mancham.
Places and their names do not die as people do. However, they often change so drastically that little is left of what they once were. ‘La Baie des esclaves’ was somewhere in the vicinity of the middle of the Quincy Street; it was where the slaves disembarked. Further up was the Camps des noirs. All of this forms part of our history. History is a social science of recording and analysing the past. It is also a link to our ancestors. It has to follow, interpolate and never falsify, in spite of totalitarian governments justifying seizing power and imposing political systems which are alien to a nation’s history or traditions. Some have tried to implement Karl Marx’s interpretations and make history their servant, but they have so far failed dismally.
This little narration on the Saint Louis District is far from being complete; I hope that the authorities concerned will use it as a guide to write a better history of Saint Louis for the benefit of our school children and visitors.
The following are the names of some known little cantons:
Biznack which we do not know its origin, but maybe from Bismarck the German Iron Chancellor or from a Seychellois known as Biznack Gontier.
Chemin Serret (Serret Road) starts up from Marie-Antoinette’s Restaurant and ends up at Kontour Madamm Serret, near the top of Saint Louis on the main road to Beau Vallon. Marie Antoinette Restaurant was the former residence of Mr Abdool Rahim Hadee, a Shiite Muslim from Kerbala, and it was called Kot Rahim. Captain James Tregarthen acquired that place from Rahim. He renovated the place and named it Le Grand Trianon, and the restaurant after Marie-Antoinette our beheaded Queen, his own little mansion at the back was called Le Petit Trianon. However, very few people in the vicinity know the origin of its name. It was in fact named after a Mauritian Lawyer, Mr Eugène Serret (1844-1905), who resided in the area of the now Saint Louis’ Flats belonging to the Chetty’s Brothers. ‘Serret Road’ has previously been wrongly referred to being named in honour of Eugène J E Serret (1864-1934), another bright Mauritian Jurist. The latter was a scholar of the middle temple and was a Judge in the Seychelles from 1911-1912, and later became Chief Justice of Mauritius. Mr Eugène Serret’s property is the now Saint Louis’s Flats area. His house was on the land adjacent to the present property of Mr Hoffman, and he named the whole area “Rose Belle”, presumably in honour of the place of his birth in Mauritius. He was the son of Eugène Serret and Aurore Demay both of Mauritius. Eugène Serret worked as a Judge and later as a private lawyer in the Seychelles and died at Mahé on 23th February 1905.
Dan Cocos; may be named presumably after the dense coconut plantations in the area.
Dan He he; the origin of that name is unknown, that place was very well known for its weekend festivities such a contredanse, moutia etc. The road to ‘Dan he he’ started from Leong Wing’s shop formerly the shop ‘la boutik grain sec’ of Franzoni Morel. It is now an Indian shop. That road is now called Stevenson-Delhomme Road, after Dr Marie Hilda Stevenson-Delhomme. It was previously in a very bad and muddy terrain especially while crossing the river at night before the bridge was built.
Delanos; was named after Captain Nicholas Hebert Delanos. It was on his former property that the British Colonial Government built a camp in the 1920’s to isolate the prostitutes from town. The prostitutes had been infecting mostly visiting sailors of British Man of War with venereal diseases. Later prostitutes were referred to as fir (girl)or fanm (woman) Delanos. They were also immortalized by the following once common Creole melody “O Carmen piti Napoleon, ranpli mon ver aven ou al Delanos”
Grand Peron; also known as Peron Manzel Shara, it was part of Chemin Kato that had many steps (peron) that led to the upper part of Chemin Kato.
Kontour Baka ; was situated opposite the bus stop near Dan Koko. There they had a la cambuse for selling baka, later colonial low-cost houses were built on that site.
Kontour Madame Jean-François; named presumably after Mr. Jean-François a well-known proprietor in the vicinity.
Kontour Neneze; named after Mr Nenze who resided in the vicinity.
Kontour Madame Serret ; Named after Mrs. Serret.
Kot Eglise Adventist, named after the newly built Seventh Day Adventist Church; next to it was the proposed clinic for Dr Marie Hilda Stevenson-Delhomme which was built by his father Ti Jean Stevenson. That place was also used as a school. Incidentally, there is now two Adventist Churches in the District. The first one in the corner of Revolution Avenue and Quincy Street was built in 1932 on the site of the old Police Station.
La Chapelle, is after the summit of Saint Louis Road, and it is a Roman Catholic Chapel founded a long time ago; however, its modern structure was built in the late 1960s.
Locap, was a little village after “Dan he he” and had difficult access; however, it had magnificent views of the town.
Lo Oter ; was also called ‘Kot Ah-Kee’ after a Chinese shopkeeper and butcher. That shop was previously run by another Chinese named Lewis Ah-Tave. He, according to oral traditions, came from Singapore. Prior to the Chinese that building was a brothel and it was called Delanos. Interestingly the women involved were called Bordel, Fanmdevi, Delanos, Piten, but strangely, rarely called “prostitute”.
Lo Park ; was the flat part near the Chapel. It was used by fishermen coming from Beau Vallon and Bel Ombre as a temporary market to sell their fish. Opposite Lo Park there was a Chinese shop run by Sham-Peng-Tong. He later moved to town and his shop was taken over by another Chinese called Mr Ah Wong.
Pont Biznack; a bridge on the way up just after the junction La Bourdonnais and Aucler Street. That bridge had been immortalised in one of Emile Hugon’s paintings. In that junction there is the oldest masonry building in the area now called Tip Top. It was once the shop of François Shamlaye. It was built as military barracks for early British troops. La Bourdonnais Street was named after Mahé de La Bourdonnais, the famous Breton Governor of Mauritius, and Aucler Street after Mr Aucler the contractor who built that street.
Semen Cato; was named after the baker in the area of a certain Mr. Parcou.
Topilo; was a shop with a cabaret belonging to Mr Philip Dorasamy in which he had regular dancing activities.
Waterloo; is the current soft drinks factory of Mr. Hyacinth Payet; it was also named by him because of the difficulties he had to obtain a licence from the colonial government.
A more recent map of Victoria
- Special thank you for Mr William McAteer for his infos on Baty Bergne & Company.
- Plan Terrier of Mahé, 1829 by Hoart, Seychelles National Archives.
- Plan of Victoria 1841.
- Ex infos: Late Kantilal Jivan Shah and Guy Morel; Dr Maxime Ferrari; Eugene Mondelie alias Sando and K. Coopoosamy of London.
- William McAteer: Hard Times in Paradise, 2000.
- Old Plan of Victoria, completed by Berthelot de La Coste.