Ditat Deus

Illustration of Dutch colonists planting sugar cane on Mauritius, mid 17th century

“I believe there is truth in the saying it is an ill wind that bloweth no good,” said Maestre Rodrigues. He was garrulous for a sailing master, but Diogo Fernandes did not mind because Rodrigues seldom required an answer.

Besides, he was right. The cyclone that had blown the Cirne off course had brought them here, wherever here was. There was no record of these islands in any of the navigation rutters or charts.

Fernandes scanned the shore with his glass. “I see at least a score of enormous tortoises on the beach. Perhaps there is a source of fresh water was well. Let us get the launch over the side and go ashore.”

“You will need to name the place,” said Rodrigues. “Perhaps you can name it after me?”

Diogo Fernandes laughed at this. “I think we’d better thank our deliverer instead. To which saint does this day belong?”


What Pegman Saw: Mauritius

Historical note:

The three islands that comprise Mauritius were uninhabited  except for brief visits by Arab sailors in the fourteenth century. The ship Cirne, under the command of Capitao Diogo Fernandes Pereira, sighted the island later known as Reunión in February 1507.  Diogo Fernandes named it “Santa Apolonia” in honor of that day’s saint.

The creatures of the island included prodigious amounts of giant tortoises and flightless dodo birds. The birds had never known predators, so the ravenous sailors had an easy time killing all they needed to provision their ships. The cats and rats they left behind devastated the ground-nesting birds’ habitat. The Dutch, who colonized the island over the next century, further depleted the island fauna. By 1710 the dodo was extinct, as were some distinct species of giant tortoise. 


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    • J Hardy Carroll

      There’s an easter egg in here for those who are research-minded. One of the islands actually did wind up being called Rodrigues, but only after another century or so. There are a lot of islands named after Portuguese and Spanish explorers.

    • J Hardy Carroll

      I’d say it was more ignorance than anything. They didn’t understand the concept of extinction yet. It wasn’t widely accepted until Georges Cuvier proved it in the early 19th century

  1. Lynn Love

    Lovely piece of historical fiction there, Josh. A moment caught. Yes, the poor old dodo – unevolved to deal with a predator like mankind, or any predator really. But there is one thing man is good at and that’s predation. Great story

  2. Joy Pixley

    I love thinking about how those moments in history might have felt to the real-life people experiencing them first-hand, and probably not realizing what the long-term effects would be. Certainly they wouldn’t have anticipated the devastating effect that introducing non-native species would have on the island. So sad about the dodos, but as you say, people had ignorance as an excuse in those days. Not sure what our excuse now is supposed to be.

  3. draliman

    Lovely account of the discovery of the islands. Even in those days it didn’t take long for the sudden influx of humans to change the ecosystem forever.

  4. JS Brand

    A good treatment of historical events Josh. I sometimes try to imagine what the world would be like if our ancestors hadn’t been so fixed on exploration (should that be exploitation?). Invariably my head soon hurts, so I stop.

  5. prior..

    oh wow – I have heard about the dodo bird for years and never knew its origin. thanks for that.
    and in your fiction – I could imagine them eating tortoise soup… and sadly – dodo bird meat too

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