Translation of the manuscript of Johannes Pretorius, signed December 15, 1669.
NLHaNA 1.04.02 inv. nr. 4005, unfoliated

The island of Mauritius is a wild and rugged country, one mountain and valley is followed by another, as waves in the sea. Inbetween are rivers that supply the land with a lot of water, but also cause it to be rich in stones, that are everywhere. One finds only a few, small vlaktes [plains or land with low relief] here and there. The animals gather on the vlaktes to bake in the sunshine after the rain. The largest and most famous is the one with the lemon trees ‘Limoenbogaerd [present day Ferney]’ and the one at the Vuijle Bocht [Poste de Flacq]. I will speak of this [latter] one first, and also of the whole island that is a size of 7 or 8 morgen [a large Dutch unit of measure]. The soil is of reasonably quality which is damp most of the time, caused by the water flowing from the high mountain. This vlakte is situated at its foot.

In this year, in March, potatoes have been planted as a trial (after having broken a plough while working the land). The potatoes germinate extremely well and can be harvested in great quantity. Those who lived here in former times have taken their descendants into consideration, by planting oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, sweet apples, kumquat and guava, which render each year a good quantity of fruit. The guavas (that are just as good as the Indian ones) are ripe in March, April, May, and these trees grow only in abundance on this vlakte and nowhere else on the island. Kumquat are ripe in the same months. Of this kind there are two trees and a small one. Every year they render many fruits. Sweet apples turn ripe very slowly, so that one can only eat them over three or four months of the year (March, April, May, June). The birds also like them. Of this kind there are eight or nine trees but they differ each year in the quantity of fruit. Lime and orange trees are here in abundance. Of the lemon trees there are only two left, of which one was damaged by the hurricane in ’68. Therefore it produced less fruits compared with other years. Of the grapefruit that are here, there are four trees. All of these bear fruits, but they have to be picked with care and dealt with caution, otherwise they decay easily.

On this vlakte there were also two coconut trees of which one has been blown down, whereas the other one still gives fruit every year. The nuts of the trees that grow on the coast near the sea and on the small islands grow larger, because they vegetate better in the sandy, brackish soil. We have planted coconuts at several places on the sea coast, but they do not grow well. They came up, but did not develop, nor did they die either, they just stayed green. Mr. Nieuland has planted many during his time, but these remained small as well.

On this vlakte many cattle come to graze. Cows, deer, goats and pigs. The cows with humps on their backs (that work very well pulling the yoke) come here daily when the ripe fruits have fallen. They always come in the evenings and nights to graze (one hardly sees them in daytime). When they came for the fruits, we tried to catch them by setting snares under the trees, but they are too smart for us because of their acute sense of smell.

The deer are all over the island, but mostly in the area around the lodge. They grow very fat in April, May, June and July. In those months the males are solitary, the females are pregnant and can be caught easily, but they are clever and hide in the forest. They are very shy and seldom come within range of a gunshot. When the Dutch first introduced deer to the island they were not so shy. When someone encountered a deer by accident, the animal would startle and sometimes run into a tree, so it could be caught by hand. Its meat does not keep well (like all kinds of meat on the island) when just preserved in salt, but if smoked afterwards it is agreeable.

Goats are also here but at one mile from the lodge. In the areas seven or eight miles from the lodge, the quantities of these animals are indescribable. We cannot hunt there because it is too far a distance to transport a dead animal over land. We would have to go by sea and our sloop is not capable of this.

Almost all cattle are on the beaches and areas up to two or three miles inland. There are no cattle further inland because it becomes very wet and swampy and overgrown with broad-leafed trees, so that the sun cannot dry the forest floor. If a lost animal strays into the forest, its horns and feet rot away because of the dampness.

The Westside, the Varsse Valley, the Bars Vlackte, the Stony Vlackte, and the Vuijle Bocht are notable for the abundance of cattle. The abundance is largest in the Vuijle Bocht, and smallest in the Varsse Valley.

At Kronenburg [Grand River South East] there are islands [ÎIes aux Cerfs] with lots of cattle that reproduce quickly, which is an advantage when ships arrive that need to take in meat supplies. We dry many hides in the sun, and they provide us with shoes.

Pigs are here too, throughout the whole island, but especially on the beaches where the palmiste trees are abundant. They also come to the vlakte [Vuijle Bocht] to eat the fallen fruit. They are usually thin except in January and February, when the ebony and other trees drop their apples [Ebonys Diospyros sp. and some other Mauritian tree genera produce green, apple-like fruit] to the ground. There are many pigs which are easily found and captured. They are voracious, and when they chance upon a young stray goat, they will catch and devour it. That is why they also roam the beaches to look for slimy things, dead fish or tortoise eggs. They don’t even leave ambergris unmolested, especially when it is fresh.

The other before mentioned vlakte [Limoenbogaerd] is still rough and unplouged, but if the soil keeps well we hope that the potatoes (that are not attacked by vermin yet) will grow well there, if this year’s wagon trail that leads to this vlakte (which is a great meadow for the working animals) [is usable]. There are many palmiste trees on this vlakte that can only be felled if they don’t root too far into the ground, because they will have rooted within a year. These trees grow on the whole island at the sandy beaches, but those that grow inland alongside the rivers surpass the palmiste [wine] in drink and taste. The leaves (five or six men can take shelter under one of those trees in the rain) can be applied as roof covers for the houses, but this nonetheless is a little dangerous. This vlakte is very large, and every day of this year there are large and small cattle. We can’t hunt in the areas bordering the wagon trail. The wild bulls especially should not be chased away from there, but we can’t anyway because of the weakness of the dogs that we have at present. I hope to get a new young bitch soon (because the present dogs have become worn out by the frequent hunting), so that we can use wild bulls in the future (because we lack cows that have learned to pull) to reinforce our efforts of hauling the ebony wood.

There are many land tortoises all year round on the vlaktes. Also in the mountains. They feed on dead leaves and apples. Ships take them in as stock during their voyages. The abundance of shells is testament to this. The meat is eaten, but the best is the ‘suurse [tenderloin?]’ and the liver.

Now I have dealt with the vlaktes and the four footed animals, I will speak of the birds in the water or on land, like pigeons, dodaersen, parrots, Indian ravens, bats, canary birds etc: or both, as in the Geese: the teals and waterhens are always in the water, and all live together in peace and quiet.

The dodaers is a red bird, as big as a fowl, has short wings and cannot fly. It scratches like a fowl in the earth with its sharp claws to find food such as worms under the fallen leaves. This bird is unbelievably stupid. When one waves a stocking cap and makes a sharp sound with the mouth, it immediately heads towards that person, and if one carries a stick, all of them can be killed with it without any escaping. They are fatty and greasy to eat. They have a long, sharp beak which is a slightly curved at the end.

The pigeons are beautiful in colour with crests on the head and warts on the face. I have tried to raise juveniles and to tame adults, but they always died under my hands.

Parrots are here too, there are many. Some are grass green and small [Psittacula echo], others are multi-coloured and large. The first mentioned could be caught with a net. We can sometimes catch them alive, but the others are too high in the trees and can hardly be caught. One never finds the nests of these.

The Indian ravens are very beautifully coloured. They cannot fly and are not often found. This kind is a very bad tempered bird. When captive it refuses to eat. It would prefer to die rather than to live in captivity.

Bats are plentiful here. They are as big as an owl from the fatherland. This bird has no feet. It is always in the air, flying, or hanging upside down in the trees on two hooked claws attached to its wings. After having given birth, this bird carries its young and feeds it on its breast. The young even hang on the breast while in flight. The meat is fatty and tastes reasonably well. Geese are also here in abundance. They are a little larger than ducks, very tame and stupid, seldom in the water, eating grass, sometimes 40 or 50 or even a 100 together. When they are being shot, the ones that are not hit by the hail stay put and do not fly away. They usually keep to the north side of the island, far away from where the people live, except in the dry season when they are forced to drink on the other side of the island, and sometimes near the lodge.

Now we have seen the profusion [of land animals], let me dwell on the fish that are plentiful here, within the reef. Once, half a day to the West, our people caught 7 or 800 large steenbrasems [Seabream] with the sloop. But they are not very nutritious to eat and laid in salt they do not keep well, but when afterwards they are dried in the wind they do keep well. The harder [mullet] is large, but lean and dry.

Sea turtles are numerous here too but mostly on the north side of the island. Their eggs are incubated by the sun and hot sand. They [the eggs] are round.

There are also sea cows. I don’t know why they are so called because they do not look like cows. It is a misshapen animal, 9 or 10 feet long with a round shape. Its meat tastes good, consisting of layers of lard and meat. This meat can be salted or smoked. The meat has a fine structure and a natural taste. These animals come only to the shore after heavy rainfall, looking for seagrass which is their only food, so they are not abundant and difficult to come by.

In the rivers there are not only small fish but unnaturally large and thick eels (if they may be called that). Once we shot one with a musket that was 6 foot long and 16 thumbs thick, but an old specimen is tough and unpleasant to eat. They can be caught by attaching a piece of meat to a string without a hook. We also have observed them trying to bite the feet off swimming ducks.

Of the fruits and seeds that are sent every year from the Cape for cultivation, and how they are doing:

It is sad that the weather is so unstable. Often, when we are getting ready to go to the field, it starts to rain. And when we have planted the seeds it may become very dry. When one expects it’s going to be dry, the rain falls in such an unnaturally heavy manner that all the seeds are washed out of the soil. However, when we are lucky with the weather, carrots, tubers, cabbage, radish and all other small garden herbs will do very well here.

Beans (not the Roman but the Turkey ones) develop very well here. They grow as high as in the old country and bear many fruits that serve as an addition to the rice, as happened this year.

Peas don’t grow very well here. They are also eaten by the rats, which cannot be prevented.

Peanuts are also meant to be cultivated here, but the rats bite the stems off right at the base and drag the plants away, so it is a waste of time trying these.

Wheat, rye, barley will not grow here and although they do sprout up a little, this is to deceive the sower.

Oats do grow here. This crop would nowadays be suitable for the horses [paardjes] that pull the ebony wood.

I don’t know any other crop that will grow better than the easily developing potatoes, wisely sent in the year ‘68 by the honourable gentleman Jacob Borghorst. They grow below the ground so they cannot be damaged by winds or harmful vermin. Also, one needs not to be concerned that they will [eventually] die, which can happen in all other gardens. The fruits that won’t sprout or only stay small (I’m not talking of the Turkey beans), we will lose.

The old vine stock grows well here and climbes very high, but so far we have seen neither blossoms nor fruits on it.

Mr. Wreede [Commander Wreede] was meant to feed this land with home-made nutritious bread made with beans (although he had kept this secret to himself). They grow in the sand on a stick, are as big as the Roman kind that are grown in the old country, and are dry and very hard. When the bolster/skin is removed and they are hacked into pieces, they become mealy. People here have tasted the bread, but it was bitter and nothing special (even though it was mixed with sweet milk and flower from the old country, as it was once said to have been prepared in this way). Mr. Wreede’s intentions were made good by the many potatoes that he harvested, especially because he did not waste any trouble on them, as we didn’t this year.

The daily journals mention the ebony wood many times. This wood is massive and there is an abundance of young and old trees on the island. The old trees are not all great, and of the young ones, a thousandth are not well; this is our experience. The ebony trees that grow in moist places are white or rotten on the inside. Only the ones that grow on higher, drier and rocky places [are good]. It is necessary that the trees grow on the right ground, so that the heart (which is the ebony) is not spoilt by rotting caused by moisture from above or from below. The ebony grows very slowly so that it is believed that a tree of 6 thumbs wide is more than 50 years old. If the wood is dry, it burns like sulphur.

I have no judgement on black amber and consider it not important. During my time here I have not seen grey amber, nor has anyone else as far as I know, since Mr. Wreede found some in the third bay, 2.5 miles from the lodge, and sold it for his own profit.

Concluding my thoughts about the composition of the island of Mauritius (which you wanted to know), there is now the question if the island can provide for itself or not.

I believe that if a ship was stranded here for a year there would be no reason for concern about the matter of sufficient food supply on the island. Therefore the rice could be missed. But not for ever.

Your Honour's obedient and humble servant (U Edele verpligte ende onderdanige dienaer)

Johannes Pretorius.

In the ship (’t jacht) de Voerman

This 15th December in the year 1669