We are deep in the Morne Seychellois National Park where, perched on a mountaintop, lies the ruins of a mission named after Henry Venn (1796 – 1873) an Anglican missionary who in 1799 together with William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833), the English abolitionist, co-founded the Church Missionary Society to spread Christianity to the natives of Africa and Asia, as well as creating orphan asylums for children of slaves. Getting there is easy, it’s about 6 km drive from the city centre of Victoria, capital of Seychelles. A sign points at a narrow, steep road that branches off San Saucis Road and reaches the ruins.
Venn’s Town was a mission set up in 1876, and it consisted of a boarding school, dormitories, a laundry building, kitchens, washrooms, and dwellings for laborers, teachers, and the school principal. In order to sustain its operations, the mission cultivated, products as vanilla, coffee, and cocoa over a large swath of land, approximately 50 acres.
Historically, in the late 1800s Seychelles became a haven for liberated enslaved people. In short, despite the Emancipation Act abolished slavery in the British-controlled Seychelles in 1835, slave-trading in the area persisted. To curb the practice, the Royal Navy that patrolled the East African Coast intercepted slave-trading ships, and brought those they rescued to the Seychelles. There, the adults ended up working in the local plantations as low-paid laborers. Meanwhile, between 1876 and 1889, Venn’s Town mission took in their children and provided them with some basic education. Children were taught Bible studies and some useful skills, such as tending to coffee and vanilla plantationsm and they were free to leave the institution upon turning 16. This was a crucial point in the history of Seychelles, as these families and their descendants would forever change the Creole Seychellois identity that survives to this day.
Today, the foundations and walls of five buildings, apparently built in lime, remain over an area of 540 square meters. The most interesting foundations are those that some people call “the laundry” or “dormitory” because there are 19 cavities of very small dimensions where some equipped with evidence of rudimentary metallic pipe for emptying the water.
Thick vegetation from the forest covering the steep slopes of the mountain encroaches on the ruins, and a modern viewpoint platform offers beautiful views of the forest sloping down toward the coastal areas. None other than Queen Elizabeth II drank a tea on this very same platform in 1972. The dense virgin forests are home to numerous endemic plants and small animals found nowhere else in the world, ranging from the very small Sooglosus frog species to the Seychelles scops owl (Otus insularis).