by David Mould
Radama—the young, savvy ruler of the rising military power in Madagascar. Robert Townsend Farquhar—governor of the British island colony of Mauritius, whose plantation economy depends on slave labor. James Hastie—an enterprising East India Company sergeant, ready to take on a risky mission. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, as Britain and France face off in the southwest Indian Ocean, the destinies of these three characters intertwine. Will the British cut a deal to end the export of slaves from Madagascar, and if so at what cost? Will Radama, with Hastie by his side, win the internal power struggle against nobles and clan chieftains? Hastie’s previously unpublished journals offer the most comprehensive early 19th century account of Madagascar, its landscape, crops, industry, commerce, culture, and inhabitants, and weave a narrative of hazardous travel, byzantine court intrigue and colonial geopolitics. Sir Mervyn Brown, a former UK ambassador and historian of Madagascar, has described Hastie as “one of the most important and attractive figures in the history of Anglo-Malagasy relations.”
Using journal entries and letters, the author weaves together a colorful and finely detailed account of how ending 200 years of slave trading in Madagascar depended upon the trust between a British soldier and a tribal king.
-Jean Andrews, award-winning documentary producer and science writer
It is always refreshing to discover a new book that lays bare a rarely revealed layer of history. Set in the early 19th century, David Mould’s Mission to Madagascar chronicles the diplomatic mission of James Hastie for the British government amid the labyrinthine political jungle of twisted loyalties and warring clans of Madagascar. The waning days of the Napoleonic wars combined with the suspension of the British slave trade and court intrigue all play a part in this well researched historical narrative that paints a vivid picture of an island nation struggling to embrace modern Europe while retaining a sense of dignity and independence. Mould’s own world experiences and writing expertise complement his tireless historical research and flowing narrative to tell an amazing story and create a fresh look at European imperialism in Africa.
– Pete Kosky, author and historian
Hastie’s description of the island and his encounters with the people and their cultures provide a stunning backdrop to what is truly an amazing adventure story, worthy of an old Errol Flynn swashbuckler. While intended for a general audience, scholars will appreciate the depth of research and interpretation that author David Mould conveys in this duel of wits between Hastie and Radama, that forms the heart of the story. As an American historian with an interest in New World slavery, Mould’s book reminds us of the global nature of the “peculiar institution” and the nature of enslavement and the internal slave trade in East Africa.
Donna M. DeBlasio, PhD, Professor Emerita, History and Applied History, Youngstown State University
David Mould is a master at breathing life into history. He transports the reader back to the early 1800s when a powerful ruler in Madagascar and a lowly British sergeant find friendship as they maneuver for advantage, all the while struggling with grave political considerations, eventually working towards a common goal: ending the slave trade. If you enjoy a good yarn, let yourself get lost in this account of a historical event that has been all but forgotten.
– Kamellia Smith, technical writer and former reporter for Indonesia’s national magazine TEMPO
I felt like I was there in the rain forest, chopping through the brush, paddling over rough waters, and fending off rain, mosquitoes, and the deadly malaria they carried! I felt like a ghost observer as Hastie, untrained in diplomacy, or the Malagasy language and culture, earned the trust and respect of the powerful and ambitious King Radama. And I remain awed at the unlikely confluence of the young officer and young king who saw in each other the means and benefits of ending the lucrative slave trade in Madagascar. Absolutely fascinating!
– Margaret Romoser, PhD, retired university administrator, educator, community activist and avid traveller
Imagine, if you will, a combination of Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones, and you would have the perfect combination for another blockbuster movie. In David Mould’s gripping account, however, we have a story firmly rooted in the realities of the protracted power struggle between Britain and France for hegemony in the Indian Ocean. As an unlikely agent of British imperial policy, Sergeant James Hastie played a crucial role in Britain’s desire to safeguard the vital strategic route to India and to neutralize the French presence in that ocean. Presented as fiction, the story might appear improbable; the reality is a fascinating tale of one man’s daring, diplomacy, and, perhaps, a sprinkling of deceit in a world convulsed by seemingly endless conflict.
– Joe Ross, retired teacher of British imperial and European Early Modern history
David Mould knows a good source when he finds one! Hastie’s journals were astoundingly comprehensive and detailed. He recorded local customs, the economics of slavery, and the ever-evolving political hierarchies and alliances. He described topography, vegetation, agriculture, construction of dwellings, herbal remedies, clothing, hairstyles, and the physical hardships of travel. Two centuries apart, Hastie and Mould bring us a singular and engrossing read! I LOVE scholarship that reads like a novel!
-Lynda Berman, teacher and artist
A thought-provoking story of how one young sergeant, working well above his rank, played a pivotal role in gaining the trust of a powerful king to curb the slave trade. James Hastie was amazing … he overcame many obstacles – court intrigue, broken promises, sickness, and warfare. Such perseverance.
– John F. Brennan, retired Information Systems manager at Ohio University
David Mould, a historian and consummate travel writer, paints the complex geopolitical picture of early 19th-century Madagascar with amazing depth and intricate detail. A British noncommissioned officer travels to the island on a dangerous mission to convince a native ruler to stop the inhumane yet lucrative slave trade. This book boldly addresses timeless issues and vividly describes history-changing events.
– Alexander Rosenstein, novelist and screenplay writer
A smartly written and well-researched page-turner that achieves what we in my line of work attempt: it “brings history to life.” The story picks up in 1817, when imperial official Robert Farquhar charges Sgt. James Hastie of the East India Company to negotiate with King Radama I of the Ovah kingdom, thought by the British to be the most powerful one on Madagascar. The treaty’s intent is to end the slave trade to and from the island (but not necessarily on it). Radama, in turn, needs British muskets and artisanship to subdue rival kingdoms and command allegiance. How Radama and Hastie forge a relationship and use each other to achieve their goals reveals that, even at a distance of two centuries, we can see ourselves in them.
– Andy Verhoff, Ohio History Connection, Columbus
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