Capital cities around the world are known for their unforgettable landmarks, erected in many cases over a century ago to remind its citizens of the great individuals from the past who helped shape and guide the nation. While landmarks such as the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., Big Ben in London, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris easily come to mind, there are others out there that have stood the test of time as well. Off the eastern coast of Africa in one of the world’s smallest capital cities stands one of the least known national landmarks in the world.
On the island of Mahe in the island nation of Seychelles stands a clock tower that was erected over 100 years ago to honor a monarch who ruled over the nation. Though lacking the scale and popularity of other national landmarks, the Victoria Clock Tower possesses grandeur all its own and a history that means something to the people that call this nation home.
To understand the clock tower in Seychelles, one needs to understand the nation itself. Seychelles spent much of its modern history as a colonial pawn between the French and British as the powers vied for control in the Indian Ocean. In 1814 the British finally gained full control over the islands of the Seychelles as well as those of neighboring Mauritius. For nearly a century the Seychelles were governed from a base of power in Mauritius.
By the turn of the 20th century however, the British governor running Seychelles was appointed directly by London and a sense of autonomy and separation from Mauritius would grow. On the island of Mahe, one of the 115 islands that make up the Seychelles, sits the capital city of Victoria. The city is one of the smallest capital cities in the world with a population of just 25,000 living within city limits and the surrounding suburbs.
For much of the Seychelles time as a British colony to this point, Queen Victoria had ruled England and its colonies. Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire from mid-1837 until her death in early 1901, a reign that lasted 63 years and seven months and made her the longest serving British monarch as well as the longest serving female monarch in history. Victoria was the one for whom the capital city of the Seychelles was named, and eventually, the one for whom its now famous clock tower was erected.
Upon her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, a clock tower was erected at the intersection of Victoria Street and Vauxhall Hall Bridge Road in London to mark her 60 years on the thrown. This clock tower would eventually serve as inspiration for the one that now stands in the center of Victoria in the Seychelles.
After her death in 1901, then-administrator of the Seychelles Sir Ernest Bickham Sweet-Escott had the desire to erect a monument in the nation to honor the woman who served as the nation’s monarch. Initial plans had called for the construction of a building that would serve as a community hall and would be erected in Queen Victoria’s honor. However, as the collection of public funds fell drastically short for this goal (roughly R223.81 was collected of the R10,000 needed) Sir Sweet-Escott moved forward with plans for the clock tower.
Sir Sweet-Escott had already been in contact with clock makers in London regarding one for his own recreational use, and he soon altered those plans to acquire one for the colony to erect in honor of Queen Victoria. Contracting through the same clock makers that had built the one erected near Victoria Station in London, Sir Sweet-Escott authorized payment for the memorial on 16 July 1902 to the Crydon, UK company of Messrs. Gillet & Johnson.
The clock tower was constructed and shipped to the Seychelles on a mail steamer by early 1903. Shipped in nine pieces, seven of the pieces arrived in Victoria on 11 February 1903 with the remaining two pieces arriving on 11 March 1903 after having been mistakenly shipped to Mauritius instead.
On 1 April 1903, just over two years after her passing, citizens from all walks of life in the Seychelles gathered in their humble capital city to witness the unveiling and commemoration of the Victoria Clock Tower. Now over 100 years later, the clock tower still stands at the center of Victoria. Few changes have been made to the tower of the years. Although it was originally black, the tower was given a silver aluminium coating to mark the silver jubilee of Queen Victoria’s successor.
Aside from other cosmetic changes (namely update lamps) and maintenance to keep it running, the Victoria Clock Tower has stood silent guard in the middle of this capital city as the world around it has changed. When it was erected in 1903, the city of Victoria was dominated by wooden buildings with corrugated iron roofs and verandas. Now the capital is a vibrant, modern city with multi-story buildings of concrete, glass and steel. Internet cafes and five star hotels line the streets of this humble capital city. All the while, the national landmark has stood the test of time and served as a monument to a monarch who passed away more than a century ago.
The city of Victoria, and the greater island of Mahe, has much to offer tourists. From fine dining, elegant night clubs, and five-star resorts to fishing, snorkelling, and scuba diving, there is something for every visitor of Victoria and Mahe to enjoy. But in such a small capital city, with many of the conveniences of modern life, it could be easy to walk right past the Victoria Clock Tower and not give it a second thought.
When the time comes for a trip to this Indian Ocean paradise, be it your first or fifth visit, be sure to make time in your itinerary to spend a few moments taking in the splendor of a clock that has stood still as time passes for over 100 years.