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 "HISTORY OF MAURITIUS"

Mauritius was first discovered by the Arabs in 975 AD, then by the Portuguese between 1507and 1513. In 1598, the Dutch landed in a bay in the south-east. The Dutch admiral, VanWarwyck was in command of the fleet and he named the bay after himself (Warwyck haven).The bay is now known as Grand Port.  He named the island "Mauritius" after Prince Mauritius Van Nassau, the stadtholder of Holland.

 

Although the Dutch called occasionally for shelter, food and fresh water, they made no attempt to develop the island. The beautiful bird,  The DODO, which was described as a feathered tortoise was an easy target for the laziest hunter. Unfortunately, it was fat and couldn't fly.

"PICTURE OF THE DODO"

 In 1622, Danish adventurers arrived, hoping to exploit the ebony with which the island abounded. The French and British, too, began to see possibilities both for trade and strategy in the mascarenes and sent out expeditions in 1638. Their ships arrived too late. In May 1638, Cornelius Simonsz Gooyer had set up the first permanent Dutch settlement in Mauritius.  He was sent by the Netherlands East India Company and became the first governor, over a population of 25 colonists who planned to exploit the island's resources of fine ebony and ambergris, rearing cattle and growing tobacco.

Over the next few years, a hundred slaves were imported from Madagascar and convicts sent over from Batavia (Java). The convicts were employed in cutting ebony. The free colonists came from Baltic and North Sea Ports. They were hardened man who were settlers out of desperation and coercion rather than through brave ideals. Attempts at colonisation failed because there were not enough settlers. By 1652, many left for the Cape of Good Hope which offered better prospects. Other attempts at colonisation failed miserably through cyclones, flood, drought and plague. Food shortages, an overall inefficient administration and attacks by pirate ships compounded their desire to leave and in 1710 the last settlers abandoned Mauritius leaving a batch of runaway slaves bent on vengeance for their ill treatment.

In September 1715, Guillaume Dufresne d'Arsel took possession of Mauritius in the name of King Louis XV of France. He named it the Ile de France, placed the French flag near what is now Port Louis, drew a document witnessed by his officers declaring the island French and sailed away after three days.

The first colonists landed at warwyck Bay (Mahebourg) in 1722. The area was exposed to winds and dangerous reefs, so they moved to the safety of the North West harbour. Warwyck bay was renamed Port Bourbon and the North West Harbour became known as Port Louis.For the first 14 years, the French colony followed the dismal experience of the Dutch. Only the most desperate and toughest of the settlers survived.  Their appallingly treated slaves also escaped and lived in the forests and sabotaged the plantations.

The transformation of Port Louis from a primitive harbour to a thriving  sea port was largely due to the efforts of Bertrand Mahe de Labourdonnais, an aristocratic sea captain, 38 years of age, from St Malo. The wretched conditions of the settlers dismayed Labourdonnais. There were 190 whites in the island and 648 blacks, most of them from Africa and Malagascar and a few Indians from the Coromandel and Malabar coasts. Labourdonnais transformed the island from a colony of malcontents into "the star and key of the Indian Ocean". The thatched hovels were demolished and in their place rose forts, barracks, warehouses, hospitals and houses. Government house was built of coral blocks, roads were opened throughout the island and a ship building industry commenced.

Although he had to import slaves, Labourdonnais made their lot easier by also importing ox-carts so that slaves could be utilised for more skilled tasks. He turned many of them into artisans. He also started an agriculture programme that concentrated on feeding the islanders and on marketable products. On his own estates, he grew sugarcane and encouraged new settlers to start plantations of cotton, indigo, coffee and manioc. The first sugar factory was opened at villebague in 1744.

In 1746, with England and France at war, Labourdonnais led an expedition of nine ships from the Ile de France to India. There they defeated a British squadron and captured Madras, the most important British outpost. Labourdonnais' actions resulted in a conflict with Dupleix, his superior in India. Dupleix wanted Madras razed to the ground but Labourdonnais refused because he knew the British would pay a ransom to get Madras back. He was accused of accepting a bribe to preserve Madras and was replaced as Governor of Ile de France. On his return to France, he was thrown in the Bastille and even though in 1751, he was found innocent, he died a broken man two years later, aged 54. His statue stands in Port Louis facing out across the harbour. The town of Mahebourg (started in 1805) is also named after him.

During the seven years war (1756-1763) France and England continued to battle over control of the Indian Ocean and the French East India company enlisted privateers. When the French lost the wars in India, they blamed the company and accused its officials of corruption. This resulted in the official handling over of Mauritius to the French King.In 1767, the Royal Government was established on the island. At that time, there was a population of 18,773 which included 3,163 Europeans and 587 free blacks, mostly Hindus. The rest were slaves.

Pierre Poivre (Peter Pepper) was picked as administrator. He introduced varieties of plants from South America, including pepper, and even offered tax incentives to planters to grow them. Under his influence, the colony developed as an agricultural and trading centre. He improved   the harbour facilities and the accommodation for both colonists and slaves.

When the French East India Company was wound up, and their monopoly broken, private enterprise became the fashion. Everyone was trying to make profits. In 1785 the Ile de France was declared the seat of government of all French possessions east of the Cape. A French nobleman, Vicomte de Souillac was made governor (1779-1787) bringing an era of extravagance to the colony. Port Louis became renowned for its bright social life with dancing parties for the young and the old, duelling, gambling, drinking and hunting. At the same time, public affairs were neglected; fraud, corruption and dishonesty were common-place and land speculation and scandals were rife.

On the last Sunday in January 1790, a packet-boat arrived in the Port Louis harbour from France, flying a new flag, the Tricolour. It brought news of the revolution in France. The colonists' enthusiasm for the revolutionary  principles of liberty, equality and fraternity faltered when in 1796, two agents of the Directoire, wearing splendid orange cloaks, arrived from France and informed the colonists that slavery was abolished. The news was received with anger and the agents had to flee for their lives.

The last French governor of Ile de France was appointed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 to bring the colony back to order after 13 years of autonomy. With such a task, it was inevitable that the governor, General Charles Decaen, would be unpopular.

Charles Decaen curried favour with the elite by allowing slavery and privateering, which were both hugely profitable, to continue.

Decaen founded primary schools and the Lycee Colonial which became  Royal  College. He extended Government House, created Mahebourg near Grand Port and encouraged intellectual societies and agriculture development. He also codified the Napoleonic laws which are still in force.

Under his governorship, Port Louis became Port Napoleon and Mahebourg became Port Imperial..

 Decaen found himself increasingly isolated from France. The British were expanding their influence in the Indian Ocean.On the 3 December 1810, the British, under General Abercrombie, marched into Port Napoleon where the French surrendered. Ile de France, Port Napoleon and Port Imperial was reverted to their former names, Mauritius, Port Louis and Mahebourg. Soldiers were to be treated as civilians, not as prisoners of war and were allowed to leave the island. Settlers who did  not want to stay under a British administrator were permitted to return to France with all their possessions.

In 1810, Robert Farquhar, aged 34  became the first English governor. He announced that civil and judicial administration would be unchanged.  Those who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown ere asked to leave Mauritius within a reasonable time. Under his governorship sugar production increased, Port Louis was transformed into a free port, roads were built and trade flourished. He mixed with everyone and encouraged younger generation to open dialogue with coloured leaders.The British also preserved the island's laws, customs, language, religion and property. The treaty of Paris did restore Bourbon/Reunion island in 1814 but the Ile de France, by now with its former name of Mauritius, was confirmed as a British possession.

Sugar production developed into a major foreign income earner and the planters relied increasingly on slave labour in spite of the 1807 Act abolishing it in the British Empire. Judge Jeremie was appointed Attorney-General in Mauritius and arrived from England in 1832 to announce abolition without indemnity to a hostile reception of sugar planters and slave owners.

Slavery was finally abolished in 1835 but not before the owners received �2,000,000 compensation from the British.

Shortly afterwards thousands of Indians from Madras, Calcutta and Bombay were encouraged  to emigrate to Mauritius with promises of a labour contract that included a salary and accommodation and a passage home. They arrived in dreadful conditions at Port Louis where they were housed in temporary depots and distributed to the sugar estates. They were paid very little, subjected to harsh treatment and forced to work long hours. These indentured labourers or 'coolies', were slaves by another name and were to form the majority of the population.

Things improved only slightly when  an Immigration Department was established in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1872, a Royal Commission was appointed to look into the problems of Indian immigration. Their living standards became more tolerable and when immigration ceased in 1907 and another Royal Commission made recommendations for social political reform, many Indians had settled permanently in Mauritius and indeed formed the majority of the population.

Also in 1907, Mohandas Gandhi (later Mahatma Gandhi) visited Maritius and as a result sent Manillal Doctor, an Indian lawyer, to Port Louis in 1907 to organise the indentured labourers who had no say in politics and no civil rights. Only 2 percent of the population were entitled to vote and the Indians were totally underrepresented.

In 1936, the Labour Party was formed and persuaded the Indians to take politician action and campaign for better working conditions.

The Second  World War brought infrastructural development. The British based their fleet at Port Louis and Grand Port, as well as building an airport at Plaisance and a sea plane base at Baie du Tombeau. A large telecommunication station was built at Vacoas, although the first underwater telephone cable,  linking South Africa to Australia, had been laid to Mauritius in 1901.

In the election held after the war, the Mauritius Labour Party won the majority of seats in the Legislative Council set up under the 1948 constitution. this success was repeated in 1953. After the 1959 election (the first held following the introduction  of universal adult franchise), Hindu doctor (later Sir) Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, leader of the Mauritius labour Party became Chief Minister, then Premier in 1965, holding the post until 1982.

Mauritius became an independent country within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1968, Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State represented by a Governor General.

In 1971,  social and industrial unrest led by the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) resulted in a state of emergency. The party's leaders, including Paul Berenger, a Franco-Mauritian born in 1945, were jailed for a year.

In the election of 1982, the MMM with Paul Berenger as General Secretary and a 53 year old Hindu British-trained lawyer, Anerood Jugnauth as President, captured all 62 directly elected seats . Anerood Jugnauth  became Prime Minister with Berenger as his Finance Minister.

In 1992, Mauritius became an independent republic with the Commonwealth.

Since independence, Mauritius has changed drastically from a sugar producing island to a newly industrialised nation. For many, Mauritius was synonymous with the dodo. Much of its success is attributable to a policy of diversification from its traditional one crop industry, sugar to tourism, textile and agriculture. Mauritius has now the distinction of being one of the most stable countries in the developing world.

Mauritius is also promoted in holiday brochures as one of those faraway places associated with the dodo and desert island dreams. It is a country of diverse cultures justifying the tourist office's claim to being " the most cosmopolitan island in the sun" with a smiling, natural and charming people. Mauritius has an almost perfect year round climate and hotels with excellent service, comfortable accommodation and a full range of water and land sports, dazzling white beaches, deep blue lagoons and an enchanting mountain scenery.

By  mauritius.org.uk


 


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