Mauritius History

Figure 1.--

Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. It is one of the Mascarene Islands, an archipelago of commom geologic origins. The Portuguese discoved Mauritius which was unpopiulated (1507), but did not settle it. The Dutch occupied the island (1598), but despite efforts to establish a profitable colony, abandoned it (1710). The French East India Company took possession of the island (1715). The French christened it ‘Ile de France' and founded a flourishing sugar industry based on slave labor. Most of the slaves were obtained from Madadagascar. The British captured Mauritius during the Napoleonic Wars (1810). British possession was formally recognized by the Treaty of Paris (1814). The British allowed the French settlers to stay and to use the French language and civil code. Even during the British periodd, the economy was dominated by Franco-Mauritian property owners and businessmen. The British anolished slavery througout the Empire (1833). The slaves on Mauritius were emancipated 2 years later (1835). The planters than turned to indentured Indian laborers. Britain granted independence (1968). Dr. Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the first president.


Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. The Portuguese discoved Mauritius which was unpopiulated (1507), but did not settle it.

The Dutch Era (1516-1710)

Only a few years after the Portuguese discovered the island, the Dutch arrived (1516). They brought African slaves with them, but the project collapsed when the slaves ran off to the mountaneous interior of the island where they were able to hide. Over the years the Dutch attempted to collonize the island bringing Malagasy slaves, but the number was not large. A major effort was made by Admiral Wybrand Van Warwick who brought planters, slaves, equipment, and sypplies to the island (1598). It was at this time the island was names Mauritius in honor of Prince Mauritius Van Nassau of Holland. The Dutch introduced sugar cane, but made little progress in developing the colony. They did exploit the available resources and in the process whiped out the dodo. Ebony wood was logged out. They imported the java deer. Finally a combination of drought and cyclones drove the Dutch out. The Dutch left, taking their slaves with them (1710).

French Era: the Mascarene Islands (1715-1810)

The French era began when Guillaume Dufresne d'Arsel landed on Mauritius and named it "Ile de France." French colonization began a few years later. The island was administered by La Compagnie française des Indes orientales (East India Company) (1722-67). Mauritius was part of the Mascarene, all of which were clained by France and managed by the Mascarene Islands. This was a commnercial enterprise founded French by French Dinance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1664) compete with the British and Dutch East India companies. (Colbert was a finacial gebius, but superior British and Dutch finamcial mastery is a major reason they prevailed against France, a much lasrger and riher country.) King Louis XIV chartered the for the purpose of trading in the Eastern Hemisphereand it was granted a trade monopoly in the Indian Ocean for 50 years. The primsary concern was India where France competed with other European countries, especially the British. Mauritius was one of many other projcts. The French initially brought slaves from Senegal and Guinea. The first planters arrived (1721-35). Colbert helped to legalize slavery in France (1670). Slavery was the key to the profitable sugar industry that France developed its colonies. Haiti in the West Indies was the most profitable colony, but a flourishing sugar industry was developed on Mauritius. King Louis XIV proclaimed the black codes (1685). It was designed to regulate the slave system, defining the duties of both slaves and masters. Slaves owners, however, rarely lived up to their duties, especially in the colonies. The Mascarene Islands adopted the Black Code (1723). This led to the importantion of large numbers of African slaves, mostly from Madagascar and East Africa/Mozambique. The East India Company appointed Bertrand-François Mahé de Labourdonnais govenor (1735). He governed for 10 years. He oversaw the foundation of towns, including Port Louis. A great deal of construction insued, imcluding buildings, warehouses and military bases. The forests supported a shipyard. Planters grew sugar cane, coffee, pepper and indigo. The Mascarene Islands became a small, but prosperous colony. Another major figure was Pierre Poivre, the "administrator" and general intendant of Ile de France and Bourbon (1768). He introduced a printing house. Poivre was a botanist and member of several science academies. He devoted a good deal of work on sdpices, helping to introduce cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pepper, and other spices. He promoted the planting of fruit trees. He helped bring about laws protecting natural resources. The modern Pamplemousses garden which show case bative soecies, including giant water lilies and more than 60 species of palm trees and other native species are the result of his work. Poivre also worked to improve the conditions of the slaves. The population grew and a Creole language developed which has Senegalese words (Wolof language), but many more Malagasy and Comorian words. With the outbreak of the French Revolution (1789), inevitably the issue of slavery was considered by the Convention (1793). The Convention forbade the trading of slaves and a few months abolidshed slavery (1794). This was a difficult decesion because of the wealth produced by the colonies. The Comvention simply anolished slavery without any provision for compenating the owners or the provision for the future of the emamcipated slaves. As in other French colonies, the colonists were set against it. And the Convention did not have the ability to enforce its decree a world away. The colonial assembly of Ile de France (Mauritius) annuled the Comvention's action. The settlers of Ile de France and Ile Bourbon obtained a deferment. After Napoleon seized control of the Revolution and France, he partially restored the slave trade (1802). For him it was both an economic and political matter. A slave rebellion in Haiti had ended the sugar industry and huge profits that flowed nack to France. Napoleon was determined to retake Haiti and use that a stepping stone to a revived North American Empire. For the French settlers on the Mascarene Archipelago, Napoleon was a well received. Napoleon abolished other reforms of the Revolution, including the famed--Declaration of Human Rights. Napoléon dispatched General Decaen to the Mascarene Islands to implement Napoleomic reforms (1803). The Mascarene Islands were thus taken over by administrators appointed by Napoleon. They ruled Ile Bourbon (now known as Ile Bonaparte) from Ile de France.

Battle of Grand Port (1810)

Nelson had destroyed the French fleet at Trafalgur (1805). This mean thast every French island colony was vulnerable to the Royal Navy. I am not entirely sure why the British targeted Mauritius, but its prosperous economy was surely a factor. Another factor was that before the Suez Canal was built, shipping to India had to sail around the Capw of Good Hope. French possession of Madaascar was aotential threat. Bases between the Cape and India were of some strategic importance. The French could not resist the British through naval action, but to take an island the British had to put together a substantial landing force. The British seized Rodrigues Island in part because the small population did not requre a large landing force to sundue (1809). The British amassed a force of 10,000 men before moving on Ile de France (Mauritius) and Ile Bonaparte (Réunion Island) (1810). The islands had a populstion of 73,000 people, about 80 percent od whom were slaves. The British seized the archipelago of the Seychelles and the Mascarene Islands. British control was confirmed by the Treaty of Paris (1814). The British retuned Ile Bonaparte, renasming it Ile Bourbon--modern Reunion.

British Era (1810-1968)

The British renamed Ile de France Mauritius. The British appointed Sir Robert Farquhar to rule the island. Darquhar decided to allow the people to retain their "cusdtoms" including the French language, Catholic Church, and French civil law. Enlightened rule and the lack of interest on the part of English emigrants to settle on the island probably explain this decesion. And the British had the Canadian experience to draw on. British civil servants replaced the French officials. Mauritius thus developed within the framework of the expanding British Empire. As a result of the enlightened British administration, many of the Franco-Mauritians remained on the island. This included most of the larger property owners and important businessmen. Thus the plantation economy based on slace labot continued little changed. The principal crop was sugar cane. The whites population continued to speak French and supported by the island's Catholic clergy, criticised the government's insistance on English in govermental affairs. The slaves spole a Creole fushion of French and African lanaguages, especially Malagasy languages. The British first addressed the language issue (1832). They made English compulsory for all island residents. when communicating with British authorities. Another regulation made English the sole language for administrative purposes. Mauritians desiring governmnt employment needed to speak English. The British abolished slavery and emanipated slaves throughout the Empire (1835). This created an ecomomic crisis. The freed slaves did not want to work on sugar plantations. Not only did they associate it with slvery, but the wages offered were very low. Reponsing to pleas fron the planters, the British arranged for indentured Indian workers to come to Mauritius. And smaller mumber of Chinese also came. An estimated 0.2 million Indians and Chinese came to the island (1835-1968). The Indians became the primary agricultural workforce. The Chinese became shop keepers. This changed the ethnicity makeup of the islanders. As the Asian immigrants had the same social status as the former slaves, their interactions were primaily with them. They thus adopted Creole as their language, although the reole gradually took on a more English flavor. TheBritish required thst English be taught in primary schools, along with French (1841). Authorities designated English the "supreme court language" (1845). Lower courts following the Napoleonic code continued to be conducted in French. By the turn-of-the 20th century, the population reached 371,000 people which was taking on a increasingly Asian (Indian) character. The opening of the Suez Canal reduced the strategic importance of Mauriutius (1870). This asffected the econony as fewer ships called at the islabds. The British governe Mauritius and the Seychelles as a single colony during the 19th century. The Brirish separated the Chagos Archipelago, administratively independent from the Seychelles and linked to Mauritius (1903). The British used Mauritius as a military base during World War II.

Independence (1968- )


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Created: 5:41 AM 11/23/2009
Last updated: 5:41 AM 11/23/2009