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History of Mauritius

The brief history of Mauritius

Massage by the villa pool in Mauritius
Although short in terms of the period it covers, the history of Mauritius is nonetheless rich and interesting as owing to its actual multi-ethnic population, its history relates to the ones of many people around the world.

Here-below is a quick overview of the past four centuries. If the events seem to be concentrated around the 18th and 19th centuries, it may be because the country has been missing some young and passionate historians gathering daily information to put to the maturation process that will make them crispy historical anecdotes in the future.

Far from us the intention of making this blog a reference, you are nonetheless invited to correct, comment and share here any verified information or documents extracts or family stories that do not deserve to be forgotten and that could make this page richer.

As from the 10th century: The Arab navigators landed on Mauritius several times while exploring the seas further away from their coasts.

1500 – 1513 : The first map showing an island where Mauritius is found dates from 1502. The Arab name next to the dot was either Dina Harobi or Dinarobin. The Portuguese “rediscover” the island and make frequent calls between 1507 and 1513. They name the group of islands consisting of Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues the Mascarenhas and name Mauritius Ilha do Cirne (Swan island) from the name of the ship sent out for its exploration. The Portuguese abandon the island afterwards.

1598 : Dutch vessels sailing across the Indian ocean for the account of the Dutch East India Company, come across the island and find its location interesting. A fleet led by admirals Jacques Cornelius van Neck and Wybrandt van Warwyc diverted by their usual routes by a tropical storm see the island appearing ahead and decide to take shelter in the great bay located in the South-east of the island that they name de Warwyck after having named the island Mauritius in honour of Maurits Van Nassau, governor of the state of Orange in South-Africa.

In their quest for the ideal port, the Dutch, French and British have long hesitated between de Warwyck and Moluksreede (the harbour of molluscs), later known as Port-Louis.

1615 : During another exploring expedition, Pieter Both, then governor of the Dutch East India Company, died in the wreckage of his ship on the reefs of Baie-du-Tombeau near Port-Louis. The mountain with this unique contour, holding a boulder atop its finger has been named after him.

Pieter Both mountain in Mauritius
The Pieter Both peak from a different angle

1638 : After an irregular presence on the island while seeking temporary shelter, or to repair their ships, the Dutch land to settle permanently and create a colony

1639 : Sugar-cane is introduced.

1658 : The Dutch abandon the island owing to hardships.

1666 : The Dutch attempt a second colonisation.

1710 : The Dutch definitely abandon the island after having destroyed most of the Ebony forests, exterminating the Dodo and the giant tortoise, leaving behind offshoots of Sugar-cane, coconut trees, Java deer, boars, ducks, rats and… stray dogs (another peculiarity of Mauritius).

Remnants of the first Dutch barracks in Mauritius
View from the Dutch fortification, re-used by the French, overlooking "Port sud-est”.

1715 : The French land on the island and call it Isle de France.

1719 : King Louis XV concedes the island to the French East India Company.

1735 : Mahé de Labourdonnais arrives in Mauritius as first governor of the French East India Company.

A wing of the Labourdonnais hospital in Mauritius
A wing of the Labourdonnais hospital

1735 : Mahé de Labourdonnais decides to develop port nord-ouest as the island's main port and administrative centre. His objective was to make Mauritius far more than just a counter on the route to India. He wanted it to be rich ans attractive and turn it into a compulsory point of call for vessels sailing to and from India. He quickly erected a hospital, a mill, bakery and dry docks. His vision has been highly profitable to the island for many years after his departure.

1736 : End of the building works on the Government House.

1740 (Circa) : Arrival of the first Chinese migrants, formerly kidnapped and exiled from Sumatra.

1745 : The first sugar mills for exports are created. Although the Sugar-cane since 1639, the plant was used for the making of alcohols, very important to sailors. The sugar production was for the numerous crews calling and also for local consumption.

1764 : The French East India company having gone bankrupt, Port nord-ouest does not look good. The streets were covered with filth and excrements. The authorities had to impose strict control over illegal bars, taverns and brothels that were many and doing good business in the middle-class neighbourhoods. The island is finally returned to King Louis XV.

1767 : Arrival of the first officials sent by the king, acting as governors and Port-Louis starts shining again. Two names are to remember: Desroches (landed in 1769) and especially Pierre Poivre as from 1767. They made a great job in putting the colony back on the track of development and a lot for its embellishment; the Pamplemousses garden is just an example. Its the dawn of a sumptuous period of glory. The port was busy as ships under all flags were calling for repair, restock and trade.

1781 : The glorious general Suffren called at Port-Louis. In a letter to his wife, he relates that “...this country softens, there are plenty of beautiful women and a very pleasant way-of-life...”

1790 : The colonists are informed about the French revolution 6 month after facts. The reactions are mixed.

Louis XVI statue in front of St. Louis cathedral in Port Louis, Mauritius
Louis XVI statue in front of St. Louis cathedral

1792 : With the arrival of the many fleeing the revolutionary France, the objectives and the stakes of the colony are changed. The first civil unrest occur after Robespierre propose the abolishment of slavery. More tension could be felt between the pure revolutionists, the moderate republicans and the conservative and royalist planters. Some breach between the local and the metropolitan government was created.

1800 : Observing an important activity of English vessels in the Indian Ocean, the colonists ask the Napoleon administration for protection against the invaders.

1803 : Arrives governor Decaen who creates a military force on the island. Decaen had anti-revolutionary convictions and was therefore more in-line with the pro-slavery local planters. He therefore re-established former governor de Souillac's racial segregation laws, officially to put to end the profligacy within the middle-class. He nonetheless allowed the runaway slaves to live free and respected their wish in observing different religions and obediences.

Owing to the Napoleonic wars around the globe, France had many enemies and vessels from these countries were not calling at Port-Napoleon any-more. Trade died, drowning Mauritius into a slack period of depression. With starvation back onto the agenda, the privateers, namely “La Buse” and Robert Surcouf were urged to divert many of their booties to the island, ensuring that its inhabitants could keep fair standards of living.

Port sud-est from Lion Mountain, sout-East of Mauritius
“Port sud-est” from Lion Mountain

1806 : Rebuilding of the village of Mahebourg on the South-east coast. The question about having another harbour in the South-east was still being discussed and the small hamlet founded in the days of Mahé de Labourdonnais was transformed by Decaen. Named
Imperial port, it was meant to become a second main town at least. Later-on, in their effort of reconciliation, the English governors renamed it Mahebourg in honour of Mahé de Labourdonnais the “father of the country” in the eyes of the French colonists. (See ABC-book of Mauritius blog).

1810 : The year of the famous Vieux Grand Port naval battle, the only naval battle ever won by French on the British following which both commanders, vice-admiral Dupérré and admiral Willoughby, seriously injured, were placed next to each other in the district commander's house transformed into a hospital for the occasion. This house now hosts the Naval Museum of Mauritius.

The naval museum of Mahebourg in Mauritius
De Robillard house where both admirals were treated.

Despite this defeat, the British made another onslaught, this time at Cap-Malheureux, in the North of the island where they could land and take possession of the island finding hardly any resistance. The act of capitulation was drafted overnight in order to avoid unnecessary deaths. The French accepted to leave the island to the British crown conditionally that the French colonists could keep their lands, their businesses, their status and culture. This explains why the French language is more widely used than English.

1812 : Creation of the Mauritius Turf Club 3rd race-course in the world, 1st of the southern hemisphere.

1814 : As a symbolic gesture in their endeavour in taming the French colonists, the British renamed the island Mauritius and its main city and harbour Port-Louis.

1816 : On the 25th of September, 1/5 of Port-Louis burns down and the destroyed area, in the middle of Port Louis remained in ruins until… 1840.
The first daily newspaper of the southern hemisphere is published but the attempt does not last.

1820 : The first theatre of the southern hemisphere opens in Port Louis.

The Port Louis theatre in Mauritius


1822 : Decapitation of Ratsitatane, a revolutionary prince fighting against colonialism in Madagascar, exiled to Mauritius by his ruling brother.

1829 : The first landing of Indian indentured labourers under British rule; they are proposed by the government as an alternative to slavery.

1832 : Creation of Le Cernéen by Adrien d'Epinay who fought for the freedom of writing and expression, as a tool to bring the voices of the French planters, the plutocrats, to the ears of the British government.

1835 : Slavery is abolished at long last. The “worse British governor”, Sir. W. Nicolay fearing that the tensions linked to the abolition lead to a revolution against authorities decided to erect Fort Adélaïde atop Port-Louis hill in Port-Louis. Building works were terminated in 1835.

La citadelle or Fort Adelaïde in Port-Louis, Mauritius
Canons were pointing to the town...

1837 - 38 : Following tough negotiations the British government agrees to pay a financial compensation for the abolition of slavery to the French planters. The migration of indentured labourers having resumed, the island counted some 25,000 Indians in 1838. Rapidly changing the demographics, the fights for descent life conditions were initiated, starting with the voting rights.
Another fire burns down 1/3 of the St. Louis and St. Georges streets in Port-Louis.

1841 :French poet Charles Baudelaire visits Mauritius unexpectedly.

House in Port-Louis where Charles Baudelaire stayed
It is in this town house belonging to the Autard de Bragard that Charles Baudelaire stayed.

1838 – 50 : Despite the abolition, the fires, the cyclones and several other calamities, Port-Louis was booming and became this “heaven-on-earth” town that Labourdonnais once dreamt of. The central market was built in 1845, potable water was distributed in all neighbourhoods, garbage was being collected and disposed of, the first street lamps were lit, theatre companies frequently played, hundreds of vessels called to trade their luxury goods. 385 vehicles were on the roads.

1843 : Creation of the daily newspaper La Sentinelle by Remy Ollier reinforcing the freedom of the press. Like d'Epinay, he was a land owner and planter but represented the part of the population that was categorised as the “coloured intellectuals”. The political stand of La Sentinelle was thus differing from the one expressed in Le Cernéen.

1845 : Remy Ollier dies at the age of… 29. There are still questions raised about the causes and circumstances.

1856: The first steamer built in Mauritius by local shipowner Adam & Cie sails off Port-Louis.

1864 : On the 23rd of May, the first passenger train leaves Victoria station in Port-Louis for Mahebourg.
Death of Jacques Désiré Laval. French priest and spiritual leader of the Christians of Mauritius since 1841. He relieved the pain of the former slaves whose conditions were still outside humanity as excluded from it all. For his legendary kindness and his tremendous social work, Pope John-Paul II beatified him in 1979.

1865 : The streets of Port-Louis were counting up to 300 carts hauled by the Indians having refused to renew their work contract on the sugar estates.

1868 : The process of refining cane sugar by a reaction with quicklime is developed by Dr. Icery. Following the numerous calamities, namely the Pest and Cholera, followed by Malaria, starts the exodus from Port-Louis to the higher grounds. This marks the beginning of the end for Port-Louis which was being revived only during the winter each year, when the racing, theatrical and festive season was on.

1889 : First brawling between the Hindus and Muslims.

The Jummah mosque in Port-Louis, Mauritius
It is in front of the Jummah Mosque that the first inter-religious fights occured.

1892 : The all-time most devastating cyclones to hit Mauritius blows away the capital and most of the island. Winds of up to 275 Kph had been recorded before the anemometer was destroyed; at least 600 people died across the country.

1893 : The first telegraph started operating. Mauritius was linked to the Seychelles and Zanzibar. Another fire devastated La Chaussée, in Port Louis.

1896 : Mauritius is visited by Mark Twain, on his round-the-world lecturing tour.

1901 : Mahatma Gandhi visits Mauritius in the scope of having the life conditions of the Indian community improved.

1903 : Rickshaws were introduced.

1904 : The first tramway was operational.

1907 : Manilal Doctor, who had been sent by Mahatma Gandhi arrives in Mauritius to fight for the Indian community.

1908 : First release of Le Mauricien, newspaper, a second voice for the “coloured intellectuals”.

1913 : Second brawling between the Hindus and Muslims. Seven are reported dead.

1922 : First flight over the island. A plane imported by major Honnet was seen over Vacoas.

1929 : The economic crisis is worsened due to the production of beetroot sugar.

1931 : 11 reported dead after a violent cyclone hit the island.

1933 : The first two aeroplanes flying overseas (from Reunion island) landed in Mont-Choisy in the North of Mauritius. On board, Maurice Samat and Paul Louis Lemerle. (See details in our blog Grand-Baie.)

1934 : The Mauritian Rupee was created.

1936 : Creation of the first political party (Labour).

1937 : First strike by the field-workers; the state restored order by force.

1939 - 45 : While Mauritius is isolated from the rest of the world to the point of starvation, many Mauritians are enrolled in the allied forces, voluntarily or by force; many are sent to Egypt. Some Franco-Mauritians join the French Reésistance, some as secret agents.

1941 : Building of the Plaisance airport for the needs of the RAF.

1943 : During strikes on a sugar plantation, 4 were killed by the police force. The symbolic martyr of this sad event is Anjalay Coopen.

1947 : The first air-passengers land in Mauritius after a 3-day voyage from France.

1948 : The Labour party wins the first elections.

1956 : The last passenger train left Mahebourg station in the direction of Port-Louis.

1958 : The long fought-for universal suffrage is a reality.

1959 : Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam of the Labour party wins the first elections.

1960 : Alix followed a few days later by Carol are dreaded names given to these two intense cyclones that literally destroyed the island. Over 255 Kph of winds recorded, 70,000 houses destroyed, 42 reported dead.

1962 : Cyclone Jenny with gusts of 235 Kph kills 14.

1963 : Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam wins the elections once more; this time as leader of the Labour Party. The Hindus take the political lead.

1964 : Cyclone Danielle. with gusts of 219 Kph kills 3.

1965 : First mention of the forthcoming independence by the Colonial office.

1967 : Debates around independence get hot. The pros join the fight by the Labour party which takes-up the challenge of independence, the cons follow late Gaetan Duval's Parti Mauricien. This political fight quickly turns into a racial fight for power, with the people of Indian origin on one side.

1968 : While during the preceding years the it was mainly the Franco-Mauritians who were leading the resistance, the racial conflicts gets more complex with frays between the Muslims and the Creoles.
Despite the fights and divisions, Mauritians have no more choice; the independence is proclaimed on March the 12th.

1971 : First political assassination. Azor Adélaïde is shot dead in the middle of the day while he was in a car in Curepipe, with Mr. Paul Bérenger, the then opposition leader, who was the target.

1975 : Cyclone Gervaise with recorded gusts of 280 Kph causes 10 deaths.

1978 : The offices of Le Mauricien newspapers are set to fir by someone who pretends being the witness of another political assassination.

1979 : Cyclone Claudette with recorded gusts of 231 Kph causes 6 deaths, 3,700 are homeless.
Jacques Désiré Laval is beatified.

1992 : Mauritius assessed the status of republic. The governor who is the representative of the British crown becomes the president.

1994 : Cyclone Hollanda, the first intense cyclone since 1979 kills 2 and destroys 2,500 homes.

1999 : Death of the famous singer Kaya while in police custody; in more than doubtful circumstances. Riots followed and the beginning of tensions between the Creole population to whom Kaya was an idol, and the Hindus representing the authorities trying to cover-up the clear power-abuse and violence. Berger Agathe, another Rastafarian musician was shot dead in the streets by the police force.

2002 : Cyclone Dina, the last intense cyclone having hit the shores of Mauritius caused heavy rains and gusts of up to 228 Kph.

2011 : The ex minister of finance, Pravind Jugnauth, is arrested in the wake of the “Medpoint affair” where he allegedly gave his approval for the buying of a private clinic by the state, at an over-valued price, while his sister and brother-in-law were major shareholders.

2013 : A heavy shower of just a few hours, causes flash-floods in Port-Louis. 11 reported dead.

2014 : On the eve of proclamation of the general elections held in December, the pretended mistress of fallen Prime minister Nuvin Ramgoolam leaves the country with 8 suitcases and settles in Italy.

2015 : Pravind Jugnauth, while being minister of Finance and vice Prime-minister needs to step-down as he is formally accused in the “Medpoint affair”. He was exonerated in 2016 by the Supreme court.
A police raid at Nuvin Ramgoolam's house reveals the presence of approximately Rs. 220,000,000 (over 5 m Euro) in his safes. Cash could also be found in more suitcases.

author
Bernard Cayeux
+230 412 5615
bernard@bookmauritius-villas.com

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