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History of Mauritius | Corporate and Chancery Group

History of Mauritius

The Portuguese: 1500 to 1575

 
Although the Arabs (led, it is said, by one Hassan ibn Ali, in 975) must be credited as the discoverers of the volcanic mass which is now known as Mauritius, it was the Europeans who charted the course of the island’s history.
 
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to come to Mauritius. Their arrival was accidental and occurred in July 1500 (not, as current vogue would have it, in 1507). The tale is one of interest. In 1487, two Portuguese captains, Diogo Dias and Diogo Cao, led a small fleet of Portuguese naval ships which reached the Cape of Good Hope. They were the first Europeans to reach the tip of Southern Africa.
 
Ten years later, Diogo Dias participated in the historically famous, and important, voyage of 1497-1498 around the Cape and on to India. Vasco da Gama, the father of navigators, led this expedition. In 1500, Diogo Dias took part in another expedition destined for India; an expedition organised by the Portuguese king, Pedro Alvares Cabral.
 
However, the expedition fleet of ships was badly damaged during a severe storm off the Cape, with four of the ships being lost with all hands and Dias’ ship reported missing, presumed sunk; again with all hands.
 
As matters transpired, however, whilst Dias’ ship was certainly missing, it had not sunk. It had, in fact, been wildly blown off course during the storm and, when the weather eventually moderated, Dias found himself in unfamiliar waters; namely, in the waters surrounding what are now known as the Mascarene Islands. It was then, in July, 1500, that Dias ‘discovered’ – in European terms – the islands of Mauritius and Reunion.
 
Dias anchored his ship off Mauritius and proceeded to explore the island. He started his exploration on the southeast coast at cfl Jerseys toronto Grand Port, with inland treks into Trou d’Eau Douce and Le Chaland. He then sailed his ship around the island’s south coast, and the point at Morne Brabant, and explored the area around Riviere Noire. Finally, Dias sailed up the west coast to Grand River North West. He then set course for Reunion.
 
Dias returned to Portugal by way of Madagascar, Mozambique, and the Cape Verde Islands (where he met up again with the remaining members of original Indian expedition from which he had been parted during the July, 1500 storm off the Cape of Good Hope).
 
Mauritius, and its sibling island, Rodrigues, was visited regularly cfl Jersey number rules by the Portuguese in the years which followed Dias’ ‘discovery’. Of particular note were the visits by Domingo Fernandez in 1507 (who is credited as naming the island ‘Ilha do Cirne’; or ‘Swan Island’), by Diogo Rodriguez (after whom the island of Rodrigues is named) and by Don Pedro Mascarenhas (after whom this region of the Indian Ocean is named: “Les Mascareignes”).
 
During cheap authentic cfl Jerseys the next 75 years, the Portuguese used Mauritius as a port of call – replenishing water and victual supplies for their onwards journeys to India, Malaysia and the Spice Islands – but they never established a settlement on the island.
 
Towards the end of the third quarter of the 16th century, the Portuguese abandoned their use of the island altogether, and it remained abandoned for almost 20 years, until 1598.
 
In that year, a Dutch sailor, Admiral Wybrandt Van Warwick, landed on the island (having, like Diogo Dias almost a century earlier, been blown off his otherwise intended course in a storm), finding it uninhabited he claimed on behalf of Holland, and named it ‘Mauritius’ in honour of the then Dutch ruler, Maurice Van Nassau, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau.
 
However, it was to take yet another 40 years before the Dutch exercised their claim to sovereignty over Mauritius. It was thus in 1638 that the Dutch sent a first group of settlers to occupy the island. They remained on Mauritius for some 20 years and then abandoned the island (only to return again in 1664).

 

First Dutch Settlement: 1638 to 1658

 
Although no specific settlement plan had been drawn up, the first Dutch settlers engaged in various activities designed to develop Mauritius. These included building forts, cutting down ebony trees (eventually to exhaustion), growing tobacco and vegetables, rearing cattle, establishing a system of roads and, significantly, introducing sugar cane.
 
At this juncture, it is worth noting that it was during the period of the First Dutch Settlement that the settlers introduced deer and (see before) sugar cane into Mauritius. The deer were introduced from Java which was, at the time, a Dutch colonial holding. The wanton felling of Mauritius’ ebony forests and the introduction of sugar cane brought with them the introduction of slave labour from the African mainland; mainly from Madagascar.
 
The First Dutch Settlement was plagued by various difficulties. These included having to cope with runaway slaves (and the lost production which that entailed); cyclones (and the devastations which these entailed) and investations of rats (brought from Europe in the holds of visiting ships). By 1658 the settlers had despaired of making a success of the settlement and they abandoned Mauritius in that year (leaving behind, of course, the slaves and rats).

 

Second Dutch Settlement: 1664 to 1710

 
The Dutch made a second attempt at settlement in 1664. On this occasion they resolved to stay and they embarked upon some serious development activities, including explorations of the island and its potential, and the restoration and expansion of the First Dutch Settlement’s road system.
 
However, despite the willingness to succeed displayed by the various Dutch Governors of the Island, the settlement failed in its attempt to become established due to a number of reasons. These included an increasing interest in the island by the French and English (and the consequent harassment of Dutch ships in the region) and the decline of Dutch influence in Batavia (and the consequent declining need of Mauritius as a port of call from ships outbound from Holland and heading for Batavia and parts nearby).
 
The Dutch settlers finally departed the island in 1710 (again leaving behind, of course, their slaves and deer) and it was left abandoned until the French came.

 

French Period of Occupation: 1715 to 1810

 
During the early years of the 18th century French naval and military forces, and influence, in the Indian Ocean had increased (as had that of their English counterparts). Consequently, perceiving a need for a physical local presence in the region (the Dutch then – and the English later – held the Cape areas), the French resolved to establish a presence in Mauritius (and in Reunion, which they called at that time ‘Bourbon’). To this end, the French naval captain, Guillaume Dufresne D’Arsel, landed on the island in 1715, claimed it on behalf of France and named it ‘Isle de France’.
 
However, no immediate settlement followed D’Arsel’s annexation of the island in the name of France, and it was only in April, 1722 that the first French settlers arrived (together with slaves from Madagascar, Mozambique and West Africa, and Swiss mercenaries for garrison purposes).
 
The first period of French Occupation (from 1722 to 1735) has been described by historians as ‘years of slackness and indifference’, and it was only subsequent to 1735 – when the French Governor, Captain Bertrand Francois Mahe, Comte de La Bourdonnais, took up his appointment – that progress was made.
 
During La Bourdonnais’ governorship, Port Louis became the capital of Mauritius (‘Isle de France’) and work started on the creation of its port. Thereafter, the island developed at a rapid pace and was an important port of call for both naval and civilian shipping en route to and from those parts of India then occupied by the French.
 
Other administrators who marked French tenure in Mauritius included Charpentier de Cossigny, who established the plans for Port Louis harbour; Pierre Poivre, who played an important role in the development of agriculture throughout the island (and who also created what is now the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens); and Tromelin cfl Jersey advertising who employed his talents in enlarging, and making safe, the harbour at Port Louis.
 
The French remained in occupation of Mauritius for just under a century. For the first 50 years it was actually ‘owned’ by the French East India Company and it was ‘sold’ to the French king in 1764 as “an island of 1,998 whites and free men and 18,100 slaves”. Towards the latter part of French occupation of the island, their naval and civilian shipping were being constantly attacked by English naval ships. One famous sea battle was fought out in the waters around Grand Port (where Diogo Dias first made landfall with Mauritius) on 24 August, 1810. The French won that battle.
 
However, although they had lost the battle, the English were not minded to lose the war, and a bare 3 months later, in December, 1810, they landed an invasion force of some 10,000 men in the north of the island, at Cap Malheureuse, and set march for Port Louis (at the time called Port Napoleon). General Decaen, the commander of the French forces on the island – well aware that his forces were hopelessly outnumbered – chose to concede defeat without battle, and on 3 December, 1810 he surrendered the island to his English counterpart, General John Abercrombie.. Thus the island became a British colony – its third colonial servitude in the space of two centuries.

 

Mauritius as a British Colony

 
Under the British, the island was renamed Mauritius, and it still retains that name today. Likewise, Port Napoleon was renamed Port Louis.
 
The British occupation of the island prevailed for over 150 years. However, unlike their predecessors, they did not establish any serious settlements on the island, preferring instead to concentrate on its administration. In the end, the island gained its independence in 1968 – although it remained, and still remains today, a member of the British Commonwealth.
 
When the British took control of the island, the French settlers – who were mainly sugar cane planters – chose to remain. For their part, the British undertook to respect all private property rights. Furthermore, the French, and the other inhabitants of the island (principally African slaves) were allowed to preserve and observe their religions, laws and customs. Even today, the Code de Napoleon is still used in many civil matters in Mauritius.
 
One of the major landmarks of British rule in cfl Jersey customization Mauritius revolved around the abolition of slavery. In 1807, the British Parliament legislated to outlaw the practice of enslavement and this legislation extended, of course, to British colonies and, hence, to Mauritius. However, in practical terms, the legislation was largely ignored for almost another 30 years and it was not until 1835 that the abolition of slavery took effect in Mauritius.
 
This, in turn, led to the abolition of the trafficking of African labour, as slaves. However, the actual demand for labour (principally in the sugar cane fields) was not abolished, and the sugar cane estate owners (overwhelmingly of French origin) had to seek another source for this labour. This source was India.
 
The result was an unprecedented influx of Indian immigrants into Mauritius; an immigration inflow which lasted almost a century – indeed, until 1924. These so-called ‘indentured labourers’ were brought in to work in the sugar cane fields in lieu of the African slaves; the sugar cane industry being, at that time, the principal economic activity of the island. Today, Indians of mainland Indian origin, form some 60% of the population of Mauritius.

 

Independent Mauritius

 
Mauritius finally achieved independence from Britain on 12 March, 1968, and adopted a constitution based on the British parliamentary system. On 12 March, 1992 Mauritius became a Republic, although it continues to form part of the British Commonwealth and its Final Court of Appeal remains the Privy Council in London.
 
Mauritius now manifests a rich history of ethnic, colonial influence; from the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the English. In turn, this rich tapestry of different cultures has developed and intermingled to make Mauritius a place of pleasant diversity, with a mixed population which is now 60% of Indian extraction, 20% of Creole (African) extraction, 10% of Chinese extraction and 10% of French and other European extraction.
 
In today’s Mauritius, French (in the sense of Creole) culture appears to dominate, as the Creole language is so widely used (although English is the official language and is the language of Parliament). Yet very vivid remnants of 150 years of British rule remain – from ubiquitous French cars (which are right-hand drive) compelled to drive on the left-hand side of the road; to the island’s commercial laws which are entrenched in the business sector and which, when ultimately tested, must be tested by that very British of British institution, the Privy Council in London.
 
Since Mauritius became independent in 1968, a clear pattern of incremental economic growth, coupled with a sense of responsible political awareness, has placed the country at the top of a long list of developing countries in the region. Mauritius has become a crucial strategic member of SADC (the Southern African Development Community), and is poised to be the principal accessory for economic growth in the region, as more and more investors utilise the country as a base for investment, and as a repository for handsome economic returns (which the double tax avoidance treaties Mauritius has negotiated with its trading partners, protect and encourage).

 

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