Complete History of Mauritius

Copper engraving from Het Tweede Boeck showing Dutch activities on the shore of Mauritius during the 1598 voyage of Admiral Jacob van Neck, as well as the first published depictions of a dodo (2) and a broad-billed parrot (5), both now extinct. Johann Theodor de Bry, 1598


Mauritius, officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island republic in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 mi) off the south-east coast of the African continent. The country comprises of the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agaléga and St. Brandon. he islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues form section of the Mascarene Islands, along with nearby Réunion, a French overseas territory. The capital and most populous city, Port Louis, is inhabited on the main island of Mauritius. The country is 2,040 square kilometers (790 sq mi) in area, while its Exclusive Economic Zone covers 2.3 million square kilometers.

Humans have inhabited this small Island for thousands of years. Humans, coexisting with exotic wildlife, have helped shape the ancient history of Mauritius. However, most of the history from ancient times were not recorded and so, we don’t have enough material to elaborate here.

Recorded Discovery As Researched by NYK Daily

The perceived history of Mauritius starts with its exploration by Arabs, followed by Europeans and its presence on maps in the early 16th century. Mauritius was successively conquered by the Dutch, the French and the British, and grew independent in 1968.

The History of Mauritius

Mauritius was first explored by the Moors. This is supported by the earliest existing historical evidence of an island, now known as Mauritius, which is on a map generated by the Italian cartographer Alberto Cantino in 1502. Cantino shows three islands that are thought to represent the Mascarenes (Réunion, Mauritius, and Rodrigues) and calls them Dina Margabin, Dina Arobi, and Dina Moraze. The medieval Arab world called the Indian Ocean island region Waqwaq.

Portuguese discoveries (1507–1513)

Mauritius was later identified and toured by the Portuguese between 1507 and 1513. Mauritius and circling islands were known as the Mascarene Islands Ilhas Mascarenhas after Pedro Mascarenhas. 

The three islands (Réunion, Mauritius, and Rodrigues) were encountered some years earlier by accident during an exploratory voyage of the coast of the Bay of Bengal led by Tristão da Cunha. The expedition ran into a cyclone and was forced to change course. Thus, the ship Cirne of the captain Diogo Fernandes Pereira came into view of Réunion island on 9 February 1507. They called the island “Santa Apolonia” (“Saint Apollonia”) in honor of that day’s saint. Mauritius was encountered during the same expedition and received the name of “Cirne” and Rodrigues that of “Diogo Fernandes”. Five years later, the islands were visited by Dom Pedro de Mascarenhas who left the name Mascarene for the whole region. The Portuguese took no stake in these isolated islands. They were already established in Asia in Goa, on the coast of Malabar, on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and on the Malaysian coast.

Their main African base was in Mozambique, therefore the Portuguese navigators preferred to use the Mozambique Channel to go to India. Comoros at the north proved to be a more practical port of call. Thus no permanent colony was established on the island by the Portuguese.

Dutch East India Company era (1598-1710)

In 1598, the Second Dutch Expedition to Indonesia consisting of eight ships, under the orders of admirals Jacques Cornelius van Neck and Wybrandt van Warwick, set sail from Texel, Netherlands, towards the Indian subcontinent. The eight ships ran into nasty weather after crossing the Cape of Good Hope and were separated. Three discovered their way to the northeast of Madagascar, while the remaining five regrouped and sailed in a southeasterly direction. On 17 September, the five ships under the orders of Admiral van Warwick came into view of Mauritius. On 20 September, they entered a sheltered bay which they named “Port de Warwick” (now known as “Grand Port”). They arrived and decided to name the island “Prins Mauritz van Nassaueiland,” after the son of William the Silent, Prince Maurits (Latin version: Mauritius) of the House of Nassau, the stadtholder of most of the Dutch Republic, and after the principal vessel of the fleet, the “Mauritius”. From that time, only the name Mauritius has remained. On 2 October, the ships again took to the sea towards Bantam. Some of the descendants of William of Orange through the female line reside in Mauritius, including Jill Holloway, a distinguished businesswoman, marine journalist, and writer. 

From then on, the island’s Port de Warwick was used by the Dutch as a stopover after long months at sea. In 1606, two expeditions came for the first time to what would later become Port-Louis in the northwest part of the island. The expedition, consisting of eleven ships and 1,357 men under the orders of Admiral Corneille, came into the bay, which they named “Rade des Tortues” (literally meaning “Harbor of the Tortoises”) because of the great number of terrestrial tortoises they found there. From that date, Dutch sailors shifted their choice to Rade des Tortues as a harbor.

French rule (1715–1810)

Abandoned by the Dutch, the island became a French colony when, in September 1715, Guillaume Dufresne d’Arsel landed and took possession of this port of call on the route to India. He named the island “Isle de France”, but it was only in 1721 that the French started their occupation. However, it was only from 1735, with the arrival of the French governor, (Mahé de La Bourdonnais), that “Isle de France” started developing effectively. Mahé de La Bourdonnais planted spices such as pepper, cinnamon, and cloves at “Jardin Pamplemousses”. Mahé de La Bourdonnais established Port Louis as a naval base and a shipbuilding center. Under his governorship, diverse buildings were built, a number of which still stand today: part of Government House, the Chateau de Mon Plaisir at Pamplemousses, and the Line Barracks. The island was under the administration of the French East India Company which maintained its presence until 1767.

During the Napoleonic wars, the “Isle de France” had become a base from which French corsairs organized successful raids on British commercial ships. The raids continued until 1810 when a strong British expedition was sent to capture the island. A preliminary attack was foiled at Grand Port in August 1810, but the main attack launched in December of the same year from Rodrigues, which had been captured during the same year, was successful. Rodrigues was before visited for only freshwater and food by the British In 1809. The British landed in large numbers in the north of the island and rapidly overpowered the French, who capitulated. By the Treaty of Paris in 1814, the “Isle de France” which was renamed Mauritius was ceded to Great Britain, together with Rodrigues and Seychelles. In the act of capitulation, the British guaranteed that they would appreciate the languages, the customs, the laws, and the legends of the inhabitants.

British rule (1810–1968)

Notwithstanding the only French naval victory (during the Napoleonic Wars) of Battle of Grand Port on 19 and 20 August 1810 by a fleet commanded by Pierre Bouvet, Mauritius was captured on 3 December 1810 by the British under Commodore Josias Rowley. Their possession of the island was reinforced four years later by the Treaty of Paris (1814). French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were sustained. The French language was at that moment still used more widely than English.

The British government, which began with Robert Townsend Farquhar as governor, was accompanied by rapid social and economic changes. One of the most important events was the eradication of slavery on 1 February 1835. The planters received a payment of two million pounds sterling for the loss of their slaves which had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation. Sir George Ferguson Bowen was governor from 1879 to 1883.

Mauritian Creoles trace their origins to the plantation owners and slaves who were brought to work the sugar fields. When slavery was abolished on 1 February 1835, an attempt was made to secure a cheap source of adaptable labor for intensive sugar plantations in Mauritius. Indentured labor began with Chinese, Malay, African and Malagasy laborers, but ultimately, it was India which supplied the much-needed laborers to Mauritius. This period of intensive use of Indian labor took place during British rule, with many brutal episodes and a long struggle by the indentured for respect. The term referred to the obligated during this period, and which has since become a derogatory term for Mauritians of Asian descent, was Coolie. The island soon became the key-point in the trade of indentured laborers, as thousands of Indians set forth from Calcutta or Karikal; not only did they transform the social, political, and economic physiognomies of the island, but some also went farther, to the West Indies.

Indo-Mauritians are descended from Indian immigrants who arrived in the 19th century via the Aapravasi Ghat in order to work as enslaved laborers after slavery was abolished in 1835. The Franco-Mauritian elite controls nearly all of the large sugar estates and is active in business and banking. As the Indian population became numerically dominant and the voting franchise was extended, political power shifted from the Franco-Mauritians and their Creole allies to the Indo-Mauritians.

The meeting of a mosaic of people from India, China, Africa, and Europe began a process of hybridization and intercultural conflicts and dialogues, which poet Khal Torabully has termed “coolitude”. This social reality is a major source for identification opened to otherness and is widely used in Mauritius where it serves a humanism of heterogeneity.

Independence (1968)

Elections in 1947 for the newly formed Legislative Assembly marked Mauritius’s first steps toward self-rule and were won by the Labour Party, headed by Guy Rozemont. It was the first time the elite Francophones were ousted from power.

An independence drive gained momentum after 1961 when the British agreed to permit additional self-government and eventual independence. A coalition comprised of the Mauritian Labour Party (MLP), the Muslim Committee of Action (CAM) of Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed, and the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB) – a traditionalist Hindu party – won a majority in the 1967 Legislative Assembly election, despite opposition from Franco-Mauritian and Creole supporters of Sir Gaetan Duval QC’s and Jules Koenig’s Mauritian Social Democratic Party (PMSD).

The contest was described locally as a referendum on independence. The election was won by a small margin. Constituency No. 15 was key to the victory by the pro-independence coalition. The MLP led alliance was able to win this constituency only due to the support of the CAM. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, a very popular medical practitioner who tremendously helped and supported the poor and the worker’s community, MLP leader and chief minister in the colonial government, became the first prime minister after independence, on 12 March 1968. This event was preceded by a period of communal strife, brought under control with help from British troops. The communal strife that preceded independence led to around 300 deaths.

British rule ended on 12 March 1968 with the Mauritius Independence Act 1968 and the dawn of the modern era in Mauritius History began.

Source: Mauritius Official Government Site, commonwealth official site and wikipedia

Was it worth reading? Let us know.