Mauritius in 60-Seconds

The island we now call Mauritius was first discovered by Arab sailors who called it Dina Arobi.  Portuguese sailors visited between 1507 and 1513 who called the group of islands of which Mauritius is a member, “Ilhas Mascarenhas” or the Mascarene Islands after Pedro Mascarenhas.

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The Dutch Period

During foul weather, five of the eight ships of the Dutch East India Company’s expedition to Indonesia, landed at Port de Warwick, now called Grand Port.  Admiral Wybrandt van Warwyck named 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 also the name of main vessel of the fleet, the “Mauritius”.  In 1638 Cornelius Gooyer established the first permanent Dutch settlement in Mauritius with a garrison of twenty-five, becoming the first governor of the island whilst a further thirty more men came to reinforce the Dutch colony in 1639.  The first Dutch attempt to colonize the island failed for a number of reasons and ended on the 16th July 1658.

The Dutch made a second attempt at colonizing Mauritius from 1666 to 1710.  This also failed for similar reasons to the first attempt however, their legacy remains with some of their achievements including:

Providing the name for the country and for many regions over the whole island. Some examples include “Pieter Both” mountain and the “Vandermeersh” region near Rose-Hill, as well as many other names
Introduction of sugar cane plants from Java
Decimating the local dodo and giant tortoise populations for food and by introducing competing species and pests, sometimes involuntarily
Clearing of large swaths of forests for Ebony wood exploitation

The French Period

In 1715, the French claimed possession of the island which they renamed, Isle de France but their colonization began in 1721.  Isle de France only really started developing effectively from 1735, with the arrival of the French governor Mahé de La Bourdonnais.  Isle de France was under the administration of the French East India Company until 1767 after which time, the island was turned over to the French King.

The British Period

The British seized Mauritius in 1810 and four years later under the Treaty of Paris in 1814, possession of the island was confirmed.  The French inhabitants were permitted to keep their possessions, language, education and laws which explains why French is the dominant European language with many places having French names.  Mauritian Creole is a language spoken by the majority of the population and has its roots in French.

Think of it like this, if it has a French name or history then it is probably older than 1810.  If it has a British name or influence then it is certainly from after 1810.  Anything older than 1835 would have been constructed by slaves.  Anything constructed between 1835 and 1839 would have been built with “apprentices” which was the “civilized” term used to describe a freed slave who then had to work for four years doing the same work they did as a slave but for which they were paid a paltry sum.

With slavery outlawed, an alternative source of labour was sourced from India with indentured workers.  This was the “Grand Experiment” which saw Britain exporting indentured workers from India to all corners of the British Empire but first implemented in Mauritius.  Generally accepted to be better than slavery but not by much and this did depend significantly on the employer.  Anything constructed after 1839 would have employed indentured workers.

Independence

On the 12th March 1968, Mauritius gained independence and became a republic on the 12th March 1992.

This does mean almost all of the history of Mauritius has been recorded in modern languages and perhaps this helps explain why an island with no indigenous population is seen as a melting pot of cultures, languages and tolerance.

 

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