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History & Heritage

History & Heritage

Capitulation of Mauritius, 1810

The capitulation of Mauritius in 1810 (Port Louis)

1810 was a year of immense significance to Mauritius and Mauritians. The ongoing Anglo-French wars had not only helped a handful of merchant-adventurers to amass huge profits; the activities of the corsairs brought in their train people of diverse origins: traders and agents from neutral nations, captured seamen, dispossessed Indian Ocean travellers, so many men and women plucked from their native shores and deposited on to the ‘nest of pirates’ that the Mascarenes had come to represent. The years of blockade had also left their mark on the islands; shortages of manpower, provisions and commodities of every kind had produced distress and disaffection. The increasingly audacious activities of the encircling British squadron and the growing likelihood of a change of government were a source of anxiety but also offered a glimmer of hope to many. And the change, when it did come, in December 1810, brought with it a kernel of the new era. Aboard the ships were Bengalis and Biharis, Marathas, Tamils and Telegus, among many others of diverse nationalities. Gujarati, Parsi and south Indian traders had supplied the transport vessels and victuals for the huge invading army – they would not be slow to take advantage of the new opportunities British conquest offered as the huge resources of British-controlled India were opened up to the Mauritians.

On the 26th November 1810, the combined fleet from the Indian presidencies was nearing the Isle of France. The look-outs on the island signalled the presence of scores of ships. On board the cooking pots were bubbling – three days provisions were being prepared for the thousands of soldiers who were soon to be required to march across the island. Over the next few days as soldiers, sailors, sepoys and slaves moved towards the French capital, it became increasingly clear that the island’s defence force was vastly outnumbered and that more than a token resistance would be futile.

Early on the morning of 3rd December 1810 the treaty surrendering the isle of France was signed at the headquarters set up bythe invading British army. At around six am “the grenadiers of the British army, marched into the lines and principal forts and batteries of Port Louis.”

Robert Townsend Farquhar took over as the first British governor of Mauritius He now had to take a series of decisions and measures to restore order and to set the tone of his new regime. He needed to secure the removal of potentially dangerous French troops and extract an oath of fidelity from the inhabitants; he had to keep control over the British invasion force, which included men of many nationalities and inclinations, appoint or re-instate an entire body of administrators and restore the socio-economic order. In upholding the status quo and reinstalling the French-Mauritians in their former positions he destroyed the hopes of the lower echelons of society on the islands,even as merchants and politicians in British India and in Britain rejoiced at the final fall of the ‘nest of corsairs’.

Over coming decades the peace dividend would go some way towards restoring the fortunes won and lost in the vagaries of war, but the embers of change which would ultimately lead to the abolition of slavery were slow to take hold in Mauritius; one could indeed argue that as long as the Farquhar coterie held power, they would be stamped out. Those slaves who had played a key role both in French defence and British attack would see scant recompense.

The huge population of British-controlled India was now part of the same political entity as the former French islands. Entrepreneurs of many ethnic groups who already inhabited that great land-mass, including Chinese, Parsis and Gujaratis, had seen a business opportunity in the expedition. They now sent representatives to the island. Some of the sepoys, lascars and service personnel stayed behind and settled on Mauritius. Their friends and relatives – Biharis and Bengalis, Tamils, Telegus and Marathis – would be among the first to respond when King Sugar beckoned…..

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© mauritius mag

 

 

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