British Take Over And Late French Colonial Society

mauritius travel and tourism guide
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Mauritius history monumentFrench colonial society before the British period was a slave society with the white at the top of the pyramid and the others, the coloured, Indians and Africans at the bottom. When the British took over, the population of the island was made up of about 7000 white settlers, 7000 coloured, 6000 Indians and 60000 slaves. The economy was mainly an agricultural/subsistence economy. This based on the cultivation of crops such as cotton, indigo and corn/maize. Corn was, for example, largely used as the staple food of the population and was provided to the ships that called in the port. Sugar cane was also planted but was used only in the production of arack (rhum).
Other important features at that time were trade and commerce. Port Louis was a free port used as an ‘entrepot’ where Western and Eastern goods were exchanged and traded. The administration of the island was well developed with the existence of a civil service and different tribunals. This meant that attorneys, notaries and other jobs related to the judiciary were already well established over the island. Finally one should note that at that time there existed two parallel legal systems, one for the white and one for the blacks under the Code Napoleon.

To understand the British take-over of the island, one has to focus on the strategic importance of Ile de France at that time. The Napoleonic period was a period of bitter rivalry between French and English forces. This rivalry was very much presented in the Indian Ocean where the main subject of conflict was the Indian Peninsula. India was almost completely in the hands of the British and the Napoleonic forces wanted to capture India. Ile de France thus had a strategic position because of its good labour. It was the port of call of the French naval forces fighting the British in the Indian Ocean. The French preyed on British ships in the Indian Ocean from Ile de France. Moreover almost everything could be obtained from Ile de France. Merchant ships therefore stopped going to India, which proved detrimental to trade in India.
However because of the constant threat to India by the Napoleonic forces, the British considered that it was safer and more necessary to maintain their military forces in India rather than deploy them around Ile de France for an invasion. Even after the fall of Napoleon, the British had problems with the local Indian Princes and had to maintain a strong presence in India. Some steps were taken to run a ship blockade to prevent ships from coming in and leaving Ile de France, but because of cyclones, it was not effective. Ships found it difficult to patrol the area all year round.
It was only around 1810 when all the problems of the British in India had been resolved that a fleet was set up to conquer Ile de France

Mauritius history canon vieux Grand PortThe first island to fall in the hands of the British was Bourbon (Reunion Island). While preparing to take-over Ile de France, Captain Willoughby, Commander of the British fleet, landed on Ile de la Passe, in the South East of the island. In order to win over the local population, the British distributed propaganda pamphlets to the people of Ile de France. While on Ile de la Passe, three French ships were seen entering the Grand Port harbour. Willoughby tried to mislead the French ships by raising a French flag. His strategy was to put the French off their guards and let them come into firing range. Unfortunately his gunners misfired and the British were defeated. The Battle of Grand Port was the only French victory over the British at sea during the Napoleonic period. The British however came back. They landed at Cap Malheureux, in the North of the island, and marched towards Port Louis (Port Napoleon). On the third of December 1810, the French capitulated to the British. There exist nowadays a Naval Museum at Mahebourg where the Battle of Grand Port is commemorated.
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