French Period in Mauritius

mauritius travel and tourism guide
© 2002 All rights reserved. Photo courtesy Musée de la Photographie
Mauritius history grande rivière bridgeThe presence of the French in the Indian Ocean can be dated back to the 17th Century. Last to come to the Indian Ocean, the English, Portuguese and Dutch preceded them. In 1638, they took possession of Reunion Island and named it Bourbon. At that time the Dutch controlled Mauritius. The French also had a counter in Madagascar (Fort Dauphin), East Africa and India where they had established a counter at Pondicherry.

In 1674, Fort Dauphin in Madagascar was attacked by the locals and it was decided that the French settlers should move to Bourbon. In 1676, those who survived Fort Dauphin moved to Bourbon but the islands only remained at the periphery of French concerns in the region.

For half a century Bourbon remained a neglected colony. In 1711, there were only 1024 people in Bourbon. This was, however, quite a lot considering that Mauritius, under the Dutch colonisation, had only 236 people in 1706.
One of the main reasons for failure of the Dutch to settle in Mauritius was because of the small number of women. For example, at that same period, they were only 111 men and 58 women on the Dutch island. On the other hand, the balance of sexes was much more equal in Bourbon where in 1711, there were 284 men and 274 women.
Bourbon and Isle de France
Although the French colonized Bourbon before Isle De France, it remained for the greatest part of an agrarian society based on the cultivation of agricultural goods, namely coffee. On the other hand Isle de France, soon after the arrival of the French in 1710, became a trading post and port.
The beginning of the French settlement on Isle de France was quite difficult because of a number of reasons. The indiscipline of soldiers, the indecision of the administration, cyclones and other natural calamities and difficulty from getting help from Bourbon during these times made life very difficult on the island.
The early Governors of Bourbon paid little attention to Isle de France and internal tensions between the Provincial Council and the Governors added to the indecision on how to develop the island.
Between 1721 and 1735, very little was done in Isle de France. Settlement in Isle de France started under Desforges-Boncher and continued under the leadership of an engineer called Denyon. But conflict and differences between Desforges-Boncher and Denyon left the island in a stalemate. After the death of Desforges and the resignation of Denyon who had found the task too overwhelming, the task of ruling Isle de France fell to Monsieur de Brousse who soon ran into conflict against the Provincial Council.
In 1727, the Company appointed a civilian, Pierre Benoit Dumas, as governor of both islands. The main seat of power was to be in Bourbon but the Governor was expected to spend three months in Isle de France every year. This system, however, did not work very well. In 1729 the Company gave Isle de France its own administrator, Nicolas de Maupin. Like Denyon before him, the new administrator was pessimistic about the island’s future. He nevertheless recommended that Port Louis should become the main port and the center of government. As a result an engineer named Cossigny was sent on the relative merits of the two ports and to draw up plans for fortifications. Cossigny arrived in Isle de France in June 1732 but was not very successful on getting his recommendations adopted, as he was a man who made enemies early. He feels out with Bourbon’s Governor Dumas as well as every single other official of the Company and Council. As a result he was ordered to leave the island in early 1735.
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