Tuesday, 24 November 2020 05:46

Mauritius 1895, A “Great Experiment” opens the Aapravasi Ghat

Rate this item
(0 votes)
Mauritius 1895, A “Great Experiment” opens the Aapravasi Ghat Mauritius 1895, A “Great Experiment” opens the Aapravasi Ghat

Keeping sugar cane plantations operating post slavery often proved difficult. To solve the issue, the British attempted an experiment to see if poor Indians would be willing to work far and wide throughout the empire. Many indeed signed the contracts and for many that meant passage on a coolie ship to the newly opened Imigration Depot on Mauritius, to be processed and assigned to the available job. Mauritius was never the same though the system ended 100 years ago. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

The coat of arms of Mauritius must have been evocative to the numerous immigrants being brought in. They were not in chains but they were not free either. What they might have had was hope that the tropical island might offer more opportunity than what they left behind.

Todays stamp is issue A38, a 4 cent stamp issued by the British Crown Colony of Mauritius in 1895. It was a 21 stamp issue in various denominations that were issued over 9 years. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 40 cents used.

Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean that passed to the British from the French during the Napoleonic War. A French elite remained in place and so did the African slaves the French brought in to work sugar cane plantations. In 1835 the slaves on Mauritius were freed and the former slaveowners received compensation for their lost property from the colonial administration. The former slaves did not receive compensation and they also were not able to work out a fair to them system to keep working the plantations. In desperation the plantation managers looked to bringing in new immigrants from Africa, China, Portugal and even freed slaves from the USA. In this period a large French built stone structure on the wharf of Port Louis was taken over to use as an immigration depot.

The British realized that a more organized system was needed to keep the sugar cane plantations operating both in Mauritius and throughout the Empire. Indentured laborers had previously been used extensively in the British colonies in North America. Half of the whites in North America came as indentured workers. In the aftermath of the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion, Northern India, home of most of the fighting, paid a huge economic price. Given the lack of opportunity at home, many young Indians were willing to sign up for transport to a far off place, to do hard manual labor, at what to European eyes were low wages for a period of five years.

During the course of the 100 years it operated, the Immigration Depot saw over a million Indians come through. They could house about a thousand at a time and a written file with a picture was started for the coolies. There was a medical facility and train service to get them to their plantation once assigned.

The practice was ended by Britain in 1918 and the facility taken over for other uses. Again less activity at the sugar cane plantations badly hurt the economy as did a bad bout of malaria. The island was now over 2/3rds Indian and as such were taking much political power from the now mostly intermarried creoles.

In 1970 Indian Prime Minister India Gandhi visited and was disappointed to see the Immigration Depot being taken down to make way for a bus depot. She worried that the history of the many Indian arrivals would be lost. The complex was saved including the famous stone steppes down to water level. An Indian Trust Fund now manages the complex where the old files are available to view. Controversially the site is now known as the Aapravasi Ghat, which is just the Hindi translation of Immigration Depot. but is thought to leave out the laborers from other places who passed through. I have used the period term coolie for the laborers. Some may think that derogatory, but not so much in Mauritius itself. All races there refer to coolitude as part of the local culture, as they all share a long sea journey to face hard labor on Mauritius as part of their families’ past.

Well my drink is empty. Come back tomorrow when there will be another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

Source: the-philatelist.com