Like many great discoveries, the wonderful island of Mauritius was discovered quite by accident and was largely ignored in the early years of it’s discovery. However, over the centuries Mauritius history becomes more developed and interesting, leading to the development of the island that is so loved by tourists today.
Some time between 1507 and 1513, an exploratory sea expedition from Portugal on the ship “Cirne”, was blown off course by a cyclone in the Indian Ocean. Three islands were discovered and given the names “Santa Apolonia” (after Saint Apollina), “Cirne” (after the ship) and “Diogo Fernandes”. These islands are now known as Reunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues. They were first termed the Mascarene Islands around five years after their initial discovery, by a passing sea captain named Dom Pedro de Mascarenhes.
However, the Portuguese had little interest in the three islands. They simply recorded them on their maps – should disaster befall their ships in the Indian Ocean and them need to find land quickly – and that was largely that.
It is actually the Dutch, not the original discovers the Portuguese, who play the biggest role in the history of Mauritius. In 1598, more foul weather brought an expedition of ships to Mauritian shores, this time a Dutch fleet. Taking refuge on the island, the decision was taken to rename the island “Prins Maurits van Nassaueiland”, after the stadtholder of Holland, Prince Maurits. It is from this that the name Mauritius – the Latin for Maurits – is taken, a name which the island still holds today.
The Dutch were not particularly interested in Mauritius either, though they did see the advantage of using the island as a haven during the worst of the Indian Ocean’s cyclones. The Dutch mainly used the island for ebony trees, which were considered a luxury and seemed to grow in abundance on the island.
It wasn’t until 1638 that the island of Mauritius began to be colonized by the Dutch, marking the first real entry in Mauritius history. However, despite many attempts, the Dutch population of around 100 people struggled hugely to make the island their home. Horrific weather, poor supply deliveries and illness meant the island was abandoned in 1703. The Dutch would never return, though they left their mark on the island – many believe the dodo became instinct due to Dutch sailors running out of food and killing flocks of the birds!
Mauritius history may have ended there, but instead the French arrived in 1715 and made Mauritius a French colony. Guillaume Dufresne D’Arsel landed in September of that year and renamed the island, quite ingeniously, “Isle de France”. In 1721, the full occupation began with the arrival of the Governor Mahe de la Bourdonnais, a man who would play an integral part in the history of Mauritius.
Until 1810, the island remained in French hands and a steady port and shipping industry was created. Then, during the Napoleonic Wars, the island was used as a base for the French to organize raids on British ships. Unhappy about this, an expedition was sent in 1810 itself by the British to capture the island. The British overwhelmed the French and in 1814, the “Isle de France” reverted back to it’s original name Mauritius and was ceded to Great Britain.
Britain retained the island until it gained it’s independence in March 1968. Mauritius is now a republic within the Commonwealth, attaining this status in 1992. With the most difficult chapters of Mauritius history probably behind the island, it can now more on to a prosperous, free future.