My father came from Mauritius. Let's have a look of 1945 geography of Mauritius
(To open book, flip the book corner)
I wish to express my grateful thanks to all those who helped in the preparation of this book, and in particular to Mr. T. B. Barnes, Rector, Royal College, for having given me the pleasant task of writing it and for his advice in the early stages, to Mr. W. E. F. Ward, C.M.G., for valuable criticisms of the text and maps, to Dr. R. E. Vaughan for permission to make use of and adapt Map 5, to Mr. S. Pelte for similar help in Map 8, and to Mr. Thiboudois, Public Works Department, for having drawn the map of Rodriguez. The historical notes in Chapter V are culled from "The History of Mauritius" by kind permission of the authors, Messrs. Barnwell and Toussaint. I have based Map No. 1 on the Admiralty charts of the Indian Ocean and the various maps of the island on the Ordnance Survey Map of Mauritius.
R. H. A.
A SCHOOL GEOGRAPHY OF MAURITIUS
YOUR OWN DISTRICT
THE CLIMATE OF OUR ISLAND
FORESTRY, AGRICULTURE AND OTHER INDUSTRIES
PEOPLE, PLACES AND COMMUNICATIONS
OTHER ISLANDS UNDER OUR CONTROL
The position of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean
Mauritius—plains, plateaux and mountains
The slope of the land in our island
Mauritius—mountain ranges, rivers, reservoirs and canals
Mauritius—Crown forests, pas géométriques, scrub and thickets, and cultivated land
POPULATION DIAGRAM : Indo-Mauritian and General Population
Mauritius—towns and villages, roads and railways
Agaléga, Diégo Garcia and St. Brandon
Cable and Steamship Routes serving Mauritius
YOUR OWN DISTRICT
1. We live on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Men have named it "The Star and Key of the Indian Ocean" and "The Land of Rainbows, Waterfalls and Shooting Stars." The first of these names was given to our Island about a century ago. Mauritius is a "key" to the Indian Ocean. this means that the nation which holds Mauritius can command the sea routes between India, South Africa and Australia. A hundred and fifty years ago, French raiders, or Corsairs as they were called, used Mauritius as a base from which to attack British ships sailing between India and the0
Cape. "Ile de France," as it was then called, was so great a menace to the English merchant fleet that the British were forced to send a large army to capture the island. During the Second World War ships of the Royal Navy and aeroplanes of the Royal Air Force used Mauritius as a base from which to attack Japanese and German ships and submarines. If Japan had conquered our island home during this great struggle, the danger to the British Empire would have greatly increased. Few of our ships could have safely voyaged in any part of the Indian Ocean.
The reason for the second name is clear. In this land of sunshine and showers, rainbows are1
often seen. Our many rivers flow swiftly to the sea, and on their rapid journey form cascades as they tumble over rocky ledges. Look up at the sky on a summer night and, unless you are very unlucky, you will see an étoile filante burning brightly as it falls. How much do you know about your native land? This book may help you to find out more about it. You will read of its mountains and rivers, its forests and fields, of the men and women who live here, and of the work they do.
2. To read is not enough. It is much more important to use your eyes, and to see the things that are about you. Most of us look at things, but do2
not notice them. If you do not believe this, make a simple test now. Close your eyes and tell the teacher how many doors there are in your schoolroom, how many windows, how many seats. When you came to school this morning, were there any clouds in the sky ? In what direction was the wind blowing ? Did a motor car pass you or did you meet an ox cart ? You may not be able to answer these questions to-day, but learn in future to make a habit of noticing what you see around you.
3. Study your own district. The better you know it, the easier it will be to understand the rest of the world, because then you may compare things you see and3
know at home with others you read about. Make a division of these things into two groups, the first NATURAL, the second MAN-MADE. In the first group you will have mountains, rivers, valleys and plains. Taken together, these make up what is called the RELIEF of your own district. In the list of MAN-MADE things there will be houses, roads, railways, factories, harbours, and so on. Notice also the VEGETATION of your district. Is the land wild or is it cultivated ? Is it covered with trees, rocks or sugarcane ? Very likely it will have all these, and others. Your task is to find out how much there is of each.
4. As it may not be4
possible for you to travel all over Mauritius, you must find out about those parts which you have not seen by asking questions, by reading books and newspapers, by looking at photographs and by studying maps. There are nine maps in this book, and others in your school atlas. Study them very carefully, for by doing so you will learn more about your own country than it is possible to tell you in the written part of this book. In the two or three years you have already spent in school you have been taught to make models in clay and to draw plans of your classroom, of the schoolhouse and of the village or town in which you live. Through doing this5
work you should have learned that a map is just another form of writing, and that a map can be read as easily as one reads the pages of a printed book or a letter from a friend. A wonderful new world is opened to those who can read maps. They reveal, to those who have eyes to see, the appearance of the different countries of the world, their mountains and rivers, their plateaux and plains, their roads, canals and railways, their agriculture and their industries, their inhabitants and the lives they lead.
5. Study carefully Map No. 1 on the opposite page. It shows the position of your island in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is about 1,250 miles from the east coast of Africa. A fast ship can go from Port Louis to Durban in five days. Between Mauritius and South Africa lies the great island of MADAGASCAR. If our Island was ever joined to Madagascar or to Africa it must have been a long time ago. Men have found that the sea which lies between is more than three-and-a-half miles deep in places. 8
6. The distribution of land and water on the earth's surface has not always remained unchanged. When the earth was still very young there was a vast continent South of the Equator. Students of geography have given it the name of GONDWANALAND. South America, Africa, India and Australia all formed part of it. As time went on the land rose in some places and sank in others. Big pieces of land broke off and floated away from the parent continent. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans were born. In those early days Madagascar was still joined to Africa, but during another movement of the land it was separated from Africa by the Mozambique9
Channel. Look carefully at Map No. 1, and you will see that the west coast of Madagascar would fit into the east coast of Africa if you pushed the island down a little to the south-west.
7. At another stage in the history of the world, probably later, Mauritius was formed by the action of volcanoes. The sea between Mauritius and Madagascar is very deep. When these islands were discovered by explorers, they notice that there were many animals and plants in Madagascar which were not to be found in Mauritius. What is stranger still, there were birds in Mauritius which did not exist anywhere else in the world. For these and other10
reasons we believe that our island was never joined to Madagascar.
8. Look again at Map No. 1. You will see that Mauritius lies at the south end of a dotted line which has Seychelles at its north end. Along this line the sea is one mile deep. Inside it, most of the sea is less than one-eighth of a mile deep. Outside it, the ocean is between two and three miles deep. This means that there is a big plateau, one thousand two hundred miles long, rising from the bottom of the sea. In some places the plateau appears above the sea. These places are shown on the map as the Amirante Isles, the Seychelles, Saya de Malha Bank, Nazareth Bank,11
Cargados Carajos, and Mauritius. On the banks there is often less than fifty feet of water. Great numbers of fish are found in these shallow places. Look for two short lines drawn on the map a little to the north of Mauritius. They mark a deep canal which cuts across the plateau. Perhaps it might be better to describe it as a crack which has appeared in this great submarine land-mass.
9. This study of the ocean shows two things. First, that a very long time ago Mauritius probably was at the end of a great island, bigger than Madagascar. Second, that probably our island was never joined to Madagascar or to Africa by a land bridge.12
Mauritius has been cut off from the rest of the world by the sea. This is the reason why the Dodo was able to live here in safety. This is why there were no monkeys, rats or other animals here until the first ships came.
10. South-west of us is our younger sister-island, LA REUNION. When the air is clear, in the late afternoon, it is possible to see it from the Trou aux Cerfs near Curepipe. Réunion is bigger than Mauritius. Its greatest length is forty-five miles and its greatest breadth thirty-two miles. Its coast is rocky and dangerous. From a narrow coastal plain the land rises quickly to a great height. Some of its plateaux13
are twice as high as Piton de la Rivière Noire. Its greatest mountain, PITON DES NEIGES, rises ten thousand feet above the level of the sea. In other words, the Piton is more than four times as high as the Corps de Garde. High plateaux and mountain ranges give La Réunion a cool, healthy climate. A great variety of trees, plants and crops is to be found there. Around the coast sugar is cultivated and on the hill-sides one finds tobacco, potatoes and manioc, many fruits, plants such as geraniums and vetivers from which perfumes are made, and European trees such as beech, oak, pine and fir. Because the slope of the land is so steep, the rivers14
descend in rushing torrents. When they are in flood they destroy roads and bridges, and carry rocks, trees and soil out to sea. In the south-east of the island is GRAND BRULÉ, a desolate, volcanic region. LA FOURNAISE, one of the volcanoes, is still active. The capital of La Réunion is SAINT DENIS, a town of twenty-two thousand inhabitants.
11. The word "volcano" has already appeared a number of times. Do you know what volcanoes are, and how they are formed ? A very long time ago the earth was part of the sun. When it broke away it was very hot, but it gradually cooled, became solid and grew smaller in size. The outside cooled15
more rapidly than the inside. The earth is still losing heat, but its centre remains hot enough to melt rocks and make them flow like water. Volcanoes are formed when this melted rock forces its way to the surface of the earth. It is not quite clear why this should happen. Men who have studied the question have found a number of reasons why the LAVA, or melted rock, should attempt to escape to the surface of the earth. But as they cannot go and see for themselves, it is not possible to say which explanation is correct.
12. When the lava breaks through the surface of the earth, a new volcano is born. It may happen on dry land, or16
beneath the surface of the sea. In the first case the volcano proceeds to build up a hill, in the second an island. While the volcano is active it is said to be in eruption. Sometimes the eruption takes place quietly, but more often it is violent. Explosions occur which may blow masses of rock thousands of feet into the air. In the Netherlands East Indies there is an island called Krakatoa. In the year 1883 this island was almost destroyed by a great eruption. The noise was heard at Rodriguez, nearly three thousand miles away. On the seashore at Poste Lafayette one may still find pieces of pumice stone which have come from Krakatoa.17
13. Violent eruptions cause solid rock as well as lava to be flung into the air. The smaller pieces of rock are known as CINDERS or VOLCANIC ASH, the larger pieces as BOULDERS. When liquid lava is thrown high in the air, it may become solid as it falls. It forms round or oval drops which are known as VOLCANIC BOMBS. Such "bombs" can be found in the sides of the railway cutting at Pailles. You can see volcanic ash and boulders at Souillac, Tamarin and other parts of the island.
14. Volcanoes, like earthquakes and cyclones, are often dangerous to human beings but, unlike the other two, they build up as well as destroy.18
When the lava pours from the volcano it flows over the land around until it becomes cool and solid. At first the surface is barren rock. It may be smooth, or rough, or full of little holes. But in time the action of sun and wind and water turns this rock into fertile soil on which men may cultivate sugarcane and other crops.
15. It should be clear to you by now that Mauritius has been formed by the work of volcanoes. Perhaps you have seen some of the dead craters. The easiest to visit is the Trou aux Cerfs, close to Curepipe. Others are the Trou Kanaka, Grand Bassin, and Bassin Blanc. Many of our mountains rise from the plain,19
abrupt and bare. They are the remains of old volcanoes whose sides have in time been worn smooth by the action of wind, rain and sun until only the hard rock is left. This action is called WEATHERING.
16. In Mauritius the volcanoes were not active all the time, nor is it likely that they were all active at the same time. There were long periods of rest. The land slowly became covered with vegetation. Then there were fresh eruptions, the lava flowed again and buried the burning trees. The last lava to flow became very hard when it cooled. You may see it at Plaine des Roches. It makes a great winding path across the district of20
17. Around the coast there are more than twenty small islands. Including these, the area of Mauritius is seven hundred and twenty square miles ; almost two-thirds of the size of Réunion. Coral reefs surround the island, except for a stretch of eight miles along the south-east coast from Souillac to Ilôt Brocus, where there are low cliffs. 21
18. Have you ever stopped to consider how coral reefs are formed ? Turn to Map No. 2, and you will see that the coral reef around Mauritius closely follows the shape of the coast-line. Unless this has happened by chance, there must be an explanation. Coral reefs are built by tiny animals who, instead of moving about like most other animals, rest upon the coral which they have produced from their bodies. Living coral is soft and jelly-like, and becomes hard only when the animal that makes it dies. These tiny animals are delicate creatures and die easily if conditions do not exactly suit them. For instance, they cannot live out of23
the sea, so they die when they reach the surface. The water must, moreover, be clear and warm. Coral reefs are never found at the mouth of a river because of the mud which it carries with it down to the sea. Cold water kills them too, so coral reefs are usually found in the warmer seas between latitudes 30° North and 30° South of the Equator. Finally, they grow best in shallow waters, building their reefs upwards until the surface is reached and then extending outwards. Now, wherever the waters around Mauritius are shallow, warm and clear, coral reefs are to be found, but where the rivers enter the sea there are gaps in the reef.24
19. Coral reefs are not all exactly like those we find around Mauritius. There are three main types - the FRINGING REEF, which is found close to the shores of an island ; the BARRIER REEF, which is much further away from the shore (sometimes as much as a hundred and fifty miles away) ; and the CORAL ATOLL, which is a circular reef surrounding a lagoon. Mauritius possesses a fringing reef. The best example of the second type is the Great Barrier Reef which for more than one thousand miles borders the eastern coastline of Australia. Diégo Garcia, the principal island in the Chagos Group, is an example of a coral atoll. It happens to25
be an island because on the broad surface of the reef masses of broken coral and coral sand have collected. Trees and grasses have grown on this sandy mound, and now men can live there. 26
20. Turn once more to Map No. 2 and study it carefully along with Map No. 3. With the aid of your teacher and of what you already know of the island, you should be able to read these two maps correctly. They show you that the land rises from the coastal plains to a central plateau, gradually in some places, more steeply in others. This central plateau covers most of the districts of Moka and Plaines Wilhems, and is highest towards the south, in the area around Curepipe and Plaine Champagne. The coastal plains are widest in the north and east of the island, but near Vieux Grand Port and in the south-west corner the mountains come28
very close to the sea. In this part of the island are numerous ravines or gorges, the most impressive being the Grandes Gorges through which Black River runs rapidly to the sea. On the borders of the central plateau there are three mountain ranges, the Moka or Port Louis range, the Black River ranger and the Grand Port range. In the centre and the south of the island there are also isolated peaks such as the Piton du Milieu and the Corps de Garde. The appearance of these mountains proves that Mauritius is a very old island. At first, like all young mountains, they must have been rounded with gentle slopes. Now they point like fingers to the29
sky and the valleys around have become filled with the soil washed from the sides.
21. Map No. 4 shows the principal rivers. If all our rivers were shown the map would have been too crowded. The two longest are Grand River South-East (24½ miles) and Rivière du Poste (15 miles). Most of the rivers rush down steep ravines. When much rain has fallen they quickly become raging torrents. After a cyclone or a heavy fall of rain the sea is coloured reddish-brown by the earth carried off by the rivers. Sometimes bridges are broken by the force of the water. But when the season is dry, the rivers are little more than tiny streams.30
22. Perhaps you have noticed that most of the rivers in Mauritius flow through deep channels. The rivers did not find these channels ready made for them ; they carved them gradually out of the land. Our rivers are short and fast flowing because the slope from the central plateau to the sea is so steep. The faster a river flows the more quickly does it wear away its channel. This wearing away is done not only by the water, but also by the solid material carried by it on its journey to the sea. The material consists of small rocks, pebbles and sand carried in the water and of larger rocks rolled along the bed of the river by the31
force of the current.
23. The river bed is not worn away at the same rate throughout the whole length of the river, because in some places it consists of hard rock, in others of soft rock or soil. Soil is washed away more quickly than soft rock, and soft rock more quickly than hard rock. This is the reason why waterfalls are formed. The hard rock resists while the softer rock beyond it is being gradually worn away, leaving a hole into which the river drops. In time the hard rock also is bitten into by the river which now flows through the gorge or ravine thus formed.
24. This cutting away of the land is called the32
DESTRUCTIVE work of rivers, but rivers also do CONSTRUCTIVE work in building up land. When they enter the sea or flow very slowly across a flat plain with their load of solid material, their speed is reduced and they drop this load and so build new land. In Mauritius, much of the load is carried far out to sea by the speed at which the rivers flow.
25. The Cascade des Galets, south of Mare-aux-Vacoas is the greatest of the many waterfalls we have in Mauritius. The water drops 500 feet. Not far away, close to Souillac, is a remarkable cascade, called the Rochester Falls. The rocks, formed in columns, rise like the steps cut in a33
steep mountain path. The water spreads like a latanier palm as it drops from one column to another. Falls easier to visit are Chamarel Cascade (300 feet), Réduit Cascade (135 feet) and Les Sept Cascades or Tamarin Falls (960 feet in all). At the bottom of the two last falls there are power stations which make electricity for the towns in the central plateau. Other power stations are to be found at Port Louis and Souillac.
26. There are only two natural lakes in Mauritius, Grand Bassin and Bassin Blanc. Both are in the craters of extinct volcanoes, and are in the highest part of the Central Plateau. There are also three man-made34
lakes, the reservoirs of Mare-aux-Vacoas, La Ferme and La Nicolière. As you will learn in the next chapter, far more rain falls on the high central plateau than on the coastal plains. But water is needed on these coastal plains to irrigate the sugarcane fields. The problem therefore is to transport the abundant water of the Central Plateau to the dry coastal plains. Our engineers of the Public Works Department solved this problem by building some reservoirs to collect this water and others to store it in the districts where it is needed. The water is first brought from the upland reservoirs to the lowland reservoirs by FEEDER CANALS, and then to35
the cane fields by DISTRIBUTING CANALS. Feeder canals join Mare-aux-Vacoas to La Ferme, and Midlands to La Nicolière. You will see these marked on Map No. 4. Between Mare-aux-Vacoas and La Ferme it was not necessary to build a feeded canal all the way, as it is possible to use part of the course of Rivière du Rempart to carry the water. It is generally believed that there is a big reservoir at Midlands, but this is not correct. Although much work was done and a sum of Rs. 7,000,000 was spent, work on the reservoir was abandoned in 1931 when money was very scarce in the island. The work which has been completed consists of a dam at Midlands, the36
reservoir of La Nicolière and a seventeen-mile-long feeder canal which carries the water from the dam to the reservoir. 37
27. Mare-aux-Vacoas also provides drinking water for the town of Plaines Wilhems, supplies part of the needs of Port Louis, and delivers water to the Tamarin Falls hydroelectric power station which produces electricity for Curepipe, Vacoas and the neighbouring district. The main domestic water supply for Port Louis comes from the Grand River North-West. It passes through two covered surface reservoirs which between them can hold two million gallons of water.
THE CLIMATE OF OUR ISLAND
28. Climate plays a most important part in the lives which people live. It influences their health and happiness, their food, houses and clothing, their means of transport. In some parts of the world life is a continual struggle against the cold ; in other parts heat is as great a menace. The most fortunate people are those who live in temperate climates where it is neither too hot nor too cold to work and play. In such places, where people can lead fully active lives, the great civilisations of the world have developed. Have you ever wondered why the peoples of Europe and39
North America are so much more active than those who live in Equatorial lands ? It is largely because the climate permits them to be more energetic and healthy. Around the Equator, in places such as Central Africa and the basin of the Amazon, there is great heat and heavy rainfall. The nights are almost as hot as the days and throughout the year there is little change. Such a climate reduces the energy of the inhabitants and their will to work. In consequence, they tend to put off till tomorrow what they should do today.
29. Fortunately, our climate is sufficiently varied to give most of us enough energy to lead active lives. If we40
feel tired after a long, hot day we can still look forward to a fairly cool night in which to rest and renew our strength. We have cool winters as well as hot summers. We have cool sea breezes to temper the hot sunshine, and a plentiful rainfall which enables our crops to grow. Our favourable climate is due to two things. First, we live on a small island surrounded by hundreds of miles of sea. The waters of the sea keep us cool in summer and warm us in winter. You have probably noticed that, when the sun is shining, land heats more quickly than water. It is also true that after the sun has set the land loses this heat more quickly. Above both land41
and sea there is the air. When air is heated it rises. So during the daytime the heated land warms the air above it. This air rises and cool air from above the sea flows in to take its place. In this way we get a SEA BREEZE. For part of the night the sea is warmer than the land, and so a LAND BREEZE is formed.
30. In addition to these daily local breezes, there are also steady sea breezes called the SOUTH-EAST TRADES which blow for about ten months of the year. That is the second reason why our climate is better than one usually finds in the tropics. Before the steamship was invented, the lives and the livelihood of sailors depended42
on these steady winds. Sailing ships carrying wool from Australia and tea from China took advantange of these "trade" winds, as they were called, to cross the Indian Ocean on their way home to England. Today steamships and aeroplanes are aided by the Trade Winds and other steady sea breezes such as the Prevailing Westerlies and "The Brave West Winds" (so called because they were of great help to sailing ships going from the Cape to Australia and New Zealand).
31. For part of our summer the south-east trades are less strong and may die away for a few days at a time. During this part of the year a hot damp wind, called the MALGACHE43
wind, sometimes blows from the opposite direction to the south-east trades.
32. It cannot truly be said that there is a dry season and a wet season in Mauritius, for it rains throughout the year, but the summer months from December to April are usually the wettest. A summer morning is usually calm, with a clear blue sky. The air is fresh, and there is plenty of vivid colour in the cane fields, forests and mountains. Then clouds begin to form, and in the early afternoon heavy rains drench the countryside. After an hour or two they cease and the sun appears again. The rain which falls in these conditions is called CONVECTIONAL RAIN.44
Other types of rainfall common in Mauritius are TRADE-WIND RAIN and CYCLONIC RAIN.
33. Air can carry a certain amount of water in the form of water vapour. This is why clothes that have been washed are hung out to dry. If the air is damp the clothes may take a long time to dry, because the air is carrying almost its full load of moisture. Warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. In the summer the land becomes very hot some hours after sunrise. The air above it is heated and rises, carrying its moisture with it. As it rises it becomes cooler and less able to carry the same load. The water vapour is changed into a cloud of rain45
drops. The drops grow larger and fall to the ground when the air can no longer support them. Notice that in the case of convectional rains the water is taken from the ground up into the sky and is returned to the ground within the space of a few hours. The rain that is brought by the trade winds and the cyclones may have been carried for hundreds of miles before it falls on Mauritius.
34. The south-east trades first strike the east and south-east coasts of the island before beginning their climb over the central plateau. After their long journey across the ocean they are full of moisture. As they climb they become colder and drop46
most of the moisture as rain. So on the downhill journey towards Port Louis and the western coast there is little chance that more rain will fall. The western part of the island therefore has less rainfall than the eastern. The Black River district, which is the driest part of the island, has about half the rainfall of the Mahébourg area and less than one-sixth of the rainfall of Midlands.
35. Cyclones often cause much damage to our island. We can expect them to come during the summer months from December to May. We have had cyclones, however, in every month of the year except August and September. Records have been kept of the47
cyclones which have affected Mauritius to some extent. The show that in a period of sixty years, from 1871 to 1930, there were one hundred and ninety-two cyclones. In one year thirteen cyclones were recorded! Fortunately cyclones travel slowly as a rule, and so we can prepare for them a few days in advance. They are not dangerous unless they pass close to the island. Indeed, they are often a benefit to the cane fields because of the rain they bring. Cyclonic rain usually falls in torrents. Sometimes it causes a landslide on the steep sides of the mountains. The wind does more damage than the rain. It blows in strong gusts and changes its direction48
as the centre of the cyclone moves forward. In a small cyclone the wind may have a speed of fifty to seventy miles an hour. Men measured the speed of the wind in the terrible cyclone of April 1892, and found it to be one hundred and three miles an hour. A scrap of paper carried by that wind would have crossed the island in a quarter of an hour. The people of Mauritius were unprepared for a cyclone of this violence, and much damage was done. One-third of Port Louis was destroyed and one thousand two hundred and sixty people lost their lives. Thousands more were injured.
36. Another bad cyclone hit the island in 1931. It lasted for49
five days and caused great damage to the sugarcanes. Many of you will have vivid memories of the two big cyclones of 1945. Within a fortnight the island was hit twice. More than ten thousand huts were destroyed or badly damaged, and people who had begun to repair the damage to their houses after the first cyclone were caught by the second one before the work could be completed. The food crops were destroyed, the cane fields badly shaken. Many people went hungry until the arrival of relief ships bringing food from Réunion, Madagascar, East Africa and Australia. The effect of these two cyclones was felt all the more because of the shortage of50
materials for repairing the damage, the Second World War then being in its sixth and last year.
37. Occasionally the island suffers almost as greatly from lack of rain. At the beginning of this century there was a drought which lasted for fourteen months, from November 1899 until December 1900. The cane fields and vegetable gardens suffered considerably. In 1934 and again in 1939, severe droughts reduced the sugar crop by one-quarter. But droughts are less dangerous than cyclones, for water can be stored in reservoirs, but high winds cannot be prevented from blowing down trees and houses and uprooting the crops.
FORESTRY, AGRICULTURE, AND OTHER INDUSTRIES
38. Two hundred years ago almost all the island was covered with indigenous (native) forests, "so dense that a person could with difficulty read in them at noon." A glance at Map No. 5 will show how little remains. Notice that the shaded area, showing Crown forests, is almost the same as the area of mountains and central plateau shown on Map No. 4. In their search for ebony the Dutch began the destruction of the forests. Later, under French rule, more areas were cleared so that crops might be grown. The great French Governor, Mahé de Labourdonnais,52
introduced many new plants. For a time the colonists, encouraged by him, produced cotton and indigo, sugar, coffee, rice, corn, peas, beans, maize and cloves. Since the British came the planters have greatly increased the area of sugarcane fields. The native forests were cut down or burnt to gain more land for cane. 53
39. The forests are now controlled by the Forest Department. Part of its duties is to preserve the indigenous trees and scrub in the central plateau, as they help to store rainwater. Mountain forests at cooler, higher altitudes hold water like a sponge. They delivery this water gradually to the nearby lowlands. If the forests are destroyed the rain flows away almost as quickly as it falls on the ground, and much of it is lost as flood-water which is carried off in an hour or two by the rivers. What is yet more serious is that if the trees are destroyed the rains quickly wash away the soil and leave only bare rock. The careless55
destruction of mountain forests in many parts of the world has brought disaster to the people of these areas. In the last century the indigenous forests of Mauritius were largely destroyed by thoughtless people who wanted only to exploit the land on which they grew. Now, only a few small areas of hardwood trees, such as Natte, remain. They are carefully preserved by the Forest Department. Over the greater part of the island most of the trees are EXOTICS. This means that they have been brought from other countries, principally India, America, and the West Indies. Among these trees are the Tamarin, Técoma, Mahogany, Flamboyant, Badamier, Bois Noir,56
Eucalyptus and Filao. Large areas are being planted with Pine trees by the Forest Department in order to protect the soil of the Island, to develop a secondary industry which will support some hundred of families, and to save large sums of money from leaving Mauritius in payment for timber from Burma and elsewhere. Around the coast one finds a belt of filao in the Pas Géométriques (these are strips of Government land, about two hundred and fifty feet wide, beside the shore). The graceful filaos protect the sugarcanes from strong winds, are valuable as fuel and, at the same time, increase the beauty of the beaches. Very good charcoal is made from57
filao wood, and the trees are also used in the building of seaside campements and huts. There are several useful varieties of palm trees in the island, such as the Raffia, Coconut and Latanier. Some fine examples of the Traveller's Tree, or Ravenal, are to be found near Mare-aux-Vacoas.
40. The chief industry of the island is the production of sugar. Four-fifths of the cultivated land is covered with cane, from which at present more than three hundred thousand tons of sugar is made each year unless a cyclone or a drought affects the crop. Although the Dutch brought cane here, the real credit is due to Labourdonnais. He caused the58
first mill to be built in 1740. This was on the estate of his brother-in-law, M. de Villebague. About a century ago, when men were first brought from India to work here, there was a great increase in the cultivation of sugar. After this the number of factories grew until in 1863 there were three hundred and three factories working. Today there are only thirty-six, but more sugar is made.
41. There are a number of reasons why this has happened. It costs more to run three hundred small factories than thirty big ones. It is easier to transport canes to the mill now that we have estate tramways, than it used to be when we had only59
carts and when the roads were bad. It is therefore no longer necessary to have a lot of factories in the same district. One big factory can do the work of ten small ones, and do it more efficiently and more cheaply. In Jamaica there are only two sugar factories, but these are so big and their machinery is so good that they can handle all the cane produced in that big island.
While these improvements were being made in the factories, there was also much progress in the fields. Better varieties of sugarcane were planted. Some of these new canes were brought from other sugar-producing countries. Others were discovered by the Department of60
Agriculture. At the same time better methods of cultivation have been adopted. The result is today more sugar is produced than at any time in the past, and at a cheaper price. England takes almost all the sugar, and the money we get for it pays for all the things we need. As most of these come from other countries, you can see that our lives depend on two things, a good crop and someone to buy it. We do not grow enough food to feed all the people on the island, so we depend upon the sale of our sugar to provide the food, clothes and other things we need.
From the molasses left in the making of sugar a lot of alcohol is made. There are61
thirteen distilleries working in the island. Much of the alcohol is drunk here as rum. The rest is made into power alcohol, usually called carburant. During the war, when it was difficult to obtain petrol (essence) many motor cars, lorries and buses were driven on power alcohol.
42. Over a century ago, in 1817, the first English Governor of Mauritius, Sir Robert Farquhar, encouraged the cultivation of tea in Mauritius. He had a small tea garden at Le Réduit. Unfortunately, when he left Mauritius no one took an interest in his scheme and the plantation was abandoned. Nearly seventy years later Sir John Pope Hennessy62
revived local interest in the cultivation of this valuable plant, and tea plantations were started at Nouvelle France and Chamarel, but the latter was abandoned after some years. Tea continued to be grown at Nouvelle France and, later on, at Bois Cheri (where there now is a fine up-to-date factory), Curepipe and La Flora. These are at present the principal plantations. Together they produce a little more than half the tea consumed by the people of Mauritius. The tea is of excellent quality and is much appreciated. In 1930 and again in 1939, an expert from Ceylon visited Mauritius and gave much helpful advice to local tea planters. He stated that63
about a hundred thousand acres of the highlands, now covered with scrub and small trees, and on which sugarcane does not grow, were suitable for growing tea. As there are only about two thousand acres of tea grown at present, you can see that in the future Mauritius may become as well known for its tea as it now is for its sugar. Like the sugarcane, the tea plant is able to resist successfully the frequent cyclones that visit our island.
43. Another industry is the making of bags, mats and ropes from the fibre of the aloe plant. The sugar estates alone need about four million sacks each year. At Quatre Bornes a big factory is now64
working. The aloe plant was brought here from Mexico as a garden plant about the year 1790. It grows wild all over the drier parts of the island, so it is better to make these sacks here than to buy them from other countries. In the three years from 1941 to 1944 the sugar industry was able to save Rs.250,000 by buying sacks made at the Sack Factory instead of imported sacks from India. Sugar bags and shopping baskets (tentes) are also made from the leaves of the Vacoa tree.
44. Bananas are widely grown and form an important item of food for the population.
45. One of our Governors, Sir Hesketh Bell, did much65
to develop the tobacco industry. Most of the cigarettes smoked here are now made completely from local tobacco or from a mixture of local and imported tobacco. The leaves are graded in the Government warehouse at Line Barracks and then made into cigarettes at seven factories in Port Louis. Some tobacco is also sent from Rodriguez.
46. In 1760 La Compagnie des Indes began to make salt in Mauritius from sea water. On a journey from Black River to the Morne you will see a number of salt pans between the road and the sea. Notice that the pans are at different heights. Water is pumped from the sea into the highest pan, and66
then it passes slowly from it through the pans in turn until it reaches the lowest. This takes fifteen days, during which time the heat of the sun evaporates most of the water and leaves the salt. The salt is then scraped from the pans and collected in heaps. When it is quite dry it is put into sacks and taken to Port Louis by sea in small sailing boats. Enough salt is made each year to supply the island.
47. At low tide coral is gathered from the reefs. This is put in a limekiln (four-à-chaux) where it is burned to make lime. One of the best limekilns is at GRAND PORT, just outside Mahébourg. Quicklime (la chaux67
vive) is used in making sugar. Slaked lime (la chaux éteinte) is spread on the fields to make the cane grow better and it is also used for building. Around the coast one sees many abandoned limekilns. All the coral nearby has been used up and it would cost too much to bring coral from a distance. So the old limekiln is left and a new one is built where coral can easily be got.
48. There are many other small industries in Mauritius. In Port Louis there are two match factories, several engineering works for making and repairing the machinery used in sugar factories, a small ship-building yard, a factory for making coconut68
oil and soap from copra, the Railway workshop at Plaine Lauzun and a number of printing establishments. A few miles outside Port Louis, at Richelieu, there are maize and manioc mills. In Mahébourg very good manioc biscuits are made. At Phoenix there is a soda-water factory. Other industries, such as the making of furniture and boots and shoes, are not yet carried on in factories but are the work of skilled artizans in numerous small shops. A number of dairies produce some butter and cheese, but not nearly enough to supply all those who wish to buy these foods. The amount of milk produced is also insufficient. Many more cattle of a better type are69
needed if the people of Mauritius are to have enough milk for their daily needs.
49. You may think, after reading these paragraphs, that Mauritius can produce all it needs, but this is far from being true. Think for a moment of the hundreds of things we use which come to us from other countries―clothes, shoes and foodstuffs, railway engines, buses, lorries and cars from Great Britain ; cotton goods, rice and dholl from India ; rice and teak from Burma ; flour from Australia ; motor cars and petrol from the United States ; edible oil from Ceylon ; beef from Madagascar and copra from the Seychelles. Go into any shop in70
Mauritius and you will find in it articles from all over the world.
50. At present our sugar crop provides the money to buy all these things. If it fails us, we face disaster. It is not wise to depend so greatly on a single crop. Sometimes, of course, a country has no choice but to depend on a single crop, but if you have understood what you have read in this chapter, you will see that Mauritius can have other valuable industries if it is prepared to develop those already started and to create new ones. Each SECONDARY industry may not by itself employ many workers or produce a lot of goods, but the total effect of such industries71
may be to bring happiness and prosperity to a large part of the population.
PEOPLE, PLACES AND COMMUNICATIONS
51. on this small island slightly more than four hundred and twenty-five thousand people live. This makes Mauritius one of the most crowded places on the earth. Look at the picture on this page. Each figure represents ten thousand people. Count the number of figures which you find under the title "Indo-Mauritians," and then work out how many people there are in this part of the population. What is the number of Mahomedans? How many Indians of other religions are there? The "General Population" is made up of white Mauritians, coloured Mauritians and 73
Chinese. There are slightly more than ten thousand Chinese. Unlike the rest of the population they are not British subjects but belong to the great Chinese Republic which was one of the major Allied Nations in the Second World War.
52. In your History classes you will hear in detail how this island was populated. Here it is sufficient to mention briefly that in two centuries the population has 74
increased from one hundred and sixty people to over four hundred and twenty-five thousand. The Dutch abandoned Mauritius in 1710, and the French came here in 1715. Between 1715 and 1810 the population grew to about eighty thousand inhabitants of which sixty-five thousand were slaves. Under British rule the population has increased fivefold in little over a century to its present figure of four hundred and twenty-five thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven (1944 Census). This increase is largely due to Indian immigration. In 1833 the British Parliament passed an act called "The Abolition of Slavery Act." By this Act, slaves in every part of the75
British Empire were set free. In Mauritius alone, sixty-eight thousand six hundred and thirteen slaves were freed, and over twenty-seven million Rupees were paid to the slave owners in compensation. Many of the freed slaves refused to work on the plantations, so labourers from India had to be brought here. Most of those who came decided to stay in Mauritius rather than return to India when their period of service was over, and so today nearly two-thirds of the whole population is of Indian descent.
53. How do we live ? As sugar is our principal crop we all depend on it to a large degree. Most of the field work is done by Indian76
labourers, both men and women. Many Indians work on land owned by themselves. At present about one-third of the cane is grown by Indian small planters. The rest is grown by the big sugar estates, most of which belong to white Mauritians. Some estates are owned and managed by British companies such as the Anglo-Ceylon and General Estates, Ltd. Many other Indians have gardens in which they grow vegetables to feed the crowded towns of the central plateau. The Chinese are the shopkeepers of the island. No matter where you go you will find a boutique de chinois. There are about 1,500 of these shops. The coloured population works at trades such77
as those of carpenter, tinsmith, motor mechanic, tailor, and house-builder. Many are clerks in the Government and big business houses, and some are professional men such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, solicitors and teachers. About two thousand Indians and coloured Mauritians are engaged in the fishing industry. The Indo-Mauritians live mostly in the country and the other Mauritians in the towns. 78
54. Map No.6 shows the principal road and railway routes of the island. When you remember that Mauritius is a small remote island in the Indian Ocean, you should feel proud that it has such good communications. But much still remains to be done. At present it is necessary to make a long detour through Réduit and St. Pierre in order to travel from Curepipe to Quartier Militaire or Flacq. Look at the blank spaces on this map. The roads and railways stretch from Port Louis across the island like the outspread fingers of a hand. Why should this be so ? It is partly because of the relief of the island, partly for historical reasons.80
55. In Chapter Two you studied the RELIEF of the island. Now suppose you were one of the early Dutch or French settlers in Mauritius, living in a little seaside village at Flacq or Grand Port or Port Louis. In order to visit your friends in another part of the island you could either sail around the coast or you could walk. Roads did not yet exist, only narrow footpaths through the forests which covered most of the island. There were no bridges over the deep ravines through which the rivers ran. No roads, no bridges, no trains nor motor cars! In such conditions you would probably choose the easiest path to follow between any two81
places. That is what the early settlers did. Their paths did not cross the mountain ranges or the ravines if they could avoid doing so. The relief of the land was largely responsible for the course taken by the footpaths across the island. When engineers began to build roads it was natural that they should follow the routes which already existed as footpaths. But this did not happen until the British came to Mauritius. The first British Governor, Farquhar, encouraged the building of many roads. One of these joining Port Louis to Curepipe was begun in 1817. In your School History of Mauritius you will find many interesting details about82
travel and transport in the island.
56. That is the way in which the relief of the island influenced our communications. But the events of history have also played a part. The south-east trades brought the early explorers to the eastern part of the island, and there two towns grew up, Vieux Grand Port which was the seat of both Dutch and early French rule and Flacq which was the centre of the valuable ebony trade. But Grand Port had certain disadvantages. The three entrances to the harbour were exposed to the full force of the trade winds which often blow hard for weeks on end. Inside the harbour there are reefs and shoals. When83
the wind blew hard sailing ships were unable to leave the harbour and were in constant danger of being wrecked or driven ashore. A better harbour was found at Port Louis where ships are sheltered from the storms by the circle of mountains around the town. So Grand Port was gradually abandoned and Port Louis developed. Much of the credit for improving Port Louis is due to Labourdonnais. This great French Governor built docks, quays and warehouses, and improved the paths leading to Pamplemousses, Tombeau Bay, Moka and the Corps de Garde. In the days of the corsairs there were sometimes as many as two hundred sailing ships in Port Louis at the same84
57. Most of the remaining towns and villages are younger than Grand Port, Flacq and Port Louis. Mahébourg was founded by Decaen only five years before the British conquered Mauritius. Souillac, which receives its name from the Vicomte de Souillac, is about twenty-five years older than Mahébourg. Many villages were founded by freed slaves after the year 1835. Two of these are Phoenix and Grand Gaube. In the year 1858 there were only two hundred people living in Curepipe. Within the next thirty years the number had increased to twelve thousand. Curepipe's rapid growth took place at the expense of Port Louis. In 1865 malaria85
fever first appeared in Mauritius. Two years later it killed twenty thousand people in Port Louis out of a total population of eighty thousand. Everyone who could afford to do so fled from the capital and built new homes up-country between Beau Bassin and Curepipe. During the last century Port Louis received many hard blows. Cholera killed twelve thousand people in forty years ; there were two great fires ; one-third of the city was destroyed in the terrible cyclone of 1892 ; there were epidemics of smallpox and bubonic plague ; the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 was a severe blow to trade. Before the Canal shortened the route from England to86
India, over seven hundred ships visited Port Louis each year. The capital did not begin to recover until the beginning of the present century.
58. Mauritius is not an "old country" like England or France or India. Most of its history has taken place in the last two centuries. Many of you live in villages or on estate camps which are not much older than the oldest living person in your neighbourhood. Try to find out the story of your own village from your parents or grandparents. It is surely an interesting story and possibly an exciting one also.
59. To many of you there is nothing strange about a railway train.87
Perhaps you travel on one every day going to school in the morning and returning home in the afternoon. But think of the excitement there must have been in the year 1862 when the first train left Port Louis. Until that day people travelled in carriages drawn by horses. Two years later the North line was ready to carry passengers and goods. It runs from Port Louis through Pamplemousses, Mapou and Flacq to Grand River South-East. In the following year the Midland line to Mahébourg was opened and by 1877 the branch line from Rose Belle to Souillac was completed. You will find these railway lines marked on Map No. 6. They are all part of the railway88
system operated by the Mauritius Government. The total length of this railway system is 164 miles (see note at end of chapter).
60. There are also many miles of light railways on the sugar estates for the transport of the sugarcane from the fields to the factories. This work used to be done by carts drawn by oxen and mules until the year 1903 when nearly all the animals died from a disease called surra. The estates were then forced to build light railways.
61. Mauritius is not an easy country in which to operate railways. In the short distance from Port Louis to Curepipe the trains have to climb a height of89
almost two thousand feet. Perhaps the following example will make it easier for you to understand why the trains go slow on the journey up from Port Louis. In a train of ten coaches the wheels of the locomotive are fifteen feet higher than the wheels of the last coach as the train approaches Beau Bassin station. The GRADIENT, or climb, is so steep that very powerful locomotives are needed to haul the trains.
62. In addition to rail transport there is also a good system of road transport. A large number of motor buses carry passengers on all the main roads, especially between Curepipe and Port Louis. There are also many private 90
motor cars and taxis. Motor lorries are used for the transport of goods from Port Louis to the numerous shops throughout the country, and for carrying labourers to estates in districts where the labour force is inadequate. At one time lorries were also used to carry sugar from the estates to the docks, but now the law compels the estates to use the Government Railways for this purpose. 91
Note to paragraph 59:
The total length of 164 miles of Government Railway is made up of -
(a) 106¼ miles of main line railway.
(b) 13⅔ miles of Bois Chéri Light Railway
(c) 28 miles of Station lay-out.
(d) 16¼ miles of Sidings.
OTHER ISLANDS UNDER OUR CONTROL
63. Look once more at Map No. 1 which shows the position of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. It also bears the names of other islands or groups of islands. Some of these are our DEPENDENCIES. This means that they are under the control of the Government of Mauritius. Some of them are rented by trading companies in Port Louis. They send men to work on these islands or to catch fish nearby.
64. The names of these dependencies are:
CARGADOS CARAJOS GROUP. 93
In 1944, the population of Rodriguez was counted and found to be eleven thousand, eight hundred and eighty-five. There were only one thousand five hundred and seventy-eight people living in the other three dependencies in the same year.
THE SEYCHELLES GROUP used to be a dependency of Mauritius, but in 1903 it became a separate colony. 94
65. Rodriguez, the principal dependency of Mauritius, is nine and a half miles long and four and a half miles broad. This volcanic island is three hundred and fifty miles away in an easterly direction. From the sea the island, which is surrounded by a coral reef, seems to be a single mountain mass. The capital, Port Mathurin, is a village of over six hundred people on the northern shore. It has no harbour, but ships can rest in safety close by as they are sheltered by the land mass from the prevailing winds. The inhabitants of Rodriguez are chiefly farmers. For their own use they grow maize, manioc and sweet potatoes. To make96
some money they send beans, fruit, tobacco, salt fish, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry to Mauritius. The climate is slightly cooler than ours, and there is no malaria, so the island is a healthy place to live in. Cyclones are more frequent in Rodriguez than in Mauritius. A careful study of Map No. 7 will give you a lot more information about our principal dependency, but do not rest content with this. Many Mauritians have been to Rodriguez. Talk to one of them if you get the opportunity. If you cannot visit a place yourself that is the next best way of finding out about it.
66. The CHAGOS ARCHIPELAGO, sometimes called the97
OIL ISLANDS, is one thousand two hundred miles away to the north-east of Mauritius. There are five groups of islands, all built by the coral animal about which you have read in Chapter Two. These islands appear just above the waves and are surrounded by reefs. Coconut trees and bois manioc grow everywhere. The biggest island is DIEGO GARCIA. It is a narrow ribbon of land inside of which is a vast lagoon thirteen miles long and between four and five miles broad, that is to say, bigger than the whole island of Rodriguez. In the north there are narrow passes from the sea into the lagoon. The island sends copra, salt fish and tortoise shell to98
Mauritius. During the war Diégo Garcia was one of the bases held by the Royal Air Force in the Indian Ocean, and some of our troops served there as artillery men in charge of the big guns.
67. Find AGALEGA on Map No. 1. It is five hundred and eighty miles north of us. It is about twelve miles long and five miles wide and is divided into two parts by a sand bank which can be crossed at low tide. You can see this clearly in Map No. 8 which also shows the shape of Diégo Garcia and St. Brandon. The island is one big coconut plantation. From coconuts copra is made and sent here to be manufactured into coconut oil and soap. Horses are99
also reared there.
68. The last of the dependencies of Mauritius named in paragraph 64 is the CARGADOS CARAJOS GROUP. The principal island is ST. BRANDON which is two hundred and fifty miles north of us. All the islands of this group are small and are only a few feet above the sea. About one hundred men live on them and work for a Mauritian fishing company. They return regularly to their homes here. Fish abound in the shallow waters that surround this group of islands. Our main problem is to get the fish to Mauritius in sufficient quantity and at a low price. For that, a ship with cold storage space is required. At present the fish is dried and101
salted. It is very welcome here, but much more fish from St. Brandon could be sold on the local market.
69. We are in touch with the rest of the world in three ways. These are by RADIO, by CABLE, and by STEAMSHIP. Most of you have listened on a wireless set to music or news coming from London, Paris, Bombay and other cities. Or perhaps you listen to the daily programmes of the Mauritius Broadcasting Service. People in Réunion, Madagascar and South Africa can also listen to them. There are other radio stations in Mauritius for sending and receiving messages in morse code. So today we can have news within a few hours of happenings in distant parts of the world. We can even listen to103
events as they take place if they are being broadcast by some radio station. Not so long ago when we had no cables or wireless, news was already many weeks old when it reached us, as it came by steamer or sailing ship.
70. Do you know what a telephone is ? Perhaps you have been on one side of the road or the railway a number of wires carried on poles. Along these wires you may send messages by the aid of a machine called a TELEPHONE. Thus, you may speak from Rose Hill to a friend who is in Curepipe. If you do not wish to telephone you may write your message on a piece of paper and give it to a man in the Post Office. He will use104
another machine called a TELEGRAPH which sends the message in morse along the wires. Your friend will receive the message from a Post Office messenger some hours later. You have sent him what is called a TELEGRAM. Now, heavy wires covered with cotton and rubber have also been placed along the bottom of the sea to carry messages. These are called CABLES. Up to the outbreak of the Second World War British engineers and sailors had laid over one hundred and fifty thousand miles of cable across the oceans of the world. A single company operates the cable service throughout the Empire. It is called CABLE & WIRELESS LTD., and has an office in Port105
Louis. The dotted lines on Map No. 9 show that Mauritius is an important place for cables. If some one in South Africa sends a cable to someone else in Australia, the message will pass through Mauritius. Trace this route on the map. Notice also that cables may be sent from Port Louis to Colombo, Singapore and London. The cables shown on the Map are British. There is also a French cable from here to Réunion and Madagascar. 106
71. The heavy black lines on the Map show the British steamship routes which are useful to us. The sugar we send to England may be carried there by two routes. One way is along the east coast of Africa into the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal and so to England. A longer route is by Durban and Capetown into the Atlantic Ocean. The journey to England takes between a month and six weeks by sea. Mauritius is also joined to Ceylon and India by British steamship routes. Find these on the map. Ships of other nations also come here. French ships come from Marseilles through the Suez Canal to Madagascar. After they have called at several108
ports on this great island they leave Tamatave for St. Denis in Réunion. Then they arrive in Port Louis. Dutch ships sail from Batavia in the Netherlands East Indies to Durban and Capetown in South Africa. On the way they call at Port Louis.
72. Today the Atlantic Ocean is being daily crossed in a few hours. One can travel from Australia to England in five days and sleep in a hotel every night. A fast mail service between these two countries takes only forty-eight hours. The aeroplane has made this possible. At present there are hundreds of air routes across the world and each year new routes are being opened. Great progress was109
made in aviation during the Second World War. New types of aeroplanes were produced in great numbers. Some were fast planes capable of travelling at a speed of over five hundred miles an hour. Others were built to carry as many as one hundred passengers. Some of these big transport planes had six engines and a crew of fifteen or twenty men. Mauritius had no air service before the war, but some years after it began a fine aerodrome was built at Plaisance for land planes. A base for seaplanes (hydravions) was made at first at Tombeau Bay, and later on at Vieux Grand Port.
At this time one of the Empire air routes ran from Great110
Britain to South Africa, through Cairo and Nairobi. From Nairobi a "branch line" came to Plaisance through Mombasa and Diego Suarez in the north of Madagascar. French aeroplanes also came regularly to Mauritius by way of Tananarive and Réunion. As you read this book new routes joining Mauritius to other parts of the world may be in operation.
73. In 1869 a great Frenchman, Ferdinand de Lesseps (whose wife was a Mauritian), constructed the Suez Canal which opened a new route to India and China. The Canal runs from the Gulf of Suez, at the northern end of the Red Sea, to Port Saïd on the Mediterranean coast. It is one hundred miles111
long and shortens the voyage from England to India by five thousand miles. In the years before the Second World War more than six thousand ships passed through it each year, but this number was greatly reduced during the period when Italy was on the side of Germany and hostile to the Allies. During this difficult time ships from England bringing help to our armies in Egypt had to make the long journey around the Cape of Good Hope and up along the east coast of Africa.
To Mauritius the opening of the Suez Canal was a severe blow. Before 1869 ships en route for India and the Far East had to pass around the Cape, and many of them called at112
Port Louis. But after the Canal was opened they used the shorter route to the East and no longer came here. Port Louis was no longer the busy prosperous port it had been since the days of Labourdonnais. But the sugar trade remained, and the port gradually recovered from the blow it suffered through the opening of the Suez Canal.
74. Mauritius is more than the island home of over four hundred and twenty-five thousand people. It is part of the world-wide British Empire, and as such has its part in keeping open the communications of the Empire. In time of war the importance of our island increases, as ships from Mauritius can protect113
the Cape routes between Great Britain and Australia, New Zealand and India. Port Louis and Mahébourg are bases for our ships-of-war and Plaisance for our planes. More important Empire bases are Fremantle, Singapore, Colombo, Capetown and Mombasa. The sea no longer cuts us off from the rest of the world. It is a friend to us, and not an enemy, now that we are part of the British Empire. By our position in the centre of the Indian Ocean, we help to protect the sea and air routes of the Empire. And while we protect, we are also ourselves protected.