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The island had for a long time remained unknown and uninhabited. It was probably visited by Arab sailors during the Middle Ages, and on maps of about 1500, it is shown by an Arabic name `Dina Arobi'. The Portuguese sailor Domingo Fernandez Pereira was probably the first European to land on the island at around 1511. The island appears with a Portuguese name `Cirne' on early Portuguese maps, probably because of the presence of the Dodo, a flightless bird which was found in great numbers at that time.

Port Louis. Mauritius. Mascarene Islands. Mascarenhas Archipelago, 1885Mauritius. 1885.


In 1598, the Dutch landed in a bay in the south-east. The Dutch admiral, Van Warwyck was in command of the fleet and he named the bay after himself (Warwyck Haven). The bay is now known as Grand Port. He named the island "Mauritius" after Prince Mauritius Van Nassau, the stadtholder of Holland.

However, it was not until 1638 that there was a first attempt of Dutch settlement. It was from here that the Dutch navigator Tasman set out to discover the western part of Australia. The first Dutch settlement lasted only twenty years. Several attempts were subsequently made, but the settlements never developed enough to produce dividends and the Dutch finally left Mauritius in 1710. They are remembered for the introduction of sugar-cane, domestic animals and deer.

The Dutch Explore MauritiusThe Dutch Explore Mauritius.

The Dutch Explore Mauritius.

Although the Dutch called occasionally for shelter, food and fresh water, they made no attempt to develop the island.

The beautiful bird, The DoDo, which was described as a feathered tortoise was an easy target for the laziest hunter. Unfortunately, it was fat and couldn't fly.

The Dodo. Artist, Frederick P. Nodder.

In 1622, Danish adventurers arrived, hoping to exploit the ebony with which the island abounded. The French and British, too, began to see possibilities both for trade and strategy in the mascarenes and sent out expeditions in 1638. Their ships arrived too late. In May 1638, Cornelius Simonsz Gooyer had set up the first permanent Dutch settlement in Mauritius. He was sent by the Netherlands East India Company and became the first governor, over a population of 25 colonists who planned to exploit the island's resources of fine ebony and ambergris, rearing cattle and growing tobacco.

Mauritius, Gibraltar, Sahara. 1886.


Over the next few years, a hundred slaves were imported from Madagascar and convicts sent over from Batavia (Java).

The convicts were employed in cutting ebony. The free colonists came from Baltic and North Sea Ports. They were hardened man who were settlers out of desperation and coercion rather than through brave ideals. Attempts at colonisation failed because there were not enough settlers.

By 1652, many left for the Cape of Good Hope which offered better prospects. Other attempts at colonisation failed miserably through cyclones, flood, drought and plague. Food shortages, an overall inefficient administration and attacks by pirate ships compounded their desire to leave and in 1710 the last settlers abandoned Mauritius leaving a batch of runaway slaves bent on vengeance for their ill treatment.

Abandoned by the Dutch, the island became a French colony when, in September 1715, Guillaume Dufresne D'Arsel landed and took possession of this port of call on the route to India. He named the island "Isle de France", but it was only in 1721 that the French started their occupation. In 1735, with the arrival of the French governor, Mahé de La Bourdonnais, the "Isle de France" started developing effectively.

British African Colonies. West Africa, Ascension, St. Helena, Mauritius, 18761876 Map of British African Colonies.

In September 1715, Guillaume Dufresne d'Arsel took possession of Mauritius in the name of King Louis XV of France. He named it the Ile de France, placed the French flag near what is now Port Louis, drew a document witnessed by his officers declaring the island French and sailed away after three days. The first colonists landed at warwyck Bay (Mahebourg) in 1722. The area was exposed to winds and dangerous reefs, so they moved to the safety of the North West harbour. Warwyck bay was renamed Port Bourbon and the North West Harbour became known as Port Louis.For the first 14 years, the French colony followed the dismal experience of the Dutch. Only the most desperate and toughest of the settlers survived. Their appallingly treated slaves also escaped and lived in the forests and sabotaged the plantations.

The transformation of Port Louis from a primitive harbour to a thriving sea port was largely due to the efforts of Bertrand Mahe de Labourdonnais, an aristocratic sea captain, 38 years of age, from St Malo. The wretched conditions of the settlers dismayed Labourdonnais. There were 190 whites in the island and 648 blacks, most of them from Africa and Malagascar and a few Indians from the Coromandel and Malabar coasts. Labourdonnais transformed the island from a colony of malcontents into "the star and key of the Indian Ocean."

The thatched hovels were demolished and in their place rose forts, barracks, warehouses, hospitals and houses. Government house was built of coral blocks, roads were opened throughout the island and a ship building industry commenced. Although he had to import slaves, Labourdonnais made their lot easier by also importing ox-carts so that slaves could be utilised for more skilled tasks. He turned many of them into artisans. He also started an agriculture programme that concentrated on feeding the islanders and on marketable products. On his own estates, he grew sugarcane and encouraged new settlers to start plantations of cotton, indigo, coffee and manioc.

Mauritius: Royal Mail Ship Kolkata in a Hurricane. 1853Royal Mail Ship Kolkata in a Hurricane off of Mauritius.

Royal Mail Ship Kolkata in a Hurricane. 1853.

The first sugar factory was opened at Villebague in 1744. In 1746, with England and France at war, Labourdonnais led an expedition of nine ships from the Ile de France to India. There they defeated a British squadron and captured Madras, the most important British outpost. Labourdonnais' actions resulted in a conflict with Dupleix, his superior in India. Dupleix wanted Madras razed to the ground but Labourdonnais refused because he knew the British would pay a ransom to get Madras back. He was accused of accepting a bribe to preserve Madras and was replaced as Governor of Ile de France. On his return to France, he was thrown in the Bastille and even though in 1751, he was found innocent, he died a broken man two years later, aged 54. His statue stands in Port Louis facing out across the harbour. The town of Mahebourg (started in 1805) is also named after him. During the seven years war (1756-1763) France and England continued to battle over control of the Indian Ocean and the French East India company enlisted privateers. When the French lost the wars in India, they blamed the company and accused its officials of corruption. This resulted in the official handling over of Mauritius to the French King.

In 1767, the Royal Government was established on the island. At that time, there was a population of 18,773 which included 3,163 Europeans and 587 free blacks, mostly Hindus. The rest were slaves. Pierre Poivre (Peter Pepper) was picked as administrator. He introduced varieties of plants from South America, including pepper, and even offered tax incentives to planters to grow them. Under his influence, the colony developed as an agricultural and trading centre. He improved the harbour facilities and the accommodation for both colonists and slaves. When the French East India Company was wound up, and their monopoly broken, private enterprise became the fashion. Everyone was trying to make profits.

In 1785 the Ile de France was declared the seat of government of all French possessions east of the Cape. A French nobleman, Vicomte de Souillac was made governor (1779-1787) bringing an era of extravagance to the colony. Port Louis became renowned for its bright social life with dancing parties for the young and the old, duelling, gambling, drinking and hunting. At the same time, public affairs were neglected; fraud, corruption and dishonesty were common-place and land speculation and scandals were rife. On the last Sunday in January 1790, a packet-boat arrived in the Port Louis harbour from France, flying a new flag, the Tricolour. It brought news of the revolution in France. The colonists' enthusiasm for the revolutionary principles of liberty, equality and fraternity faltered when in 1796, two agents of the Directoire, wearing splendid orange cloaks, arrived from France and informed the colonists that slavery was abolished. The news was received with anger and the agents had to flee for their lives.

The last French governor of Ile de France was appointed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 to bring the colony back to order after 13 years of autonomy. With such a task, it was inevitable that the governor, General Charles Decaen, would be unpopular. Memoirs of General Decaen. Charles Decaen curried favour with the elite by allowing slavery and privateering, which were both hugely profitable, to continue. Decaen founded primary schools and the Lycee Colonial which became Royal College. He extended Government House, created Mahebourg near Grand Port and encouraged intellectual societies and agriculture development. He also codified the Napoleonic laws which are still in force. Under his governorship, Port Louis became Port Napoleon and Mahebourg became Port Imperial. Decaen found himself increasingly isolated from France. The British were expanding their influence in the Indian Ocean.

Louis Le Breton

Louis Le Breton.

Louis Le Breton studied medicine and took part in Dumont d'Urville's second voyage aboard the Astrolabe. After the official illustrator of the expedition died, Le Breton replaced him. From 1847 he devoted himself exclusively to depicting marine subjects for the French Navy. Louis le Breton served in the navy as a surgeon. He travelled with Dumont d'Urville's expedition to the South Pole and Oceania from 1837 to 1840. From 1845-1847 he was part of an expedition to Madagascar. He produced tinted lithographs and chromolithographs on naval forces, ships and boats, sea landscapes and ports.

On the 3 December 1810, the British, under General Abercrombie, marched into Port Napoleon where the French surrendered. Ile de France, Port Napoleon and Port Imperial was reverted to their former names, Mauritius, Port Louis and Mahebourg. Soldiers were to be treated as civilians, not as prisoners of war and were allowed to leave the island. Settlers who did not want to stay under a British administrator were permitted to return to France with all their possessions. In 1810, Robert Farquhar, aged 34 became the first English governor. He announced that civil and judicial administration would be unchanged. Those who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown ere asked to leave Mauritius within a reasonable time.

February 1, 1811, Gentlemans Magazine and Historical Chronicle, (pages 77-78), London, Middlesex, United Kingdom


This Gazette Extraordinary contains an extract of a Dispatch from R. T. Farquhar, Esq. dated Port Louis, Isle of France, Dec. 7. Mr. F. announces that he had assumed the Government of the Isle of France, by virtue of a commission from the Governor-General of India, and states the inhabitants to be tranquil and well disposed.

Admiral Bertie's Dispatch is dated Dec. 6, and merely states that the Expedition destined to act against the Isle of France, had assembled at Rodriguez by the 22d Nov. with the exception of the troops from the Cape, which did not join at all: That on the 25th, the fleet, consisting of 70 sail, anchored in Grande Baye, 12 miles to windward of Port Louis, and having disembarked the troops, artillery, &c. advanced alongshore, keeping up a constant communication. On the 2d December, Gen. Decaen proposed a Capitulation, which was signed on the following morning The Admiral warmly praises the conduct of Capt. Beaver, of the Nisus; of Capt. Patterson of the Hesper; Lieut. B. Street, commanding the armed vessel Emma; and Lieut. E. Lloyd, volunteer.

A List of Ships and Vessels of War present at and assisting in the Capture of the Isle of France. Africaine, Capt. Graham, acting, Vice-Adm. Bertie; Illustrious, Broughton; Beadicea, Rowley; Nisus, Beaver; Cornwallis, Caulfield; Clorinde, Briggs; Cornielia, Edgell; Doris, Lye; Nereide, Henderson, acting; Psyche, Edgecombe; Ceylon, Tomkinson, acting; Hesper, Paterson; Hecate, Reunie, acting; Eclipse, Lynne, acting; Emma, Government armed ship, Capt. Street, acting; Staunch gun-brig, Lieut. Craig, acting; Egremont, Government sloop, Lieut. Forler; Farquhar, Mr. Hervey, midshipman; Moucbe; Pheebe, Capt. Hillyer; and Acteon, Viscount Neville.

Isle of France.

*The Isle of France is about 21 miles broad, and 33 long. The Abbe Raynal says of this island, "What a misfortune for France should she suffer herself to be deprived of it!"

By the Capitulation, the land and sea forces, officers, subalterns and privates, are to retain their effects and baggage not to be considered prisoners of war but to be conveyed at British expence, with their families, to some port in European France. Private property to be respected, and the inhabitants maintained in their religion, customs, and laws.

The following is a List, of vessels found at Port Napoleon: Frigates: La Minerve, 52 guns;La Bellone, 43; L'Astrer and La Manchee, 44's: Iphigenia and Nereide, 36; Le Victor sloop, 22;L'Entreperiant, and another brig 22; Charlton, Ceylon, and United Kingdom, English East-Indiamen; 28 merchant vessels of various burdens, from 150 to 1000 tons; besides five gun-brigs. This Gazette concludes with two General Orders, issued bv Major-gen. Abercromby, acknowledging the services of the 12th and 22d regiments; of the detachment of seamen, commanded by Capt. Montague; and of Captains Beaver, Briggs, Lye, and Street. A General Memorandum by Admiral Bertie congratulates the officers and crews of the squadron in the successsful issue of the attack, and thanks them for their exertions.


A Dispatch, of which the following is an Extract, has been received from the Hon. Major-Gen. Abercromby by the Earl of Liverpool, dated Port Louis, Isle of France, Dec. 7, 1810.

(The introductory Dispatch of Gen. Abercromby states the surrender by capitulation, of the Isle of France, on the 3d Dec. to the united force under the command of Vice-Adm. Bertie and himself, mentions his having placed Mr. Farquhar in charge of the Government by desire of Lord Minto; and refers to his Aid-de-Camp, Capt. Hewitt, and the following Dispatch, addressed to the Governor-General of India, for farther particulars.)

To the Rt. Hon. Gilbert Lord Minto, etc. etc.,

My Lord, I had the honour to inform your Lordship in my Dispatch of the 21st ult. that although the divisions from Bengal and the Cape of Good Hope had not arrived at the rendevous, it had been determined that the fleet should proceed to sea on the following morning, as from the advanced season of the year, and the threatening appearance of the weather, the ships could no longer be considered secure in their anchorage at Rodriguez; and I did myself the honour, to state to your Lordship, the measures which it was my intention to pursue, even it we should still be disappointed in not being joined by so large a part of the armament. Early on the morning of the 22d, Vice Admiral Bertie received a communication from Capt. Broughton, of H.M.S. Illustrious, announcing his arrival off the island with the convoy from Bengal. The fleet weighed at day-light, as had been originally arranged; and in the course of that day, a junction having been formed with this division, the fleet bore up for the Isle of France. The greatest obstacles opposed to an attack, on this island with a considerable force, have invariably been considered to depend on the difficulty of effecting a landing, from the reefs which surround every part of the coast, and the supposed impossibility of being able to find anchorage for a fleet of transports. These difficulties were fortunately removed by the indefatigable exertions of Commodore Rowley, assisted by Lieut. Street, of the Staunch gunbrig, Lieut. Blackiston, of the Madras Engineers, and the Masters of H.M. ships Africaine and Boadicea.

Every part of the leeward side of the island was minutely examined and sounded; and it was discovered that a fleet might anchor in the narrow passage, formed by the small island of the Gunners' Coin and the main land; and that at this spot there were openings through the reef, which would admit several boats to enter abreast. These obvious advantages fixed my determination, although I regretted that circumstances would not allow of the disembarkation being effected at a shorter distance from Port Louis. Owing to light and baffling winds, the fleet did not arrive in sight of the island until the 28th; and it was the morning of the following day before any oi the ships came to an anchor. Every arrangement for the disembarkation having been previously made, the first Division, consisting of the Reserve, the Grenadier Company of the 59th Regt. with two 6-pounders, and two howitzers, under command of Major-Gen. Warde, effected a landing in the Bay of Mapon, without the smallest opposition, the Enemy having retired from Fort Marlastri, situated at the head of Grand Bay, and the nearest port to us which they occupied. As soon as a sufficient part of the Euroforce had been formed, it became necessary to move forward, as the first five miles of the road lay through a very thick wood, which made it an object of the utmost importance, not to give the Enemy time to occupy it.

Lieut.-col. Smyth having been left with his brigade to cover the landing place, with orders to follow next morning, the column inarched about four o'clock, and succeeded in gaining the more open country, without any efforts having been made by the Enemy to retard our progress, a few shot only having been fired by a small picquet, by which Lieut.-col. Keating, Lieut. Ash of his Majesty's 12th regt. and a few men of the advanced guard, were wounded. Having halted for a few hours during the night, the army again moved 'forward before day light, with the intention of not halting till arrived before Port Louis; but the troops having become extremely exhausted, not only from the exertion which they had already made, but from having heten almost totally deprived of water, of which this part of the country is de-tir tute, I was compelled to take up a position at Moulin a Poudre, about five miles short of the town . . .

Your Lordship will perceive that the Capitulation is in strict conformity with the spirit of your instructions, with the single exception that the garrison is not to be made prisoners of war. Although the determined courage and high stare of discipline of the army which your Lordship has done me the honour to place under my command, could leave not the smallest doubt in my mind in respect to the issue of an attack upon the town, I was nevertheless prevailed upon to acquiesce in this indulgence being granted to the Enemy, from the desire of sparing the lives of many brave officers and soldiers, out of regard to the interests of the inhabitants of this island, having long laboured under the most degrading misery and oppression (and knowing confidentially your Lordship's farther views in regard to this army), added to the late period of this season, when every hour became valuable; I considered these to be motives of much more national importance, than any injury that could arise from a small body of troops, at so remote a distance from Europe, being permitted to return to their own country free from any engagement. In every other particular, we have gained all which could have been acquired, if the town had been carried by assault . . .

Under his governorship sugar production increased, Port Louis was transformed into a free port, roads were built and trade flourished. He mixed with everyone and encouraged younger generation to open dialogue with coloured leaders.

The Surrender of Mauritius

Richard Caton Woodville II 1822-1855

The Surrender of Mauritius Isle is from Hutchinson's Story of the British Nation, a panorama of Great Britain's exploits around the world. Illustrations by various artists include The Surrender of Mauritius by Woodville.

Richard Caton Woodville.

Richard Caton Woodville was born in Baltimore, the son of wealthy parents. He attended fine schools, concluding his education at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He did not like the idea of medicine as a profession and spent most of his time drawing caricatures and musing before the Dutch genre paintings of the Gilmor Collection, then the finest in Baltimore.

When he was twenty, he married a doctor's daughter, and his parents decided to allow him to pursue an artistic career. He went to Dusseldorf to study privately with Carl Ferdinand Sohn, a genre artist noted for a rather soft, sentimental style. Woodville painted one work in this technique, but since he preferred to paint American scenes, he began to work from sketches he had brought with him. When these ran out, he returned home twice for fresh material. In addition, he would not exhibit abroad, but instead sent his works home to America as soon as they were completed. He died in London from an accidental overdose of drugs at the age of thirty.

The British also preserved the island's laws, customs, language, religion and property. The treaty of Paris did restore Bourbon/Reunion island in 1814 but the Ile de France, by now with its former name of Mauritius, was confirmed as a British possession.

Sugar production developed into a major foreign income earner and the planters relied increasingly on slave labour in spite of the 1807 Act abolishing it in the British Empire. Judge Jeremie was appointed Attorney-General in Mauritius and arrived from England in 1832 to announce abolition without indemnity to a hostile reception of sugar planters and slave owners.

Slavery was finally abolished in 1835 but not before the owners received 2,000,000 compensation from the British.

Shortly afterwards thousands of Indians from Madras, Calcutta and Bombay were encouraged to emigrate to Mauritius with promises of a labour contract that included a salary and accommodation and a passage home. They arrived in dreadful conditions at Port Louis where they were housed in temporary depots and distributed to the sugar estates. They were paid very little, subjected to harsh treatment and forced to work long hours. These indentured labourers or 'coolies', were slaves by another name and were to form the majority of the population. Things improved only slightly when an Immigration Department was established in the mid-nineteenth century.

German Navy Ships in Port Louis, Mauritius, 1885German Navy Ships in Port Louis, Mauritius. 1885.

In 1872, a Royal Commission was appointed to look into the problems of Indian immigration. Their living standards became more tolerable and when immigration ceased in 1907 and another Royal Commission made recommendations for social political reform, many Indians had settled permanently in Mauritius and indeed formed the majority of the population.

Also in 1907, Mohandas Gandhi (later Mahatma Gandhi) visited Maritius and as a result sent Manillal Doctor, an Indian lawyer, to Port Louis in 1907 to organise the indentured labourers who had no say in politics and no civil rights. Only 2 percent of the population were entitled to vote and the Indians were totally underrepresented.

September 3, 1885, Marin Journal

Scenting A Slaver.
(All the Year Round.]

Many years ago, when slavery was the rube and not the exception, vessels running a cargo were extremely clever in eluding capture and putting pursuers off the scent. A good story is told of the flagship — Winchester, I think — going out of Simon's bay bound to the Mauritius. When off Cape Hangklip, late late one afternoon, a very rakish, suspicious-looking craft was sighted, carrying an unusual number of staysails and studding-sails, who upon seeing the man-of-war hoisted Spanish colors and her number of Marryatt's code and requested to be reported.

She passed quite close, and was apparently a passenger ship of about 500 tons burden, for as she neared them about a dozen ladies, in very smart bonnets, veils and parasols were observed to come on deck and wave their handkerchiefs with every demonstration of cordiality to the officers of the flagship. She seemed to have also a large crew and was very clean and smart Suspicion was quite disarmed, and she was logged as a passenger ship from Manila to Cadiz. The admiral was alone in his opinion that all was not right remarking that the ladies waved their pocket handkerchiefs uncommonly long and vigorously to a mere passing ship; he also thought the handkerchiefs unusually large, and further he mentioned that as she passed he was looking out of the door in the stern galley, and a faint curious whiff came down on the wind, reminding him of something long past.

He could not remember for the moment of what it did remind him, but It suddenly occurred to him several hours after the faint passing odor, as the strange vessel swept by, recalled the smell of a slave ship which he had navigated into port years before. And he was right. This same vessel was taken, off the Havana, on her subsequent voyage, and, proved to have been a Spanish ship from Fernando, Velosos river, in theMogambique channel, fll of slaves for Cuba. Her captain explained with delighted pride his meeting with theflagship off the capeo, and bow, seeing a large man-of-war bearing down upon him with the certainty of capture and no hope to escape should the ship's character be known, he adopted the clever expedient, doubtless not for the first time, of dressing up a number of his men in women's attire, aruse that was in thi sinstance entirely successful.

Storm and Conquest: The Clash of Empires in the Eastern Seas, 1809Mauritius.
Stephen Taylor
Mauritius.The Indian Ocean was the final battleground for Nelson’s navy and France. At stake was Britain’s commercial lifeline to India and its strategic capacity to wage war in Europe. In one fatal season, the natural order of maritime power since Trafalgar was destroyed. In bringing home Bengali saltpeter for the Peninsular campaign with military and civilian passengers, Britain lost fourteen of her great Indiamen, either sunk or taken by enemy frigates. Many hundreds of lives were lost, and the East India Company was shaken to its foundations. The focus of these disasters, military and meteorological, was a tiny French outpost in mid-ocean the island known as Mauritius. This is the story of that season. It brings together the terrifying ordeal of men, women, and children caught at sea in hurricanes, and those who survived to take up the battle to drive the French from the Eastern seas. Mauritius must be taken at any cost.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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