Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By D. Napal
I fear, therefore, that the Colony must for a time longer suffer under all the evils the “Cernéen” is so frequently heaping upon it, at home and abroad unless indeed that the good sense of the great majority of the Society, shall step forward to terminate them.
— Governor Sir Charles Coleville – Minutes of Proceedings of Council, 13th January 1833
History teems with parallels. The research worker who have not lost contact with the present often finds that events occurring before his eyes, problems which the present generation has to face, battles which it has to fight, were there in the past. It is in this analogy that the interest of history lies.
For example, since a few months, the Cernéen is waging a relentless but unfortunately desperate battle against Hurd – the commissioner of Income Tax.
But it is not for the first time that the Cernéen is taking the cudgels against a government official. It is only acting according to its traditions.
At the time of the foundation of the Cernéen, one question was foremost in the minds of the planters and proprietors of slaves — that of slavery. They knew that England was decided to abolish that nefarious system. They could not contain their anger when an order in council was passed disallowing proprietors of slaves to sit in judgment in cases in which slaves were implied. Most of the judges were planters. The Procureur General at that time was Prosper d’Epinay – Adrien’s elder brother. The Colonists grew furious when it was announced that Jeremie was appointed to the place of Procureur General. The “Comité Colonial” changed its name to that of “Comité de sûreté publique” and passed the following resolution: “Tant que Jeremie et le Protecteur seront dans la colonie:
“Ne pas reconnaitre les tribunaux; tenir les boutiques fermées; arrêter toutes les affaires; ne reconnaitre ni le protecteur, ni ses adjoints, ne payer aucun impôt, armer les volontaires le plus tôt possible; que les assesseurs ne se rendent pas à la cour; empêcher toute vente d’arack.”
Incendiary articles in the Cernéen and the harangue of the leaders of the Parti Français had already roused the people to fury. A good number of coloured men, mistaking that their interests were with the white planters joined them in the outcry against Jeremie. This fact was lamented by Remy Ollier and other coloured writers who came after him. In an article in the Sentinelle on the 24th October 1843, he wrote:
“Ils (les hommes de couleur) se rappelleront que ce grand homme fut toute sa vie l’ami fervent de leur cause, et que c’est de leurs mains, en surprenant leurs convictions, qu’on a voulu crucifier le prophète, le messie envoyé en Afrique pour sauver de la tyrannie les hommes bruns et noirs… qu’on se remette sous les yeux les articles incendiaires et calomnieux du ‘Cernéen’ en 1832; qu’un relise ces insolentes pétitions où l’on déclarait au gouverneur qu’on avait des armes pour sa défense; qu’on se remémore toutes ces diatribes si dégoutantes, et l’on aura une idée de talents politiques de l’infâme coterie, et de la force d’âme de cet illustre Sir Charles Coleville qui souffrit qu’une poignée d’agitateurs le renfermassent à l’Hôtel du gouvernement, qu’ils assourdissaient de leurs clameurs de démagogues, et qu’ils insultassent ses troupes, officiers et soldats.”
Jeremie had a hard time in the Colony. He wanted justice to be impartially meted out to everybody irrespective of creed and colour. But he had to make headway against innumerable difficulties. He had to struggle against insubordination, against mighty interests; deep-rooted prejudices and violent and cruel passions in rousing which the Cernéen had an ample share. Jeremie was also made the object of attacks in the Council where Adrien d’Epinay, founder of the Cernéen had a sway upon the unofficial members as he had in the editing of the Cernéen. So much did the coterie succeed that Jeremie was forced to embark for England.
But sometime later, he was sent again in the island. This time, as Remy Ollier put it, he acted as a wise and firm man. His mission was to defend the majority of Mauritians who were coloured men and slaves. He had to oppose his lonely strength against the Colonial bar and the governor himself who was under the influence of the coterie. He had almost succeeded in his work when the Secretary of State, whose mind was poisoned by the calumnies against Jeremie, recalled him again. Spreading these calumnies against Jeremie was the work of the Cernéen.
Jeremie alone was not the victim of the Cernéen and the clique which administered it. The protector of slaves, L.M. Thomas occupying a post created some time ago was another victim. He too, as Jeremie, was interested in the cause of the salves which in the eyes of the Cernéen was the worst of crimes. We find the Protector of slaves writing to the governor a letter on the 4th of January 1833. Here is part of that letter:
“A scandalously libelous attack having been made upon my character in the paper called the “Cernéen“, published on the 30th of the last month, I feel that I should be wanting in the respect due to myself as a public officer, and a member of His Majesty’s Council were I not to call your Excellency’s attention to it, with a view to claim at your Excellency’s hands not only that protection which is due to every public officer, but also that immunity which by the 19th art, of standing regulations of Council every member thereof is entitled to.”
Jeremie and Thomas were not as the Cernéen depicted them, monsters of inequity, tyrants who came to rob descendants of Colonists of their property. They were only kind souls imbued with noble motives to work in the interests of the oppressed class who were the helpless victims of a coterie in power.
More than a hundred years have elapsed since. But time has had no benign influence on the Cernéen which is today still at the old game. Today Hurd, the Commissioner of Income Tax, is the butt of the Cernéen‘s attacks. Today too, as in the case of Jeremie and Hurd, the Cernéen leads the charge to safeguard the interests of the reactionaries. And yet N.M.U. talks ad nauseam of law and order as if Le Cernéen has its monopoly.
Friday 2nd November 1956
* Published in print edition on 5 April 2019