Glimpses of Mauritian History – Emancipation of slaves in Mauritius and the persecution of Jeremie

« Vous comprendrez tout le tort que le Cernéen en ce flambeau de discorde, peut causer à ce pays, tant à l’extérieur ? »

– Compte rendu du Cernéen, 29 Novembre, 1833, d’une plaidoirie de J. Jérémie

England was far from forcing the abolition of slavery abruptly upon the colonists. She wanted to educate public opinion in its favour until the time would be ripe for it. As a prelude to total emancipation an order in Council was passed on the 10th March, 1824, which abrogated many of the laws which weighed upon the slaves; a protector of slaves, who was assisted by commissioners in districts, was appointed to look after the interests of slaves.

The whites interpreted these measures as an encroachment upon their privileges. Their historian, Albert Pitot, among other things that he writes against this legislation which did justice to the slaves, brings forward the plea that the office of protectorship was superfluous as the slaves had in the past been protected by the Procureur Général. Was the Procureur-General in fact well disposed towards the slaves? Usually a prominent member of the “Parti Français” occupied this prominent post and he was as much dependent upon slave labour as any other master. History records the fact that once some coloured people entered an inn and had the misfortune of getting into the room reserved for the whites. On their refusal to leave that room a quarrel ensued and the next day they were prosecuted before the police court. They could find no barrister or attorney to fight their case. Doresten Bruils, a clerk in the court was allowed to defend them. While pleading, he expressed the wish that the time would soon come when members of the coloured population would become lawyers and attorneys. Hearing this, Adrien d’Epinay, a prominent member of the Bar said, “Le jour où un Mulâtre prendra rang dans ce barreau, ce jour là je me dépouillerai de ma robe et la foulerai au pieds.»

Another instance shows the attitude of the whites, who monopolised the legal profession, towards the coloured population. This time it is a Procureur Général himself, M. Foisy who speaks to coloured people. “Que voulez-vous? Nous sommes les fondateurs de la colonie; nous sommes vos maîtres. Tant que le sang coulera dans nos veines, nous maintiendrons ce préjugé. » It is to be imagined how people holding such poor opinions of the coloured population could discharge themselves of the duty of protecting the slaves who in their eyes were much more inferior than the coloured.

The Whites were as determined to stand in the way of anything done for the slaves as England was anxious to see their emancipation. They spread the rumour that every measure passed by the Colonial Secretary in their interest had but one effect – filling the minds of the slaves with ideas of liberty which would make them rise en masse. To safeguard against a possible insurrection of slaves, they formed a company of volunteers. E. Vanmeerbeck even records that « En 1830 des factieux s’assemblèrent à l’ancienne librairie de Maurice au coin des rues Royale et de l’Eglise: la question de former un corps révolutionnaire pour résister à l’abolition de l’esclavage, fut là sur le point d’être résolu. »

On the 1st October 1826, two commissioners, Messrs Colebroke and Blair came to Mauritius to study the question of slavery. They must have seen how the whites were griping at power and how reluctant they were to let go their hold on their slaves. Some years later, England sent another man, J. Jeremie, whose name is closely associated with the emancipation of the slaves. He had already attracted the notice of Mauritian colonists by the publication of four ‘Essays on Slavery’, by his connection with the Anti-Slavery Society and the notable work done by him for the cause of emancipation of St Lucie. He was sent by England to occupy the post of Procureur Général. He was determined to see the end of slavery and to serve as a brake against the abuses of the local courts which were the preserve of the whites.

On the 22nd June, Jeremie was to take his post at the court. He was preceded there by a rowdy crowd bent on mischief. The newly founded Conservative Paper, Le Cernéen, had roused to fever heat the feelings of the whites against him. It could vilify at pleasure for the other classes of the population had no organ to support them. He was greeted by a horrible din; cries of “A bas Jeremie!” were heard from the crowd, one of whom was so bold as even to assault him. Had soldiers not protected him, he would have been sacrificed at the altar of colonial prejudice and cruelty. Only two months later Jeremie was compelled to return to England, to the great satisfaction of the colonists who prided themselves upon this victory on the Secretary of States for the colonies.

But England was not prepared to give way before colonial obstinacy.

Jeremy came again in Mauritius on the 29th April 1833, this time accompanied by one or two regiments. He lodged at the barracks and everyday went to the court escorted by soldiers. He stayed in the island till the 29th August 1834. Throughout this period there scarcely went by a day when Le Cernéen did not consecrate an editorial, an article or at least a letter, with a view to lower down the Procureur-Général in the eyes of the public.

Soon after his return to England Jeremie wrote a booklet ‘Les événements récents à Maurice’ in which he wrote: “J’ai traversé les trois dernières années, une distance de 17,000 lieues; j’ai rencontré l’assassin à terre et le pirate sur l’eau.”

(M.Times — 22 April 1955)

* * *

A Model Bus Company

Ever since his arrival, Mr Jessop, our Transport Adviser, has left no stone unturned in devising ways and means to better the conditions of our Public Transport.

On the 25th last Mr Jessop invited the bus company managers of the island to visit the new park and depot of the Vacoas Transport Company situated at Bonne Terre, Vacoas, with a view to showing them the excellent initiative taken by its manager, Mr S. Issur.

Mr Jessop pointed out that an efficient maintenance system is one of the most essential fundamentals of good bus service. He stressed that he does not want to thrust upon the rising companies the expensive system that exists in Great Britain as conditions there are in many ways different from ours. He wants our local companies to evolve their own system based upon local conditions. Side by side with a good administration, a bus company must own its own depot where maintenance, repairs and regular overhauling are carried out.

He was very pleased to notice that Mr Issur has found out a solution to that problem. The excellent work achieved by the manager of the VT Co Ltd only in four months is a proof of the efficiency of his methods.

Mr Issur was elected Manager of the VT Co Ltd only on the 16th of December last. At the handing over the company was in a poor state. An average of only 19 busses out of 34 were in service. Within one week he managed to put all the buses in running order thus giving satisfaction to the Transport Adviser and to the public in coping with the great demand for transport during the Christmas and New Year period. He reorganized the whole establishment and with the scanty means at his disposal he planned a two-year programme.

At the request of the Transport Adviser, Mr Issur showed all the details of his park and depot, which covers an area of 1½ acres. A filling depot is also under construction. Already four sheds, 3 water closets, 1 bathroom and one storeroom have been erected on the premises. His two-year plan includes a monthly addition of a new bus to his fleet. The Manager is very keep upon not delaying the repair of buses that have sustained breakdown. He has made provision to keep mechanics at work even on Sundays and Public Holidays.

Closing the meeting Mr Jessop requested the bus company managers to do everything in their power to build depots and parks of their own. He thanked Mr Issur for his hospitality and the managers for responding to his invitation.

In the name of the managers present, Mr Rey of the Tip Top Transport thanked Mr Issur and Mr Jessop.

Sub Editor

(M.Times — 29 April 1955)

*  Published in print edition on 5 June 2015

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