Planters object to inspection of estates

By D. Napal BA (Hons) — 

MT 60 Years Ago

 3rd Year No 78 – Friday 3rd February 1956

•       The statesman shears the sheep, the politician skins them. – A. O’Malley

Glimpses of Mauritian History

Je maintiens que nous avons le droit de dire que ces inspections ne sont pas nécessaires. Depuis bientôt trente ans que nous avons l’immigration, tous nos gouverneurs ont reconnu que les Indiens sont bien traités à Maurice. Dès lors qu’y a-t-il d’extraordinaire à ce que nous disions que ces inspections sont sans utilité.

— Mr Hart, Treasurer of Chamber of Agriculture

What were the measures adopted to ensure that the planters were fair in their relations with their labourers? In the early days of Indian immigration the planter had not to give any account to anybody as to what were the needs of their workers and how these needs were fulfilled. It was only in 1864 that Governor Sir Henry Barkley ordered that the Protector of Immigrants should periodically visit the sugar estates and organise visits by stipendiary magistrates. On the 9th of September 1864 the Colonial Secretary in a circular to the magistrates directed them to visit and report half yearly upon every estate in their respective districts.

But the planters looked upon the inspection of estates as a sort of spy system. It sounds ironical that those who on the slightest provocation started making a catalogue of the benefits which the Indian Immigrants derived from working on their estates, who were always anxious to show how exact they were in fulfilling their engagement towards their labourers, should be shocked at the prospect of their estates being supervised. If there was nothing wrong on the estates, why were they hostile towards those appointed to inspect them?

Sir Henry Barkley attested to the fact that the systems of inspection “created some perturbation among the planters and was unfavourably commented on by the press.” He bowed before the storm of protest and asked to the Protector and the magistrates to show a conciliatory attitude towards the planters during their tour of inspection. As a result the magistrates found themselves in a delicate position. They were directed by the Governor to visit estates but their visits could only be made with the consent of the planter. They could not, for example, encourage the labourers to make complaints. Their visit therefore was but a matter of form. If the magistrate during the course of his visit found anything wrong, the law did not make provisions for him to prosecute the contravenant, so long as a police inspector did not certify that the wrong was there.

It is needless to say that during the interval of the magistrate’s visit and the coming of the police inspector, the defect in question was removed and the contravenant went scot free. The position of the magistrate was clearly defined by Mr Daly, himself a stipendiary magistrate, who wrote: “The Magistrate could not possibly have occasion to do more than look at the pay book and hospital register, and there terminated his duty. As I was fully conscious that the legal authorization of the magistrate in his character of Inspector was wanting, and as all had to proceed from the sufferance and the courtesy of my informants, I had to resign myself to many disappointments which will account for this report not being complete.”

On his visit the magistrate was provided with a form which was to be filled and signed by him. As it took a considerable time to fill this form, magistrates often left it with the planter or his manager to be filled. The planter or his agent was thus entrusted with power which he turned to his own use by furnishing only so much information as he thought would not be prejudicial to him. There were cases when planters instead of furnishing information to the Inspectors refused point blank to do so.

Inspecting magistrates often complained of this attitude of the planters as Mr Renouf, in Pamplemousses in his reports in 1871 and 1872 excused himself of the incompleteness of the information he had gathered by attributing it to the “apathy, negligence or unwillingness of the planters in filling up and returning to him the forms left with them at the time of his visit.” Sir Gabriel Fropier also wrote in the same strain as Mr Renouf in his report of 1870 when, among other things, he said that some of the planters “through apathy, indifference, or negligence never send their information.” The visits of the magistrates were confined to the camps and the hospitals. As these visits were held in daytime, there were usually very few men in the camps as most of them were working in the fields which they were not legally allowed to visit.

On the whole it can be said that these inspections with the powers of the inspectors so narrowly limited were not productive of any good. Sir Arthur Harendlor knowing this state of things asked the Immigration Committee of the Council to approve the appointment of two Inspectors of Immigrants for the inspection of estates. The committee drew up its report in which it recommended that the visit day should be fixed by the Protector of Immigrants and that the manager of the estate should be notified of such a visit at least seven days in advance. The Governor was wise enough to reject such a demand which, in his own words, would have defeated the objects of the Ordinance. He was criticised by the planters. The Commercial Gazette, exponent of their views, wrote on the 16th of November 1871: “His Excellency’s testimony in our favour is of a certain value, but this is diminished by the fact that he conceives it indispensable to establish by Ordinance a system of espionage on sugar estates, as on all establishments where Indian labour is employed.”

That the planters were opposed to the inspection of estates is beyond the shadow of a doubt. It remains to be seen what was the cause of their opposition. By that attitude on their part they nullified the repeated assertions that the Indian were well treated on the estates and that they could not reasonably make any complaints. Was it not a hidden fear that the truth about the real state of things would be out which made them consider the government inspectors to be in their eyes no more than spies?

* * *

 ‘Mad’ On their Soccer in Mauritius

We are glad to reproduce below an article which appeared in the Sunday Tribune of November 20, 1955, following the tour of the Natal Football Team. Although we have received it with some delay, we are publishing it all the same knowing that it will interest our tens of thousands of soccer fans to read the judicious comment of the Durban paper.

Over in Mauritius where the Natal soccer team completes its tour today, the Natalians have been drawing bigger crowds from the tiny island population than the Springbok team did in Australia, despite a better tour record than any South African sides before it. Today Mauritius, only one day’s flying distant, is our closest overseas soccer neighbour.

“Why the crowds?” I asked Ivor Benson, well-known Durban journalist, who has just come back from Mauritius himself.

“They’re crazy about the game there,” he told me. “Mauritius you see, like to regard themselves as “champions of the Indian Ocean.’

“They are, really. They’ve beaten Madagascar and Reunion successively, over a long period of years.

“There is one major snag. The Mauritians, despite their obvious ability, will probably never field the strongest side they have.

“Everything is multi-racial — so is the soccer team. Whites and Coloureds, Moslem Indians, Hindu Indians and Chinese, all of them go into the Mauritius side.

“The selectors have to be more than a little tactful. The crowd will cheer for its team, or barrack against it, according to its own views on any section of the side.

“So the selectors have their work cut out to keep the peace – and the right proportionate representation!”

Benson was equally impressed by the amount of betting before each match; not so much on the result, as on the goals for and against.

“For a big match,“ Ivor Benson assures me, “they’ll stop everything. The shops and the business houses close down, and they may pack in 10,000 spectators or more.”

For a little island boasting no more than 530,000 inhabitants, Mauritius is doing better than well.

(Mauritius Times 27 January 1956)


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