MT 60 Years — Indo-British Conquest of Ile de France
When Toussaint puts his shoulder to the wheel to deprive the sepoys of the honour of having captured the island, there can be no doubt that Duperre, Austen and De Burgh-Edwards will disappear like hundreds of copies of Hitie’s Histoire de Maurice
— ‘Indians and the capture of Mauritius’ – Hindoo Press 1947
It is a long time since Dr Toussaint’s pet theory that the Indians who took part in the capture of Mauritius were not sepoys but only camp followers has been exploded.
The press controversy started by the publication in the September-October 1945 issue of the United Empire of a lecture delivered by K. Hazareesingh at a meeting of the Royal Empire Society. In the United Empire’s May-June 1946 issue Dr Toussaint, on behalf of the Société de l’Histoire de Maurice, published a refutation of certain facts put forward by Mr Hazareesingh. In that letter for the first time we hear that “these Indian troops did not take part in the fighting but served only as camp followers”. It is this expression which, it seems, NMU rather blindly paraphrases when in the Cernéen of the 12th August he writes. “M. Ramlallah oublie que ce chiffre de 9,000 indiens (d’ailleurs éminemment controversable) comprenait un nombre considérable de porteurs, de cuisiniers, de boys et d’éléments de toutes sortes affectés aux services auxiliaires. Aucun cipaye ne fut engagé dans les combats. Cela réduit à 0 le nombre de conquérants Indiens.”
The camps followers of Dr Toussaint and the porteurs, cuisiniers et boys de NMU, contrast with the following extract from a letter of General Abercromby, an eye witness of the events of 1810, “The commissariat and indeed all the departments, find themselves quite adrift, now that they have no longer elephants, and thousands of coolies, at their command. Not an individual, except fighting men, was permitting to embark on this service” (Italics are ours). This extract was published in ‘Les Soldats Indiens à Maurice’ in 1951, at the Hindoo Press. While reading this booklet we also learn that Abercromby’s letter was published in Le Bulletin Annuel de la Société de l’Histore de l’Ile Maurice, edited by Dr Toussaint, historian and Government Archivist. The irony of it lies in the fact that Dr Toussaint had either forgotten or merely was passing over the contents of General Abercromby’s letter while writing his letter of refutation to the Editor of the United Empire. Other authorities were brought forward to prove Dr Toussaint’s error or distortion of history, among others De Burgh-Edwards, Herve, De Rauville, Eugene Fabre and Albert Pitot.
Among other things published in the Indians and the Capture of Mauritius, is the following which we think is relevant to our contention, “Toussaint and Le Cernéen can only be exasperated at the temerity of the uncouth lad (De Burgh-Edwards) who as a fatal consequence of his having not yet been taught to write history, innocently gives out the inconvenient truth.”
We feel sure that had Dr Toussaint known what an array of facts would be marshalled against his expression Camp followers in Indians and the Capture of Mauritius, in ‘Les Soldats Indiens à Maurice’, in an article: ‘Sans Parti-Pris’, published in Advance, and in a letter which appeared in the November-December 1954 issue of the United Empire, he would have been more careful.
At least one thing can be said of Dr Toussaint that in the midst of all the press controversy which has raged, he has kept stoically silent. Should we interpret his silence as an acknowledgement of his error? Lately obtaining a scholarship from the government he went to India to examine documents concerning Mauritian history. We felt that on his return he might to the interests of Mauritian history, publish original matter on the capture of Mauritius.
And now NMU rushes forward with the versatility or rather the make-believe attitude common to him, brandishing his sword where the professional historian has lost his footing. Once again he illustrates the truth of Pope’s epigram: Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread.
NMU, in contradiction to eminent historical authorities, is out to make his campaign of misrepresentation. In doing so he betrays the fact that he is not au courant of the Toussaint v/s Hazareesingh controversy. However that may be, he may have read our article in the Mauritius Times of the 24th December 1954, in which there is an array of facts paying tribute to the contribution of Indians in the capture of Mauritius. But as his mind is a storehouse of a medley of ideas and opinions — mostly obscure and distorted, he may be justified in not remembering what we wrote eight months ago. He would do well to consider the following which comes from a document received by a Mauritian historian from the War Ministry.
“The following distribution of (Indian) Forces was made:
First Brigade: Lieutenant-Colonel Picton (HM’s 12th) H.M’s 12th 22nd, and right wing Madras volunteer battalion.
Second Brigade: Lieutenant-Colonel Gibbs (HM’s 59th) HM’s 59th, 300 th, 89th one company 87th, left wing Madras volunteer battalion.
Third Brigade: Lieutenant-Colonel Kelso HM’s 14th, and 2nd Bengal volunteers.
Fourth Brigade: Lieutenant-Colonel McLeod (HM’s 69th) HM’s 69th, Royal Marines 300, flank companies 6th and 12th, MNI.
Fifth Brigade: Lieutenant-Colonel Smith (HM’s 65th) Troop HM’s 25th dragoon’s, HM’s 65th and 1st Bengal
Reserve Brigade: Lieutenant-Colonel Keating.
Flank Companies: HM’s 12th and 33rd, HM’s 84th two companies, HM 56th, one company HM’s 14 and a detachment of Bombay infantry under Captain Inlach.”
NMU goes beyond the bounds of ridicule when he asserts that in an army of 23,000 men there were 9 cooks, porters and boys. Two servants for every three soldiers! Who has ever heard of such trash! Was the conquest of Mauritius attempted in a picnic party mood!
* Published in print edition on 22 January 2016