Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago – An Anniversary- Remy Ollier

On nous accuse de vouloir créer une scission dans la société en réveillant les choses passées depuis longtemps. Nous répondons seulement que la scission existe, mieux caractérisée que jamais que ce n’est pas noire population qui l’a voulue, et que pour nous qui ne savons pas haïr, tous nos soins tendent à amener la fusion des classes.

– Remy Ollier

There are certain dates which impress themselves indelibly in our minds. Such a date is the 16th October, the birthday anniversary of R. Ollier one of those whom we cannot forget, do what we will. He is the pride of the coloured population for whose political, social and economic fights he devoted his life, too short unfortunately. He is the genius, which the coloured population have produced in this land but he worked for all who deserved his attention, irrespective of creed and colour. He could say with truth: “Des mains blanches, brunes et noires se sont fraternellement serrées dans notre bureau. Elles se croisaient pour rédiger La Sentinelle en mon absence. »

It goes to the credit of Ollier that he raised his voice to denounce the ill-treatment meted out to the There are certain dates which impress themselves indelibly in our minds. Such a date is the 16th October, the birthday anniversary of R. Ollier one of those whom we cannot forget, do what we will. He is the pride of the coloured population for whose political, social and economic fights he devoted his life, too short unfortunately. He is the genius, which the coloured population have produced in this land but he worked for all who deserved his attention, irrespective of creed and colour. He could say with truth: “Des mains blanches, brunes et noires se sont fraternellement serrées dans notre bureau. Elles se croisaient pour rédiger La Sentinelle en mon absence. »Indians at a time when they had just come into the island, were looked upon with contempt and when almost nobody interested himself in their case. He described the pitiable state of a hospital at Grande Rivière where Indian patients were lodged. They died, he wrote, « entourés d’un simple camli, sur la bande de tôle d’un lit de fer, où vous en verrez pas même une paillasse. » As a consequence many of them died a miserable death. He compared the diet of the European patients with that of the Indians, pointing out the inhuman discrimination. According to Ollier, the Indian patients were given a handful of rice only, in the morning and in the afternoon, « une poignée de riz trempé d’un bouillon des os de boeuf, en si petite quantité qu’ils meurent de faim, et que leur première parole aux visiteurs qui entrent est pour demander quelque chose à manger. »

Ollier was born in Vieux Grand Port at Ferney, which Leoville L’Homme in his Ode à R.Ollier describes as:

Un large vallon de fôrets et de plaines.

Le morne du lion couchant près de la mer.

His father was Benoit Ollier, artillery captain during the Consulate and Empire, who had settled down in the colony and his mother was Julie Guillemeau. So long as his father lived he received a liberal education, devouring during his leisure hours the works of Voltaire and Rousseau. When he was aged 16, his father suddenly died leaving his wife and children without any means of subsistence. The young orphan had to pass through the worst of trials.

Unsuccessful as clerk, he was put by his mother to learn the craft of harness maker but the fates had not destined him for this humble career. He was to be among the elect. He tried his hand at teaching, even opened a college at St George Street, was forced to shut it, bought the pensionnat of one Raynaud, failed in this attempt too and had to give up teaching altogether. Then with the cooperation of an Englishman, Baker, he started the Sentinelle, a weekly newspaper.

At last he had discovered himself. He was a born journalist. Everything he has written bears the mark of genius upon it. He drew his inspiration from the sufferings of the poor whom he often visited in their miserable huts. “Nous écrivons la main sur le cœur,” he wrote, “et le foyer de nos inspirations c’est la faim du pauvre, c’est le corps amaigri du mendiant, ce sont les douleurs de l’humble famille.” He sacrificed his own self for these and for his country for which the bright flame of patriotism burnt in his breast.

“Redresser les torts, encourager le mérite dans quelque classe et sous quelque épiderme qu’il se rencontre, appeler tous les Mauriciens à une intelligente unité. » Here were the noble aims which he had set before him. He lived up to these high ideals and was ready to lay down his life for them.

As in the case of the Rev. Jean Le Brun and Père Laval a formidable host rose against him. Everyone of his actions was keenly watched and to make him get disgusted with his self imposed task, he was made the object of ridicule and bitter criticism. “Nous le ferons tomber par l’amende,” hoped his foes but they could find nothing to prove against him. He was always writing after having collected first hand evidence of whatever he wrote. Finding that nothing could daunt him, some of those who had been the butt of his just attacks one night disguised themselves and laid an ambush for his life in a street corner. Fortunately for him he did not die from the wounds sustained from this attack but he was confined to bed for two months.

Commenting to his wife upon this sad episode of his life, he said: “Oui, en me défendant, j’ai vu tomber le masque d’un de mes agresseurs et je l’ai reconnu; mais je garderai mon secret. Je ne veux pas de représailles ; cette vie, je l’ai donnée en holocauste à mes concitoyens. » Could there be any other words more christian than these? If modern times can afford one parallel to this side of R. Ollier’s character, it is the case of Mahatma Gandhi, who was attacked shamefacedly by some white hooligans in South Africa and he with a smile forgave his aggressors.

Among other things which he demanded and which were in the course of time obtained were to introduce the elective principle in the council of government, the creation of a municipality, that Mauritians would prepare themselves for autonomous government which he considered to be a country’s most solemn right. He wanted that scholarships should be granted to two of the best pupils of the Royal College and that the children of the coloured population should be allowed to take part in a just competition which would decide who were the laureates. He demanded the institution of district magistrates and the system of trial by jury.

Mauritians have amply shown gratitude for their indebtedness to him. A monument was raised in his memory in the Western Cemetery where he was laid to rest. The Municipal Council gave his name to the Des Limites Street and to a square of Plaine Verte. A bust of his was erected in 1908, and in October 1916 the centenary of his birthday was celebrated with great pomp.

Remy Ollier passed as a meteor in the History of Mauritius, achieving in scarcely two years the work of a generation. He infused a new spirit into the coloured people and set them on their way to future progress. He did not preach discord and hatred but strove hard that justice might be done to every class of Mauritian society. It might do good to us to contemplate on some of his sayings and try to live up to them for they are as true today as they were when he penned them.

(Mauritius Times – Friday 14th October 1955)

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