2nd Year No 72 — Friday – 23rd December 1955
Glimpses of Mauritius History
The Commission that blamed those who requested its appointment
By D. Napal BA (Hons)
Qu’est ce que la France a fait pour l’Indo-Mauricien? Rien, pour l’excellente raison qu’elle n’a jamais eu à s’occuper de lui. L’Indien n’a commencé à venir à Maurice qu’un quart de siècle après que la France eut été dépossédée, et c’est toujours l’Angleterre qui a eu pour mission de le protéger.
— J. A. Duclos The Indian petitioners as well as De Plevitz who championed their cause were not thinking of a Royal Commission to enquire into their grievances. All they wanted was a betterment of their conditions of life. The hardness of heart shown towards them was too obvious to need commissioners to disclose it.
De Plevitz had appealed to Queen Victoria to decree that: “In every English colony, an Ordinance made, or that hereafter be made, whereby persons not of European birth or descent may be subjected or made liable to any disabilities or restrictions to which persons of European birth or descent are not also subjected or made liable, shall ipso facto be null and void.” He hoped that Indian Immigrants all over the world would soon be restored to that freedom which was their birthright as British subjects.”
The De Plevitz pamphlet was denounced by the colonial press in virulent and scurrilous terms. The white population was alarmed by its contents. The planters wanted to clear themselves of the accusations made against them. The Chamber of Agriculture was there to voice their feelings.
On the 13th November 1871 the Chamber of Agriculture adopted resolutions to the effect:
“Firstly. That His Excellency the Governor should be respectfully moved to take the earliest opportunity of refuting the malicious assertions contained in this libel, in order that the Home Government and the Indian authorities should be made acquainted with the truth.
“Secondly. That, in case His Excellency the Governor should not find reason to accede to their request, Her Majesty may be prayed to name a competent Commission to enquire fully and fairly into all the circumstances, and report on the condition of the labourers employed in the sugar cultivation of this colony.”
Virgil Naz, a prominent member of the Chamber of Agriculture, from his seat in the Legislative Council asked the Governor “what measures he had taken, or intended to take, to prevent the falsehoods and calumnies of Mr De Plevitz exercising any effect upon the interests of the colony in India.”
The Chamber of Agriculture showed regret that Governor Sir Arthur Gordon had not yet appointed the Commission which he had promised to appoint to enquire into the complaints of the immigrants and the allegations made against the police. It prayed the Governor to come to a final decision about such grave matters.
In his reply to Virgil Naz and to the Chamber of Agriculture, the Governor expressed his belief as to the general well-being of the Indians but in what concerned the petition and pamphlet, he could not make any positive statement.
On the 17th of October 1871, he submitted the memorandum of the Chamber to the Secretary of State who came to the conclusion that matters of such grave importance could only be settled by a Royal Commission, which was appointed on the 17th February 1872.
The Commissioners were William Edward Frere and Victor Alexander Williamson, barristers-at-law. They were imbued with too high a sense of duty and justice to come under nefarious influences. They did their work with a remarkable consciousness. During their sittings were brought to light facts which amply justified the complaints of the immigrants and the pamphlet of De Plevitz.
The planters were scandalized by the findings of the Commissioners. They had clamoured for a Commission with only one motive – to clear them of the allegations made against them by De Plevitz. The Commission came. Their wishes were granted. Sooner than they had expected. Instead of clearing them of the imputations of De Plevitz, they brought forward more facts which betrayed their injustice and callousness.
Virgil Naz, the man who had clamoured most loudly for a Commission, was the most sadly deceived. Naz who qualified De Plevitz as a foreign adventurer, was shocked by the disclosure of the Commissioners. He wrote: “I had the honour, which I shared with other gentlemen, members of this Chamber, to assist in dispelling certain misunderstanding and in defending the colony against unjust accusations. Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Commission was stricken by disease during his stay in Mauritius.” Here is a specimen of Franco-Mauritian justice. The man who stood for the Indian immigrants was a “foreign adventurer”, and the Commissioner who presided the Royal Commission of 1872 was “stricken with disease”.