A History of Antoinette (Phooliyar) and the Experiences of its Immigrants
This year marks the 181st anniversary of the arrival of the indentured labourers in Mauritius. The specific historic event that is being commemorated is the landing on 2nd November 1834 of 36 Indian Bihari contract workers who were accompanied by Georges Charles Arbuthnot, their new employer and part owner of Antoinette Sugar Estate and known today as Phooliyar, from Calcutta to Port Louis.
After a harrowing journey across the Indian Ocean on board the ship the Atlas, they finally reached their destination, and after fulfilling the required landing formalities they were taken to Antoinette. It was there that during the 1830s, these brave and bold early indentured workers worked side by side with the slaves and the apprentices in order to turn a barren land into a garden of sugar. It was through their toils, tears, and sacrifices that they also built the sugar factory, chimney, estate camp, store, and the other structures of Antoinette which have survived until today.
An Overview of the History of Antoinette Sugar Estate (Phooliyar)
Antoinette Sugar Estate, formerly known as Naud Estate and Belle Alliance Estate, is one of the most famous sugar estates in Mauritian history which is intimately linked with the genesis of the indentured labour system in our country. It is a place of shared history and heritage where between the late 18th and the mid-20th centuries, hundreds of slaves and thousands of Indian and non-Indian indentured workers and their descendants laboured their entire lives.
Between the 1770s and 1830s, more than 400 Mozambican, Malagasy, and Indian slaves worked and lived on Antoinette Sugar Estate where they started the long and complex process of transforming it into a lucrative sugar estate. This process was continued between the 1830s and the early 1900s, by more than 4,000 Indian indentured workers and some non-Indian workers such as the Chinese, the Liberated Africans, and Comorian indentured workers. Between the 1870s and the 1950s, this economic process was completed by more than 3,000 Mauritian workers, the descendants of indentured workers, who made it one of the most important sugar estates in Riviere du Rempart district.
Between 1770 and 1939, Antoinette or Phooliyar had ten different owners who contributed in one way or another to its rich history and heritage. There were five owners in particular – Louis Naud, Joseph Diore, George Arbuthnot, Raoul De Maroussem, and Gustave Martin – who played a key role in its development. At the same time, Arbuthnot, De Maroussem, and Martin also brought hundreds of Indian indentured labourers and some Chinese contract workers, Liberated Africans, and Comorians to work on their sugar estates between the 1830s and early 1900s.
A Profile of the 2nd November 1834 Indentured Immigrants
Recent research at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute Indian Immigration Archives and the Mauritius National Archives has provided new information on some of the Arbuthnot indentured workers who arrived in Mauritius on 2nd November 1834, such as Immigrants Bhoodhoo and Dookhun.
The Muslim and Chinese Indentured Workers of Antoinette
In January 1838, around 52 Indian indentured workers including some Muslims and tribals were brought to work for Artbuthnot on 5-year contracts. In 1840, the Muslim indentured workers, including Khodabux, organized a Yamse procession at Antoinette and when Mr Moulinie, the estate manager, tried to prevent them he was assaulted. George Arbuthnot acted as a mediator in order to restore order on his sugar estate.
In July 1841, around 25 Chinese contract labourers were brought to work at Antoinette Sugar Estate, under 12 and 24-month contracts, from Penang, a British-controlled port town in South-East Asia. Most of the Chinese labourers were skilled and semi-skilled workers and they were originally from Macao and southern China. Between 1841 and 1845, they regularly ran away and became vagrants, refused to work, filed complaints against the estate manager, and even went on strike. By 1845, the majority among the Chinese workers had left the estate and some settled in Port Louis, while others returned to Penang and China. Asseen was one of the few skilled Chinese workers who remained at Antoinette many years after the completion of his first indenture contract.
The Liberated African and Comorian Workers of Antoinette
In 1863, Raoul De Maroussem purchased Belle Alliance Sugar Estate and renamed it Antoinette in honour of his young wife who died in 1868 during the Great Malaria Epidemic. During this period, in order to cope with the increase in sugar cane production, De Maroussem had his indentured workers build a large sugar factory made of basalt stone in 1871 and a stone sugar chimney was added by 1878. In 1870, after a request to H.N.D. Beyts, the Protector of Immigrants, he was able to obtain 4 Liberated Africans and 2 Comorian contract workers who were stone masons. During the 1870s, they played a key role in the erection of the other stone edifices on his sugar estate such as a new storage building, new stables, and a large stone water basin.
During the 1870s, there were 6 stone masons and 19 labourers who were largely responsible for the construction of the sugar factory, sugar chimney and other stone structures at Antoinette. Two of the stone masons were Kazambo or Paul Kazambo, a Liberated African, and Noel Sadan, a Comorian contract worker. Kazambo served as the main stone craftsman who was assisted by Sadan. Therefore, during the 1870s, they were largely responsible for the completion of most of the stone construction works on Antoinette.
The indentured labourers who landed on 2nd November 1834 and thousands of other contract workers who followed in their footsteps were the true builders of Antoinette. They played a crucial rule in its transformation from a barren and rocky land into one of the most productive sugar estates in the north of Mauritius for more than a century. Their labour and sacrifices and of our other indentured ancestors are commemorated and remembered each 2nd November at the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site.