A beautiful house and absent owner

  • Context

    By the late nineteenth century, after over half a century of the sugar industry boom, the Mauritius colony would soon hit a reality check. Indeed, the centralization and expansion of sugar production along with the influx of labour needed for this purpose – although creating immense wealth – increased the vastly deforested areas and vulnerability of the sugar cane crops to the impacts of cyclones.  The population also experienced a series of epidemics such as malaria and cholera. Combined with a significant expansion of sugar production worldwide leading to decreasing sugar prices after the 1860s, it became increasingly clear that the island’s economy was extremely vulnerable to external and internal shocks. [1]


    [1] Richard Allen, Slaves,” Freedmen and Indentured Laborers in Colonial Mauritius”, 1999

Islamic ownership

It is interesting to note that it is in this national and international economic context that Bel Ombre’s ownership changed in 1886, a year of economic crisis, and the ownership briefly shifted to foreign ownership by Indians of Muslim faith.  2,175 acres of forest forming part of the Bel Ombre Sugar Estate were sold to the Government. These forests are now part of the Black River Gorges National Park, which protect, conserve and restore the two percent of native forests left in Mauritius today. The remaining estate was sold to Sirs Taleb and Mamoojee. Ten years later, the two owners sold their property to Mr. M.H. Salehmohamed, who sold it the same year to Mr. HajeeJackaria Ahmed, who expanded the estate once more by purchasing Beau Champ and Sainte Marie. [1]


The “Chateau”

It is said that Mr. HajeeJackaria Ahmed never came to Mauritius himself. Instead, he entrusted the management of Bel Ombre to local hands and delegated supervisors who would come regularly to see the[1]  how the estate was being managed. Not much else[2]  is known about this man, who most notably ordered the construction of the “Chateau” of Bel Ombre, the plantation house which welcomed several generations of administrators and fuelled numerous legends and ghost stories. The house was designed by the same architect who planned the Treasury building in Port Louis, which now houses the Prime Minister’s office. It bears similar features, such as its stone work, its roof, its simple interior symmetry and circular veranda. [2]


Baie du Cap Police Station

Mr. H.J. Ahmed is also credited with[3]  the construction of the Baie du Cap Police station under the orders of Mr. NakodaLudhaboyCorjee in 1905. A memorial plaque also reminds the visitor to the building that it was partly constructed with salvaged pieces from the Clan Campbell, which was shipwrecked somewhere between Souillac and Baie du Cap on the 22nd of September 1882.[3]


[1] Notes Yvan Martial

[2] Jean-Pierre Lenoir, Bel Ombre, entre mer et montagne, Editions du Corsaire

[3] « La face islamique de notre industrie sucrière », L’Express 1 July 2008

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