Bel Ombre in British Mauritius

  • Context

    The colonial history of Mauritius under British Rule is marked by a sharp rise in the development of sugar production from the expansion and refinement of crops to the rise in the number of factories and their technological advances.

    These developments are also synonymous with an increased demand for labour, combined with the successive abolition of the slave trade and slavery itself, respectively. This in turn would pave the way to indentured labour and significantly shape the social, economic and political context of Mauritius onwards. The social context of the time is also marked by a delicate power balance between the remaining French ‘plantocracy’ and the newly established British colonial government, which it can be argued would to a lesser degree, also shape social relations in Mauritius up to today; namely the relations between the economic and political and state elites of the country. 


In 1817, the Savane population was 4,928 people with 4,541 indentured labourers (representing over 92% of the local population), 208 free and 179 white persons. Sugar was cultivated on 1895 acres of land, indigo on 21 acres and the remaining 717 acres allocated to various crops. The vast majority of the district, however, remained still under woodlands (26,942 acres) and savannah (3520 acres). This small population reared almost as many animals, namely 3160 pigs, 892 cattle and cows, 395 goats and sheep, 91 donkeys, 54 horses and 45 mules. [1]

Bel Ombre

With the social, political and economic context both at home and abroad and with the input of key people such as Telfair, Bel Ombre went from a small shabby farm to a thriving sugar estate, with a wide variety of crops.  Like the rest of the island, however, Bel Ombre was also the stage for oppression and social struggles, which gradually paved the way to more equitable and just social and economic relations.  During the British period, Bel Ombre welcomed several thousand indentured labourers, lived through the construction of the Chateau, and the establishment of the Bel Ombre Sugar Estate Company with some shareholders and their descendants from 1910 onwards remaining up until today.

The developments of the 1800s are quite remarkable considering that Bel Ombre was still relatively a from [1] the rest of the island, as there was still no passage through Macondé, up until[2]  the early 20th Century. One of the most important figures of early British Mauritius was Charles Telfair, who greatly contributed to the diversification of crops, as well as the system of maritime transport of the finished sugar products from Bel Ombre to Port-Louis and the routing of goods and supplies in the opposite direction, from the capital to the area using the “Cotiers” boats.


[1] Yvan Martial, Notes prises dans le livre “Ephémérides et Statistiques” du Baron d’Unienville, datant de 1838.


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