Bel Ombre during the Telfair era

  • Bel Ombre during the Telfair era

    When Charles Telfair purchased the Bel Ombre estate from Mr. Calixte Chamoiseau in 1816 for 60,000 dollars[1] , the estate experienced significant developments, which bear their fruit until this day. With sugar cultivation relying extensively on labour, Telfair turned to new technological developments to fill gaps, and approached the business of producing sugar in a very scientific way, testing methods, using controls and trials to ensure the[2]  best solution was chosen



From human to animal labour

One of the first changes he brought to Bel Ombre was the introduction of the plough powered by oxen. Bel Ombre was the first estate on the island to use this method. In 1818, 125 acres under sugar cane cultivation of the 4,000 acres of Bel Ombre were ploughed by oxen, in 1821, an addition 180 acres were added to this. He used a control site of 10 acres which were ploughed with picks. The difference in productivity between the trial and control sites were such that 180 oxen were trained for the purpose. The cane fields were not the only crop benefiting from this method: Telfair also used the oxen to plough the corn fields which were on the property. The plough was termed “Piosbef”, meaning “oxen pick”, and gave way to friendly ploughing competitions between labourers. For the continual improvement of this method, Telfair invested in shredders and root cutters for the animal feed and bred his cows accordingly.


Spirit of entrepreneurship

Telfair also invested in a horizontal mill imported from London for 1,006 pounds sterling. Up until then, only vertical mills had been used, the horizontal mill proved much more efficient than the vertical one. This ground-breaking investment led to the change of vertical mills to horizontal mills all over the island over the next two decades.[1] He imported different varieties of sugar cane to ensure a better adaptability to the climate and thus improved productivity. He also set up a small shipyard and the construction of a schooner was undertaken by Joseph Bailey with two slaves. This schooner, also called “Côtier” served to transport wood and sugar along the coast to Port-Louis until it was shipwrecked during a cyclone in March 1828.


Social engagement

Telfair saw the development and modernisation of agricultural methods as a way to improve the living conditions of both free persons and slaves alike. He ensured that his slaves were given fair treatment to the extent possible and endeavoured to send their children to school to learn how to read and write. He had a small hospital built at the mouth of the Citronnier River and existing houses in that area were given to slaves. Although Telfair was also the recipient of criticism from anti-slavery activists and was cast in the same light as other slave owners, he undoubtedly had a more humanist vision than many of his contemporaries.


[1] Sydney Selvon, A New  Comprehensive History of Mauritius.2012

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