The Dutch Mauritius

As much as the Arabs were the first to discover Mauritius and named it island Dina Harobi, the earliest recorded evidence of its existence is through the 1502 Alberto Cantino, the Italian cartographer in his map.

The Portuguese were the first European to sight the island sometimes between 1507 and 1513 but had no desire to claim or settle in it. They had already occupied Mozambique gaining access to the Mozambique Channel which was a better option for their India trade ships. Furthermore, they also used Comoros a port of call. The British, Dutch and French were the only ones competing to colonize the Mauritius islands.

The Dutch East India Company claimed Mauritius and became its colony from 1638 to 1710, when they abruptly left its. When the Dutch left, the French claimed it and changed its name to Island of France and remained so until the British attacked and occupied the island during the Napoleonic Wars.

As much as the Dutch did settle, the island was used as a refreshing point for vessels operating in the Indian Ocean. This had started long before the Dutch East India Company claimed the islands. Their ships had been using the islands as a refreshing point 1598.  They settled in the island to keep away the British and the French in 1638.

The Dutch had discovered Mauritius in 1598. This started as an expedition of 8 Dutch ships setting off from Netherlands’ port of Texel.

This expedition was under the orders of two admirals; Jacob Cornelisz van Neck and Wybrand van Warwijck on a trip to Southeast Asia, passing though the Cape of Good Hope. On their journey, just past the Cape of Good Hope, they encountered bad weather and the fleet went separate ways. 

Three out of the eight ships found themselves somewhere northeast of Madagascar. The other five ships, under command of Admiral Van Warwyck sailed to the southeastern and sighted the Mauritius islands.

On the 20th of September, 1598 the five ships made it to the protected harbor which they named Port de Warwick. Today Port de Warwick is known as the Grand Port. Once they had landed they named the island Prins Maurits van Nassaueiland in honor of Maurice, Prince of Orange; Prince Maurits in Latin Mauritius. One of the ships name was named Prince Maurice.

Additionally, Maurice of Orange was a stadtholder.  Stadtholder was a medieval government official as well a national leader of the Low Countries including today’s Belgium and the Netherlands. During the Burgundian and Habsburg period, this hereditary title; stadtholder was for a duke or earl of a province. 

Maurice of Orange was also known as Maurice of Nassau as was the steward of the Dutch Republic which existed between 1581 and 1795. However his authority did not include Friesland. Friesland is a Province north of today’s Netherlands.

The Dutch Republic had been preceded by Spanish Netherlands, from 1556 to 1714 and succeeded by Batavian Republic, from 1795 to1806. Today, the United Provinces of the Netherlands as the Dutch Republic was also known is occupied by parts of Belgium and the Netherlands.

After resting for 13 days the Dutch ships left Mauritius on the 2nd of October. They sailed to Bantam, located west of Indonesia’s Java.

From 1598 the islands became defacto Dutch territory and their preferred refreshing port after sailing for months from Europe to Southeast Asia. In 1606 two more expedition visited Port Louis, northwest of Mauritius.

This expedition brought 1,357 men using eleven ships, commanded by of Admiral Corneille. This expedition went into the bay and found many terrestrial tortoises. Consequently, they named the bay Rade des Tortues, meaning the Harbor of the Tortoises.

In the subsequent visiting, the Dutch preferred the tortoise bay, however this changed in 1615 after a disaster that claimed governor Pieter Both.  On that fateful trip, governor Pieter Both was sailing from India, his 4 vessels were rich with treasure, but shipwrecked at the Harbor of the Tortoises and he died in the process.

The Dutch with their superstitions believed the port was cursed. After that they had used the Harbor of the Tortoises.  By now, it was not only the Dutch who visited Mauritius, the British and the Danes too were making frequent visits. They Europeans started cutting and carrying back home truckloads of the precious heartwood of the Ebony trees.

Pieter Both born in 1568 was the 1st Governor General of the Dutch East Indies; Today’s Indonesia. He was admiral in Brabant Company in 1599, the same year he sailed with four ships to the new colony; Dutch East Indies and became its first governor on the 19th December 1610.

About 4 years into the job, he resigned on the 6th of November, 1614 after treaties with Maluku Islands, also known as Moluccans. Furthermore, he conquered Timor and pushed Spain out of Tidore, eastern Indonesia.  He left his governor job to Gerard Reynst.

On the fateful trip that ended at the disaster on the 6th of March, 1615 at the Harbor of the Tortoises, he was heading back home to the Netherlands.  He drowned to his death after shipwreck of two of his ships at the today’s Flic-en-Flac. Mauritius second highest mountain is known a Pieter Both in his honor.

Have you ever heard the adage, as dead as Dodo? Dodo was a Mauritius endemic bird and it was the Dutch who greatly contributed to its extinction.

The island remained uninhabited for 40 years since the Dutch discovered it in 1598. The Dutch officially colonization the islands from the 1638 and controlled it for about 72 years, ending in 1710. This Dutch control was interrupted from 1658 to 1666. During the Dutch rule the islands were under several governors.

The island was characterized by cyclones, droughts, lack of food, sickness, pests as well as other hardships. The Dutch could not stomach the challenges and eventually left the islands sometimes in 1710.

The first Dutch settlement was in 1638 and was by Cornelius Gooyer, who became Mauritius governor from1638 to 1639. He constructed a military garrison maned by 25 soldiers. In 1639, the Dutch authority brought in more thirty soldiers to enhance the new colony’s security.

The government tasked Gooyer to make the island an economically viable establishment, but Gooyer did nothing leading to his recall. He was replaced by Adriaan van der Stel.

Unlike his predecessor, he worked hard establishing the islands ebony export. Additionally, he brought the islands first laborers; one hunded and five slaves from Madagasacar. Sixty slaves run away into the unexploited forest with only 20 recaptured.  The slaves worked in tobacco and sugar planations as well as cutting and loading ebony trees for shipment.

By 1644, the island was a hardship place for the Dutch, characterize by cyclones as well as drought. To make matters worse, supply of shipment took long to arrive and they had to survive from fishing and hunting. 

Adriaan van der Stel ordered another shipload of Madagascan 95 slaves in 1644 and the same year he was transferred to Ceylon, todays Sri Lanka. His replacement was Jacob van der Meersch who took the office of the governor and in 1645 brought 108 more slaves from adjacent Madagascar. Jacob van der administered for about three years and left in 1648.

Jacob van der was succeeded by Reinier Por who administered this Dutch colony from 1648 to 1653; he died in Mahébourg, while he was still in the office. Consequently he was the longest serving Opperhoofd; the Dutch title of the Mauritius governor.

The second longest governor of Dutch Mauritius was Adriaan van der Stel whose rule was from 1640 to 1645. He was not replaced and the Dutch abandoned the Mauritius for good in 1710.

The 1652 was one of the hardest years for the Dutch settlers as well as their slaves. Mauritius back then had a population of about 100. These hardships did not allow full economically viable exploitation. Consequently, the order to leave the island came in 1657.

The order was executed on the 16th of July 1658 when most of the inhabitants left Mauritius, leaving behind a ship boy and two slaves who were in the forest. The Dutch made a second attempt to colonize Mauritius in 1664, this was a catastrophe too with the men leaving their ailing commander; Van Niewland. Van Niewland was left without care and died in Mauritius.

The Dutch administered Mauritius from the Grand Port from 1666 to 1699. This time it was under Dirk Jansz Smient. The Dutch by now were cutting and exporting ebony trees. Jansz Smient, left for Cape of Good Hope and was succeeded by George Frederik Wreeden from 665 to 1672, apart from a short break between 1668 and 1669.

George Frederik Wreeden together with five other colonialists died in a reconnaissance expedition in 1672. It is said they were drunk when they drowned.

Hubert Hugo replaced George Frederik Wreeden. He went to Mauritius with an intention of converting Mauritius into an agricultural colony; however his bosses did not share his dream and could convert the island into an agricultural nation.

Hugo was replaced by Issac Johannes Lamotius, who became the governor for 15 years from 1677 to 1692. His reign was despotic and characterized by immorality. This led to his deportation to Batavia where it’s rumoured he was imprisoned.

Additionally, it was during Lamotius, administration when the last three remaining Dodos were captures; in 1688. He was disposed after persecuting a colonialist who wife refused to accept his sexual advances.

Issac Johannes Lamotius was replaced by Roelof Deodati in 1692. Any governor’s attempt to develop the island was impossible due to pest infestation, cattle diseases, cyclones, as well as drought, and it was not different for Roelof Deodati.

He gave up and was replaced by Abraham Momber Van de Velde who faced the same challenges. Abraham Momber Van de Velde was the last governor of the Dutch Mauritius. The Dutch bolted from Mauritius in 1710.

Today, one of the remnants of Dutch colonization of Mauritius is the name. Others are the countr’s second highest mountain; Pieter Both as well as Vandermeersh. There several other Dutch names in the islands. The Dutch introduced sugarcane plantations. Additionally they domesticated deer.

They had their negative impact such as the extinction of the Dodo bird and giant tortoise which inhabited the islands. The two were eaten as food. They destroyed the environment by cutting down and exporting ebony trees wantonly in large areas. They also introduced competing species. Today, Fort Frederik Hendrik is reminder of the 72 years Dutch rule in Mauritius.

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