Timings : Monday to Saturday (Except Wednesdays) – 9.00 AM to 4.00 PM Wednesdays – 11.00 AM to 4.00 PM Sundays – 9.00 AM to 12.00 PM Public Holidays – Closed
Frederik Hendrik Museum, Mauritius Overview
Museums are the living manifestation of history and exemplifies the primitive origin – be it a race, a religion, a wildlife species, a country. Mauritius is home to some of the most excellent museums that tell the story about this paradise island and the days gone by, one of them being the Frederik Hendrik Museum.
Frederik Hendrik museum is located in Vieux Grand Port, an isolated and peaceful part of the island towards the southeastern coast, which holds its importance as a crucial part of Mauritian history. Vieux Grand Port is a historical site, and Frederik Hendrik museum is declared as a National Heritage. It is surrounded by a luscious green tropical garden including a visitors’ centre within the premises. Artefacts retrieved during the archaeological excavations are exhibited in the centre. The excavations in the area are being carried out since 1997. In the campus, you can also see the reproduced historical maps and paintings dating back to the 17th century on display.
Vieux Grand Port is the place of first human settlement in Mauritius. The Dutch came and settled in the island in 1638 after having discovered Mauritius back in 1598. They constructed the Frederik Hendrik port before abandoning the island in 1710. Later in 1715, Mauritius was claimed by the French. They established their government in 1722 with the fort as their central office. After a few years, they shifted their administration to Port Louis and transformed the fortress into a military post to ensure the security of the bay as well as the island. However, when the army position was transferred to the newfound town of Mahebourg in 1806, the fort was abandoned.
The year 1998 marked the 400th anniversary of the Dutch arrival in Mauritius and the rehabilitation of Vieux Grand Port. The Frederik Hendrik museum was inaugurated on 27th May 1999 by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Honourable Joseph Tsang Mang Kin.
In the beginning, the museum was used for temporary exhibitions related to the activities carried out by the Dutch in the Indian Ocean. The museum received many objects since 1997 that enlarged its collection. The ongoing archaeological and excavation works have a big hand in this contribution. Over the years, many new exhibits displaying the historical relevance of the site have found its place in the museum. Apart from that, the Frederik Hendrik museum is also used as an interpretation centre for the historic site of Vieux Grand Port.
Structure of the Museum
The walls of the Frederik Hendrik fort were made of basalt rocks, mortar, lime, chippings and fossil corals that were cut into blocks. This sparked off a belief that the fort had a French origin. However, it came to be known much later that it was the French ruins that stand on a Dutch fort that has been buried for years. Thanks to the archaeologist and the excavation works that solved this long-unresolved confusion.
Initially, the fort had a lodge, a bakery, a prison and a blacksmiths workshop inside its perimeters. You can find graffiti on the walls of the lodge that depict the ships of the 18th and the 19th century. It was in the year 2000 when the remains of the Dutch Frederik Hendrik for was excavated from beneath the ground.
Notre Dame de Grand Pouvoir Church lies in close vicinity to the main ruins. The ruins also contain the first Catholic Church of Mauritius that was established by Mahe de Labourdonnais in the year 1737 and a French-built powder house.
Exhibition Gallery Inside the Museum
The Frederik Hendrik museum has only one display room where all the artefacts and panels are exhibited. A small structure of the site in the Reception room works as an orientation for the visitors. There are several pictures of the ongoing archaeological and excavation activities being undertaken in the site.
The Main Hall of the then Frederik Hendrik fort is now the permanent exhibition gallery of the museum. The exhibits are arranged in such a way that the visitors can go through the different themes and learn about the 400 years of use and occupation of this site. Various building materials such as stones, nails, bricks and objects related to the military such as cannon balls, musket balls, flint stones, etc. are on display. You can also find everyday artefacts and elements such as sickles, beads, clay pipes, coins, potteries, ceramics, cooking utensils along with the remains of being like the bones of cattle, pigs, fish, deer, tortoises, shells, etc.
Several documentaries are being projected in the museum that enlightens the visitors more about the historical significance of Vieux Grand Port and Frederik Hendrik fort. Furthermore, a two-month long archaeological excavation is carried out on the site every year under the supervision of Dutch researchers.
A trip to Mauritius is not just about the beaches, lagoons, water sports or adventure activities. Sometimes it is necessary to slow down occasionally, and Mauritius specialises in that too. Visiting the Frederik Hendrik Museum will take you one step closer in knowing the island in a more profound, historical sense. There are amazement and a learning curve to it. After all, you will be going to a place where the origin of this contemporary world-famous paradise island lies. So take a day off from the hustle and bustle of the glittering life, take yourself to the peaceful surroundings in Vieux Grand Port, and explore the ruins along with the centre of attraction – the Frederik Hendrik Museum!