National History Museum, Mauritius, Mauritius Overview
The south-west part of the Indian Ocean is home to the island nation of Mauritius. Quite a lesser known fact, Mauritius has a rich historical and geological background other than widely popular as an exotic tourist destination. It is the youngest among the Mascarene groups of islands and sitting nearly 800 kms to the east of Madagascar alongside the submerged Seychelles-Mauritius Plateau ridge.
Apart from tropical mangrove forests, vast stretches of sandy beaches and fascinating resorts and hotels, Mauritius also hosts a National History Museum in the south-east coastal town of Mahebourg. Founded in 1805 and named after the French governor Mahe De Labourdonnais, the National History Museum in Mahebourg will take you back on a historical journey all way to the 18th century. The National History Museum showcases the epic Vieux Grand Port Naval Battle fought in 1810 between the British Royal Navy and the French Navy. Originally built as the Gheude Castle or the Chateau de Roubillard in 1772 by the La Chaux River, this mansion served the purposes of a home for the Commandant Jene de Roubillard of the Grand Port district. In 1950, the mansion was bought by the Mauritius Museum Council and transformed into the National History Museum of Mauritius.
The museum has a total of three floors; however, only two of them are open and allowed to the visitors. Divided into different sections, it puts Mauritius’ different colonisation periods at a display. The tourists get to witness the remains of the great naval battle of Grand Port along with artefacts of shipwrecks.
The ground floor is mostly about the monumental naval battle fought in 1818 at Vieux Grand Port between the French and British forces. The different phases of the battle are well preserved through paintings on the wall and tabloids narrating the events that took place. In this section, tourists can learn about the historic antiquities related to the great naval battle and objects retrieved from the shipwrecks like cannonballs and cannons, swords and weaponry, and some French paintings as well. From the shipwreck of a French naval ship, the St. Geran, which sank off in the east coast in 1744, a huge bell was also recovered that is on the display as well. The section also exhibits a newspaper cutting about the survivors of the ship named Trevessa that disembarked on the shores of the island of Bel Ombre after a voyage of 25 days in the sea. Other items like a razor, ship’s biscuits and a water ration measuring device in the form of the lid of a cigarette tin can are also seen. Another part of the floor is dedicated to the “Roll of Honour” which is a tribute to the Mauritians who died in the Second World War. A glimpse of the typical rural lifestyle of the Mauritian village is also present there.
The first floor of the museum is divided into three sections: British, French and Dutch.
The British section has a collection of unique artefacts in the form of chains, shackles and portraits that were associated with slavery. The section also has a display of standard British-India coinage after the abolition of slavery. Further collections include coins from the pirate vessel named Speaker captained by pirate John Bowen that got wrecked in the Grand River South East in 1702. Additional artefacts include gold coins minted in Cairo during the reign of Mustafa I and Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire, the silver Indian rupee minted during the rule of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and the German silver coin of Austria under the command of Leopold and one of the oldest watches in the form of a Nuremberg brass sundial. Other historical remains are of the ship of Governor-General Pieter Both, who sailed from the Netherlands to Mauritius and was caught in a terrible cyclone destroying his vessel in pieces. Beautiful Chinese porcelain masterpieces, a manifest of the Ming Dynasty, retrieved from the shipwreck are a proof of the commercial links existing during that time. Archaeologists have also discovered a device called “astroble” which was used for navigation. Portraits of important British personalities having an influential role in the history of Mauritius and paintings of the ethnic rural and urban characters also find its place in this section. It also exhibits a model version of the first carriage of Mauritius Railways used in 1864; the backyard, on the other hand, has an actual size carriage.
Coming to the French section, it is mostly dominated by the household items like beds, palanquins and wooden chairs that were the property of governor Mahe De Labourdonnais. Adding to the collection, there are early maps, model sailing ships and a coin collection along with paintings portraying the development of the Ile de France.
The Dutch section was inaugurated in 1998 in the memory of the 400th Dutch landing anniversary in Mauritius. After two failed attempts of colonising Mauritius, the Dutch had to abandon the grounds. However, with their departure, the Dodo bird and the giant tortoises became extinct as well. The Dutch section also showcases the bones of the tortoises and the Dodo bird bearing the evidence of the existence of these creatures.
Tourists can visit the museum at the following time and days
· Monday to Saturday: 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
· Sundays and Public holidays: 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
The museum is closed on Tuesdays, and there is no visiting fee required to enter the museum.
The National History Museum is a testimony to the historical origins of Mauritius with a vivid exhibition of artefacts going back many centuries. Tourists can get a taste of these primitive wonders along with the natural beauty of lush greenery, white sandy beaches and sparkling oceans, making Mauritius a complete holiday spectacle.