The State of Mauritius consists of the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Outer Islands namely Agalega (Cargados Carajos), St Brandon, Tromelin and Diego Garcia. Mauritius itself has a total area of 1860 sq. km and lies 800 km east of Madagascar. Rodrigues with an area of 109 sq.km is situated some 650 km to the north-east of Mauritius.
The island of Mauritius was visited by the Arabs, as all the other islands of the western indian ocean appeared on their maps. Unfortunately, they left no trace on the island. In the 16th cetury, Mauritius was visited by the Portuguese. The first settlement in Mauritius, however, was made by the Dutch who landed in Mauritius in September 1598. The island was named after Maurist Van Nassau. After twa abortive attempts at settlement, the Dutch left the island in 1710. During their stay they introduced sugar cane cultivation, the deer and were engaged in the lumbering of ebony trees. They withnessed the extermination of the Dodo bird.
On the departure of the Dutch, the French, who were already in Reunion Island, took possession of the island and named it Isle de France. Initially it was ruled by the Compagnie des Indes, but in 1767 it became a royal possession. During their stay, they developed the port and built Port Louis as the main administrative centre. They expanded the cultivation of sugar cane and other crops with the inputs of slaves from East Africa, Madagascar and India. Most importantly they pursued further introduced new spices and other crops from the East Indies. The French lost the island to the British during the Anglo-French war in 1810.
The British period extending from 1810 to 1968 withnessed several changes. The island was renamed Mauritius. Initially the British encouraged the expansion of sugar cane cultivation and at the abolition of slavery in 1833, inaugurated the importation of indentured labourers from India to work in the sugar fields. By the 1860’s Indian immigrants made well over half of this multiracial population. Railways and roads were built throughout the island. Despite the opening of the Suez Canal, when the island lost its importance as a port of transit, development took place in all spheres.
The campaign for the transfer of political power to Mauritians was started by the Labour movement as from the 1930’s. Negotiations for political autonomy led by the the Prime Minister, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, during the 1960’s finally ushered towards the island’s independence within the commonwealth on 12th March 1968. Mauritius became a republic on 12th March 1992.