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TRADE OF THE ISLAND OF MAURITIUS.
The change which the British Government has at length consented to make in our commercial relations with the island of Mauritius, constitutes another step in that liberal system of mercantile policy to which we have lately referred with satisfaction. The delay which has occurred in acceding to the reasonable claims of the inhabitants of that colony, 'must not be ascribed to an insensibility on the part of the British ministry to the justice of those claims, but solely, we apprehend, to the opposition of a certain powerful class of merchants and planters, whose jealous irritability, upon every subject which has the least tendency to affect their own peculiar interests, and whose extensive influence, exercised for the protection of those separate interests, are deeply to be lamented. It is now decided that Mauritius sugar, which is the chief product of the island, shall be importable into this country on the same terms as West-India sugar.
When the island of Mauritius was wrested by us from the French Government, its agriculture, and consequently its commerce, were almost in the last stage of decay. The mismanagement of that Government, and especially the ruinous paper system, co-operated with the efforts of the British navy, and reduced trade there to absolute inactivity. Upon the surrender of the island to the British, in the latter end of the year 1810, the causes adverted to being removed, a very different state of things began to prevail. Five
after that event, the astonished eye could scarcely perceive a trace of those misfortunes under which the island had groaned so long."* Commerce resumed its activity, and agriculture extended its products. Wealthy houses in India and England formed establishments there : London and Bengal furnished large capitals, which there was every prospect would be increased two-fold.
Such Petition of the inhabitants and merchants of Mauritius, 1816. Parl. Papers, April 1825. Vol. XX. Asiatic Journ, No. 115. B
Such was the prosperous condition of the island, whilst considered in the light only of a captured colony. Subsequent to the peace, when it was ceded by the Government of his most Christian Majesty, and became a dependency of the British crown, the island seems to have been treated with less tenderness and regard. One harsh measure was the abolition or modification of the Loi d'Entrepôt, whereby foreign flags were repelled from its ports. , The day after the promulgation of the order (18 May 1816) the value of produce in the island was lowered one-third, and that of European commodities was enhanced in an extravagant degree."*
The Mauritius, ever since its occupation by the French in 1712, and probably not many years after it was inhabited (for the English, in 1613, found the island destitute of inhabitants), it is asserted, has ever enjoyed freedom of commerce, at least freedom from commercial restrictions; and when captured by the British, the inhabitants were assured” that all the advantages they had previously enjoyed under the government of France, should be continued ; and that they should be admitted to the privileges granted to other British plantations.”+ Hence the colonists were induced to regard this measure as peculiarly oppressive ; more particularly as some hopes had been obscurely held out to them, that the trade of the island should be placed upon a beneficial footing.
The effects of the measure were soon visible: a growing traffic between the island and the north of Europe, in-rum, the produce not merely of Mauritius, but of Bengal and Ceylon, as well as the trade with South America, was immediately checked; whilst the isle of Bourbon, 'still under French government, seized the advantages which we despised, and admitted vessels under every flag.
The dreadful calamity which befel the island in the year 1816, gave effect to the applications of the inhabitants for relief against this obnoxious measure; but it was not until the year 1820$ that a permanent provision was made for admitting a free commerce between Mauritius and foreign nations. : . The great evil, however, of which the colony has had to complain, is the duty imposed upon all sugar produced in British dependencies not in the WestIndies: å regulation which not only crippled the trade between Britain and the Mauritius, but, according to the statement of Sir Robt. Farquhar,s late gover: nor of the colony, has caused the finances of this country to be burthened with an annual charge of £100,000 for defraying the expense of the civil and military government of the island, which the latter might otherwise have been fully able to discharge om its own revenues.
The expediency of-imposing a restraint upon the importation of sugar from India is defended, upon the grounds that the supply would be immense, and that its culture by free labourers is cheaper than the employment of those unhappy creatures who till the soil in the favoured regions of the West. But neither argument is applicable to the Mauritius. Its total produce is not more than four or five thousand hogsheads annually; f and by lamentable illfortune, its agriculturists are, like those of the West-Indies, negro slaves from the coast of Africa ; and of this expensive mode of culture they heavily complain. Moreover, the inhabitants labour under a similar disadvantage with India, from which the western colonies are exempted; in respect to their
distance * Petition of the inhabitants and merchants of Mauritius, 1816. Parl.. Papers, April 1825. t Petition of planters, &c., Jan. 20, 1823. Parl. Papers. $ See order in council, dated 12 July 1820. $ Debate in the House of Commons, March 21.
Par!. Papers, passim.
distance from the mother country (which creates additional charges of freight and insurance); and are besides compelled to cultivate sugar alone, since all attempts to vary the cultivation in other produce have proved ineffectual, from the frequent hurricanes, which more particularly destroy the clove, coffee, and cotton plantations."
The pernicious effects of this inequitable system to the planters in the Mauritius are striking and obvious: France permits the produce of the isle of Bourbon to be imported without impediment; consequently, “ the sugars of Bourbon, vowedly of an inferior quality to those of the Mauritius, are now selling for seven dollars in specie, whilst those of the latter island have not exceeded from three to four and a half dollars of the paper currency, per hundred-weight.”+
It is evident, likewise, that the commerce of the mother country must, in this state of things, seriously suffer; for as the grower of sugar cannot bear the loss which would attend the barter of his commodity for the produce and manufactures of Great Britain, of which he stands in need, he is forced to forego a traffic which would be equally beneficial to both parent state and dependency, and to supply his wants as well as he can, by. intercourse with foreign merchants. This effect was counteracted, partly, by a heavy prohibitory duty levied upon the admission of Mauritius sugars into France, which threw a fresh obstacle in the way of the trade of this colony.
The considerations here alleged, as well as others, which were repeatedly urged with great earnéstness upon his Majesty's ministers, have failed, till now, to produce their just effect. It is mortifying to think, after reading the documents lately printed by order of Parliament upon this subject, that the hostility of the West-India body should have been able so long to defeat the claims of this island to justice. We are accustomed to their resistance when any question is agitated which strikes directly and extensively at that system of management and of commercial preference which they have contrived to prolong, in spite of its manifest impolicy; but to find them opposing claims which rest upon the same basis as their own, and the admission of which can work them no injury, is somewhat incongruous. For ten years have the planters of Mauritius been struggling with difficulties, whilst commerce has been gradually forsaking their ports; a million sterling has been superfluously espended by the mother country upon the government of the island: and what is the object for which these sacrifices have been incurred ?-to keep from competition with the West-India growers a paltry quantity of 5,000 hogsheads of sugar per annum, which ought not to be raised at a cheaper rate than their own; and which, if discharged at once upon the British market, would scarcely produce a sensible effect upon it! • Petition, Jan. 1823.
# Despatch of Sir G. L. Cole, May 25, 1824.