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Rodrigues Island

Rodrigues is located in the south-west Indian Ocean

The History of Rodrigues

The Early Explorers

Street merchants at Port MathurinThe three Mascarene Islands of Rodrigues, Mauritius and Reunion were already known to the early Arabian explorers and traders. The knowledge of these great pilots and seafarers was passed on to the earliest Portuguese maps where they were named Dina Moraze (Mauritius), Dina a Robi (Rodrigues) and Dina Margabim (Reunion).

Diego Rodriguez was the pilot of the Albuquerque, part of a fleet of ships making its way back across the Indian Ocean in 1528 under the command of Pero Mascarenhas. In the great tradition of the European explorers of the time, the discovery of a new island gave the Captain a chance to choose a name. Without much modesty, he chose to call this island 'Rodrigues', which means that Rodrigues has something in common with America which was named after one of its first explorers, Amerigo Vespucci. Portugal did not claim any ownership, but used the island as a mark for sailing between South Africa and India.
In common with many colonies around the world at the time, the island's identity and ownership fluxed with the dominance of the various powers of the time.

The Dutch

View of Port MathurinUp until the end of the 16th century the Spanish and Portuguese had dominated exploration in the Indian Ocean. However, the religious and secular tyranny of Philip II of Spain drove many wealthy families into Holland. Trade with the spices and riches of the East led to the formation of the United Netherlands Chartered East India Company. This company had great wealth and power, and its extensive fleet plied a route between Europe and Asia. The protection of this route led to the occupation of Mauritius and an attempt to take possession of Rodrigues and Reunion.

The Dutch were the first to land on Rodrigues in 1601, when a fleet under Admiral Harmansen approached from the East. Boats from the Gardien were lowered in an attempt to find a pass into the lagoon. One of the boats found a way through in the north and collected water, fruit and birds.

The Dutch never formally took possession or occupied Rodrigues, although a group of sailors were marooned on the island during the visit of their ship in 1644. After waiting several months these sailors braved the open ocean in their small, open cutter.

Meanwhile the French had also entered the competition for the island by nailing a coat of arms to a tree in 1625.

Francois Leguat

The French took their turn in 1691 with the most famous of the early inhabitants, Francois Leguat and his small band of Protestant refugees. Many Huguenots were escaping from Catholic France under persecution from Louis XIV. Henri Duquesne, the son of a famous Admiral had a plan to establish a republic of Protestant refugees on a distant island. He publicised his campaign and called his proposed colony Eden. After having spent a fortune on the scheme, Duquesne and most of his fleet had to stay behind to fight against the Dutch. Only eight colonists sailed on L'Hirondelle with instructions to take possession of Rodrigues and wait for an opportunity to colonise Reunion.

Coconut merchantsLeguat and seven young companions spent over two years on Rodrigues, living on the left bank of the river running to the east of Port Mathurin. They spent their time cultivating their gardens, building huts, fishing and playing chess. They did not have much success with their own crops, but there was an abundance of tortoises, turtles, birds, fish and other sea food. Leguat was a keen observer of nature and as an older man was very happy with the life on Rodrigues. The younger men found it dull and particularly felt the absence of women.

Using wood from a shipwreck and tortoise oil as caulking, they built a six metre boat to make the voyage to Mauritius. However, it was to be three long years before they would find the company of women. Mauritius was occupied by the Dutch, and as they were still at war with France the unlucky colonists were imprisoned as spies for two and a half more years. By this time, two had drowned and one had died of dysentery. The remaining group had to serve a further year in the army before returning home to Flushing in 1698. Leguat's book became a bestseller, but some of his stories were dismissed as fantasy.

The Tortoises

The history of the island became intertwined with one of the few resources that were valuable to the expanding navies of the time-Giant tortoises. These unfortunate reptiles were ideal as a larder for long voyages as they could be kept alive in the hold for long periods. Reunion's giant tortoises had become rare by about 1700 and the French began to organise and control the shipment of Rodrigues tortoises.

There were in fact three species of giant tortoise on Rodrigues, and Leguat had described them as being so numerous 'that sometimes you see two or three thousand in a flock; so that you may go a hundred paces on their backs..without setting foot to ground'. They can take up to 40 years to reach maturity and may live as long as two or three hundred years.

Within 50 years, the entire population of 200,000 tortoises had been wiped out and removed. The last reference of tortoises seen alive was by Marragon in 1795 where he had come across a few in the most inaccessible ravines.

Observing the Transit of Venus

Fishing boats (pirogues) at Baie du Nord.The distance between the various planets and stars had been troubling astronomers since the earliest times. The British Astronomer, Edmund Halley devised a more accurate method in 1691 which measured the parallax of the planet Venus as it passed in front of the Sun. Unfortunately, it was 1761 before this phenomenon and Halley was long dead.

Rodrigues was chosen by the French Academie des Sciences as one of the locations where the measurements could be taken. In May 1761 Abbé Guy Pingré, a distinguished mathematician and astronomer spent four months on the island. As well as making astronomical measurements, he also started surveying the island and making notes of the other plants and animals. However, his work was cut short and his time on Rodrigues extended by a British Invasion.

The British and French Tug of War

Near Mont Lubin.After Leguat the island was left unoccupied for another couple of decades before the Governor of Bourbon (Reunion) decided to try to organise a colony of respectable labourers and artisans. The reality was a group of troublesome men and women of ill repute who failed to establish the harmonious and hard-working beginnings of a settlement. The Directors of the French East India Company were not impressed and ordered the colony withdrawn. The one positive result of this brief occupation was the account of the island written by the second mate, Tafforet.

The British invasion of Rodrigues in 1761 was a little bit underhand. The Plassey, a British ship approached Port Mathurin Bay with a Dutch Flag, but as soon as she was close enough she hoisted British colours and opened fire on the three French ships and the shore guns. It was only a brief engagement and the French surrendered. In order to ensure that the news of this capture did not reach Mauritius, the British burnt the only ship that was in the harbour as well as going on to slaughter the cattle and destroy the shore battery. The English did not stay for long and they left with a written pledge that the island would not take up arms for 18 months.

The 70 or so French citizens continued their lives of disharmony and disagreements under this truce until the island was visited by the French vessel Le Volant a few months later. The captain defied any who defended the island in the name of England to present themselves. Apparently one brave chap called Millet came forward with a stick, before fleeing for the hills.

The British became more interested in the strategic potential of the Mascarene Islands when they heard about the spectacular success of Labourdonnais, the governor in Mauritius who had fitted out a fleet and captured Madras in 1746. It was another fifty years, though, until the plan was put into action.

When France invaded Holland in 1773, Britain felt that she was threatened and declared war. Although the British had soon regained mastery of the area, many merchants in Calcutta were losing vessels sailing from Port Louis.

Streets merchants at Port Mathurin.In 1794 Britain decided to blockade Mauritius and used Rodrigues to obtain water, fuel and other supplies. It wasn't until 1808 however that steps were taken to recapture Mauritius. On 4th August 1809, HMS Belliqueux under the command of Commodore Byng anchored in Port Mathurin with 200 infantry and 200 sepoys. This force under Lieutenant Colonel Keating landed and issued a proclamation declaring martial law and the possession of the island to Britain. The troops were gradually reinforced and built more temporary shelters until on the 3rd July 1810 a force of 4,000 officers and men left to capture Reunion on the 9th July. The actual attack on Mauritius was delayed due to a successful attack on British vessels in the Battle of Vieux Grand Port.

Mauritius was eventually captured on the 3rd December and British forces remained in Rodrigues until April 1812. The only traces now remaining in Rodrigues of the British occupation are the ruins of a circular gun emplacement on the top of Mount Venus close to the present Cable and Wireless station.

The First Settlers

The first of the permanent settlers on Rodrigues was Germain Le Gros who arrived in September 1792. He was followed closely by Michel Gorry and Philibert Marragon. They made their living through fishing and trade and Le Gros went into partnership with Marragon to build the first ship. They engaged the services of Mathurin Berhinier, a marine carpenter, to build the ship 'L'Espoir'. The name of Mathurin is obviously recognisable today and is one of two possible origins for the main town on Rodrigues.

Marragon became the first overlord and applied for the post of Civil Agent. He settled at Montagne Charlot with his wife and mother in law at Montagne Charlot. His daughter Stephanie was born in 1802 and this marks the first recorded human birth on the island. His rule is remembered as being autocratic and unhelpful in assisting others to establish themselves.

The Rodriguan population is a mixture of African and European stock. The earliest census in 1804 records 22 whites and 82 slaves who had been brought over from Madagascar and Mozambique. It wasn't until the 1840's that most of the settlers arrived and built up the main dynasties with several common family names revealed in the phone book. Mathieu Roussety arrived in 1832, Jean-Marie Meunier in 1844, Charlotte and Marie-Louise Perrine in 1846 and Pierre Raffaut in 1848. The Islamic and Chinese families began to arrive in the 1890's and formed strong communities and trading businesses.

The slaves in Mauritius were amongst the last in the world to be set free. Those in Rodrigues set off for the hills on 11th March 1839 where they set about cultivating the land and grazing cattle and pigs.

Early Life in Rodrigues

At the pier. ( Pont La Jetee)With the treaty of Paris in 1814, the island of Bourbon or Reunion was returned to France and Britain kept Mauritius and Rodrigues. The first governor of Mauritius, like many after him, paid very little attention to Rodrigues and it was not until 1820 that the first government agent Thomas Pye was appointed to register the slaves, account for ship movements and sort out the status of land ownership.

The first police magistrate, Blaise Bacy was appointed in December 1842 and his two-roomed hut in Port Mathurin served as his house, court room and office. From this point onwards, there was a continual succession of magistrates and then Civil Commissioners appointed to Rodrigues with varying degrees of success.

One on side there were good commissioners like George Jenner who made many improvements to Rodrigues and on the other was Henry Reid Bell who achieved very little and set about trying to make money by every dishonest means available.

The first Governor to visit Rodrigues was Napier-Broome who came with his wife on board the HMS Euryalus. There was an elaborate programme of visits and receptions, but the hunt was ruined after all the deer had been scared by the guns.

From the early 20th Century, life in Rodrigues was pleasant and cheap and people enjoyed a good standard of living. There were fish in the sea, deer to shoot and a population that was small enough for the island to support.

Pont la Jetee.Trade

In the early part of the 19th century there were no shops on the island and two or three traders operated a very oppressive system of trade in goods. They would buy fish and agricultural produce to sell in Mauritius and bring back supplies to sell with a 150% to 300% mark up. Labourers were given liberal credit and they ran up huge debts from rum drinking – sometimes owing 20 to 30 times their salaries. The loss of a vessel could leave people starving and on the edge of bankruptcy.

The economy of Rodrigues was still based around fishing, farming and some small trade with Mauritius although there was virtually no cash on the island. The only money came from a handful of civil servants and the six shopkeepers held the inhabitants in their hands through the ownership of the trading schooner Backia Letchmy.

Towards the end of the 19th century Rodrigues started to become more prosperous, principally through the cultivation of tobacco. The tobacco tax had been removed in 1888; but Mauritius then spitefully re-introduced the duty. Although a fairer system allowed the tobacco exports to rise to 104 tons in 1900, Mauritius stubbed out this activity for ever when its own farms started failing. The Rodriguan tobacco, known as tabac bleu was air cured and suitable for rolling cigarettes.

Up until the channel was dredged in 1964, boats had to anchor in the bay and good taken into the harbour in small lighters. Men often had to work waist deep in water with hoes to keep the channels deep enough. The preferred method of loading cattle was to tip them over the edge of the jetty into the water and then into boats. The alternative was to tie their legs together and lift them upside down into boats.

The wooden pier was replaced by a stone jetty in 1889 although this was still damaged by cyclones. It was 150 ft long and built with wooden piles and filled with stones. This was replaced and strengthened in 1918, 1952 and 1963.

Bus stop. Port Mathurin.The Cable

The arrival of the trans Indian Ocean cable on 5th September 1901 was something that would change Rodrigues profoundly. The telegraph cable travelled from Zanzibar to Australia via Rodrigues and the Cocos-Keeling islands. The Cable and Wireless Company established themselves at Pointe Venus. The two buildings, which can still be seen today, won a prize at the 1903 Ideal Home Exhibition before being packed up from London and re-assembled in Rodrigues.

The Second World War

During the second world war, troops were garrisoned on Rodrigues to protect the cable station from a Japanese attack. A six inch gun, an ammunition store and officers housing were built at Pointe Canon. Later on a 55mm anti-submarine gun was installed at Pointe Venus, but this was an old Greek gun with no range table so would not have been effective. 215 Rodriguan troops were employed on the island, while 315 served abroad with various regiments. The war did not affect Rodrigues adversely, in fact the money that was brought in to pay for the troops and the contracts for the supplies of produce led to a small boom for the island.

Fish and Fisheries

ATR72 at Corail Airport.Raffin was one of the first commercial fishermen who arrived in 1803 and set up in the south coast for one year before leaving again in 1804.

In the 1840's there were 56 people employed in 8 fisheries. The second magistrate George Jenner was concerned about the lack of control in the fisheries and extended the Mauritian law to Rodrigues.

It was another 60 years before one of the island commissioners started to tackle the problem of fisheries in Rodrigues. Droughts and cyclones had turned many farmers into fishermen, the export quantities of salt fish were declining and the fishing teams were catching fewer fish.

The regulations for fisheries were extended in 1882 by Rouillard when minimum net sizes were established and fishing was banned in certain areas. In 1894 it became illegal to fish between 16th December and 15th February in any bay, creek, pass or in any part of the sea within 3km of the coast. The latest regulations were generally observed as there was no trade with Mauritius and the fish would not keep over the cyclone season.

The magistrate's attention had also been drawn to several bad practices which fishermen wanted control. These included placing nets across channels which caught the spawning fish and drumming the sides of vessels (Beating the tam-tam) to drive the fish into the nets. It was noted at the time that it took two months to catch as many fish as could be caught in a day 15 years previously. The three fisheries that were established in the north had to be moved to the South West of the island where they could catch more fish.

Fishing reserves were established in front of Port Mathurin, Oyster Bay and Crab Island. From February 1906 it also became illegal to fish with explosives, poisons or vines. These regulations also established the minimum sizes of fish which could be kept.

The new Magistrate Brouard who arrived in Rodrigues in 1930 had a problem on his hands with the Scottish wife of the resident doctor. She had become the financial backer for all illegal fishing activities and no other magistrate had been able to stop her.

The fishing at the time was in the hands of around a dozen seine net captains who employed between 12 and 20 men each. owner of the fishery provided the boats, gear, housing and food. The fish were salted and then exported to Mauritius on the next boat. The returns were split 50:50 between the owner and the men who were paid each month in cash. In 1921, 278 tons of salt fish were exported to Mauritius and around 200 men were employed in the fishery.

The next three magistrates began to pay a great deal more attention to the fisheries. In 1912 Rouillard had recommended an extension to the existing marine reserves; although the initial areas had to be redefined in 1915 as they did not have clear enough boundaries. The next magistrate, Genave recommended a total prohibition of fishing for five years but this was not implemented.

Lagoon.In 1917 it was clear that the reserves were not being respected and that there was widespread fishing inside the protected areas. Total prohibition of seine fishing was introduced from 1919, but fraud remained a problem throughout the island.

In fact, an underworld of illegal fishing emerged to undermine this time of prohibition. A prominent Chinese trader organised a network of shops where he could buy illegally caught fish. An elaborate system of whistle and smoke codes were devised to warn fishers and traders of the approach of the police. The use of brine rather than salt also meant that the quality of the fish deteriorated, but the trading network forced retailers in network to sell the fish even if it was no good.

The next Magistrate, Brouard tried to introduce stricter enforcement and achieved at least a reduction in illegal fishing. The fishermen continued to petition for the re-introduction of seine fishing, but nothing was done for a few more years.

Le Roy, again brought up strong arguments in favour of reopening the net fishing. He correctly observed that before prohibition the returns from the industry went mainly to the native Rodriguans whereas during the ban on fishing the small catches were bought by the illegal traders at ridiculously low prices. The fishermen were also forced to buy on credit at their shops which meant that there was a regression back to the 19th century. There was also the consideration of the employment of the fishers during the winter season when basket trap and line fishing outside the lagoon was impossible. The reopening of net fishing would give men work during the winter months in June to October. He also recognised that the destruction of the fish was not through net fishing, but through the construction of coral parks which were built by breaking large chunks of coral.

The prohibition was eventually removed in June 1939.

Penal and Quarantine Colonies

There often seemed to be some madcap idea floating around by one civil servant or another.

General Decaen arrived in Mauritius in 1803 and planned to evacuate the colonists from Rodrigues and replace them with the lepers which had been on the increase. This, he hoped would also discourage the English from Rodrigues. Marragon was sent to the Seychelles to be Civil Commissioner when he complained. The lepers were eventually sent to Diego Garcia.

A few years later, the Secretary of State in Britain had an idea to turn Rodrigues into a penal colony for criminals with the unemployed, vagrants, beggars and criminals of Mauritius.

Another scheme was put forward by a member of the judiciary who concluded that Rodrigues was over populated and the entire island should be turned over to the production of cattle.

New magistrates continued to embark on their own schemes throughout the early nineteenth century. One decided to create great plantations of casuarinas trees along the coast and the next one stopped the project. Finally a third magistrate decided they were a good thing and planting continued. All the land belonged to the crown and this was leased to farmers who would cut the trees and cultivate until the soil was exhausted.

Port Mathurin

The origins of this principal administrative, population and port go back to the site chosen by Francois Leguat. The first Residence was built in 1768 close to the current building which was built in 1872 and restored in 2003. The current building was prefabricated in Mauritius and was enlarged in 1905 and 1939. The first small huts were brought from Reunion in the early 19th century.

The origins of the name are less certain. The first occupation in 1722 included a Mathurin Morlaix in the party and the second mate Tafforet mentions a valley in the north called Mathurin.

There was no further mention until the Royal Navy Map of 1810 which took the name of Port Mathurin Bay from an anonymous map of 1737. Perhaps Port Mathurin was named after the Bay rather than vice versa.

The name of Fort Duncan which was given by the British Forces in the early 19th century has not survived. However, Baie Lascars comes from the name given to the Indian regiments who camped at that spot. English Bay is also a nod to the area where the soldiers were camped and the wounded were treated.

Port Mathurin grew very slowly as most Rodriguans lived on their plantations or on the coast. There were only 12 huts in 1825 made from shipwrecked timber and latanier leaves. Many more people began to construct huts anywhere they pleased and by 1857 there were 280 people in the village. The other public buildings were the magistrate's office, court room, prison, cook house and store house.

Port Mathurin was surveyed by James Duncan in 1864 and divided the town into the plots and regular streets we see today. He also named the streets after himself and his friends who had very little to do with Rodrigues such as Morrison the Surveyor General and Barclay the collector of Customs.

The principal buildings in 1890 were the warehouses of Pierre Raffaut and Desire Calamel and the principal shops belonged to Guillemo Lucchesi and Alfred Allas.

The first houses were supplied with electricity from the 1940's when Cader Fatemamode supplied a few houses with a generator bought from the British Army. The supply was cut from 11pm in the evening. It was not until the early 70's that the grid was built around the island with a donation from France. The first cars did not arrive in Rodrigues until the 1950's

The Solitaire

Rodriguan stamp.The Solitaire (Pezohaps solitarus) has been carefully studied over the last two centuries from the remains of its fossil bones found in the caves. There are also good descriptions from early visitors and in particular Francois Leguat who many people believed to be drawing on fantasy rather than science. Tafforet also mentions the birds in 1726 where they were still living virtually undisturbed. By Pingrés visit in 1761 the bird was limited to a few survivors and was extinct shortly afterwards.

The birds were initially very common on Rodrigues, and were named Solitaires as they were usually found on their own. It was a large, flightless bird with a large hooked beak and tall neck. They weighed up to 20 kilos and lived mostly in the woods where they fed on leaves and fruits. They made nests of palm leaves which were heaped up to half a metre high in clear ground. Both parents looked after a single egg.

Leguat also observed that the bond of mates was very close and that strangers were driven away. Once a young bird had left the nest a company of 30 to 40 other birds would bring another young one to it and then leave them in a kind of arranged marriage.

Solitaires could never be tamed and when caught and caged they refused all food until they died.

The remaining centuries have revolved around teasing out the mystery and the reality of this strange bird. The first bones were discovered not long after its extinction by de Forvalle in 1786. Charles Telfair from the society for Natural History in Mauritius managed to get some bones in 1831 and presented them to the Zoological society of London.

Further expeditions were sent out by the Zoological Society of London to search for more remains of the didine birds in the Mascarene Islands. Henry Slater found that many caves had already been explored although he did find one complete skeleton. A further expedition in 1875 for the same society found more skeletons and also confirmed the presence of the large stones which the bird carried in their gizzards.

There are also a variety of theories as to how the birds finally became extinct. The population was initially pressured by capture, reduction of their habitat and competition from cats and dogs; but the last individuals may have been wiped out by a fire or large cyclone.

The caves in the west have not only lost many of their fossils. Many of the early visitors have hacked off stalactites and stalagmites, even as recently as 1967 the crew of two Soviet ships left with handfuls of these ancient relics.

William Vandorous

Bee hives near a house at Petit Gabriel.William Vandorous was an American Red Indian sailor from a Whaling vessel who stayed on in Rodrigues from around 1875. He made several daring and desperate voyages from Rodrigues to Mauritius in small pinnaces to raise the alarm when Rodrigues was suffering from drought, famine and the effects of bad cyclones.

He made his first trip in 1878 when he crossed in the Victoria to ask for rice and assistance following a bad cyclone. His second trip was in 1879 when he crossed to Mauritius to report an outbreak of Typhoid in Port Mathurin and to bring a doctor back..

His third and most eventful trip was in 1886 when they set out after a severe drought to find the trading vessel Hattonburn. He left in an open boat and was wrecked off Coin de Mire. They succeeded in sending the ship to Rodrigues with 1000 bags of rice.

The last and saddest episode of this story is the loss of his two sons in one tragic rescue. When a member of the Eastern Telegraph Company became ill in 1911 they refused to use a government doctor and brought over their own cable steamer with a doctor from Mauritius. There was a strong gale and the government pilot was unable to reach the steamer. The steamer altered course away from the northern reefs, but the 32 ft pilot pinnace did not have enough ballast and was unable to turn into the wind. The boat was blown out to sea and lost with all hands.

Ships and Shipwrecks

In the first half of the nineteenth century a shipwreck would have been quickly stripped of any useful materials.

Like the stormy coastlines of Ireland and Cornwall, the wreck of a ship provided the islanders with a windfall of wood and salvaged cargoes. Following a wreck, the men would be out in boats picking up what they could and the women would comb the reefs and beaches. The business was very profitable at the time and provided a good income for a few.

Many ships were lost on the reefs and often the crew and passengers had to stay in Rodrigues until a boat could bring them to Mauritius. The Nasser Sultan was lost on the northern reefs on 5th January 1860, but the 46 man crew were all saved.

View of Oyster Bay from the mountain.The iron barque Cadzow Forest bound from Calcutta to Demarara with rice again went aground on the reefs opposite Port Mathurin. The ship was undamaged and most of the cargo could be saved, but the islanders considered the wreck as a bounty and asked for impossible terms. Eventually the French man of war, Cher pulled the vessel free.

A new trading vessel for Rodrigues, The Stanhope was lost in the southern reefs in 1883. The ship carried a full cargo of teak logs which were all salvaged. Another trading vessel, the Jane Bell was wrecked by a severe cyclone.

One of the saddest and most enduring stories tells of the Traveller a ship which was bound for Delaware from Java with a cargo of sugar. Unfortunately she also carried a deadly Java fever and eleven people on board had already died by the time she reached Rodrigues. Once the islanders heard about the disease, they panicked and prevented the boat from coming ashore even though the wind was rising.

During the night, the ship dragged its anchor and was wrecked on the reefs. The crew and passengers were taken to Sandy Island where they were looked after for three months with deliveries of food. Most of the sugar was recovered after the ship was fumigated. When news of this disaster reached Mauritius and the outside world, the islanders were blamed for not giving help. A board of enquiry found that the loss was a combination of bad seamanship and the delay in despatching assistance.

Another Rodriguan trading vessel, the Zeta was lost in a gale in 1906.

Churches and Religion

Alee Tamarin.Rodrigues remained true to her first influences and has remained almost entirely Roman Catholic. There is a Mosque, Hindu Temple and an Anglican Church besides some of the smaller fringe faiths.

Visiting ships would have sometimes carried chaplains who could carry out baptisms and weddings. Following the request of some 'respectable inhabitants' to be visited by Roman Catholic Clergyman some missionaries were sent out in 1841. One of the most famous names in Rodrigues history was among those who arrived to work amongst liberated slaves, Pere Laval. His name is still common today.

Another influential priest was Father Thevaux who was persuaded to stay in Rodrigues for six months following two harsh years in Australia. He remained for many years and used his immense energy and good judgement not only to evangelize and preach but also to help the constantly arguing and jealous population to live in harmony with each other. He constructed two chapels, one in Port Mathurin and one in the hills where he bought the land from Gabriel Begue-This chapel now is the largest church in the Indian Ocean. And was constructed over two decades by its own parishioners who would all carry up a small amount of sand or a block after church on Sundays.

Pirates and Treasure

Oyster Bay.Pirate ships were very active in the region around Madagascar and Comores and there are plenty of legends of buried treasure. Ile Sainte Marie off the east coast of Madagascar has a burial ground of many famous pirates and plenty of stories of treasure chests full of gold and jewels.

One story in Rodrigues tells of a ship that came to bury a member of its crew who had died nearby. Some months later, the crew returned to dig up the coffin which was rumoured to contain gold.

The infamous pirate Laurent Lemoine escaped a pursuing British man of war bu slipping into Grand Passe and hiding behind Ile Hermitage. Here he is supposed to have hidden his treasure. Later on, he was arrested for murdering Portuguese seamen off Mocambique although he was never imprisoned. On his deathbed, he is said to have given details of where he had buried his treasure on Ile Hermitage. Unfortunately the plan was so complicated that no-one has yet been able to find it.

Treasure is also meant to be buried at Anse aux Anglais and many have tried to find it. One Magistrate in particular spent a great deal of time in a fruitless search. Leon Leclezio studied the signs end encryptions on the rocks, but his search was stumped when some of his helpers moved the rocks.

(Information based on 'The Island of Rodrigues' by Alfred North Coombes)


Briefly

Rodrigues is an island of volcanic origin, some 550 kilometres to the north-east of the island of Mauritius. With an area of 110 square kilometres, it is known as the tenth district of the Republic of Mauritius. It has a sheltered lagoon of about 200 square kilometres and is surrounded by over a dozen islets. Port Mathurin, the capital of Rodrigues is situated in the North of the island and the airport is at Plaine Corail. Rodrigues is a place that is strikingly beautiful and presents a view that is almost picture postcard quality. It is a mountainous region with lot of flora, marvellous beaches, and coral reefs that surrounds the island completely.

The pace of life is leisurely and a perfect destination for the types who do not want to remain with regular hum - drum of some popular tourist destinations. Rodrigues has a population of approximately 34,000 inhabitants originating from several countries of Africa, Europe and Asia. The majority speak Creole although English and French are utilised in administration and on social occasions respectively.

Climatic conditions typical of rodrigues have considerably reduced the island's dependency on agriculture. Fishing and animal rearing are the main economic activities. With the recent surge in tourism activity, the Rodriguans have become increasingly aware of the economic importance of their local crafts. A wide variety of handicraft goods are now available to tourists for taking back home as souvenirs.

Market. Port Mathurin.

What to do

Multitude of activities to do and as the life on the island is leisurely paced you need a minimum of ten and a maximum of fifteen days to really appreciate the beauty and attitude of the place. Basking under the sun on the blue lagoons beaches is just amazing and so is the underwater experience. Hiking, mountain biking, and participating in some water sports would certainly complete your amazing experience that is Rodrigues.

Street of Port Mathurin.

Rodrigues at a Glance
Latitude 19º40S
Longitude 63º25E
Population 34,000
Area 144 Sq Km
Language Creole, English, French
Religion Christianity, Hinduism, Islam

Weather and Best Season to Visit
You can visit Rodrigues Island almost any time of the year the climate here is pleasantly warm and somewhat drier than that of Mauritius. The island is prone to periodic cyclones, sometimes quite severe, between the months of November to May. Most of the precipitation takes place during the months of February and March.
Summer: November to April, 29 degrees celcius to 34 degrees celcius.
Winter: May to October 15, degrees celcius to 29 degrees celcius.
Attractions
Beaches
Pointe Coton situated on the East Coast is the best beach on the island. Other good beaches are Trou d'Argent, St Francçois and Petit Gravier.

Oyster Bay - La Baie aux Huitres

Caves

In the south - west corner of the Island at Caverne Patate, there are some interesting stalagmite and stalactite caves. Permits are required to visit these caves and there are guided tours available.

Hiking
Mt Limon and Mt Malartic give good opportunities for hiking and mountain biking at more than 390 metres above sea level. Coastal hiking is also possible from Port Mathurin, around the east end of the island to Port Sud - East.

Street of Port Mathurin

Diving

Pointe colon and Pointe Roche Noire on the east coast provide best options for diving in the island and with the quality of marine life present it is quite an experience. There are some hotels that organise diving trips and do have their own diving centres.

Sports and Leisure

Bird watching, horse riding, and sailing are some of the activities that will certainly give some amount of high to the travellers.

Pont la Jetee. Port Mathurin's pier.

Important Festivals and Exhibitions

Most of the festivals and celebrations that are celebrated in Mauritius mainland are celebrated here also. Some of the major festivals are Diwali, Holi, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Easter, and Eid ul Fitr. But Rodrigues has its own celebrations, which include the Fête du Poisson (fish festival) on the 1st of March each year. Thats on the first day of the fishing season. There are also the Creole festival, and the Sea festival.

Fishermen setting off

SHOPPING

Main items of shopping for visitors are local crafts made up of varied materials that have remained unchanged over time. Forms created by coral blocks from the coral quarry is used to create different forms. Coconut jewel, baskets made up of raffia, aloë, bamboo, and vetiver are the main items of shopping.

Where to Stay

Port Mathurin is the administrative base of the island and it is here that you will find most of the facilities that have developed in the last 20 years. There are hotels, apartments, guesthouses, and other tourist accommodations around the island that can service a large number of tourists. For accomodation information, go to www.rodrigues-island.org

Street of Port Mathurin

Travel Information
Air Travel Resources

Air Mauritius departs Melbourne once a week, and from the 29th of March 2004 will have another weekly flight departing Sydney non-stop to Mauritius. There are at least two Air Mauritius flights between Rodrigues-Mauritius operated daily. The only international flight to Rodrigues is from Reunion Island, and that's once weekly.

 
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