A history of Antoinette (Phooliyar) and the experiences of its immigrants (1770-1921)

DISCOVERING OUR MAURITIAN INDENTURE SITES : A History of Antoinette (Phooliyar) and the experiences of its immigrants (1770-1921)
By Satyendra Peerthum, Historian & Researcher

This year marks the 181st anniversary of the arrival of the indentured labourers in Mauritius. The specific historic event that is being commemorated is the landing on 2nd November 1834 of 36 Indian Bihari contract workers who were accompanied by Georges Charles Arbuthnot, their new employer and part owner of Antoinette Sugar Estate and known today as Phooliyar, from Calcutta to Port Louis.

After a harrowing journey across the Indian Ocean on board the ship the Atlas, they finally reached their destination and after fulfilling the required landing formalities, they were taken to Antoinette. It was there that during the 1830s, these brave and bold early indentured workers worked side by side the slaves and the apprentices in order to turn a barren land into a garden of sugar. It was through their toils, tears, and sacrifices that they also built the sugar factory, chimney, estate camp, store, and the other structures of Antoinette which have survived until today.

An Overview of the History of Antoinette Sugar Estate (Phooliyar)

Antoinette Sugar Estate, formerly known as Naud Estate and Belle Alliance Estate, is one of the most famous sugar estates in Mauritian history which is intimately linked with the genesis of the indentured labour system in our country. It is a place of shared history and heritage where between the late 18th and the mid-20th centuries, hundreds of slaves and thousands of Indian and non-Indian indentured workers and their descendants labored their entire lives.

Fig 1: The Surviving Stone Structures of the Sugar Factory and Chimney
of Antoinette which were built in 1871 and 1878 respectively

Between the 1770s and 1830s, more than 400 Mozambican, Malagasy, and Indian slaves worked and lived on Antoinette Sugar Estate where they started the long and complex process of transforming it into a lucrative sugar estate. This process was continued between the 1830s and the early 1900s, by more than 4,000 Indian indentured workers and some non-Indian workers such as the Chinese, the Liberated Africans, and Comorian indentured workers. Between the 1870s and the 1950s, this economic process was completed by more than 3,000 Mauritian workers, the descendants of indentured workers, who made it one of the most important sugar estates in Riviere du Rempart district.

Fig 2: The Sugar Factory of Antoinette
during the 1920s a few years before it was closed

Between 1770 and 1939, Antoinette or Phooliyar had ten different owners who contributed in one way or another to its rich history and heritage. There were five owners in particular Louis Naud, Joseph Diore, George Arbuthnot, Raoul De Maroussem, and Gustave Martin, who played a key role in its development. At the same time, Arbuthnot, De Maroussem, and Martin also brought hundreds of Indian indentured labourers and some Chinese contract workers, Liberated Africans, and Comorians to work on their sugar estates between the 1830s and early 1900s.


A Profile of the 2nd November 1834 Indentured Immigrants

Recent research at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute Indian Immigration Archives and the Mauritius National Archives has provided new information on some of the Arbuthnot indentured workers who arrived in Mauritius on 2nd November 1834, such as Immigrants Bhoodhoo and Dookhun.

Fig 3. Dookhun arrived in Mauritius at the age of 12 on 2nd November 1834
and went to work on Antoinette Sugar Estate. In 1866, he was photographed when
he was 44 years old at the Immigration Depot. He worked as a skilled worker in the
sugar factory on the same estate and died in May 1868 during the Great Malaria Epidemic
(MGI Indian Immigration Archives/Mauritius National Archives)

Fig 4. Bhoodhoo arrived in Mauritius at the age of 30 on 2nd November 1834.
He worked as a cane cutter on Antoinette and by the 1850s
became a Sirdar on the same plantation. He was photographed in 1868 at the age of
64 at the Immigration Depot. He died in 1899 at the age of 85 near Antoinette.
(MGI Indian Immigration Archives/Mauritius National Archives)


The Muslim and Chinese Indentured Workers of Antoinette

In January 1838, around 52 Indian indentured workers including some Muslims and tribals were brought to work for Artbuthnot on 5-year contracts. In 1840, the Muslim indentured workers, including Khodabux, organized a Yamse procession at Antoinette and when Mr. Moulinie, the estate manager, tried to prevent them he was assaulted. George Arbuthnot acted as a mediator in order to restore order on his sugar estate.

Fig 5. Khodabux arrived in Mauritius at the age of 32 in 1838.
Between the 1850s and 1870s, he was a job contractor for Antoinette and was
the one who recruited skilled and semi-skilled contract workers for the construction of
the estate’s stone structures such as its sugar factory.
He was photographed in 1891 at the age of 85 at the Immigration Depot.
In 1894, he died at the age of 88 on his property near Antoinette.
(MGI Indian Immigration Archives/Mauritius National Archives)

In July 1841, around 25 Chinese contract labourers were brought to work at Antoinette Sugar Estate under 12 and 24-month contracts from Penang, a British-controlled port town in South-East Asia. Most of the Chinese labourers were skilled and semi-skilled workers and they were originally from Macao and southern China. Between 1841 and 1845, they regularly ran away and became vagrants, refused to work, filed complaints against the estate manager, and even went on strike. By 1845, the majority among the Chinese workers had left the estate and some settled in Port Louis, while others returned to Penang and China. Asseen was one of the few skilled Chinese workers who remained at Antoinette many years after the completion of his first indenture contract.

Fig 6. Asseen was 33 years when he went to work as a skilled worker on Antoinette in July 1841 along with his fellow Chinese workers. He was originally from Macao and spent 10 years working in Penang. Between 1841 and 1863, he worked as a carpenter on Antoinette. In 1863, he complained to the Stipendiary Magistrate about the worsening working conditions on that particular estate and when he received no redress, he went to work for Mr. Chapman in Port Louis. In 1870, he established his own wood workshop on Royal Street in the capital. During the course of the same year, Asseen was photographed at the age of 62 at the Immigration Depot. He passed away in 1887 at the age 79 in present-day China Town.
(MGI Indian Immigration Archives/Mauritius National Archives)


The Liberated African and Comorian Workers of Antoinette

In 1863, Raoul De Maroussem purchased Belle Alliance Sugar Estate and renamed it Antoinette in honour of his young wife who died in 1868 during the Great Malaria Epidemic. During this period, in order to cope with the increase in sugar cane production, De Maroussem had his indentured workers build a large sugar factory made of basalt stone in 1871 and a stone sugar chimney was added by 1878. In 1870, after a request to H.N.D Beyts, the Protector of Immigrants, he was able to obtain 4 Liberated Africans and 2 Comorian contract workers who were stone masons. During the 1870s, they played a key role in the erection of the other stone edifices on his sugar estate such as a new storage building, new stables, and a large stone water basin.

During the 1870s, there were 6 stone masons and 19 labourers who were largely responsible for the construction of the sugar factory, sugar chimney and other stone structures at Antoinette. Two of the stone masons were Kazambo or Paul Kazambo, a Liberated African, and Noel Sadan, a Comorian contract worker. Kazambo served as the main stone craftsman who was assisted by Sadan. Therefore, during the 1870s, they were largely responsible for the completion of most of the stone construction works on Antoinette.

Fig 7. Paul Kazambo was a Yao Mozambican Liberated African who arrived in Mauritius in 1856 at the age of 20. He worked at Antoinette between 1870 and 1880. He was photographed in 1894 when he was 48 years old at the Immigration Depot. Kazambo died in Poudre d’Or Village in 1915.
(MGI Indian Immigration Archives/Mauritius National Archives)

Fig 8. Noel Sadan was a Christian Comorian from the French colony of Mayotte who arrived in Mauritius in 1850.at the age of 15. He worked at Antoinette between 1870 and 1880. He was photographed in 1878 when he was 43 years old at the Immigration Depot. Sadan died in the village of Poste de Flacq in 1921.
(MGI Indian Immigration Archives/Mauritius National Archives)

The 2nd November 1834 indentured labourers and thousands of other contract workers of who followed in their footsteps were the true builders of Antoinette. They played a crucial rule in its transformation from a barren and rocky land into one of the most productive sugar estates in the north of Mauritius for more than a century. Their labour and sacrifices and of our other indentured ancestors are commemorated and remembered each 2nd November at the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site.