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Rodrigues' history is strongly linked to that of Mauritius, although Rodrigues was only discovered in 1528. The island was and remained named after the Portuguese discoverer Diogo Rodrigues, despite Dutch, French and British rule.

The Dutch were the first to set foot on the island but had little further interest in the island, after which the French were the first colonists to settle on Rodrigues. They were nine French Protestants who had fled, led by François Leguat. They arrived in 1691 but had to leave the island again after two years, when Leguat was arrested by the Dutch governor of Mauritius.

In 1725 the French decided to colonise the island in the name of Louis XV. He sent eight soldiers, thirteen planters and fifteen slaves to Rodrigues, who soon left the island again, except for a few slaves. The first permanent resident was captain Germain le Gros, who arrived in 1792 and engaged in some fishing and trading. He was followed in 1793 by Michel Gorry and Philibert Marragon. Marragon and his wife lived on Rodrigues until their death in 1826. However, the three colonists did not trust each other and soon wanted to separate.

Marragon worked for the French government, but this did not stop him from welcoming British ships and supplying them with provisions, much to the chagrin of Le Gros. The cooperation between the French colonists and the British led to the new governor of the Île de France (Mauritius), General Decaen, wanting to replace Marragon with the lepers from his own island Mauritius. But this plan failed, Marragon remained on Rodrigues and the lepers went to the island of Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos archipelago near Mauritius. In 1804 Marragon conducted a census which revealed that the island population consisted of 22 whites and mulattos and 82 slaves, mostly from Mozambique. One third of them had actually been born on Rodrigues.

In 1794, Britain decided to conquer the Île de France (Mauritius), but were initially delayed by looting trips to Rodrigues. They then tried to conquer Rodrigues, but this time they used a completely different approach. They tried to establish good relations with the colonists and paid for their supplies instead of plundering. In August 1809, the first troops landed on Mauritius; 200 infantrymen and 200 sepoys, Indian soldiers in the English service. Rodrigues was also occupied and the commander colonel Henry Sheehy Keating was very enthusiastic about the island. He also imported more cattle and even more slaves from Madagascar when more British troops arrived on Rodrigues.

In July 1810 a force left Rodrigues to conquer Bourbon (Reunion) from the French. After an unexpected defeat at Vieux Grand Port, the British gathered a large army for a successful attack on the Île de France in December 1810. Rodrigues was occupied by the British until April 1812; then they left the island, leaving behind three hundred slaves. Eventually, British rule on Rodrigues was confirmed by the Treaty of Paris in May 1814. The first British settler was Thomas Robert Pye, a naval officer sent by Governor Robert Townsend Farquhar of Mauritius in 1821. However, he stayed only two years. After the abolition of slavery, most slaves settled in the hills, where they still make their living today by raising cattle.

In the middle of the 19th century, more and more Europeans and non-Europeans settled on Rodrigues, including shipwrecked sailors and British who found the island beautiful. They also soon married women from Rodrigues. These people lived around Port Mathurin, Oyster Bay, Grand Bay and Le Ferme. The first steamship carrying Indian and Chinese traders arrived in the 1890s. The population grew rapidly and by the end of the 19th century, the permanent population was about 3000. Twenty years later this number had more than doubled and this repeated itself almost every twenty years. Rodrigues was administered as a part of Mauritius during the 158 years of British rule. In fact, however, Rodrigues was abandoned and the development of the island came to a virtual standstill. Since 1968, Rodrigues has been an integral part of Mauritius.

See also the history of Mauritius.


Ellis, R. / Mauritius, Rodrigues & RĂ©union : the Mascarene isles

Mauritius, RĂ©union & Seychelles
Lonely Planet

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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