The name of John Jeremie is closely associated with the abolition of slavery in Mauritius (1). Tribute is, however, rarely paid to him and he is consequently, most unfairly unknown to the public at large. In his book, “British Mauritius 1810-1948”, Dayachand Napal refers to John Jeremie as having been “appointed procureur général of Mauritius, through (…) one of the leaders of the Anti slavery society to enforce the law against slavery and effect the emancipation of slaves.”
In “L’Ile Maurice, ancienne Isle de France, fille de la revolution”, author, Jean Georges Prosper, for his part, introduces John Jeremie as “procureur et avocat général de sa Majesté (…) reconnu comme un anti esclavagiste et agent de la anti slavery society” whose appointment in 1831 was associated with “la charte d’émancipation des esclaves”.
In a speech in England on the abolition of the slave trade, PM Navin Ramgoolam declared that “conditions of slaves deteriorated under British rule, not because the masters had become more cruel, but because it ushered in a new mode of production and focused on one crop” and referred to John Jeremie as the envoy of the British government sent to implement the laws aimed to ameliorate their lives.
Implementing these laws was unfortunately not an easy task for him. When the Ganges, the ship which was bringing John Jeremie to Mauritius approached our shores in 1832, almost all people of French descent organized a general strike (2) until Jeremie was expelled from the country. Openly defying the Government, the plantocracy, which had a well-organized and heavily armed militia, completely locked out the country for 45 days.
“A reign of terror prevailed and those who would not play the game had to bear the brunt of the insurgents who even offered considerable amount of food to the poorer sections of the coloured population to incite them into participating in the mob movements”. (Sydney Selvon, A comprehensive history of Mauritius). Governor Charles Colville, who was incompetent in dealing with the slave owners, expelled Jeremie from the country on the 28 July 1832 while he only arrived on 3rd June of the same year. This humiliation to Jeremie was however extremely unwelcome by the British government who considered it to be an equal disgrace for the central government.
Moreover, once in England Jeremie exposed his most risky enterprise to influent members of the British Anti Slavery Society and he obtained the permission to return to Mauritius on 29 April 1833. He anew provoked such discontent in the population that he was again called back to England but his contribution remains great. He undoubtedly helped in bringing order back to the country thanks to the appointment of Governor Nicolay and helped hasten the abolition of slavery in 1835. His detailed report of the situation in Mauritius in his book Recent events at Mauritius, printed in 1835, testifies how far our own people have gone in their endeavour in maintaining, against all odds, a system which was keeping other human beings in an abject state of slavery.
The imposing Citadelle, built between 1834 and 1840, in view of suppressing revolts among the inhabitants of Port Louis (National monuments of Mauritius, Editions Océan Indien, p17) is reminiscent of the determining chapter Jeremie wrote in our history.
How about renaming this landmark Fort John Jeremie in recognition to this unflinching freedom soldier who stood as a ray of hope in the life of our forefathers ? Did not they sing "Missié Zeremie fine arrivé, so capeau sir le coté, so nhabit li galoné" (3) when he arrived ?
(1) (2) The Making of Mauritius by Moonindra Nath Varma, ELP publications
(3) L’Ile Maurice, ancienne Isle de France, fille de la revolution, J.G. Prosper.