On Sunday 15th July 2018, the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, with the collaboration of various important stakeholders, is organizing a cultural programme and commemoration ceremony in the former estate camp of Forbach near the village of Cottage in the north of Mauritius.
This commemoration marks the 12th anniversary of the inscription of the Aapravasi Ghat on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the 50th anniversary of our country’s independence, the 200th anniversary of the founding of Forbach Sugar Estate, and the ICOMOS International Day for Monuments and Sites. In addition, it also allows us to remember the contribution of the slaves, the indentured workers, and Mauritian workers in transforming this small sugar estate into a garden of sugar between 1818 and 1943.
The Genesis of Forbach Sugar Estate
Named after a small village located in western Germany, the Sugar Estate of Forbach is one of the main sugar plantations in the north of Mauritius. Current research is showing that between 1818 and 1839, an estimated 400 Mozambican, Malagasy, Indian, Creole slaves and apprentices worked and lived on Forbach Sugar Estate.
Furthermore, archival evidence revealed that the estate also employed an estimated 3,000 Indian, Creole, Mauritian and Liberated African labourers and their families between 1826 and 1943. During this long period, this workforce was employed by the successive owners namely Joseph Staub, Nicolas Staub, Aristide Aubin who played a central role in making Forbach one of the most important sugar estates in the north of Mauritius during the 19th century.
The history of Forbach Sugar Estate began in May 1818 when Joseph Staub purchased a plot of land of 2 arpents and 44 perches for 200 piastres from Joseph Collard in Rivière du Rempart (near the present-day village of Cottage). Joseph Staub was a former British army captain who at the age of 40 had settled with his family in Mauritius after the conquest of the island in December 1810. He rapidly became a successful merchant and landowner. In 1815, he established a shop in Port Louis and later, one in the small settlement of Mapou in Rivière du Rempart district.
He enlarged his land property in December 1818 when he bought 55 arpents of rich and partially cultivated land from Sieur Charles Latour de St.Yvest. According to the private papers of the Late Guy Rouillard, Governor Vicomte de Souillac granted this concession through the Land Tribunal of the Ile de France in 1788 to the benefit of Sieur Latour de St.Yvest, a French aristocrat. Between the late 1780s and the late 1810, most of this land remained undeveloped.
The Slaves and Early Indentured Workers of Forbach
Between the late 1810s and 1830s, Forbach’s stone buildings, such as the sugar mill, stores, Staub’s country home, and other estate projects were constructed mainly by Mozambican, Malagasy and local-born slaves together with some free coloured and free Indian artisans. According to the Slave Census of 1832, there were 216 slaves, with around 153 males and 63 females, including 25 children and babies living at Forbach Sugar Estate.
They usually worked under the supervision of slave commandeurs or régisseurs who reported directly to their employer, Joseph Staub. From the archival sources, it seems that the slaves were for the most part well treated and provided with adequate food and clothing. The slaves resided in small wooden huts in the slave quarters. After the abolition of slavery in 1835, the sugar estate was employing 191 apprentices. In April 1839, when final emancipation arrived, the vast majority of the remaining 163 apprentices left Forbach Sugar Estate.
As early as between 1826 and 1838, Forbach’s work force also consisted of several Indian indentured workers, such as Immigrant Chinan, who was from southern India. During the 1830s and 1840s, he worked as a cane cutter. The archival records indicate that Chinan managed to work his way up the plantation hierarchy. By the 1860s, Chinan became a job contractor and a small land owner.
The Consolidation of Forbach and its Workers
Between 1837 and 1843, Nicholas Staub, the eldest son of Joseph Staub, played a crucial role in the recruitment of hundreds of indentured workers from India. During this period, these labourers at first supplemented and then replaced the declining apprentice/ex-apprentice work force. In 1843, Staub recruited 273 newly arrived Indian indentured labourers to work for him which allowed him to secure his sugar harvest for the year.
During the course of that year, the Immigration Committee of the Council of Government reported that between 450 and 500 Indian workers, including some ex-apprentices, lived and worked at Forbach. By the 1860s, more than 800 Indian indentured and non-indentured workers and Indo-Mauritians worked and lived on Forbach Sugar Estate like Immigrant Soogaree.
Between 1842 and 1875, Aristide Aubin played a key role in the development of the sugar estate with the construction of a modern sugar mill, windmill, estate camp, and the hiring of hundreds of indentured workers. From 1843 to 1867, with the help of his associates, Aubin almost doubled the size of Forbach from 743 arpents to more than 1300 arpents bordering the sugar estates of Cottage and Labourdonnais. During the same period, sugar production increased significantly from 842 to 1123 tons per year. Between the 1840s and the early 1900s, Forbach remained one of the most important and lucrative sugar estates in the north of Mauritius.
By the turn of the 20th century, part of the sugar estate was sold out in small parcels of land which was purchased by former Indian indentured workers and their descendants and this formed the basis of the village of Cottage. Almost a century ago, Seesurrun and Sookbasseea Peerthum, my great grandparents, bought land there and this small village in the north of Mauritius is my ancestral village. Therefore, both Forbach and Cottage are special places of shared history and shared heritage for many Mauritians.
Immigrant Soogeea or Soogaree, one of my ancestors or my great grandmother’s great grandmother, arrived in Mauritius in 1858 at the age of 25. She was from a village near Benares in Uttar Pradesh (north central India). She worked as a labourer in the petite bande at Forbach and along with her son, namely Dussowoth who was 9 years old. She was photographed in 1882 at the age of 49. By then she was a cook and prepared food in the estate camp for her fellow workers. In 1891, she passed away at Forbach at the age of 58. (PE, PG, & PF Series, MGI Indian Immigration Archives/Courtesy and thanks to the Dussowuth Family)