Mauritius, a volcanic island, is part of the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean which also include Rodriguez (now Mauritian territory) and Reunion Island (now French territory). The first recorded name of the island was Dina Arobi, a name given by Arab sailors and shown on maps around 1500. Some ten years later Portuguese sailors who had reached the island called it Cirne ('swan') either due to its shape or because it was at the time populated by Dodo birds. In 1598 the island was renamed Mauritius by the Dutch colonists after their Prince Maurice de Nassau. It was renamed Ile de France by the French in 1715, and finally renamed Mauritius by the British when they took over in 1810. The country became independent in 1968. Until 1991, Her Majesty The Queen was head of State; in 1992 Mauritius became a Republic, and is a sovereign democratic state within the Commonwealth.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century Mauritius was a centre of the lucrative and growing sugar trade, the French having introduced the crop and imported slaves from Africa and Madagascar to work the plantations. As a French holding, the island became a base from which French corsairs raided British commercial vessels. After sustained losses, in 1810 a British naval expedition was sent to capture the island. The initial British attack at Grand Port in August 1810 was famously repulsed, but using the island of Rodriguez, captured the previous year, as a base the British force was finally successful, paving the way for a British takeover of the island.
Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar arrived as the first British governor and commander-in-chief on 3 December 1810 (some sources say 1812) having previously served as commercial resident at Amboyna, lieutenant-governor of Pulo Penang, and commissioner for adjusting British claims in the Moluccas. During his tenure it is notable that no less than five others are recorded as 'acting for Farquhar': Henry Warde in 1811, and between 1817 and 1820, Gage Hall, John Dalrymple, and then Ralph Darling. Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole acted for Farquhar until 1823, then continued as governor himself until 1828. In 1814 the Treaty of Paris ceded Mauritius definitely to Great Britain together with its dependencies including Rodriguez and the Seychelles, the British guaranteeing that they would respect the language, customs, laws and traditions of the islanders.
Sir Robert actively promoted the agricultural interests of the island including food crops and especially sugar-cane, as it was resistant to cyclones and very lucrative; he also oversaw the building of sugar-mills and roads, encouraged increased trade with other countries, and introduced indentured labourers from India. He was a director of the East India Company, and was created a baronet in 1821.
The slave trade in the islands was mainly carried out by French privateers. His abhorrence of that trade, first manifest during his tenure in the Moluccas when he endeavored to find economic substitutes for slavery through encouraging Chinese migration, led him to the conclude treaties with the leaders of Madagascar and Muscat to attempt to curtail the trade. Such was his esteem of these potentates that upon his leaving Mauritius in 1823 he travelled to Madagascar to take leave of the chiefs, and he was received with great ceremony. Negotiation of these treaties may explain his extended absences from his post in Mauritius. On his return to England he served as MP for Newton, Lancashire and then for Hythe, in which position he remained until his death on 16 March 1830.
The sugar-cane industry was given another boost in 1826 when his successor Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole persuaded the British government to reduce tax on Mauritian sugar entering Britain. The British administration eventually brought about the abolition of slavery in 1835, the planters receiving compensation of two million pounds sterling for the loss of their slaves. The finely engraved figures and scenes on the present tray, as well as on the following lot, are emblematic of agriculture within and trade with Mauritius, and the Grand Port and capitol city, Port Louis, may be clearly seen.