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In the 10th century the island has been visited by the Arabs as they have been known to visit the Mascarene Islands. But it is certain that they visited Rodrigues in the 12th century because the island of Rodrigues appeared on a map drawn by the geographer Ash-Sharif al-Idrisi and Rodrigues was named as Dina Moraze.
In 1601 Dutch began visiting the island for fresh fruits and water supply. They imported goats, poultry etc but the farming was not successful. They just collected tortoises, turtles, birds and fish and other food.
It is only in 1691 that François Leguat and his 7 Huguenot companions disembarked on the island in a view to set up a colony of protestant refugees. But, overwhelmed by the loneliness, they left the island after two years and decided to move to Mauritius Island using rafts.
Years went by, the island still remained unoccupied and was solely used as a supply anchor for those ships that were on their way to the Indies. The island was abundant in particular species of tortoises, which had already disappeared from the other Mascarenes Islands
In the 18th Century French settlers made several attempts to develop the island. Slaves coming from Africa and Madagascar were bought to develop stock breeding and farming. Following the orders of Mahé de Labourdonnais, governor of Ile de France (Mauritius) and Bourbon Island (Reunion), the island was to be permanently occupied in 1735. A detachment settled down, assigned with the task of gathering the tortoises and loading them on the ships of the Indies Company so as to supply these two islands as well as passing ships in fresh meat. This pillage went on for 60 years and brought about their extinction at the end of the 18th century.
As from 1792, colonists came to settle down with the other few who had stayed back in the devastated island. Amongst them, Philibert Maragon, who came in 1794 in a view to develop farming and stockbreeding. It was during this epoch that the ancestors of the present population came into the island: African slaves were brought from Mauritius to Rodrigues. At the beginning of the 19th century, the island had about a hundred habitants (22 colonists and 82 slaves).
In 1809, the British troops took possession of Rodrigues. It was from this island that the English sent their naval forces to attack Ile de France in 1810. Mauritius and Rodrigues became British territories. Slavery was abolished.
The island’s population gradually grew with freed slaves and European colonists and at the end of the 19th century, 3000 inhabitants were living on the island. The British invested little in the island’s development, which had a purely agricultural vocation. It played the role of the “granary of Mauritius Island”, the foodstuff produced in Rodrigues were sent to its “big sister”.
The growth of Rodrigues went through a slow and progressive rhythm but without any link with the lightning development that Mauritius underwent with its sugar economy in full expansion and the significant arrival of Indian immigrants. It was governed as a separate British territory until May 30th 1814, when its administration was transferred to Mauritius.
The Rodriguan population is a mixture of African and European stock. The earliest census in 1804 records 22 whites and 82 slaves who had been brought over from Madagascar and Mozambique. It wasn't until the 1840's that most of the settlers arrived and built up the main dynasties with several common family names revealed in the phone book. Mathieu Roussety arrived in 1832, Jean-Marie Meunier in 1844, Charlotte and Marie-Louise Perrine in 1846 and Pierre Raffaut in 1848. The Islamic and Chinese families began to arrive in the 1890's and formed strong communities and trading businesses. The slaves in Mauritius were amongst the last in the world to be set free. Those in Rodrigues set off for the hills on 11th March 1839 where they set about cultivating the land and grazing cattle and pigs.
The first police magistrate, Blaise Bacy was appointed in December 1842 and his two-roomed hut in Port Mathurin served as his house, court room and office. From this point onwards, there was a continual succession of magistrates and then Civil Commissioners appointed to Rodrigues with varying degrees of success. One on side there were good commissioners like George Jenner who made many improvements to Rodrigues and on the other was Henry Reid Bell who achieved very little and set about trying to make money by every dishonest means available. The first Governor to visit Rodrigues was Napier-Broome who came with his wife on board the HMS Euryalus. There was an elaborate programme of visits and receptions, but the hunt was ruined after all the deer had been scared by the guns. From the early 20th Century, life in Rodrigues was pleasant and cheap and people enjoyed a good standard of living. There were fish in the sea, deer to shoot and a population that was small enough for the island to support.
In the early part of the 19th century there were no shops on the island and two or three traders operated a very oppressive system of trade in goods. They would buy fish and agricultural produce to sell in Mauritius and bring back supplies to sell with a 150% to 300% mark up. Labourers were given liberal credit and they ran up huge debts from rum drinking – sometimes owing 20 to 30 times their salaries. The loss of a vessel could leave people starving and on the edge of bankruptcy. The economy of Rodrigues was still based around fishing, farming and some small trade with Mauritius although there was virtually no cash on the island. The only money came from a handful of civil servants and the six shopkeepers held the inhabitants in their hands through the ownership of the trading schooner Backia Letchmy. Towards the end of the 19th century Rodrigues started to become more prosperous, principally through the cultivation of tobacco. The tobacco tax had been removed in 1888; but Mauritius then spitefully re-introduced the duty. Although a fairer system allowed the tobacco exports to rise to 104 tons in 1900, Mauritius stubbed out this activity for ever when its own farms started failing. The Rodriguan tobacco, known as tabac bleu was air cured and suitable for rolling cigarettes.
Up until the channel was dredged in 1964, boats had to anchor in the bay and good taken into the harbour in small lighters. Men often had to work waist deep in water with hoes to keep the channels deep enough. The preferred method of loading cattle was to tip them over the edge of the jetty into the water and then into boats. The alternative was to tie their legs together and lift them upside down into boats. The wooden pier was replaced by a stone jetty in 1889 although this was still damaged by cyclones. It was 150 ft long and built with wooden piles and filled with stones. This was replaced and strengthened in 1918, 1952 and 1963.
During the Second World War, troops were garrisoned on Rodrigues to protect the cable station from a Japanese attack. A six inch gun, an ammunition store and officers housing were built at Pointe Canon. Later on a 55mm anti-submarine gun was installed at Pointe Venus, but this was an old Greek gun with no range table so would not have been effective. 215 Rodriguan troops were employed on the island, while 315 served abroad with various regiments. The war did not affect Rodrigues adversely, in fact the money that was brought in to pay for the troops and the contracts for the supplies of produce led to a small boom for the island.