The Philatelist’s Pick: Modes of transport in Mauritius: Part 1 (RAILWAYS)

In this new blog series (of 4 blogs), we will see the different modes of transport used in Mauritius and how they shaped the island’s landscape and postal history. This blog, and the upcoming three ones, will cover the following (i) railway transport; (ii) maritime transport; (iii) air transport and (iv) other modes of inland transport.

PART 1: Rail transport

At the beginning of 1860, the transport of passengers and goods was undertaken by about 2,000 horses, 4,000 donkeys and 4,500 carriages and carts. There is therefore no doubt that the introduction of trains in 1864 was a formidable innovation and revolution in the transport sector in Mauritius. It not only shaped the re- organisation of the colony at the time, but it also helped to dis-enclave rural areas and eased access to education.

UPU railway stamp

Post offices were opened at each station, and on the trains, the travelling postman (as can be seen in the above postage stamp issued in the 1974 Postage Stamp issue) accepted mails from passengers. Although trains ceased to operate in 1956, many post offices are still located in the old railway stations. In some of them, the platforms still remain.

locomotives Sheet
This souvenir sheet issued on 1 February 1979 illustrates different types of locomotives used in Mauritius, for the transportation of sugar cane (20cs and Re 1), freight or passengers (Rs. 1.50 and Rs. 2). 

The first main railway line was opened on the island on 23 May 1864. It covered a distance of 50 km between Port Louis and Grand River South East, and passed through the districts of Pamplemousses, Rivière du Rempart and Flacq.


A second main line, the Midlands line, was opened on 22 October 1865, covering 56 km. It linked Port-Louis to Mahébourg. This line contributed to the development of urban agglomerations by passing through the Beau Bassin, Rose Hill, Quatre Bornes, Phoenix, Vacoas, Curepipe and Rose-Belle.

inland transp

As rural areas developed, the railway network was gradually extended. Secondary lines were therefore introduced in particular for commercial exchange and transportation of passengers as well as agricultural products such as tobacco, sugar cane and aloes, which mainly grew there.

Four secondary lines were constructed:

  • The 42-km Moka-Flacq line, was inaugurated on 11 December 1876, joining Midlands and Rose Hill. It went through Plaines Wilhems, Moka and Flacq to Rivière Sèche, where it formed a junction with the North line.
  • The Savanne line (18 km) joined the Midlands branch at Rose-Belle and ran through the Savanne District to Souillac.
  • The Black-River line, 21 km long, and operational since 27 August 1904ran from Port-Louis to Tamarin;.
  • The Long Mountain branch, 6.5 km long, was opened on 21 September 1903.

Railways were mainly used for the transport of sugar cane, but they were of course very important to trade in general and enabled the movement of passengers and general freight. From 1880 to 1910, it is estimated that approximately 100,000 tons of sugar cane was carried by trains. This was made possible because Mauritius had a vast network of narrow-gauge industrial railway lines, each connecting a sugar mill with nearby sugar cane plantations. Some of the steam locomotives used on these lines are still preserved, mostly at various sugar mills around Mauritius.

By the early 20th century, the railway network of was about 200 km, and connected most districts and large villages of the island. At the peak of its development, the Mauritius Government Railways had a fleet of 52 steam locomotives, all including a total of 200 passenger coaches and 750 goods wagons.

 Following the Second World War traffic declined in the face of road competition and passenger services (lorries and busses were introduced in 1920). Railway services ceased in 1956. The last passenger train made its journey on 31 March 1956, between Port-Louis and Curepipe.

last passenger train
Last passenger train in transit at Rose-Hill Station on 31 March 1956.

Carrying of sugar, but heavy goods and general merchandise continued until 1964. Industrial railways for the transportation of cane from field to factory knew the same fate and most of them closed about the same time. Today, a number of locomotives can still be found for display various locations.

Deep river old train
Old train at Deep River

The Philatelist’s Pick: A Journey to the past through our philatelic heritage

For my first blog post, I have chosen to take you on a journey to the history of Mauritius, through a series of 20 postage stamps issued in 1978. This set of postage stamps was issued on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Independence of Mauritius, on 12 March 1978. The stamps illustrate some of the main events that made the history of the country, from its discovery to independence. In total, four covers and an explanatory booklet were issued.

Mauritius was uninhabited until the end of the 16th Century, though it is thought to have been regularly visited by Malay, Arabs and Portuguese sailors, on their way to Asia. 

In 1598, the Dutch took possession of the island and named it Mauritius, after Prince Maurice Van Nassau, Prince of Orange. However, the attempts of the Dutch to colonise the island were unsuccessful. 

The French settled in 1735 and named the island Isle de France. The island developed into a fruitful colony under the administration of Governor Mahé de Labourdonnais, who introduced sugar cane and brought in slaves to work on the plantations. 

The British wanted to conquer the island and entered into war with the French in 1810. They lost the battle in August 1810, but later on, in November 1810, landed on the island, overcame the French defence and took possession of the island, which they renamed Mauritius. Mauritius finally became independent on 12th March 1968 and a Republic in 1992.

This set of stamps below highlights the main milestones in the social, economic and political history of Mauritius. Each stamp depicts a personality, a landscape or a scene of ordinary life, which all contributed to make of Mauritius what it is today: a proud, a multi-cultural nation. 

1978 12 March - New definitive issue 2
This first cover depicts the following: (i) 35cs illustrates the Official Act of Sovereignty by the French, who took possession of the island on 1715, renamed Isle de France. This demonstrates the strategic importance of Mauritius; (ii) 50cs depicts Port-Louis, which was built around 1736 under the directions of Governor Mahé de Labourdonnais; (iii) 60cs pictures Pierre Poivre, one of the key figures of Mauritian history. He was responsible for the introduction of a variety of spices and created the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden; (iv) 70cs is a map of Mauritius, drawn by the astronomer and geographer Abbé de la Caille, who made a detailed survey of Mauritius and his observations were introduced in a map of 1763; (v) Rs. 15 depicts the independence celebrations on 12 March 1968. On that day, the Mauritius flag unfurled for the first time.
1978 12 March - New definitive issue 3
The second cover includes 5 stamps: (i) Rs. 1.25 which shows the ball organised by Lady Gomm and one of the celebrated first day covers of the ‘Post Office’ issue; (ii) Rs 1.50 showing the Indian indentured labourers, who arrived in 1834 after the abolition of slavery; (iii) Rs. 2 shows horse racing introduced by the British. The Mauritius Turf Club organised the first race in 1812; (iv) Rs. 3 represents the Place d’Armes, opposite the Government House, the main square in Port-Louis. It was originally the training site of the military corps. (v) Rs. 5 marking the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, who visited Mauritius in 1901. A souvenir postcard was issued on that occasion.
1978 12 March - New difinitive issue 4
This third cover shows the following stamps: (i) 75cs: the first coin minted in silver in 1810; (ii) 90cs, showing a scene of Battle of Grand Port. Mauritius had become a hub for French corsairs who were frustrating the British commercial interests in the Indian Ocean. In 1810, the British forces attacked Mauritius but were defeated in the Battle of Grand Port; (iii) Re. 1 shows the landing of the British on 29 November 1840, following the Battle of Grand Port to overturn the French; (iv) Rs. 1.20 depicts a view of the Government House during the British period around 1840. (v) Rs. 10 depicts the Royal College of Curepipe, one of the most prestigious secondary schools in Mauritius
1978 12 March - New definitive stamp issue 1
This fourth cover has the following stamps: (i) 10cs pictures a Portuguese map from 1519 – Although Arab sailors knew the location of Mauritius, this Portuguese map is the earliest accurate record of the island. The Portuguese called the island Ilha do Cerne; (ii) 15cs shows the first settlement in Mauritius. The Dutch visited the island in 1598 and called it Mauritius after their Prince Maurice Van Nassau; (iii) 20cs is a detailed Dutch map dating from around 1700, during the time the island was occupied by the Dutch; (iv) 25cs is Rodrigues, when it was first settled in 1698 by Francois Leguat. The stamp shows a plate of the book of Leguat’s account; (v) Rs 25 features the first Governor of Mauritius, Sir Abdool Raman Mohamed Osman (on the left) and the first Prime Minister of Mauritius, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.