The Philatelist’s Pick: Modes of Transport in Mauritius: Air transport (Part III)

This blog is a third in a series dedicated to modes of transport in Mauritius. This third blog post zooms into air transport, through our postal heritage.

 Early days of air transport in Mauritius

 The first plane to fly over Mauritius took off on 2 June 1922 from the now 18-hole golf course of Gymkhana. It was a World War I British biplane brought to Mauritius by ship and reassembled for that purpose. After a few demonstrations over the island, the plane was dismantled and brought back to England.

 The first regional flight landed in Mon Choisy in the north of Mauritius on 10 September 1933 from Reunion Island. The two pioneering pilots were Maurice Samat and Paul Louis Lemerle. They flew on a Potez 43, named “Monique”. In November 1933, the plane was used to carry mails from Mauritius and Reunion and an airstrip in Mon Choisy continued to be used for the rare planes that came to Mauritius.

In 1970 a series of 4 postage stamps was issued to mark the 25th anniversary of Plaisance Civil Airport. The Rs. 2.50 stamp illustrated the Roland Garros Airplane, which landed in Mon Choisy in 1937.


The first international flight from France landed in Mauritius in December 1936 on board a Farman 199 monoplane. The flight took 10 days, with stop-overs in Tunisia, Egypt, Djibouti and Madagascar.

 During World War II (1939 – 45), Mauritius became a strategic location for the British in the Indian ocean.


They operated Catalina hydroplanes for long reconnaissance missions in the region. Planes landed in the bay of Mahébourg or Baie du Tombeau for refuelling. In 1995, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of World War II, a series of 3 postage stamps was issued. One of the 3 – Rs. 5 stamp illustrated a Catalina hydroplanes at Baie du Tombeau.


Construction of Plaisance Airport – a turning point

 Mauritius however did not have an airport that could be used by the Royal Air Force. In that context, it was decided to construct an airport near Mahébourg. Construction began in 1942 and was completed in 1943. Since then the airstrip at Mon Choisy was abandoned. The first landing at Plaisance airport was made on 24th November 1943 by an RAF Dakota. 1970 3 Oct - Plaisance civil airport

In 1971, to mark the silver jubilee of the construction of Plaisance civil airport, a set of 4 postage stamps was issues. The first day cover enveloppe illustrated Mauritius as a crossroad for the Indian Ocean, through the various stop-overs covered by flights that came to Mauritius at that time. It also showed a picture of the airport and Air France planes, which was the first international airplane to come to Mauritius. The Rs. 2.50 stamp illustrated the first airstrip in Mon Choisy in the North, prior to the opening of Plaisance airport and the Potez 43, which was used to link Mauritius to Reunion Island.  

 1945: First commercial flights

 Until 1945, flights arriving in Mauritius were used to carry mails only. The first commercial flight was operated by the Réseau de Lignes Aériennes Françaises Libres, which later became Air France. It landed in Mauritius in 1945, covering the route Madagascar – Reunion – Mauritius. It also carried fifteen passengers and three crew members.

In 1970, Mauritius and France issued two aero philatelic covers to mark the 25th anniversary of the first Air France flight to Mauritius. 

Air France1Air France 2

In 1995, another special aero philatelic cover was issued to mark the 50th anniversary of Air France’s presence in Mauritius.

Air France 50 ans

In 1947, Air France introduced a four-engine Douglas DC4 on the Paris – Plaisance route. The flight lasted two days, and had six stop-overs.

1er liasion aerienne Maurice France 1945

In November 1948, Qantas launched its first flight from Sydney to South Africa with stop-overs at Perth, Coco Islands and Mauritius. The aircraft used was a Lancastrian and the journey lasted forty-two hours.  In 1952, Qantas started using Lockheed Constellation aircrafts on the same route. Special aero philatelic covers were released, with stamps from the port of departure, stop-over destination and port of arrival, to mark the event.


In January 1962, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), which later became British Airways, started to service Mauritius. It operated a twenty-five-hour flight with stop-overs in Italy, Sudan, Kenya and Madagascar. In October 1962, BOAC used for the first time commercial jets, the De Havilland Comet 4, on the London-Plaisance route. The time for the journey was reduced to only seventeen hours. On that occasion, special covers were released, with stamps from each stop-over destination. Special aero philatelic covers were issued on the occasion of the flight flight between London and Mauritius. 



On 15th August 1967, Air India started a fortnightly flight from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Plaisance. Most probably they used Boeing 707 aircrafts. In that context, two special aero philatelic covers were released, with one envelope showing stamps of Mauritius, and the other picturing stamps from India.

Air India 1Air India 2

1967 – The birth of our national airline

The national airline Air Mauritius was set up on 14th June 1967. It was born out of the visionary leadership of Amédée Maingard de la Ville-ès-Offans, a Mauritian entrepreneur who was already a pioneer in the tourism sector. Just a few months before Mauritius became independent, he obtained the support of the then First Minister, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. It was decided to create a national airline company, with a consortium composed up of Air France, BOAC, Air India, Rogers and. co. and the Government of Mauritius. Mr Maingard became the first President and Director General of Air Mauritius.

Initially, the company operated only as a ground handling agent for other airlines already operating in Mauritius.

On 2 May 1970, another major international airline company, Lufthansa, inaugurated its flight to Mauritius. On that occasion, an official first day cover was released my the Government Post Office to mark the occasion.

1970 2 May - Lufthansa inaug flight_1

A number of aero philatelic envelopes and postal cards were also issued (these will soon be uploaded on a special page).

1972 – Air Mauritius launches its flight operations

It was only in 1972 that it flew its own aircraft, a Piper Navajo PA-31 leased from Air Madagascar. The commercial flights were limited to nearby Reunion island and Rodrigues island. On 13 September 1972, the first commercial flights linked Mauritius and Rodrigues.

Air Mauritius Rodrigues

With the increase in traffic, the Piper Navajo was replaced with a 16-seater Twin Otter that was acquired in 1975. 

To mark Air Mauritius international inaugural flights, an official first day cover and a miniature sheet were released on 31 October 1977. Four stamps included a 25 cs stamp, a 50 cs and a 75 cs stamp, all showing the twin otter planes. The Rs. 5 stamp represented a Boeing 707, which left for the first time for London on 31 October 1977. The emblem of Air Mauritius is the red-tailed tropical bird (Paille en queue), which is also featured on the 50cs stamp.

1977 31 oct - Air Mauritius inaugural flightminiature sheet Air Mauritius


By mid-1980, the government of Mauritius had become the majority shareholder. It also extended its network coverage in in 1983, with the addition of Rome and Zurich, and Paris in 1984, operated by a Boeing 747, which was commemorated by a special cover in November 1984. This was a major milestone in bridging Mauritius’s insularity to the rest of the world. 

Air Mauritius Paris flight

To mark the silver jubilee of Air Mauritius, a new official first day cover and a miniature sheet was released on 14 June 1993. It is composed of 4 stamps, (i) 40cs, representing a Bell 206B Jet Ranger helicopter, put in operations by Air Mauritius in 1985; (ii) Rs. 3, showing the taking off of a Boeing 747 SP, in operation since 1984. The aircraft was used for the first non-stop flights between Mauritius, Paris, Rome and Zurich; (iii) Rs. 4, showing an ATR 42, used for inter-island services, linking Mauritius to Reunion Isl. and Rodrigues. The plane was put in service in 1986; (iv) Rs. 10, showing a Boeing 767-200 ER, baptised the City of Port-Louis. This aircraft held the world record in 1988 for the longest non-stop distant. The FDC shows Air Mauritius route map.

1993 14 June - Silver jubilee Air Mauritius

Silver jubilee Air Mauritius

Over the years, the company acquired more airlines. Today, Air Mauritius covers a number of countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. It also has several weekly flights to Australia. Despite its small fleet compared to major global companies, it has strong connections with other companies, sharing code shares and partnerships with major companies, such as Lufthansa, Swiss Air and Emirates, to name but a few.

In 2017, Air Mauritius turns 50

On 14 July 2017, Air Mauritius celebrated its golden jubilee and issued a special commemorative cover to mark this occasion. 

2017 ir Mauritius

Air Mauritius fleet

In 50 years, Air Mauritius made remarkable strides. It is a national pride and is one of the largest Mauritian firms. With its fleet of 13 planes, it covers a network of 25 direct destinations, over 4 continents. It continues to work with other airline companies to reach bring Mauritius to the world and bring the world to Mauritius. 

You can visit the special page created on this blog on aero philately items relevant to Mauritius. This special page includes various first flights covers and special cards and covers featuring code shares with major companies operating in Mauritius. This is my personal collection: it is not complete and I’ll update it as my collection grows.


The Philatelist’s Pick: Modes of Transport in Mauritius: Ships (Part II)

Part II of this blog is dedicated to ships and the role they played in the modern socio-economic development of Mauritius. 

Maritime transport in Modern Mauritius

When Mahé de Labourdonnais became the Governor of Isle de France, among other things, he built the city of Port-Louis and transferred the capital and the harbour there. Since then, Port Louis Harbour has played a key role in trading and  economic activities, as shown in the 75cs from 1970 Stamps series “Port Louis Old and new”.

1970 Port Louis

In 1996, a new set of 4 postage stamps was issued. The four ships depicted on the stamps are associated with various activities, namely trade, transport and administration of the modern Port-Louis Harbour. The set of stamps consists of (i) a 60 cs stamp, portraying SS Zambezia at the jettyo f Diego Garcia, Chagos Archipelagos, a ship built in 1903, used to carry commercial goods and animals such as cattle; (ii) Rs. 4 stamps, showing MV Sir Jules, especially built to sail between the Chagos Archipelagos and Agalega for copra trade (iii) Rs. 5 stamp, showing MV Mauritius at Quay C at Port Louis harbour. MV Mauritius was built in 1955 and used to carry passenger, cargo and livestock across Indian Ocean islands; (iv) Rs. 10 stamp shows MS Mauritius Pride at Port-Mathurin, Rodrigues, a multi-purpose vessel, which replaced MV Mauritius in 1990. It carries passengers, cargo, containers, edible oil and fuel oil in cargo tanks. The envelope cover shows Port-Louis harbour.

1996 30 Sep - Ships

To further illustrate the growing role of the harbour, a R. 1 stamp, part of a 2002 series marking the 10th Anniversary of the Republic illustrated cargo handling activities in Port Louis  Harbour.

2002 Port louis modern

In 2011 a special commemorative cover was issued  to mark the 35th Anniversary of the Mauritius Ports Authority (MPA), formerly known as Mauritius Marine Authority. The MPA regulates and controls the port sector and provides the main port infrastructure and other related services. The cover features a picture of Port-Louis from 1935.

2011 28 Oct - 35th Anniv MPA

To commemorate the 40 years of the Maritime wing of the Mauritius Police Force, a Special Commemorative Cover was issued on 7 April 2014. It celebrates 4 decades of pride, valour and solidarity (the motto). Since its creation in 1974, a number of patrol boats ensured the surveillance of Mauritian waters. The Cover shows the Coat of Arms, with the motto Pride, Valour and Solidarity. The medallion shows Poseidon, the God of the Sea. Four different types of patrol vessels are pictured on the cover. The Rs. 7 stamp is from the Bicentenary of Mahebourg series of 2006, showing Regatta.

2014 7 Apr - 40 yrs Maritime Wing MPF

Economic activities and leisure

Other important use of boats in Mauritius include inland transport for sugar, fisheries and tourism, amongst others.

Less known to the public, boats were used until 1950 for the carriage of sugar from factories to Port-Louis but disappeared because with the advent of diesel lorries, they became too expensive. A Rs. 10 stamp, issued in 1998, commemorates this activity, with a stamp showing a coastal barge unloading sugar at the Coaster’s Wharf in Port-Louis in the 1940s. 

1998 inland transport

Fisheries as a living

The fisheries sector continues to be an important contributor to national income. The  2cs stamp of the 1950 King George VI definitive series and the 2cs stamp of the 1953 Queen Elizabeth definitive series, both show the same daily scenery of fishermen in Grand-Port, one important economic activity of this part of the island, at the time. In 1987, in the ‘Bridges” series, the Rs. 2.50 stamp also features a fishing boat close to Cavendish Bridge on Rivière la Chaux in Mahebourg. 

George VI1953 QEII1987 bridge

In 1983, a set of 4 postage stamps, featuring fishery resources was issued. They show various fishing activities, including trap/ pot fishing, big game fishing with a blue marlin catch and the drying of octopus, a  activity typical of Rodrigues island.  

1983 7 Oct - Fisheries resources

Fishing activities also led to other occupations, notably boat construction and repars. In 1997, commemorating those “petits métiers”, a Rs. 5 stamp was issued, showing a shipwright (charpentier pirogue), giving a finishing touch to a small fishing boat. The scene was typical of fishing villages, where boat construction was done under banyan trees on the beach.

1997 petits metiers

The Tourism Industry:

The tourism industry is another main contributor of the Mauritian economy. In 1970, the country had about 18,000 visitors  and in the last few years the number of visitors reached almost 1 million annually. The first stamp to illustrate tourism in Mauritius was issued in 1970. It is a 60cs stamp, showing a scenery with tourists and boats by the beach. In 1985, a set of 4 stamps was issued to mark the 10th Anniversary of the World Tourism Organization, of which Mauritius is a member. The Rs. 10 stamp shows a small fishing boat in the north of the island, with the island Coin de Mire in the background.

In 1987, the then Minister of Tourism, Sir Gaetan Duval, organised the first Festival International de la Mer, to promote Mauritius as a tourist destination. A number of activities were organised, among which a Regatta race in Mahebourg (pictured in the Rs. 1.50 stamp), which is still organised. 

1987 5 Sep - festival international de la mer

The production and sales of reduced ship models  is another economic activity, geared in particular to tourist customers. In 2005, a set of postage stamp was released to highlight this very important aspect of the tourism industry in Mauritius. Mauritian artisans have a high quality workmanship and have gained a wide reputation in this sphere. The set comprises of 4 stamps; one souvenir sheet; and a set of 5 postcards (representing each of the ships pictured on the stamps. (i) Rs. 7 stamp shows a 100 gun warship, built at the end of the 17th century, one of the most decorated in the world, a tribute to Louis IV, the “Roi Soleil”; (ii) Rs. 8 stamp represents a sampan. The Chinese had reached such a state of perfection in their shipbuilding technique already 2000 years ago. It was revolutionary in two aspects: the stern hung rudder, which was used centuries before the Europeans; and the sail made of small sections of cloth stiffened by light bamboo battens; (iii) Rs. 9 stamp shows a Roman Galley, used by the roman empire to ensure the domination of the whole mediterranean sea; (iv) Rs. 16 stamp features a drakkar, a viking long ship decorated with fearsome dragon’s, snake’s or lion’s head, which was detachable. The vikings believed that they should not enter their home shores with these heads so as not to offend the spirits protecting their tribes.

2005 24 Dec - Ship modelsMC ship model 2005

Last but not least, as an island, water sports are an important leisure activities. As mentioned already, regattas are regularly organised in Mahebourg and in Grand Gaube, two major sites for the lovers of sailing according to local traditions. Regatta involves mainly the traditional local pirogue, a boat that has evolved from the 18th century French chaloupe. The pirogues are usually made of wood known for their resistance to splitting. The regatta tradition started in the south of the island in the 19th century. The 1987 Festival International de la Mer and 2006 Bicentenary of Mahebourg stamp series, respectively features regatta races on.

Mauritian athletes also participate in international sailing competitions. The 1985 stamp series marking the Jeux des Iles de l’Ocean Indien and the 2000 stamp series for the Olympic Games held in Sydney notably features sailing competitions, which saw the participation of our athletes.





The Philatelist’s Pick: Modes of transport in Mauritius: Ships (Part I)

This blog is about role of maritime transport in Mauritius and their representations on postal stamps. It is in two parts: Part 1 takes a historical perspective, while Part 2, to be published at the end of this week, will look at the importance of maritime transport in modern Mauritius. 

Historical Background

The history of Mauritius is intimately linked to maritime adventures and expansionist activities of the world’s rich nations. It is now well established that the Arabs were the first to visit Mauritius, probably around the 14th Century, although it is difficult to say with certainty when they first landed on the island. In 1502 Alberto Cantino created the first European, using an Arab map. Mauritius was mentioned under the Arab nameDina Arobi (also mentioned: Dina Mozare, for Rodrigues, Dina Margabim for Reunion).

2002: Mauritius on world maps – a testimony of Mauritius being known to early navigators

2002 12 Sep - Maps of South West Indian Ocean
This set of postage stamps released on 18 September 2002, depicts 4 maps of the South West Indian Ocean are those of (i) Re. 1 – Alberto Cantino, from 1502, a Portuguese cartographer. On this map, Mauritius is identified as Dina Arobi; (ii) Rs. 3 – map by Jorge Reinel from 1520, another Portuguese cartographer. It is considered as the earliest and most accurate map of Mauritius of that period; (iii) Rs. 4, a map by Diogo Ribiero, a Portuguese cartographer and royal cosmographer. This map provided the most accurate delineation of the explored world; (iv) Rs. 10 – a map by Gerard Mercator, a flemish geographer best known for the map projection that bears his name, and still used today by navigators. His most influential works, the 1569 map of the world (pictured on the stamp) and the Atlas, a collection of maps he designed and engraved. 

Discovery, colonization and maritime battles

The Portuguese: Historical evidence shows that the island was visited in 15th Century by the Portuguese, when Vasco da Gama made its entry in the Indian Ocean in 1498. The first Portuguese to visit the island around 1511 is thought to be Domingo Fernandez Pereira. The island was later named Cirne on Portuguese maps. They however, did not established a settlement and therefore left no physical trace on the island. 

The first settlements by the Dutch: Landing: 1598; First settlement: 1638 – 1658; Second settlement: 1664 – 1710.

The Dutch, under the commandership of Captain Van Warwick, landed in the South East coast on Mauritius on 20 September 1598. The bay where the Dutch landed was called Warwick Bay (now Grand Port), after the commander, but the island was named Mauritius, after Prince Mauritius Van Nassau, the then stadtholder of Holland. A series of four postage stamps and a miniature sheet were released in 1998 to mark the 400th anniversary of Dutch landing in Mauritius. The miniature sheet pictures a scene of the arrival of Dutch fleet in Mauritius.

MS 400 anniv dutch landing1998 18 Sep - 400th anniversary Dutch Landing

For the first 40 years, however, the Dutch did not establish a colony but rather used Mauritius as a stop-over, for ship repairs and food provision. In 1606, two expeditions, led by Admiral Corneille, and consisting of eleven ships and 1,357 men, landed for the first time in the northwest part of the island. The bay was called “Rade des Tortues (today Port-Louis) due to the great number of terrestrial tortoises. The first permanent settlement was established in 1638 by Cornelius Gooyer, it ended in 1658. He landed on board the vessel Maen. In 1664, a second attempt was made, but the settlements never developed enough to produce dividends and the Dutch abandoned Mauritius for good in 1710. They are remembered for the introduction of sugar-cane, domestic animals and deer. It was from Mauritius that the Dutch navigator Tasman set out to discover the western part of Australia.

 The French Period: 1715 – 1810

 In September 1715, Captain Guillaume Dufresne d’Arsel took possession of Mauritius in the name of King Louis XV of France on board the ship “Le Chasseur”. The island was renamed “Isle de France”. The first settlers however started occupation in 1721. The development of the island took off with the arrival in 1735 of Governor Mahé de Labourdonnais.  

To commemorate the 300th anniversary of French landing in Mauritius, a joint issue was released by France and Mauritius in 2015. The stamps, the presentation pack and the booklet all feature a French sailing ship entering the “Baie des Molusques”.

The Port-Louis harbour, developed by governor Mahé de Labourdonnais, pictured in several stamp issues and in a 2006 miniature sheet (see below), became a supply harbour for the French Navy and played an important role in the development of the island. 

2006 4 Feb - Bicentenary of Mahebourg postcard_11999 11 Feb - 300e naissance de Labourdonnais

During the French period, another ship made history and inspired a world-famous novel. The Saint Géran was a sailing ship that belonged to the naval fleet of the French East India Company. Built in the port of Lorient in France, it set for Isle de France on 24 March 1744, as portrayed in the miniature sheet below.

Wreck of St Geran

On the night of 17 August 1744, it wrecked on the north-east fringing reef of Mauritius and broke up along the stretch of coral located near Île Ambre. Falling masts stove in the boats before they could be launched, a makeshift raft capsized and only 9 survivors who made it to shore survived.  In total, 149 sailors, 13 passengers and 30 slaves died.

1994 18 Aug - 250th anniversary wreck of St Geran

This shipwreck provided the basis for 1750’s best selling novel in Europe, Paul et Virginie by Bernadin de St. Pierre. A series of stamps was released in 1968 featuring some scenes from the book storyline.

1968 Paul et virginie FDC
1968: bicentenary of the visit of Bernardin de St. Pierre

 Pirates and privateers

During the seven years war (1756-1763) Napoleonic wars between France and England, “Isle de France” became a base from which French corsairs, enlisted by the  French East India company, organised successful raids on British commercial ships. The raids continued until 1810 when a strong British expedition was sent to capture the island.

In 1972, a series of 4 postage stamps was released to illustrate some of the most famous pirates and privateers that operated in the Indian Ocean and notably in Isle de France. The 15cs stamp features a pirate dhow entering the river Tamarin; the 60 cs stamp shows an image of a hypothetical treasure excavated in Mauritius; The R. 1 stamp features Francois Thomas Le Même and his ship Hirondelle, which he armed for privateering during the Napoleonic war and from which he successfully attacked and captured 2 British vessels, which he brought back to Isle de France; and the Rs. 2.50 features Robert Surcouf. 

1972 17 Nov - Pirates and privateers

Robert Surcouf was a particularly famous privateer (or corsaire). He operated in the Indian Ocean between 1789 and 1801, and again from 1807 to 1808 and captured over 40 prizes. He became very rich as a ship-owner. In January 1814, he became a colonel in the National Guard of Saint-Malo. A stamp was issued in 1973 to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Surcouf. The stamp shows the capture of a 40-gun British vessel Kent by Surcouf onboard his 18-gun brig Confiance, which made him famous.

1974 21 March - 200th birth of Surcouf


Landing of the British and the conquest of the Island: 1810 – 1968

A first attack from the British on the French was launched at Grand Port in August 1810, but the main attack was launched in December of the same year from Rodrigues, successfully captured already by the British. On 14 August 1810, the British took possession of Ile de la Passe, a fortified islet controlling the entrance of the harbour of Grand Port. The battle lasted 5 days. 

The fierce battle saw the defeat of the British fleet, but the British landed in large numbers in the north of the island and rapidly overpowered the French, who capitulated. By the Treaty of Paris in 1814, Isle de France, renamed Mauritius, was ceded to Great Britain, together with Rodrigues and the Seychelles.

The battle of Vieux Grand Port is pictured in a number of stamp series. In 1978, a 90cs stamp in a new definitive series was released showing a scene of the battle, with the four British warships La Magicienne, Le Sirius, La Nereide and Iphigenie under the orders of Commodore Samuel Pym and French warships Le Victor, Le Ceylan, La Bellone and La Minerve under the command of Captain Duperré in the background. 

battle of view GP

In 2010 , a new set of stamps was released to commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Vieux Grand Port. The two stamps are (i) Rs. 14, picturing a scene of the Battle at sea; and (ii) Rs. 21, showing a view of Ile de la Passe. The cover depicts the monument of Pointe des Régates, erected in the memory of the battle. The portraits of Captains Duperré and Willoughby appear in the background.   

2010 28 Aug - Bicentenary of battle of Grand Port


Slaves and Indian immigrants were also brought to Mauritius on board ships from Africa and India, as pictured in a Rs. 10 stamps from a 1984 series marking the 150th Anniversary of the abolition of slavery and beginning of Indian immigration. 


indian immigrants ship

Our Coats of Arms

The Coats of Arms design was first issued in 1895, representing a 3-mast ship, three sugarcane plants, a key and wedge and a star, called in heraldry, the pile and the mullet. Stamps were reprinted over many years with various types of inks and on different types of papers to avoid fraud. In 1906, under the administration of Sir Cavendish Boyle, the Arms were corrected because some elements of the designed appeared to be against the rules of the heraldry. A re-designed version was issued in 1910: the galleon was replaced by a lymphad (a galley – the caravelle), palm trees replaced the sugar cane; the key was flipped and the star became five pointed. The overall designed remained however the same. The inscription ‘postage and revenue’ was included on each side of the stamps.

Maritime routes and mailing ships

A set of 5 postage stamps was issued on 2 July 1976 picturing 5 vessels which play an important role in Mauritius. (i) A 10cs stamps shows the Pierre Loti, a mailing vessel part of Messageries Maritimes (together with 3 other vessels: Ferdinand de Lesseps; Labourdonnais and Jean Laborde). The ships were routed from Marseille, to Port-Said, Djibouti, Mombassa, Dar es Salaam, Majunga, Nosy Be, Diego Suarez, Tamatave, Reunion and Mauritius; (ii) A 15cs stamp featuring the Secunder, 1907, the former iron 3-masted screw steamship Ardengorm, built by Ramage and Ferguson, at Leith, in 1881.   (iii) A  50cs stamp, featuring the Hindoustan, a steamship, which entered into service between India and Suez in 1842. It’s route was extended to Singapore 2 years later (v) A 60cs stamp features the St Géran sailing in 1740; (vi) Rs. 2.50 shows the Maen, which was the vessel of which the first Dutch Governor, Gooyer, reached the shores of Mauritius on 7 May 1638.

1976 2 July - Port Louis Harbour OFC

In 1980, another set of postage stamps was issued featuring 4 ships. These were issued for the International Stamp Exhibition “London 1980” held between 6 – 14 May 1980, under the patronage of H.M the Queen. The 4 stamps feature (i) A 25cs, the Emirne, the first steamer of the Messageries Imperiales to operate on the line Mauritius – Reunion – Suez. It performed 10 trips on this line between 1864 – 1866; (ii) A R. 1 stamp features the Boissevain, a 14,000 tons liner, built in Hamburg, which came into service between the Far East and South Africa in 1938. It also provided accommodation to some 400 passengers in 2 classes. It was used as a troop transport during World War II. It’s first visit to Port-Louis was in 1948 and the last one was on the 2nd May 1968; (iii) Rs. 2, featuring the Frigate La Boudeuse, built in Nantes. The French navigator Bougainville undertook his historical voyage around the world in 1767 on board this ship. One of his main objective was to introduce spice plants to Mauritius and Reunion. The famous naturalist Commerson joined the expedition. La Boudeuse reached Mauritius on 8 Nov. 1768; (iv) Rs. 5 depicts the vessel Sea Breeze, a sailing boat of the 19th century, mainly concerned with the transportation of sugar cane to England. 

1980 6 May London 1980 ships

Lloyd’s List is the oldest international newspaper in the world. Since its launch in 1734, the British government allowed mail to be delivered free of charge, provided it carried shipping intelligence and information. Mauritius, together with other Commonwealth countries, issued a series of 4 postage stamps in 1984 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the newspaper, which is still read today. (i) The 25cs stamp features the wreck of the cargo vessel SS Tayeb  on the 12th of February 1972 after the passage of Cyclone Dolly in Mauritius near the shores of Les Salines in Port Louis, against the sand bank of Barkly Island; (ii) the R. 1 stamp features the wreck of S. S Taher in March 1901 off the coast of Port-Louis; (iii) The Rs. 5 stamp shows the 26-gun British ship East Indian Man Triton, which was captured by the privateer Robert Surcouf on 29 January 1796; (iv) The Rs. 10 stamp shows M.S Astor, a german cruise ship, ordered by the Mauritian-based Marlan Corporation. 

1984 23 May - 250th anniversary Lloyd's list

Mauritius: on the route of great explorers

In 1997, a set of 5 postage stamps was issued to mark a series of anniversaries and events. The R. 1 stamp represents Jean Francois de Galaup, Comte de Lapérouse. He lived for some years in Mauritius (and married a Mauritian, that he met in 1774) but was later commissioned by the King to carry out scientific and exploration trip around the world.

1997 9 June - Anniversaries and events

Charles Darwin, the world famous English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for its contribution to the science of evolution, undertook a survey voyage around the world on board HMS Beagle, pictured on the Rs. 10 stamps of the 1982 stamp issue, commemorating the voyage of Darwin. The ship anchored at Port-Louis, Mauritius on 29 April 1836.

1982 19 April - Darwin

On 13 June 2001, a set of 4 postage stamps was issued to commemorate the bicentenary of  Baudin Expedition. In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte, commissioned Post-Captain Nicolas Baudin, to explore the South West, West and Northern coastline of New Holland (today Australia). As the observations were to be conducted in the fields of geography and natural history, the leading ship was names Géographe, and its consort vessel, Naturaliste. A third vessel was called Casuarina. The expedition sailed on 19 October 1800 from the French port of Le Havre and reached Isle de France on 16th March 1801. When the expedition sailed again on 25th April, a number of scientists stayed on the island. On its way back to France in 1803, the expedition called again at Isle de France. (i) The Re. 1 portrays the two ships Géographe and Naturaliste; (ii) Rs. 4 depicts the route taken by the ships on their inward and outward journeys, and portrays Baudin (who died in Port-Louis in Sep 1803). 

2001 13 June - bicentenaire expedition Baudin

Mauritius and World War II

In 1995, a  set of 3 postage stamps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II was released. In 1941, hundreds of Mauritians left Port-Louis on board the Talamba for Egypt, where they served in the war. This set of stamps with a unique denomination of three Rs. 5 stamps, pays tribute to those soldiers dead or alive, who contributed with their blood, sweat and toil in bringing peace in the world. This Rs. 5 portrays HMS Mauritius, a cruiser equipped with 12 six-inch guns and 8 four-inch guns. It participated in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and in D-Day landing in Normandy on 6 June 1944.




The second part of this blog will talk about maritime transport in modern Mauritius

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