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During the early part of the 16th century a group of small islands, 1250 miles off the east coast of Africa,was discovered by Portuguese traders. Two of these islands, now named Mauritius and Rodrigues, had been known for centuries to Arabs, evidence of which can be seen on ancient maps. Mariners travelling from Portugal to India via the Cape called there to fill their casks with fresh water and to feed on the fresh meat from cattle and pigs which they had introduced. After 1540 their visits ceased.

In 1598 a Dutch admiral re-named the larger island Mauritius after Maurice of Nassau. During the next 112 years the Dutch plundered the island's valuable ebony forests and hunted to extinction the large turkey-like bird, the Dodo. On the credit side, they introduced sugar cane and a species of deer from the East Indies. Cyclones, famine and disease along with attacks by pirates and unrest among slaves forced the settlers to join their own kin in South Africa; the last left in 1710.

France took possession of the island in 1715 and renamed it Ile de France. Seven years later the first colonists arrived in Warwyck Bay, named after the Dutch admiral who landed there in 1598. They found that this harbour on the south east coast was surrounded by dangerous reefs and open to the prevailing wind, so they looked towards the north west coast for a more sheltered anchorage. The deep water harbour they developed and named Port Louis became the prime seaport and metropolis of the island. The period 1715-1810 saw the rise and fall of Mauritius as a French strategic base and trading centre in the Indian Ocean. In 1763 France lost the war against the British in India but she still controlled the shipping routes with her own fleet and a motley collection of privateers and corsairs operating from Mauritius. Eventually, on 3rd December 1810 a British force landed on the island and the French surrendered. Under British rule the island continued to prosper, mainly through the export of sugar. There was little change in the way of life of the population but English became the official language.

Following the abolition of slavery in 1835 an additional workforce was recruited from India and China. The cosmopolitan mix was further enhanced by the Creoles, a people of mixed African and European lineage. British rule lasted for one and a half centuries until 1968 when Mauritius and Rodrigues became an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.