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» 01 Apr 2011

Brief History
The British Parliament’s decision toabolish slavery in its colonies in 1833 led to the setting up of a new system of recruitment called Indenture. In Mauritius, due to the abolition of slavery on the 1st of February 1835, planters called for labourers as the sugar industry was expanding rapidly.

The term ‘indenture’ refers to a written contract entered into by one person to work for another person for a specified period of time. An indentured immigrant was an individual who agreed
to be transported to a colony for labour, often for five years or more. Labourers’ contracts specified their terms of employment and outlined their general standard of living: wage rate, working
hours, type of work, rations, housing and medical care.
As from 1834, the British chose Mauritius to evaluate the viability of the indenture system in the 19th century before extending this system to all their colonies. The Great Experiment officially started when the Atlas arrived from India with 36 indentured labourers on board on the 2nd of November 1834.

Between 1839 and 1842, the emigration of indentured from India was suspended as a result of abuse to which the earliest contract workers were subjected. Indentured immigration reached its peak years between 1843 and 1865 to respond to the increasing needs of the sugar industry
making Mauritius, the most productive sugar colony in the British Empire. Indentured immigration declined as from the 1870s and came to a formal end in 1910. However, immigrants continued to arrive at the immigration depot until the 1920s.

The role of the Immigration Depot

Before the construction of the Aapravasi Ghat in Trou Fanfaron, several buildings were used as depots in Port Louis to receive indentured labourers. The Aapravasi Ghat was constructed in 1849 to improve the management of indentured immigration. The depot was enlarged in the 1850s and 1860s to receive an increasing flow of immigrants. By 1860, the immigration depot was extended
to be able to house 600 immigrants.

The role of the immigration office was to:
■ Receive newly arrived immigrants
■ Perform sanitary control
■ Register immigrants and timeexpired
■ Deliver tickets and passes to immigrants
Allocate labourers to sugar estates
or public construction projects
■ Supervise the return of migrants
■ Receive vagrants
■ Receive immigrants’ payment of
■ Deliver immigrants’ marriage certificates
■ Perform marriage ceremonies
■ Record the purchase of land by
■ Inspect the estates on which indentured
labourers worked
■ From 1849 to 1920s, the Aapravasi
Ghat played a central role in the
day-to-day functioning of the indenture
labour system and in the lives
of indentured immigrants.

From Immigration Depot to World Heritage Site

The success of the Great Experiment in Mauritius led Dutch, French, Spanish and other colonial powers to resort to indentured labour in their colonies. Between 1834 and the early twentieth
century, more than two million indentured workers emigrated from Africa, China, India, Melanesia and Southeast Asia to other colonies and other independent countries such as Peru and
Mexico. Among them, more than 450,000 men, women and children passed through the gates of Aapravasi Ghat making it the Ellis Island of the Indian Ocean. As such, the Aapravasi Ghat was inscribed on the World Heritage List in July 2006 during the 30th session of UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

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