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Twelve Years in Mauritius

By the Right Rev. Bishop Ryan

From Mission Life (periodical), Vol. III (1872), pages 329-333.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, 2006



ON the 30th November, 1854, St. Andrew's Day, I was consecrated the first Bishop of Mauritius. The next day I went to the Channel Islands to seek for men with a knowledge of French as well as English. Two agreed to go with me, one of whom remained for fourteen years, the other is there still; and together we landed at Mauritius on the 11th June, 1855. At that time, the ministrations of the Church of England in the capital, Port Louis, were three English Services only on Sundays, one being held early in the morning for the military, and two later for the civil community.

After a few years, through God's blessing on the self-denying labours of those who helped me, and the generous contributions of friends, and by assistance from the Government, other work was added. A French Service was provided in the cathedral. A floating church was provided for the seamen frequenting the port, in which two English Services were held on Sundays and one on Thursday evenings, while the chaplain was employed during the week in attending to the numerous cases of sickness among the sailors in the hospital.

In close connection with his work, a Sailors' Home was established, the first donation towards which was the sum collected after a lecture given by Dr. Livingstone on his return from Africa in 1856. Churches and schools were also organised for the East Indian immigrants, of whom a large number are required in Mauritius to cultivate the sugarcane fields. A certain number are imported from India, who agree to remain for five years; and the end of that time they have the option of returning there or remaining on the island. For the benefit of those of the Madras Presidency, of whom there are about 80,000 on the island, a church, parsonage, schools and a benevolent institution, were erected.

Another church, with residence for the native assistant clergyman, with schools and other appliances of Christian work, was erected for the benefit of the Bengalee Christians; and the clergymen, catechists, and schoolmasters connected with both these churches, were able between them to speak to the natives in seven or eight of the principal languages of India.

One of the noblest institutions in the island, the Powder Mills Asylum, with which a Reformatory School has since been connected, owes its origin to the efforts of the Rev. P. Ansorgé, a Missionary of the C.M.S., whose zeal and efficiency, as a teacher of Indian children, were so highly appreciated by the then Governor, Sir W. Stevenson, [329/330] that he availed himself of his position, as the legal protector of orphan and vagrant Indian children, to rescue them from the degraded and miserable condition in which he observed them to be, and placed them under the care of Mr. and Mrs. Ansorgé, in an institution which has already been the means of supplying numbers of well-taught and efficient artisans and schoolmasters from the boys, as well as teachers and domestic servants from the girls, while it promises, especially in the judgment of visitors from India, to prove greatly and increasingly useful in its effects on the improvement of the Indian population in the island.

The urgent need of such influence is patent to all who consider the character of those immigrants from India. Brought from all parts of that peninsula--escaping, in many cases, as after the Mutiny, from the consequences of their crimes, with a small proportion of women to the men, and becoming possessors of more money than they ever had before, they form a population so troublesome and lawless that the attention of the late Governor, Sir H. Barkly, was directed, in a dispatch from the Secretary of State, to the fact there were more murders committed in Mauritius than in any other part of the Queen's dominions of the same amount of population.

Such facts as these have led former governors, viz., Sir James Higginson, Sir W. Stevenson, the acting governor for a time, Major-General Johnstone, and Sir Henry Barkly, to express very strong approval of the measures adopted by us for bringing the principles of Christianity to bear upon these multitudes, as far as we could, and to organise schools and other appliances for their benefit.

To show that some practical results followed these efforts, I may give the following instances:--

In the Lancashire famine a congregation of Indian Christians sent to me forty-two rupees, to be forwarded to their suffering friends in England.

A school was established for Indian children in the interior of the island by a man in a post of comparatively small emolument, himself a convert from Mohammedanism, who gave much time in attending to it, and was one of the chief contributors to its funds.

When the terrible epidemic of the early part of 1867 had spread sorrow and consternation on all sides, and when all schools, including even the Royal College, were of necessity closed, the Indian native teachers volunteered to go to the hospitals, and to the abodes of the sick and destitute; and several of them died in that discharge of Christian duty.

But to return to the additional ministrations provided in Port Louis since 1855. I have yet to mention that a wooden chapel was built in Père à Boeuf Street, for the convenience of English families living at the western extremity of the town. And just below the part called [330/331] Black Town, at the base of the Signal Mountain, a Service in French, for the benefit of the descendants of the emancipated negroes who live there, was provided, and another in English for the other residents in the locality.

In 1855 there was neither church nor clergyman in the extensive district of Pamplemousses, Flacy, and Grand Rivière, east of Port Louis. During the severe epidemic of 1856, one of the planters came to ask me what was to be done, in the event of the death of any members of his family. I could only direct him to perform the funeral service himself, as he lived twenty-eight miles from the town, and the time and attention of the two deacons and myself, then the only clergy officiating in Port Louis, was entirely taken up amongst the sick an dying, and in the burial of the dead there.

At Flacy some members of our church were thirteen months without having the opportunity of attending public worship.

In 1859 a church was consecrated at Pamplemousses, and a clergyman appointed to visit the whole of this district. He held one service every Sunday at Pamplemlousses, and, at least once in every month, visited Flacy and Grand Rivière on the Sunday. Several schools were also established here, in localities before without means of education.

Again, on the western side of Port Louis, the following additions were made after 1855:--

Instead of leaving the two churches of Moka and Plaines Wilhelms to be served on the Sunday by one clergyman, engaged in other ways during the week, a clergyman was appointed to each church. At Plaines Wilhelms the clergyman is acquainted with the Tamil language. His services are of great use in hospitals and prisons and vagrants depóts, amongst natives of Southern India residing in his district.

At Moka there is at present a clergyman, well acquainted with the Malagasy language, and able, therefore, to work effectively among the numerous labourers from that country who are found in that part of the island.

Each of these clergymen has a small but influential congregation: the Governor, the General in command, and several of the heads of departments, with the leading bankers and merchants, having their residences either at Moka or at Plaines Wilhelms.

Between the heights of Moka and the town, in the district of Pailles, a church has been built, which is used for Services in no less than four languages every Sunday.

Proceeding still further west, services have been organised at Bambou, and at the Morne, twenty-eight miles from town, for the coloured Malagasy population; and schools established at a great expense of labour and money.

Proceeding southwards from Plaines Wilhelms, there is the beginning [331/332] of a stone church at Vocoas, the prospect of a chapel at Aunpipe, and at Mahébourg one of the best churches in the island. It was consecrated in 1856. English and French Services are held in it; and the regiment quartered there, instead of having a Service once in two months, as was formerly the case, have now regular Service every Sunday, while at Souillac occasional Services are held, and a sum of money is invested towards the provision of an endowment fund for a chaplain for that part of the island.

Here again it must be repeated that in connection with all these additional ministrations of religious Services, there was the establishment of schools adapted to the wants of the population. And whereas in 1856 there was not a single Indian child in a school taught by Indian teachers, in 1865 there were 1,200 Indian children in such schools, either helped by grants in aid or entirely supported by Government. The initiative had undeniably been taken by us, the impulse given, and the early difficulties smoothed and the teachers provided, through the help of those whom we had sent to labour in that neglected but most promising field.

Leaving the chief island, much the same kind of report may be made of the Seychelles. I found on my first visit to Mahé, the principal island of the group, that all public worship and all the work of the school were carried on in a hired house in Port Victoria. In 1859 I consecrated a handsome church built of coral here, and at Praslin, the next island in size, set apart the church, a wooden one. It now has a cottage for the clergyman, a school-house, and residence, and eleven acres for a cemetery. On subsequent visits I opened two more rooms in Mahé, for Divine worship on the Sunday, and a school in the week. During the voyage of 1859 I landed on sixteen islands in the Indian Ocean, on several of which no minister of religion had ever been seen before. To my great regret, I was only able to give a very inadequate reply to the demands made on me for help. The appointment of a catechist on one island, the establishment of a small school on another, and the gift of books wherever I found any who could read, was all I could do. With reference to elementary education, whereas I found but three schools in the diocese, there were in 1867 thirty-five in connection with the Church of England.

As the request for a report on the ecclesiastical arrangements of the island seems to imply a doubt of the utility of the appointment of a Bishop, I feel bound to make the present statement. The cause of such success in promoting the best interests of Mauritius was not, and indeed could not be, mere personal effort; but it was the recognition by the Government, by the clergy, and members of various congregations, and by religious and educational societies at home, of the office of the Bishop, in the exercise of this office there was the opportunity for combined [332/333] and subordinated action, and a definite responsibility which furnished a guarantee for perseverance in work once begun. Each of my lamented successors would have elicited the same confidence and support if their lives had been spared to superintend and develope the organisation already established.

So deeply do I feel the importance of having a Bishop at the head of the Church of England congregations and operations, that I offer myself to go out again in that office, if any difficulty should arise about the selection of a younger man.

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