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Mauritius – caught in the web of empire: the legal system, crime, punishment and labour 1825–1845

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Hordvik, EF (2016) Mauritius – caught in the web of empire: the legal system, crime, punishment and labour 1825–1845. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Competition between European powers considerably complicated the development of Mauritius as a colonial society. This once uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean was first colonised by the Dutch (1598–1710), later by the French (1715–1810) and finally by the British (1810–1968). The cross-cultural connections that followed European colonisation saw Mauritius reflect not only European but also African and Asian ethnicities and civilisations, histories and ancestral cultures. The diverse cultural currents, language transmissions and mixing of legal systems saw Mauritius evolve into a unique modern colonial society.
The process of mixing two distinctive European legal traditions and the quest for political and judicial power saw Mauritius tangled and detangled in both British and French webs of justice. Through the lens of the law this thesis maps significant historical events and transitions impacting Mauritian society between 1825 and 1845. Examinations of a non-European cohort of convicts transported to the Australian penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in this period deliver new individual-level insights into the way the Mauritian judiciary passed sentences of penal transportation. A prosopographical analysis of this cohort of convicts further highlights the relationship between law, penal policy and labour and the colony’s rapid economic, social and cultural transitions. The intra-colonial transportation flow of forced migration between Mauritius and Australia was one of many within the Indian Ocean World. Collectively these flows demonstrate the increasingly intertwined movement of free and forced labour systems circulating around the British Empire. This thesis thus expands the transportation story out beyond the usual focus on the Australian penal colonies and the British metropole to include a small but significant colonial possession on the margin of empire.
A set of rich, but rarely utilised Mauritian criminal trial records in French provides the main vehicle for this thesis and the analysis of this source will add to the scholarship of this Indian Ocean hub of unfreedom in the first half of the nineteenth century. Using these court records and other related historical sources, this thesis will shed light on the convergent views of the new British coloniser and the French-Mauritian slave owners, particularly regarding the slave trade, the moral and humanitarian aspects of slavery, the pro- and anti-slavery debate and labour migration. This thesis will also analyse the critical shifts from slave to apprenticed labour and the introduction of an experimental labour migration scheme and the inherent political, social, economic and cultural problems associated with such dramatic societal change. The aim of this thesis is to forge a link between colonial and metropolitan government institutions, criminal justice and labour systems, both coerced and free. This thesis will argue that this far-flung Indian Ocean Island became a colonial ‘laboratory’, a testing ground for imperial policies and ideas of law and order and social and economic progress. Furthermore, this thesis will engage with discourses relating to race, status and gender which were important issues in both colonial and British metropolitan societies. These intersecting historiographies advance understandings of Mauritius as a colonial society and show how this Indian Ocean colony mirrored many of the broader questions and concerns regarding global imperial expansion and enterprise occupying early nineteenth-century European colonisers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Mauritius, colonialism, legal Systems, criminal Justice, slavery, labour
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Copyright 2016 the author

Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2017 04:14
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2017 22:58
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