HUNTING IN MAURITIUS"
Mauritius does not have a great trove of antiques and
artefacts to show for its 350 years of settled history. Old buildings have been
torn down by people and cyclones or allowed to disintegrate as they become too
expensive to maintain. The furniture and collectibles have been plundered by the
more appreciative (and wealthier) French from Reunion and shipped away to grace
homes there. Its history survives in the flagged streets and cobbled roads of
Port Louis ( where they haven't been tarred over), behind the shuttered louvres
of French colonial mansions, and in the wide walls of Victorian warehouses now
turned into Chinese grocery stores.
In October 1987, a Frenchman arrived in Mauritius on board
a vessel equipped for underwater exploration. He announced he was leading an
expedition to locate wrecks of the 16th and 17th centuries and that he intended
to prepare a marine archaeological map of them to present to the government.
Since his name was Eric Surcouf and he confessed to being
a descendant of the celebrated corsair, Robert Surcouf, Mauritians assumed a
treasure hunt was underway. Surcouf's purpose, he said, was to recover what is
in the wreck he located and donate it to form a marine museum in the island. For
Mauritians , the name of Surcouf and treasure are inseparable.
Robert Surcouf was real, the most famous corsair of his
time; his treasure remains a legend. From 1793 to 1802, a total of 119 prizes
were brought into Port Louis by corsairs. The booty was valued at 2,500,000;
most of it was traded with neutral ships. However, in 1799, Surcouf captured the
East Indiaman Kent, a large vessel of 1000,200 tons. Legend insist he dumped his
rich haul of treasure from the Kent somewhere in the vicinity of Port Louis
harbour, rather than hand it over to the French.
If Surcouf and his fellow corsairs (pirates) did leave
treasure on the sea bed or buried on shore, no one has admitted to finding any.
Nevertheless, wrecks abound and relics have been retrieved from the reef -
The site of the wreck of the St Geran, a vessel of the
French East India Company which sank near the Ile de Ambre (Amber Isle) in 1744,
was known by local fisherman in 1966. By the time marine archaeologists explored
it scientifically in 1979, it had been stripped. Perhaps treasure was taken too.
Its bell is in the navel museum at Mahebourg. ( The wreck of the vessel forms
the climax of Saint Pierre's novel, Paul et Virginie).
In the late 1960s, a treasure hunter spent years trying to
find some 10 million pounds of corsair's treasure supposedly buried near Tombeau
Bay. Rumours persist and some old Franco-Mauritian families are said to have