Mauritius Times – 3rd Year No 83 – Friday 9th March 1956
Mauritius obtains its First Constitution
Pioneering work of A. d’Epinay and R. Ollier
By D. Napal, BA (Hons)
On peut donc dire que Remy Ollier a été, dans l’ordre chronologique, le second des autonomistes. Adrien d’Epinay avait été le premier.
— La Croix – 14 octobre 1916
Adrien d’Epinay and Remy Ollier are two names which are closely associated with the development of our Constitution; they were the first to demand to the home government the institution of a legislative council whose members were to be freely elected. They both worked for the welfare of our island. But the comparison ends here. There were fundamental differences between the two illustrious Mauritians.
Adrien d’Epinay is a name of which the whites can justly be proud. He was a landed proprietor and as such his main objective was preservation of the interests of the planting community. He was a man endowed with a brain power and could command in times of need an eloquence which could easily convince. It is but too natural that the big landed proprietors of the island delegated him to go to England and discuss their grievances with the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
We cannot within the compass of this article enter into all the details of his activities in England. Suffice it to say that he obtained, seemingly for the colony as a whole but in fact for the whites, a council in which seven of the most prominent members among them were to sit as the nominees of the governor. He also obtained the freedom of the press, a matter upon which local writers have written with a glow of pride. But let us ask ourselves fairly: what did he do for the majority of the inhabitants who were slaves and coloured freemen in his time?
The whites and their exponents say that he worked for the economic and political advancement of the island. We admit that he did so but he did it only incidentally while in fact he was defending the interests of the handful of descendants of French colonists. Adrien d’Epinay was a man of whom the white population may well be proud. After having obtained the freedom of the press he founded Le Cernéen the bastion, says Remy Ollier, of an “aristocratie décrépite et qui s’en va”. To say that Adrien d’Epinay was a patriot inspired in his actions by the noblest motives is going too far. Class interests and deep rooted colonial prejudices had too much blinded him to be able to see that all persons are the children of a common Father and as such deserve an equitable dealing.
As for Remy Ollier, whose very name awakens in coloured people the just pride that their efforts in the past in this island have not been barren of results, was a man who worked for the common weal. And what did he reap for his actions, the young man who had made his own the cause of the humble, the weak and the oppressed? It is true that posterity has repaid him amply for his noble sacrifices but in his own times he had to wage a relentless war against his detractors.
Adrien d’Epinay as a nominated member of the newly instituted Council knew its defects. Therefore he expressed the wish of the introduction of the elective principle. He knew that this would not be obtained, in his time at least. He suggested to the Secretary of State for the Colonies that it being agreed the governor would nominate the unofficial members, whenever one of these would die or resign, his successor ought to be appointed by the council.
Adrien d’Epinay, even when he was engaged in a noble work, thought in terms of the interests of the “colons”. This was not the case with Remy Ollier. “Nous ne connaissons ni blancs, ni noirs, ni hommes de couleur, nous ne connaissons qu’une société trompée,” he wrote on the 16th November 1843. It was in this attitude of the great patriot that lies his greatness.
In 1843, it seems that a circular was sent by the Governor to the official members asking them how they should use their votes. Ollier denounced this with his usual viguour. “Vous venez”, he wrote, “dans l’enceinte du conseil avec la certitude que vos volontés les plus ridicules, les plus criantes et les plus tyranniques seront adoptés, et nous, peuple, vous nous leurrez de l’avantage de discussion que vous n’agitez que pour la forme… des personnes librement choisies auront seules le droit de représenter au Conseil toutes les classes de la société.”
Remy Ollier was indignant at the fact that though England, by an Order in Council in 1829, had recognised the right of the coloured population to be considered on the same footing as any other inhabitant of the island, the attitude of the coterie towards them had nullified the good intentions of the home government. He sent a petition to Queen Victoria to the effect that the coloured population should be allowed to send representatives to the Council.
Remy Ollier and Adrien d’Epinay did not succeed in their demand for the introduction of the elective element in the council. This does not mean that their work remained fruitless. In 1885 the elective principle was introduced. The reformists, headed by Lois Raoul and William Newton, must have been aware of the fact that they were only following in the footsteps of their illustrious predecessors.
* * *
The Last Meeting of the Admission Campaign
(Speeches of Mr P. Ruhee – Continued from last week)
Mr Ruhee, Vice-President of the Mauritius Agricultural Labourers Union, spoke of the anomaly which exists in the dealing of the Government of Mauritius with unlettered people. He said that while the laws of Mauritius are written in English and that though ignorance of law is not an excuse, the man of the street is supposed to know the law though he is denied even primary education. “Year in and year out,” said Mr Ruhee, “hundreds of persons are prosecuted for breach of law which they don’t understand. For having applied their cross or thumb mark under statements taken by the Police written in a language which they don’t know, many unlettered persons are often prosecuted and sentenced.”
Mr Ruhee told the audience that the child born in England is compelled by force of law to go to school while the one born in Mauritius though he too is a British subject is denied education. “The British government has pledged before the United Nations that it will give free elementary education to all its subjects but as matter of fact it is not honouring its pledge.”
This pathetic part of his speech stirred the audience: “During the war thousands of our young men voluntarily enrolled themselves in the army to crush the mighty force – Fascism – which was threatening to enslave the civilised world, many among them did not return to see their dear ones; today our heart bleeds to find that many children of those who fought or died on active service to save the Empire are denied even primary education.”
He spoke about the ugly spectre of unemployment which is staring thousands of intellectual and manual workers in the face. He said that when there are thousands of labourers unemployed in this colony, which is due to the mechanisation of labour, it is not wise on the part of Government to allow millions of rupees of herbicides to be imported freely in the colony for weeding purposes. The orator thought that the 37,100 arpents of waste land owned by the Government ought to be rented to persons who are unemployed, especially to ex-servicemen instead of giving it away to big landlords at a nominal rent. The landlords in their turn either lease those lands at exorbitant prices ranging from 200 or Rs 450 per annum or keep game on those lands.