Archives are closely related to the history of a nation or a country. The history of our archives begins with the first settlement of the Dutch in Mauritius in 1598. However, when they left for South Africa in 1710, they took all their archives with them.
In 1715, Guillaume Dufresne D’Arsel took possession of the island and named it Isle de France. The official records generated during the early days of the French occupation of the island were located in a small building, where the Conseil Provincial used to meet, situated in Port Louis in the street called Rue du Vieux Conseil. Nevertheless, the building was badly damaged in a cyclone and most of the records previous to this date were lost. A new building was constructed in 1736 and the archival records were housed in a room found in the left wing of the building. The records remained deposited there until the year 1810.
In 1767, Mauritius ceased to be a possession of the French East India Company to become a French Crown Colony. The administrative powers it had hitherto exercised were transferred to the Governor and the Intendant while a new body known as the Tribunal Terrier or Land Court, was appointed to deal with all questions pertaining to land and property.
Afterwards the classical division of records into administrative, judicial and domainial categories was properly established; the first were kept in the Intendant’s Office, and the second and the third were in the care of the Greffier or Registrar of the Conseil Supérieur, who also acted as Registrar of Land Court. A fourth category of records, the civil status registers, were kept by the priests who then acted as Civil Status Officers.
In 1776, Louis XVI issued an Edit creating a Dépôt des Chartes des Colonies or Central Records Office at Versailles and French Colonial Governments were instructed to send duplicates of the records generated- a practice that was discontinued during the French Revolution which brought about important administrative changes in Isle de France. An extensive body called Le Directoire, l’Assemblée Coloniale (legislative body), Municipalities and a host of special committees were created. That entailed a marked increase in paper work, and in 1790, the first archivist was appointed.
In December 1810, the British forces captured the island of Mauritius and its dependencies from the French forces. An Act of Capitulation was signed by the British and French, but the archives were not included in the Act. After the signature of the Treaty of Paris in 1814, the archives records which were since the capitulation, in the custody of a French Officer, were returned to their former abode in the Government House. By 1819 an inventory of the records had been completed. During the following years, a state of chaos prevailed. Many documents which were considered as worthless were destroyed but which were far from being worthless. The bulk of records was transferred now and then either to the Registry of Court of Appeal or to the Colonial Secretary’s office. Several committees were held and the last committee emphasized on the importance of documents and finally on the 29th December 1893, the Archives Department was created under ordinance No. 23 of 1893. However, later the Archives Department was merged with the Registrar General’s department. It was only in 1950 that the Archives Department regained its autonomy and presently it operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Arts and Culture.