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Museum of the Central Post Office in Port Louis - Mauritius

Musée de la poste - Ile Maurice

The evolution of the Central Post Museum

Long before the advent of modern technology and e-mails, Mauritius had a developed postal system that was adapted to the needs of the nation. However, one has to go back to the first simple postal administration in the island which dates back to 1772 under the French occupation. It goes without saying that the postmen of the time were slaves who were used to transmit letters to their addressees.

However, the postal system fell into disuse. Taken over by the British colony, the Mauritian post office was relaunched in January 1935. At that time, domestic letters were sent three times a week. In terms of infrastructure, the Focal Mail station, which was located on La Chaussée, was operational by July 1836. The first postage stamps on the island appeared in 1847.

Not surprisingly, like all administrative buildings, the Focal Mail was also located in the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis. Erected in 1868 but inaugurated in December 1870 by Governor Gordon, the imposing structure served, for more than a century, as the island's mail station, but also as the office of the Postmaster General. With time and modernisation, the building is now a gallery illustrating the history of the country's postal administrations: old stamps from the Railway era, postal administrations that were affected by the railway stations and the railway line.

The Central Post Office has been declared a national heritage site

In 1958, through Government Notice No.614 by Representative Sir Robert Scott, the Central Post Office was declared a national monument. Some 30 years later, the National Landmarks Demonstration of 1985 confirmed that the building is a national monument. Recently, the Central Post Office was registered on the National Landmarks of Mauritius under the provisions of the Legacy Reserve Act (No.40) enacted in 2003. It must be acknowledged that the building is considered as one of the jewels of the national heritage, along with the Aapravasi Ghat and the city of Port Louis.

La Poste Centrale, the museum with a unique structure

The General Mail Station, known in Mauritius as "La Poste Centrale", was built with massive stone blocks and thick iron and wooden bars set into the structure. The front of the building has five curves reading "Mail Station", inscribed in the Oxford style, and the date "1868 A.D".

The Central Post Office was built between 1865 and 1870, and began operations in December 1870. By December 1868, the building was 75% complete. Indeed, records show that this national heritage building was erected from January 1865, under the supervision of Surveyor General Morrison. In January 1867, only a short time after his arrival in Mauritius, Nicholas Pike, an American emissary and visitor, said, "There is another post office. A new bright and windy place will give a commensurate impetus to the development of the agents on mail day". It was not until 1870 that the building was completed. At the time, the Mauritius Central Post Office cost between £10,000 and £11,000.

For six years, more than 80 workers had been hired for this site, mostly prisoners from abroad. However, some were experts from India, others were Creoles. They were skilled specialists, stoneworkers, carpenters, masons and blacksmiths, who earned high wages for their work.

The postal frame

The Central Post Office officially started operating on 21 December 1870. Six years later, in October 1876, the first postage stamps were printed and published. In April 1877, the Focal Broadcast Office became fully operational at the General Mail station. This is a traditional Victorian frontier structure. Such structures can be seen in other English provinces, such as India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Guyana.

In the mid-1870s, several post offices were built. They were managed by the Postmaster General. Thus, by the mid-1880s, some 33 post offices had been established in the eight most important regions of the island.

The legacy of the Central Post Office

Forming an integral part of the history of Mauritius, the Central Post Office became an important structure in the technical advancement of frontier structures in the 19th century. The roof plan, the clock and the external outline, especially the five curves and also the engravings, on the front of this structure are one of the jewels of the craft. There are, however, other post offices on the island that share a similar history to the Central Post Office. For example, the old Souillac office which was built over a century ago. And how can we not mention the postal showroom, whose work in 2008 has improved its structure and heritage.

Postage stamps

Every stamp has a story and this story goes back to 1846. After lengthy discussions, the Board of Directors decided that the postal costs were to be one penny for sending within the island and two pence for sending abroad.

The engraving of the stamps was given to Joseph Barnard, an engraver who emigrated to Mauritius in 1838. It was he who engraved the stamps illustrating Queen Victoria in profile. She is surrounded by several inscriptions: "POST OFFICE - POSTAGE - MAURITIUS".

The "POST OFFICE" indication has been much commented upon. Indeed, some philatelists claimed that it was a mistake. The usual wording on UK stamps was "POST PAID". This wording was used in subsequent stamp issues. However, prior to the issue of these new stamps, the stamps engraved by Joseph Bernard were marked "POST OFFICE". In addition, the wording "POSTAGE" on the stamps means that postage has been paid.

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