Mauritius was uninhabited until 1598, and had much unique wildlife and plant life. There were Dutch settlers from 1638 until 1710. The French took formal possession in 1715 and sent settlers from 1721; the French East India Company governed the island, called Île de France, from about 1767. Slaves were brought in from Madagascar, Mozambique and other parts of Africa.
The island was captured by the British in 1810, during the Anglo–French war, and renamed Mauritius. Together with its dependencies, including Seychelles and Rodrigues, the island was formally ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Paris (1814). At the time slavery was abolished, in 1834, there were 68,616 registered slaves in the country. After abolition, indentured labourers were recruited, mainly from India, to work in the expanding sugar industry. More than 200,000 Indian labourers arrived between 1840 and 1870. They were later joined by a small number of Chinese traders. The population swelled from 100,000 in 1835 to 371,000 by the end of the century.
From 1810 until they were separated in 1903, Mauritius and Seychelles were administered as a single British colony by a Governor and British officials.
The independence movement had its roots in the labour movement which, in the late 1940s, campaigned for the transfer of political power to Mauritians. In 1947 the franchise was extended to every literate adult. A measure of democratic self- government followed, with a general election in 1948 and the first legislative council. Universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1959.
Negotiations for political autonomy in the 1960s were led by Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. Elections were held in 1967, which were won by a pro-independence alliance of Ramgoolam’s Labour Party and two smaller groups, the Independent Forward Bloc and the Muslim Action Committee. A new constitution granting internal self-government was then introduced. Mauritius became an independent state and joined the Commonwealth on 12 March 1968.
Alarmed by the growing strength of the socialist Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM), led by Paul Bérenger, and union strikes, the government of Ramgoolam refused to allow the general election due in 1972. A state of emergency was declared and MMM and union leaders imprisoned.
In the 1976 general election, Labour retained power by forming an alliance with the Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD). But in 1982 the MMM, in alliance with Labour breakaway group the Parti Socialiste Mauricien (PSM), won all the elected seats in the National Assembly. In government, the MMM was less radical than it had been in the early 1970s, but the MMM/PSM alliance broke up within a year. Anerood Jugnauth, Prime Minister and MMM President, then broke away from the MMM to form a new party, the Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM), which formed an alliance with Labour and the PMSD. The new alliance won the elections of 1983, leaving the old MMM in opposition. The Organisation du Peuple Rodriguais again won the two Rodrigues seats and joined the new government.
In 1984, Jugnauth dismissed a number of ministers, most of them members of the Labour Party, and the coalition government split. Those Labour MPs who continued to support the government formed the Rassemblement des Travaillistes Mauriciens (RTM). In an early general election called in June 1987, the MSM/PMSD/RTM coalition unexpectedly won a comfortable majority. The PMSD left the alliance in 1988, and the MMM came into the alliance in its place.
The alliance of MSM and MMM were returned to power in 1991; it held firm until 1993 when MMM leader Paul Bérenger was dismissed from the cabinet and took part of the MMM with him to form an alliance with the Labour Party. Meanwhile, the constitution was amended to make Mauritius a republic on 12 March 1992.
The Labour Party–MMM alliance won a sweeping victory at elections held in December 1995, leaving the country with only a token parliamentary opposition. Labour Party leader Navinchandra Ramgoolam became Prime Minister and Bérenger Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The government introduced privatisation policies, despite strong opposition from the MMM and unions. Bérenger and other MMM members resigned from the coalition to rejoin the opposition in June 1997.