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PIPON BELL & CO., PORT LOUIS, MAURITIUS LETTER FROM MELBOURNE

The entire was addressed to Messr Pipon Bell & Coy, Port Louis, Mauritius and was sent ‘per Senator’ from MELBOURNE/ [crown]/ JA 20 H/ 1855/ VICTORIA. It had a reception postmark of [CROWN]/ MAURITIUS/ MR 8/ 1855/ G.P.O. There were no manuscript rating marks, and the reverse showed no additional markings (Figure 1).

 

The letter was difficult to decipher as the thin paper allowed the manuscript writing on the front to show through and obscure the letter’s content. The letter was from the Melbourne firm of Bell, Regnard & Co, and the mercantile theme mainly dealt with the sailing of 3 ships, with business relations between the two firms, and surprisingly no mention of the sugar industry (in view of what was learnt later about the firm).

A second entire was seen at an auction site with the same year MELBOURNE/ [crown]/ JA 26 E/ 1855/ VICTORIA and the identical reception postmark [CROWN]/ MAURITIUS/ MR 14/ 1855 addressed to Messr Pipon Bell & Co, Mauritius ‘per Water Witch’ and it had a red ms. ‘Detained for 2/- postage’ (Figure 2).

 

Jean-Baptiste Pipon was born in Rhone on 20 November 1754 and at the beginning of the nineteenth century he founded an import-export business in Mauritius; he married Marie Jeanne Mailliard in 1798 at Port Louis, Mauritius, they had 5 sons and 1 daughter, and two of their sons, Charles Emile and Pierre Aristide were alive in 1855 at the time of both letters. Jean-Baptiste died in Port Louis on 15 August 1825 at the age of 70. In 1817 Joachim Henri Adam (1793-1856) arrived in Mauritius from Rouen to take up work on a sugar estate; in 1825 he married Jean-Baptiste's daughter, Marie Jeanne Estelle and joined the Pipon business thereafter. Henri Adam played a prominent part in the island campaign for an indemnity to owners of slaves emancipated under the Abolition Act of 1832. The firm, which for more than a century was one of the island's three most important firms of merchants and commission agents, traded successively under the names of F. Barbe and Adam (1829-1837); Henry Adam & Co (1837-1848); Pipon Bell & Co (1848-1863); Pipon Adam & Co (1863-1897); Adam & Co (1897-1945); and Adam & Co Ltd (1945-1969).

The Adam family was important in local administration in Mauritius. Charles Felix Henri Adam (1830-1900) was a member of the Council of Government in the 1880s. His brother Louis Gustave Adam (d.1894) established himself in Paris to watch over the European side of the business. In 1969 the business was sold to the Blyth, Greene, Jourdain and Company Group; a condition of the sale was that the Adam name should be kept.

Both the Pipon and Adam families were involved in the production as well as in the marketing of sugar, the main export industry of Mauritius. Through a network of correspondents and agents the firm sold sugar, mostly on consignment, to Britain, France, India, Australia, Malaya, Dutch East Indies, Indo-China and South Africa. It imported rice and jute (gunny sacks) from Calcutta; chemical fertilizers and machinery from Europe; guano from Peru; mules from Montevideo, and a great diversity of consumer goods.

An important part of the company's operations from the late 1830s onwards was connected with the transport and allocation of Indian immigrant workers under contract to the sugar plantations. It was also active in the chartering market, acting as agent both for chartered vessels and for regular liners, notably the Clan Line. The Company also had an insurance business, the Mauritius Marine Insurance Company, which looked after the affairs of a number of overseas insurance companies as agent and claims assessor.

The Republic of Mauritius is situated in the Indian Ocean east of the island of Madagascar, and Port Louis is the capital (Figures 3 & 4).

With the assistance of an email correspondent (who provided the second cover from his own collection, and does not want to be identified), I was able to confirm that the entire of Figure 3 was sent to Pipon Bell & Co. by the Melbourne merchants, Bell, Regnard & Co. There exists a large collection of such covers from the Melbourne firm to the Mauritian firm in the National Library of Australia donated by Dr. Edward Duyker, delivered between May 1853 and December 1855. Graeme Broxam of Australia has kindly sent me additional covers confirming the existence of correspondence between the firms. He has learnt that there were postal charge irregularities in the way the Melbourne firm sent their mail in sealed bags which included mail of other firms, as well. This was found out when the ship sank, the mail recovered, and detained at Melbourne with extra postage applied, as seen by the manuscript on the covers.

 

John Dunmore Lang (1799-1878) wrote: 'The Australian colonies are at present supplied with sugar from the Isle de France (Mauritius). It is paid for chiefly in money as Mauritius takes a very insignificant quantity of Australian produce in return.' Not long after Mauritius was captured from the French, Britain began transporting unruly Mauritian slaves as convicts to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. Between 1820 and 1834, the Catholic Church in Australia was administered from Mauritius. Later, during the Gold Rush, hundreds of Mauritians arrived in Australia organised in disciplined companies of diggers. They were followed by highly skilled planters and sugar chemists who made a crucial contribution to the establishment of Australia's sugar industry.

 

After Mauritius achieved independence in 1968, political uncertainties caused another major wave of highly skilled Mauritians to migrate to Australia. Numerous were the civil servants and professionals who made it downunder to start new lives, not only for themselves but for their children as well. The bolded information was obtained from the book: Of the Star and Key - Mauritius, Mauritians and Australia by Edward Duyker

I was previously unaware of links between Australia and Mauritius which spanned several centuries, beginning with Abel Tasman in 1642, for Mauritius was an important Indian Ocean base for the exploration of Australia’s coast. Trading links began as early as 1802 and

 
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