The International Steam Pages

Preserved Steam in Mauritius

James Waite reports on his visit from 30th August to 6th September 2005 . See my stationary steam page also Tortsen Schneider's update (24th January 2007) and Thomas Kautzor's February 2012 visit.

Casela Bird Park

This is a public tropical garden, near Flic en Flac on the west coast of the island, with numerous endemic and imported birds, notably the Mauritius pink pigeon which was rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1970s by Jersey Zoo. This 800mm gauge Orenstein & Koppel 0-6-0T from Medine sugar mill nearby is preserved near the entrance to the park. Medine wrote to me saying that the locomotive is still their property. 

Beau Sejour Sugar Estate

A 750mm gauge Kerr Stuart Skylark class locomotive preserved at the site of the old sugar mill at this working estate in the north of the island. The mill closed in 1949 and the cane is now processed at the Mon Loisir mill about two miles to the south east. Three Skylark class locomotives were supplied to Beau Sejour, no’s. 1 and 2, works no’s. 813 and 814 of March 1903 and no. 3, works no. 1360 of May 1915. I couldn’t find any identifying marks on the locomotive but in all probability it must be one of these three. Beau Sejour is in the village of Fiton, about 2 miles east of the M2 motorway near Goodlands.

The locomotive is preserved on a plinth with a cane wagon. The old square mill chimney is in the background. At the peak of the sugar industry in Mauritius there were around 400 sugar mills. Processing is now concentrated at just 11 mills. All the surviving chimneys on the island are now listed structures and they form a common sight all over the island.

The old narrow gauge rails are still in place in the lane passing this small Hindu temple, over the road from the old mill.

Beau Champ sugar factory

On the east coast of the island Beau Champ is one of the most progressive sugar mills on Mauritius. It produces many of the speciality unrefined sugars now on sale in the UK. It used to have a 3 foot gauge system. Two of its locomotives are preserved at the mill and a third is preserved at the Aventure du Sucre at Pamplemousses (see below). The mill and the estate are still owned by a Franco-Mauritian family. The manager commented to us that despite a preferential tariff agreement with the EU which guarantees a higher than market price the world price for sugar is now so low that the outlook for Mauritius is uncertain. He blamed the Chinese who apparently eat no sugar at all and remarked on how different the outlook would be if only each Chinaman could be encouraged to eat one spoonful of sugar a day! This is a private site and permission to view, and for a tour of the factory, can be obtained from the manager Christian Marot, a most helpful person.

Beau Champ is at Grand Riviere Sud Est, about 6 miles south of Centre du Flacq.

0-4-2T no. 210 (Lowca Engineering Co. works no. 204 of 1889) preserved on a plinth outside the factory. The locomotive carries a replacement boiler which is higher pitched than the original and does not fit the curves of the side tanks.

No. 190 “Harriette” (Fletcher Jennings works no. 190 of 1883) sits in the locomotive shed, looking for all the world as though she is still awaiting her next trip. Her last boiler inspection date of 1975 suggests she has been waiting for a long time! 

L’Aventure du Sucre Museum, Pamplemousses

This elaborately laid out museum is housed in the old mill at the Beau Plan sugar estate in the north of the island. It is hard to overemphasise the all-important role which the sugar industry played in the development of Mauritius. The island was uninhabited until the Dutch set up a colony in the late 1600’s and a few years later they introduced the first sugar canes from Java. In 1710 they abandoned their colony and a few years later the French took over the island. By the time of the Napoleonic war there were about 60,000 slaves working in the sugar industry and they formed the vast majority of the population. Britain took over the island in 1810 although they allowed the French settlers to remain and French remains one of the principal languages to this day. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in the 1830’s. Most of the former slaves declined to continue to work in the sugar plantations, which by then extended to nearly all the arable land in the island. They were replaced by indentured labour mostly from India, and Indian Hindus today form the majority of the population. Sugar remained the predominant industry until the 1960s when the island diversified into textile manufacture and tourism. Sugar is still a key player in the island’s economy although centralisation of the mills and the introduction of mechanical planting and reaping has greatly reduced the numbers employed in it. Because of the central role which sugar took in the development of the island the museum is devoted as much to the history of the island as whole as it is to the sugar industry. A 2 foot gauge Orenstein & Koppel 0-6-0T from Mon Loisir (works number 12388 of 1932) is preserved in the museum and another O&K locomotive, 3 foot gauge “Sir William” from Beau Champ (works number 12183 of 1930) is preserved outside. The museum is open from 9.00am to 6.00pm every day and is a short distance west of the M2 motorway at the Pamplemousses roundabout.

This barge was used to transport sugar from Mauritius to Madagascar, making its last voyage in 2000. It was the last vessel in which sugar sacks were stacked manually on board. The port now exclusively uses a palleting and conveyor belt system. The Mon Loisir locomotive is in the background.3rdSeptember 2005.

The Mon Loisir locomotive:

“Sir William” outside the museum.

Marine & Tar Products, M1 Motorway, Port Louis

(A January 2016 visitor found the locomotive 'missing', probably moved for road improvements, but could not find out where it now was. I would appreciate news on its current location. RD) 

3 foot gauge Lowca Engineering Co. works number 207 of 1890 is preserved here. I couldn’t find out anything about its history but it is similar to the Fletcher Jennings/Lowca locomotives at Beau Champ. This is a private site but the owner, Mr. Michel Halbwachs, is helpful and permission to view can be sought on fax no. +230 212 2569.The yard can only be accessed from a side road off the northbound carriageway of the motorway. If heading south from Port Louis you need to turn off the motorway at the junction for Pailles and then head back towards Port Louis. Turn left off the motorway at the tall sign reading “City Boundary”.

Two views of the locomotive next to a banyan tree alongside the motorway.

Mapou station

Mapou station on the MGR line from Pamplemousses to Reviere du Rempart in the north of the island. A noticeboard here declared that the station is earmarked as the site for a future national railway museum. The station is close to the Fiton turning off the M2 motorway.

Mon Tresor Mon Desert sugar factory

Another 800mm gauge Orenstein & Koppel 0-6-0T (works number11194 of 1926) is preserved at the entrance to this sugar mill in the south east of the island close to the international airport. The boiler is a fake and doesn’t bear close examination!

A railway bridge on the south coast near Mon Tresor Mondesert. According to Andre Rouillard the bridge was built in 1949 when the Savannah mill closed down and cane had to be taken by narrow gauge railway across the river to La Baraque (now Omnicane).

Bois Cheri tea factory

This tea factory and estate in the mountains north west of Mon Tresor Mon Desert remains in use and also has an organised tourist business giving guided tours of the factory, tea tasting at a guest house overlooking an extinct crater and a well laid out museum. The centrepiece of the museum is this boiler from an MGR locomotive. The accompanying notes say that the boiler was built in 1927 and last tested in 1984 but there was no indication of the class of locomotive from which it came. Alongside in the factory, and parked next to the museum, is a second similar boiler which is still kept as a reserve, and so I guess it just about counts as “working steam”! A lever passes through the museum wall to enable visitors to work the whistle which must drive the workmen mad!

Tea in Mauritius tends to be rather tasteless. Apparently tea should preferably be grown at higher altitude for it to develop a proper flavour. The Mauritians usually drink it with vanilla to improve the flavour, and most teabags come with vanilla already added. It’s a bit of an acquired taste but once you get used to it it’s quite acceptable.

Bois Cheri is signposted from the main Curepipe to Souillac road.

Highlands sugar factory

Another 800mm gauge Orenstein & Koppel 0-6-0T (thought to be works number11717 of 1928) is preserved outside this sugar mill. The boiler is another fake but the locomotive is well maintained and looked to have been recently repainted. The mill is on the central plateau , a short distance to the east of the M1 motorway near Quatre Bornes.

We also visited Savannah and St. Felix estates in the south of the island and Mon Loisir and St. Antoine, Goodlands in the north but could not find any locomotives.

Rob Dickinson