The Lady in Black

Even the weather today wanted to remember.

Yesterday, the sun was shining and was hot on the skin, the temperatures were estival, like 150 years ago. Today, it’s cold and windy – like a winter storm.

125 years ago, Mauritius was hit by one of the biggest cyclone in its history. This was before names and classifications. The wind is said to have reached over 210km/h and that Port Louis was nearly destroyed. Hundreds of lives were lost. Sadly, not many are remembered.

50-1892-general-view-of-disaster-lillustration-journal-universal-4-6-1892-daniel-taylor
source: vintagemauritius.org
Port-Louis-Tombeau-Malartic-Broken-APR-1892
Tombstone of de Malartic – Source: Vintage Mauritius Vintage

The winds were so strong that the Tombstone Monument of Comte de Malartic (Governor of the island between 1792 and 1800) was broken in 2; the top of the monument carried away by the wind.

Port-Louis-Cyclone-1892-Poudriere-Street-St-James-Cathedral
St James Cathedral  and what was left of Rue de la Poudrière

It was the first cyclone to ever hit Mauritius between the 12th April and 1st December so no-one thought of the possibility of a cyclone coming. Everyone had noticed the bad sea on the Northern coast of the Island, but it was sought just to be a storm. On the 29th in the morning the first weather bulletin was issued: “At 11 a.m. barometer at sea level 29.538in., wind north-east by east at rate of fifty-eight miles per hour in the squalls, veering slowly to northward. The velocity will probably not exceed fifty-six miles an hour. Strong gale. Will telegraph every hour.”

But no further warnings came from the observatory: for a good reason, the communication wires where broken and no telegraphs could come through to warn the population. Early afternoon, as everyone thought the worse was over – and still not thinking it was a cyclone, the sun came out, the winds dropped: the eye of the cyclone was on the island. Commerces reopened, for one hour and a half all was quiet. The winds changed direction and at 4PM the storm had reached its paroxysm. At 6PM, on the eve of the 29th April 1892, the first courageous ventured outside and discovered the destruction of half the city of Port Louis. The cyclone ripped the island a part in just a few hours. Ships sank in the harbour, sugar cane fields and mills were completely destroyed, houses were completely crushed.

What if I told you that, even though the meteorologists didn’t see the cyclone coming till it was too late, a Mysterious Lady in Black warned the venerated Mother Barthélemy that a very destructive cyclone was on the way and that the whole island and the capital would be badly damaged.

I have only found one reference to this story – the late Brahmund M. Padya, former director of the meteorological services in Mauritius, spoke at a conference on the event in April 1992. Mother Barthélemy is also a bit of a mystery, though she does have street named after her in Port Louis.

Port-Louis-Cyclone-1892-Collect-of-Clothes-for-Victims
Port Louis – Illustration of Cyclone 1892 – Collect of Clothes for Victims
Port-Louis-Cyclone-1892-Wellington-Street-Houses-Destroyed
Wellington Street, Port Louis 
Grand-River-North-West-GRNW-Railway-Viaduct-Cyclone-1892-Broken
Grand River North West – GRNW – Railway Viaduct – Cyclone 1892
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4 thoughts on “The Lady in Black

    1. I know intriguing isn’t it?!! Many here are fascinated by cyclones. I find them so scary :/ last night there was so much wind and i know that is nothing if we get hit by one!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Gardens of the State House of Mauritius – Wandering Expat Family

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