In a corner of the Caudan, on Port Louis’ Waterfront, is nestled the small but very interesting Blue Penny Museum.
What is it all about?
There are 3 parts in the museum: The Navigation rooms followed by an insight into the history of Mauritius. The second part is about the Blue Penny and downstairs one can find a whole section on our two, now famous on this blog, lovers: Paul et Virginie.
The navigation room provides the visitor with an understanding of world navigation. Maps displayed go all the way back to 1534 – the first one is one showing Madagascar and Zanzibar – when maps were more a guess than anything else and were made by the explorers to suit Kings and Church leaders. There are also different artefacts as compass, spyglass and octants – all were used to make these maps. It was interesting to see how the mistakes from one map were carried over to the next.
Then comes a fairly big section on the important people in Mauritius history – from the first Dutch arrival in 1488, the Portuguese navigator, Bartholomew Dias to the 19th century with different paintings and drawings of Port Louis.
The highlight of the Museum and the small thing that gives its name to the Museum is the small ‘Blue Penny’ stamp. The first known letter from Mauritius date back to June 1601. Back then with inhabited islands like Mauritius, it was custom for the ships captains to leave post for the next arrival in a jar. These jars would hang on the trees and wait to be taken down by the next person to come! In the beginning of the 18th century and the arrival of the French, post was getting more common but the distribution was still very random. In 1774 the first maritime postal service was created, but in the 19th century under the British rule things really changed.
The first postage stamps were issued by England in 1840 and history wants the Mauritius became the first British colony and fifth country in the world to issue postage stamps. The left profile of Queen Victoria would figure on each stamp – 1 penny and 2 pence stamps were made – 500 of each denomination. The 1 penny stamp in orange-red and the 2 pence stamp in blue. The official issue date was fixed for the 22nd September 1847 – but actually the first 1 penny stamps were used the day before… to send out invitations. Lady Gomm, the governor’s wife was giving a fancy-dress ball. the use of French had been banned and the governor wanted to calm down the spirits… what better than to throw a party?!
These famous stamps were issued nearly 170 years ago – there are a few around at the Royal Philatelic Collection of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the British Library, the Postal Museums in Hague and Stockholm, the Blue Penny Museum in Mauritius and a few very lucky collectors!
The stamps are kept at the Blue Penny in a very dark room and photography strictly forbidden, to preserve the stamps. These stamps were acquired by a consortium of 16 Mauritian companies in 1993, to bring back home one unused 1 penny orange-red and a 2 pence deep blue – issued in 1847.
Finally, on the ground floor of the Museum you have a couple of rooms dedicated to Paul et Virginie – many first edition books a few original paintings and the beautiful statue by the Mauritian sculpture Prosper d’Epinay. It was ordered in 1881 through the municipality of Port Louis.
The statue shows a strong Paul carrying a charming and delicate Virginie over the torrent. The little story about the statue is that Mauritius wasn’t able to actually raise the funds to pay the sculpture. The statue stayed in the artist’s workshop until a private Portuguese collector bought it. It wasn’t till October 1997 that the statue finally came back on the island.
Info on the Museum:
Location: The Caudan Waterfront, next to Labourdonnais Hotel
Opening Times: 10am – 5pm (mon to sat) – last admission 4:30pm
Price: Rs245/adult Rs120/Kids – you can book guided tours extra Rs50 (other deals for families and residents).
Gift Shop: nice shop with posters and a lot of books on Mauritius.
Information on the Blue Penny stamps: Blue Mauritius, The Hunt for the World’s Most Valuable Stamps.
Blue Penny Museum
Paul et Viriginie on this blog: Paul et Virginie, the Mauritian love story