The Revenue Stamps of Mauritius

by John Wilson

Handstamps up to 1810 - the End of the French Revolution

Little has so far been discovered about handstamp use in this era. Current information available states that the use of handstamps probably started with what became known as Decaen’s Arrete dated 21st October 1803 – only seven years before British administration took over.

Mauritius was controlled by the French from 1715, until the British invasion in 1810. In this period it was known as the “Ile de France”. This title, along with “Ile Maurice” are still used by many French people.  It was under the administration of The French East India Company until 1767. Since then, apart from a very brief period, the island was administered by officials appointed by the French Government.The last of these was General Charles Mathieu Isadore Decaen, a successful military man who, some say, rivalled Napoleon for power in the French Revolutionary Wars and after. Decaen ruled as Governor General from 1803  to 1810.

In his Arrete (the French for ‘order’ or ‘decree’) Article V created what is believed to be the first legislation to introduce fiscal stamps to the island. Two types of stamps were involved. The first was an embossed style which was used where duty was charged on the value of the transactions (i.e. ad valorem). The second was a handstruck stamp using ink, and the stamp duty was based upon the format or the size of the paper used. Under Article VI the paper issued by the Registry was handstruck on the top left hand side of the paper, and under Article VII on the top right when submitted for stamping. On ad valorem transactions the Registry provided pre-stamped paper for values up to 7,000 francs, but above this the document needed to be submitted to the appropriate authority for assessment and stamping.

I have never seen originals of these impressions, as they are extremely rare. Appeals were sent out to all members of the Indian Ocean Study Circle for further information, but without response. Plate 3 shows the only two impressions I have seen in copy form. This also shows a copy of a portrait of General Decaen.

As will be seen later in this book, there are further examples of embossed stamps. In cases where the stamps are applied direct onto the paper without using any contrast of colour, this is known as blind embossing, and is created by using male and female moulds under pressure, thus creating a subtly elegant three-dimensional image. The difficulty with blind embossing is that it is not easy to photograph or copy so as to represent the true image. The copy on Plate 3 is about the best that one can hope to obtain, particularly as the first copy of this was made quite a few years ago when copying technology was not so advanced as it is now.

It is interesting to note that on neither of the stamps shown is there any value recorded, and this was shown separately handstamped in black. In Article III of the Arrete the tax which was payable according to the size of the paper varied from 25 cents to 1 franc 50 cents rising in 25 cent stages. In Article VIII, the tax payable on ad valorem transactions was 50 cents for each 1,000 francs or part thereof.

The embossed stamp was in octagonal form and measured 30 x 23 mm and it comprised an anchor resting against a chest, above which the initials "RF" were embossed. The words around the edge read “Isles Francaises Orientales”.The handstruck stamp was in black and in the shape of a double circle which contained the words “Isles Orientales Francaises”. Within the circle was a rectangle with the design of an upright anchor with the initials “RE.FR”.

These stamps were used on several islands in the Indian Ocean occupied by the French at that time, so they were not unique to Mauritius or, more appropriately, ‘Ile de France’ as it was known at that time. Early examples of their use have been seen on an acknowledgement of a debt in the case of the embossed stamp, and on the sale of a house where the handstruck example was affixed.