1780 map of the Mascarenes; Reunion, Mauritius, and Rodrigues (Public Domain)

Treasure Hunters Seeking Hide-Outs of Mascarene Pirates


In 1512 Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas, identified a group of islands in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar as the Mascarene islands (modern-day Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues). The Mascarenes were favorite haunts and hide-outs during the Golden Age of Piracy when corsairs used to hoist the ‘Jolly Roger’ and hunt in the Indian Ocean. According to historical documents, legends and modern myths a vast pirate treasure reportedly worth £100-million, was buried in a cave somewhere on an Indian Ocean island that was owned by France in the 18th century and it was called  Île de France (modern Mauritius). The Treaty of Paris awarded the island to Britain in 1814 who named it Mauritius, and it gained independence in 1968.

Copper engraving showing Dutch activities on the shore of Mauritius, as well as the first published depiction of a dodo bird by Johann Theodor de Bry (1601) ( Public Domain )

Mauritian Treasure Law

Due to a wave of destructive treasure hunters who used dynamite and thus fragmented the island’s natural ecosystems in the early 20th century, the government of the Republic of Mauritius instituted modern legislation forbidding anyone from directly benefiting from any treasure hunting venture. These laws imply that if a treasure hunter was to find something that they went actively looking for, they would automatically forfeit the right to benefit in any way from its discovery. So Mauritian treasure tales include many yarns of people finding and illegally trading treasure. However, if one happens to be fishing on a beach and lost a lead weight and was to use a metal detector to look for it, and accidentally unearth £100-million in pirate treasure, then according to Article 716 of the Mauritian Civil Code: “ 50% should go to the accidental discoverers and 50% to the Mauritian state.

Rodrigues was named after Portuguese explorer Diogo Rodrigues, who first came upon the island in 1528. (Historic Discoveries/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

Rodrigues was named after Portuguese explorer Diogo Rodrigues, who first came upon the island in 1528. ( Historic Discoveries / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Treasure of Rodrigues

In August 2018, the local Mauritius newspaper L’express reported that two Mauritian ecologists had been hiking in the east of Rodrigues, a 108-square-kilometer (42 sq miles) autonomous outer island of Mauritius. According to their sworn affidavit they came across ‘by pure chance’ (of course not while treasure hunting) a fabulous treasure, supposedly dating back about 300 years. They claimed that in August 2017, located at three huge mountain rocky areas, they photographed marks in rocks which they later realized were not natural.


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Ashley Cowie  is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history .

Top Image : 1780 map of the Mascarenes; Reunion, Mauritius, and Rodrigues ( Public Domain )

By Ashley Cowie

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