A boys’ secondary public school, the Royal College Curepipe is one of the oldest colleges in Mauritius. It has a reputation of excellence on the island because of the high-quality education it offers as reflected in the long list of laureates (end of secondary level award-winning students) on its roll. A large number of prominent figures, representing the country’s elite, attended the college thus contributing to its prestige.
In The Prospector, Alexis’ mother evokes the academic excellence of the college while scolding him : “ You never listen to the arithmetic lessons. You won’t be able to get into Royal College.” (TP, 18). His despicable cousin Ferdinand, son of his rich and hateful uncle Ludovic, is a resident at the college.
The Royal College Curepipe, in fact not a boarding school, dates back from the period when Mauritius was known as Isle de France. A Central School was created in the capital Port-Louis by the French Assemblies in 1791. In 1803, the last French governor of the colony, Captain General Charles Decaen, transformed the school into a colonial High School with the aim of giving a superior and, at the same time, military education to the boys of Isle de France and Bourbon (Réunion Island). Due to the hostility of the authorities in France, Decaen was unable to launch a similar project for girls.
After the English conquest of the island in 1810, the first British governor, Sir Robert Farquhar, passed a decree in 1813 changing the name of the High School into that of Royal College, thus granting the College a public status under the protection of the Crown.
Officially open to everyone, the Royal College remained for some time reserved to the sons of the upper class of the island, owing to the social barriers of the time. Rémy Ollier (1816-1845), a Mauritian journalist and poet, fought for the right to allow all students access to the College as well as to the English scholarship awarded to its laureates enabling them to undertake studies in prestigious British universities.
In 1871, with Charles Bruce as rector, the Royal College in Port-Louis – which still exists – opened a branch in Curepipe for the pupils of this city, bordering Forest Side, on the rainy and cold central plateau, where the island’s upper middle class had settled at the end of the nineteenth century, after fleeing the searing heat of Port-Louis afflicted by epidemics of malaria and black plague.
This migration of students influenced the development of the Royal College in Curepipe which occupied a building erected in 1888 on the Mare-aux-Joncs area. It must be this building that the author refers to in The Prospector, as Alexis recalls : “ one evening in the month of November, just before the turn of the century, our father died (…). They came to wake me up in the dormitory.” (TP,98)
The first stone of the new building was laid in 1912. Erected in 1913 and inaugurated in 1914, the impressive edifice was designed by Paul Le Juge de Segrais, an engineer and a former laureate of the College. It is built with blue basalt stones in an unmistakeable architectural style that makes it look like a diminutive Buckingham Palace set in the centre of Curepipe. The top stone face of the building still bears a royal crown flanked by the letters G and R (Georgius Rex) though Mauritius is now a republic. During the fifties, new structures were added to the main building without altering its original character.
In 1919, as a result of the Spanish flu outbreak that struck the island, the Royal College Curepipe was converted into a hospital. At the entrance of the College, there is a cenotaph surmounted by the statues of two allied soldiers, the English Tommy and the French Poilu. It was inaugurated in 1922 and dedicated to the memory of the English and French soldiers of the First World War.
Although still a boys’ school, the College appointed its first female teachers during the sixties and officially celebrated its centenary in 2014 with Lady Rector Chitra Awootar at its head. The Royal College Curepipe is classified as a national heritage of the State of Mauritius.
Attending the college is a particularly painful experience in the life of the adolescent, Alexis; he is far from the sea, from Mananava, and from the family home at Boucan, “ in the cold rainy shadows of Forest Side, then at the Royal College in Curepipe ” (TP,89). He finds it difficult to endure the monotony of his life, of these years of isolation, “ for life in the chill of the College and its icy walls was weary and humiliating. There was the promiscuity of the other students, their odour, their contact, their often obscene jokes, their penchant for foul words and their obsession with sex”. (TP, 91-92). This repulsive vision of a boys’ school – illustrated by the description of the high school attended by Jean Marro in the novel Révolutions – is echoed in a letter written by Le Clézio in 1999 to a librarian in Nice* : “My experience of the high school, namely during my primary-beginning of secondary grades, is that of a prison from which I wanted to escape”.
At the Royal College Curepipe, the world of Alexis inevitably falls apart when he is led “ to the Principal’s office, uncustomarily lit up at that hour ” (TP, 98) and told of his father’s death. Overwhelmed by “ something incomprehensible and disastrous about this sudden death (…) something that seemed like punishment from heaven ” (TP, 98), Alexis has a profound feeling of destitution and shame that haunts him bitterly : “ My grant for the College having expired, I had to go to work, and it was in the post my father had occupied in the dreary offices of W.W.West, the export and insurance company controlled by my powerful uncle Ludovic. ” (TP, 99)
CABON, Marcel, Rémy Ollier, Port-Louis, Les Éditions mauriciennes, 1963 ; DE SORNAY, P., Historique des rues de la ville de Curepipe, Port-Louis, The Mauritius Printing, 1962 ; GIBLOT-DUCRAY, Charles, Histoire de la ville de Curepipe : notes et anecdotes, Île Maurice, Éditions Esclapon, 1957 ; LE CLÉZIO, J.-M.G., Le Chercheur d’or, Paris, Gallimard, 1985 ; * Lettre autographe signée, 10 juin 1999, au libraire Jean-Pierre Rudin à Nice (ebay-galeriethomasvincent.fr, 2016) ; Révolutions, Paris, Gallimard, 2003 ; The Prospector, London, Atlantic Books, 2016 ; PIAT, Denis, L’île Maurice - Sur la route des épices, 1598-1810, Paris, Les Éditions du Pacifique, 2010 ; ROUILLARD, Guy, Histoire de Curepipe des origines à 1890, Curepipe, Société de l’histoire de l’île Maurice, 1992 ; ROYAL COLLEGE CUREPIPE, School history (rcc.edu.govmu.org) ; ROYAL COLLEGE PORT-LOUIS, Brief historical background of the school (rcpl.edu.govmu.org) ; TOUSSAINT, Auguste, Histoire des îles Mascareignes, Paris, Éditions Berger-Levrault, 1972; Personal documents of the author of this article, a former student of the Royal College Curepipe.