A reconnaissance study of the Victoire shipwreck at Pointe aux Canonniers was carried out, from 25 to 27 July 2022, by experts from Stanford University and the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society. The shipwreck of the 220-tonnage French ship was discovered by a scientific team of the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society (MMCS) in 1988.
The study was initiated within the context of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Department for Continental Shelf, Maritime Zones Administration and Exploration (CSMZAE), and the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University (Stanford University).
The study, which is in line with the Mauritius Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH) Project, has as main objectives to provide capacity building in Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH), to identify and document the marine archaeological resources in the maritime zones of Mauritius on a GIS platform as well as to ensure the integrity of the UCH identified through management plans.
It also seeks to investigate means to develop sustainable UCH tourism, and to create awareness on marine archaeological resources. Similar training programmes have been carried out on UCH in March 2019 and November 2021.
Besides, the reconnaissance study involved the use of non-intrusive techniques to undertake capacity building exercises using geophysical techniques and underwater operations to study UCH. It enabled the production of a structured record of field observations on and around the wreck site of the Victoire. Furthermore, it allowed experts to describe the natural environment surrounding the Victoire shipwreck.
The wreck site is in shallow waters and was thus an ideal site to develop local capacity through training in maritime archaeology methods. The study complemented previous training programmes carried out under the aegis of the MUCH project and provided additional technical expertise and confidence to relevant stakeholders to undertake studies of shipwrecks. Participants in the study included staff from CSMZAE, Mauritius Hydrographic Service, National Coast Guard (NCG), National Heritage Fund (NHF), Mauritian Scuba Diving Association (MSDA) and Reef Conservation.
The reconnaissance study investigated the wreck site and its surroundings by measuring the extent of the shipwreck, identifying the visible physical remains, and accurately geo-referencing the site. During this non-intrusive study, the team used marine geophysical techniques (bathymetry) and carried underwater documentation using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and through diving operations (three-dimensional (3-D) trilateration and photogrammetry). The bathymetry mapping of the wreck site was carried out on 15 July 2022 by the Mauritius Hydrographic Service. Geospatial information collected during the study will be compiled on a Geographical Information System (GIS). The analysis of the information will be used to determine the state of the wreck and its surrounding natural environment. The reconnaissance study will also guide the conduct of further investigations in the designated area.
In 1804, Captain Jacques Genève led the Victoire on its last voyage from Madagascar to Port Louis. Its cargo consisted of enslaved people from Madagascar, gunpowder, and glassware along with cattle and rice. Chased by the British ships HMS Tremendous, HMS Phaeton and HMS Terpsichore, the ship hit the reef at Pointe aux Canonniers and lost its rudder. Unable to navigate, the ship was finally stranded inside the reef, near the artillery battery of Pointe aux Canonniers. The crew disembarked the enslaved people and threw the cattle overboard so they could reach the mainland. As a heavily armed longboat with British sailors approached the Victoire, Captain Genève set fire to both ends of the ship. Soon after the entire crew had reached the shore, the stern of the Victoire exploded, killing several British sailors .
Initially, the site was identified as the Meduse shipwreck (1733), but further archival studies and findings have confirmed the wreck to be the Victoire. Additional research on the Victoire and its wreckage in 1804 is being carried out at the National Archives of Mauritius to compile information on the historical background of the ship and its cargo.