Dr Idrice Goumany’s Long Journey to Scotland

By Assad Bhuglah

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Idrice Goumany completed his secondary education at the Royal College in 1880. His parents were firmly determined to enrol him in a medical university in Scotland.  It was indeed a huge challenge for a modest family of Indo-Mauritian origin to take on the pioneering risk of investing heavily in the educational pursuit of their son abroad. While it was an established tradition in those days for Mauritians to study in Universities of London or Paris, Amir Goumany Sr opted to send his son to Scotland which enjoyed a high reputation in Medical studies. His decision might have been influenced by the fact that the elder brother of Hassen Sakir, the classmate of Idrice, was already a doctor qualified from the University of Edinburg in 1880.

 In those days, it was, indeed, very costly for a Mauritian to afford to go for higher studies in Europe. It could have cost around 200-pound sterling per year -- which was, in those days, definitely an enormous sum of money for a modest Indian lascar. But Amir Goumany was not deterred. He opted to mortgage his house to have sufficient funds to finance the travel and higher studies of his son Idrice Goumany to Europe.   

There is not much information about how Idrice Goumany travelled to Europe. It is very likely that could have opted for the shorter route via Suez Canal, rather than Cape route, to travel to Europe. He might have got the logistic information through Baron Cailla, the Consul of Turkey in Mauritius and Mr Lemiere, the Consul of Muscat then representing Ottoman interests in Mauritius, and the more so, as Egypt was then part of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, there is documentary evidence that Gassy Sobedar, a prominent religious leader of Camp des Lascars and a neighbour of the Goumanys, had interaction with the Turkish authorities regarding the appointment of an Imam (priest). In one of the rare photos of Dr Idrice Goumany, one sees him dressed in western lounge suit with a Turkish fez – a trait of modernized Turkish nobility of the time.

Idrice Goumany travelled to Scotland for higher studies in 1881. His sea voyage was by itself a remarkable life experience for him. No doubt, his father by virtue of his job as lascar must have talked to him about maritime journeys; but now Idrice was on a long overhaul of a trip by sea himself to a completely new world. It is a fact that, in those days the seaworthiness of ships could not be guaranteed. Ships were made of wood, but by 1880 they were more and more iron clad and were fitted with engines powered by coals. In some instances, they continued to use sails as backup in case the engines failed. Mauritius was connected with Europe by few steam ships such as Castle Union, Companie Havraise Peninsulaire and Messagerie Maritime de France. The ships leaving Mauritius used to ply through the ports of Tamatave, Aden, Suez Canal, Algiers, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Havres or London. Around that time ships were still using oil lamps, which, by the mid-1880s, were gradually replaced by electric lights powered by dynamos invented by Thomas Edison. It could be possible that Idrice could have done part of his sea journey by a Turkish ship in view of the proximity of the local Muslim elite with the Ottomans. In those days, the Ottoman Navy was frequently plying the Indian Ocean, since one of its main mission was to ensure the security and safety of ships carrying Hajees who were often attacked and plundered by American and british pirates in the high seas.

The long and nightmarish journey to Scotland was thus far from comfortable and was full of risks. It was indeed a venture into the unknown, an episode marked by high emotion, strong sentiments of separation and a constant feeling of fear and apprehension. It might have taken him more than two months to travel to his destination by ship, which was certainly for him a test of his endurance, morale and perseverance. Indeed, all through the trip, he had to experience the ups and downs of the routines on the ships; go through the thrills of the rolling of the waves and the winds while counting the days and nights by watching the movement of the sun, moon and stars; and sustain his stomach with the unfamiliar tastes of food aboard the ship: go through seasickness; bear the inconvenience of smoke and ashes emitted by coal-powered engines; smell the body sweat of fellow passengers and face the discomfort of heat, cold and dampness.

On the brighter side of the trip, for sure, he had the opportunity to interact with and befriend passengers of different backgrounds, among whom some might have provided him important information as how to reach his final destination. At times, he must have found the trip enchanting and enriching coming across as he did to get to know of new places and new towns with new people of different race during the many transit stops the ship made along its long travel route to Europe.

Yet it is true that even after he settled in Scotland, he did go through an unending sense of homesickness. At that time, as it well known, there was no telegraphic services between Mauritius and the outside world. The basic telephone was introduced in Mauritius in 1883 and it was in 1893 that the island was linked to Zanzibar via a submarine telegraphic cable. The only means through which Idrice could remain in touch with his parents in Mauritius was via sea-mail, which, as a matter of fact, sometimes took several months to reach its destination. Despite all these odds, Idrice kept his morale high and devoted his time and energy in focussed of his goals -- which was to be a medical doctor.

After successfully completing his studies in 1886, Idrice Goumany decided to return home to Mauritius. However, before doing that, he made a stop in Paris, France, where he met and fell in love with a French woman. However, the relationship would not materialize. Idrice Goumany had long realized that it was very costly for a Mauritian to stay in Europe and he knew well how his father, who ran a business in Mauritius, struggled to sustain his long educational pursuit abroad,

Idrice Goumany's father passed away in 1882 while he was still busy with his studies in Scotland. The student Idrice might not be aware of the demise because his mother did not want him to be affected by this sad news. He would have definitely been informed after completion of his studies. Depressed as he might have been, he would have been more concerned about the difficult financial situation of his family now headed by his younger brother Assen. It might well have been this heavy financial pre-occupation that could have prompted him to drop everything in France and rush back home.

 On his return to Mauritius in the last quarter of 1886, Dr Idrice Goumany did his internship for ten months at the Civil Hospital (now Jeetoo Hospital) as certified by a document dated 5th August 1887. After completing his internship, Dr. Goumany worked for more than one year as a private medical practitioner at Camp des Lascars. Soon, he would witness an outbreak of an epidemic of smallpox which took thousands of lives in the country. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the ships carrying indentured labourers disembarked increasing number of patients suffering from epidemic diseases. The situation was further compounded by the fact that the Quarantine Station was without any doctor following the demise of Dr Horace Lazare Beaugeard in 1883. No doctor was willing to take charge of the Quarantine Station. Despite repeated calls by the colonial government, no doctor wanted to risk his life by coming in direct contact with the patients. This was evidenced by a case reported to the Health Commission regarding Dr Vinson who categorically refused to treat his patients. Dr Idrice Goumany volunteered to take charge of the Quarantine Station at Pointe aux Cannoniers. He performed his duties with his heart and soul and he was successful in providing relief to many and also curing many patients.

 Idrice Goumany is known for his exemplary sense of duty, professionalism and patriotism. He sacrificed his life while saving the lives of others, especially of the Indian indentured labourers affected by small-pox and isolated at the Quarantine Station of Pointe aux Cannoniers. Unfortunately, he died after having caught the deadly disease himself – a victim to duty.

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