Even before the abolition of slavery on 1 February 1835, planters on Mauritius had begun to look for free agricultural labourers to work their estates. By the early 1830s, it had become apparent that the local slave population was inadequate to meet the labour needs of the colony's rapidly expanding sugar industry, and the long-term availability of this soon-to-be emancipated work force was also increasingly open to question as the decade progressed. The Act of Abolition promised owners the services of their former slaves, now transformed into ‘apprentices’, as agricultural labourers, but only for a period of six years. Some planters no doubt suspected that the apprenticeship system might come to an end earlier than scheduled, as indeed was to happen in 1839. Others had good reason to suspect that many, if not most, of their apprentices would leave the plantations upon their final emancipation, as indeed they subsequently did. Faced with these realities, Mauritian planters dispatched their agents as far afield as China, Singapore, Ethiopia and Madagascar to search out supplies of inexpensive labour. Their gaze returned continually, however, to the relative close and seemingly inexhaustible manpower of India.