New Caledonian History: French Colonial Rule

Figure 1.--This is a missionary schools in New Caledonia. The schools was operated by Marist Teaching Brothers. The school was in Païta and founded in 1912. The photo is undated, but was probably taken about 1930. Only two boys wear shirts reflecting the tropical climate. Some other wear short pants, most pupils wear a cloth wrapped around the waist. Notice the medals the boys wear. Some of the boys had French fathers. A reader writes, "The cloth wrapped around the waist that most pupils are wearing in the first photo was not the traditional clothing of New Caledonia. The traditional New Caledonian clothing was a straw skirt, but - as in all Melanesia - often the children wore nothing. The colonization had a strong impact on the traditions and the missionaries had surely an important role about the diffusion of western style clothing. The boarding school was attended also by boys that then could enter in the Teaching Brothers Congregation." The school was closed in 1962. Put yur cursor on the image to see the rest of the school.

The British-sounding name was given by Royal Navy explorer Captain James Cook was saw similarities with the Scottish highlands. Both the British and French settled New Caledonia in the erly 19th century. They began seizing land from the native Melanesian people, called Kanaks. The French seized control (1853). It was part of Emperor Napoleon III's effort to compete with the Britishbin colonial possessions. The French at first used it largely as a penal colony. They are believed to have sent about 22,000 convicted felons to penal colonies along the south-west coast of New Caledonia. This included both criminals in addition to a small number of political prisoners. This included Parisian socialists and Kabyle nationalists. A Kanak revolt in 1878 claimed more than 1,000 lives and heralded further repressve measures by the French colonial officials. Gradually the penal transports declined. Some free European settlers as well as the former convicts settled on the island. The French also cotracted Asian contract workers, including some Japanese. The indigenous Kanak populations was substantially reduced by lack of resistance to European disases. The French established an apartheid-like system called Code de l'Indigénat. This severly restricted their life style, freedom of movement, and land ownership. France after falling to the NAZIS (June 1940) became a neutral under the Vichy regime. By the time of Pearl Harbor, however, the French South Pacific colonies of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and the New Hebrides had joined the Free French. They thus become vital Allied bases. New Caledonia was particularly important because of its size and the fact the capital and main port of Nomea had facilities built to servive the substantial vessels carrying nickel ore. These proved vital to service hard-pressed Allied naval vessels during the bloody naval battles fought in and around the southern Solomons.


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Created: 6:29 AM 1/31/2009
Last updated: 8:04 PM 2/1/2009