The Perrier was a small steamer, one of the half-dozen which acted as coastguard boats; the baggage and half the men were taken on this, the remainder going in the Rose, which had been chartered for the occasion. The latter boat proved by far the quickest, and steamed ahead of us, gaining ground at every turn of the screw... The coast reminded me of that of Queensland but for the high range behind. The coral islands and reefs, inside which we steamed, formed a sea-wall, against which the outside surf beat fruitlessly; so the shore is lapped by ever peaceful waves. Now and then on the coast we saw the stations of some "colons," with fields around of maize and lucerne, giving a bright and refreshing colour.|
We sat in the bows of the Perrier, and smoked cigarettes or played with a little kitten—your French soldier will derive childlike amusement from the most trivial and innocent thing. The commander of the Perrier was a naval officer who could play baccarat with any man living. I don't know if Madeira is quite comme il faut before breakfast, but the bottle which this gentleman opened for us was decidedly appreciated...
A high peak was seen in the distance. "That is Ouitchambo, where the rebels are," said Colonel Wendling to me. At three o'clock we arrived alongside a small sloop of war, the Gazelle, which protects Buraki, the port for our destination, Bouloupari. In fact, the Perrier distinguished herself by running into the Gazelle. We landed in the boats, which could not get near the rocks. The soldiers waded ashore, whilst I was carried on the back of a sailor.
Buraki [Bouraké], seventy miles from Noumea, is one of the most miserable holes in New Caledonia. Situated on a rocky knoll, surrounded by swamps, it is the chosen home of mosquitoes. It was formerly a gendarmerie station, but is now a military post, being temporarily commanded by an unhappy sous-lieutenant of the Tage. He bad a thatched hut to live in; and a few other wretched habitations, inhabited by convicts and sailors, constituted Buraki. These convicts were then making a pier.
Some malignantlooking pigs were the only signs of animal life, with the exception of half-a-dozen horses browsing in the little cocoanut grove. These appertained to the officers from Bouloupari, who had come over to meet Colonel Wendling. A horse had been brought for him, but there was none for me, so I had the alternative of walking with the troops, or taking a seat on the baggage-waggon. Those who know me will not be surprised that I chose the latter...
Bouloupari consisted of some dozen huts and houses, formed of mud walls, like the adobe in Mexico, and with thatched roofs. But the head-quarters of the commandant were in the old house of the lieutenant of gendarmes, inside the recently erected stockade. This, constructed of the trunks of the niaolui placed side by side endways in the ground, was of irregular form, and included within its limits the head-quarters, stores, corral for horses, and a double circular row of low sheds constructed of bark and leaves, like the mia-mias of Australian aborigines, where the soldiers camped at nights.
Four very tall poles supported a small platform, on which a sailor, with trained eyes, long used to scanning distances at sea, kept watch and ward. The ascent to this was by a ladder which it required steady nerves to climb. Captain Cailhet, of the Tage, the commandant of the port, welcomed us. The governor's letter assured me a cordial reception, and Dr. Lassouarn, the medical officer in charge, to whom I owe many thanks for courtesies, took me in hand.
The first question was as to where I should camp. The house of the lieutenant of gendarmes only contained three rooms, which were all full. Some of the huts outside the stockade were occupied by three or four officers, and even a little pavilion in the garden had three tenants. An alternative was presented as to whether I would assist in overcrowding one of the huts, or would sleep on the verandah inside a cane screen. I chose the latter, and was assured that it was the most comfortable and healthy. An iron bedstead, spoil from one of the neighbouring farmhouses, was procured for me, and after spreading my blankets on this, and performing some necessary ablutions, under circumstances of considerable difficulty, I sat down at the mess-table to eat my first meal in Bouloupari...
The New York Times, August 28, 1872, p.4:|
An Earthly Paradise.
Far away down in the balmy Pacific lie the islands of New-Caledonia. Balade, for so the chief island is called, is one of the furthest outlying stars of the Australasian constellation. Six days of fast sailing are needed to reach the spot from Sydney; and when there, if men versed in the modern science, and possessed of the modern artillery of war, chose to resist a landing, even a powerful force might be unable to effect it.
Balade is two hundred miles long and about thirty wide, and it is so guarded by jealous coral reefs, jagged rocks, and treacherous sand-banks, that by only two tortuous channels in all that circumference is it possible to get to the shore. One of these is that by which COOK sailed in when he discovered the island in 1774, and the other was only found by Capt. WOODIN in 1849.
The books say there are about 60,000 persons living on Balade; but, since the wars, which lasted for some years after 1853, when the French seized the island to establish a naval station, the number of natives has probably been much diminished.
These facts, and others about Balade, have lately taken a fresh interest, for ship-load after ship-load of French Communists have recently been sent thither, and New-Caledonia will, consequently, assume an importance hereafter in the eyes of the civilized world it has never possessed before. Ten thousand Communists are about to be put upon the island, under the surveilliance, for the present, of a single regiment of French troops...
Apart from the magnitude and social importance of this experiment, it is invested with a romance that must increase the interest with which it is regarded. All the picturesque adjuncts that have charmed the world in the adventures, real or imaginary, of Robinson Crusoe, Paul and Virginia, or the dwellers at Pitcairn's Island, may easily be equalled or surpassed at Balade. The climate is exquisitely soft and balmy, and the scenery is fairy lovliness. Groves of sandal-wood range for miles into the interior. Lofty peaks, divided by fertile valleys, soar majestically into the sky. the cocoa-nut, the banana, bread-fruit, the yam, taro, and mango, grow indigenously, and so do the sugar-cane and the vine. Large and well-watered plains yield bounteous pasturage. Fish and game are abundant.
Coal and iron are to be found among the hills, and—although the French Government have discouraged the search for it—gold is known to exist there too. Other choice stones and minerals are abundant, including good granite, and the rarer green amphibole.
Thus, all the materials of delicious climate, unlimited and fertile soil, exquisite scenery, uncommon security from external attack, exist to assure comfort and happiness. Eden itself could scarcely set forth a more perfect earthly paradise; and if communism can flourish permanently anywhere, or under any circumstances, it assuredly should be at this beauteous isle, "set in the silver sea," the future home of the unquiet spirits who lately threw up barricades, smashed the Hotel de Ville, and defied BISMARCK and M. THIERS alike behind the walls of Paris.
The New York Times, March 14, 1879, p.3:
THE RESTORED COMMUNISTS.RETURN OF THE EXILED CITIZENS OF FRANCE.
THE LIFE IN NEW-CALEDONIA—
HOW THE CONVICTS WENT OUT
AND HOW THEY WILL RETURN—
WHO SOME OF THE LEADERS ARE.
From the London News, Feb. 18.
Although the amnesty is not voted yet, a couple of sailing transports have already left France for New Caledonia, in order to bring back the Communists who are about to be pardoned. They are the Navarin and the Yar, and three others will sail within a month from now. All these ships are the same which took out the convicts in 1872-73 and they are each of them fitted up so as to carry 530 passengers, besides the crews.
As at present arranged the first departure from Noumea will take place on 5th June, the transport being timed to arrive at Aden on the 5th August, at Port Said on the 18th, and at Toulon on the 28th. All the expatriated exiles are to be landed at Toulon, and it is understood that once they have set foot on French ground they will be allowed to go where they please.
A public subscription is being raised to supply the wants of the neediest of them, and the Municipal Council of Paris is going to make a grant of £4,000 for the same purpose.
This is almost necessary, for very few of the exiles have found their sojourn in New-Caledonia a paying business. The late National Assembly having voted in an unwise fit of sentimentalism that labor should not be made compulsory for the political convicts, most of them have been living in unrenumerative idleness.
They received a daily dole of rations, they had ill-made huts to live in, and they spent most of their time in mooning about with their hands in their pockets waiting for news from France, which might haply bring them tidings that the long-expected amnesty was at hand.
Some few had the sense to turn their talents and energies to good account, and these will not come back penniless. Assi, formerly foreman of the Cruezot Iron Works, and promoter of the famous strike of 1870, is among that number. He established a foundry at Noumea as soon as he landed, and he seems to have prospered...
Probably the passengers from New-Caledonia will travel home more comfortably than when they undertook the voyage out. M. Heni Rochefort, though his assertions about official misdoings must often be taken cum grano, has written an account, which is in the main true, about the hardships which the first deportes had to endure on the convict ships.
They were penned by the half-dozen in strong wooden cages, where there was just room for them to squat, huddling one another. Twice a day a bucket half full of soup was passed into each cage, and the men, not being allowed to have tins, helped themselves with wooden spoons. Their drink was water, which they swilled out of an iron jug, the ration being limited to a quart a day per man even when they were passing through tropical latitudes, where thirst rages. There was not enough light in the cages for the prisoners to read, so they were fain to sit or rock about in sullen idleness, except during the half hour every day when they were summoned to the upper deck, in batches of 50, to wash and take exercise under a guard of marines with loaded rifles.
The authorities were entitled to plead that it was their duty above all things to prevent mutiny; and in sum, as there was but little illness on board the transports, it cannot be said that the treatment was insufferably harsh; still, the long passage in quasi-darkness must have been woefully tedious to most of the exiles. It naturally told heavily on the female convicts, of whom there were many—two or three being women of education, like Louise Michel, the school-mistress.
It is said that on the voyage home the cages will be dispensed with, and the prisoners will have three substantial meals a day, with coffee and a ration of wine. They will be treated as captives, however, until they have touched French soil—which means that, in case of insubordination, they will be subject to heavy penalties.
No case has yet been reported of a convict deciding to remain in New-Caledonia after his release...
The number to be repatriated from New Caledonia amounts to about 3,000, but there will be many more who will return from exile in England, Belgium, Switzerland, and America...
One would be glad to add that all these proscripts had borne themselves with dignity during their exile, but this is not possible. Perhaps the least said on the subject, the better... The Commune of 1871 is not a thing to crow about.