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Cannibals & Convicts, 1886, by "Vagabond" (Julian Thomas), p.45-58:


    New Caledonia is situated within the Tropic of Capricorn, between the parallels 20° and 23° of south latitude. It is on the meridian of longitude 166° east of Greenwich. It runs south-east and north-west, and after New Zealand is the largest island in the South Seas, being about 180 miles in length by 30 to 40 in breadth. The distance between New Caledonia and the Australian continent is some 700 miles.
    A high mountain range, the Chaine Centrale, runs from south to north, forming a backbone to the island, and being the source of numberless streams which feed the rivers fertilising the valleys. The forests and dense vegetation are tropical, of much the same character as in New Guinea, for in New Caledonia, as in Papua, a species of Eucalyptus is found. This, which is called the niaouli, as in Australia, adds greatly to the salubrity of the country, the aromatic odours which fill the air of the "bush" being evidences of the volatile essences which kill the germs of miasma.... the niaouli in New Caledonia likewise gives to the atmosphere an extra amount of active oxygen, and tends to make this the healthiest of all the islands in the South Seas.

    New Caledonia is a land of the gum-tree and the convict; hut there its similarity to early Australia ceases. There are no marsupials here; in fact, there are no animals at all except the "flying fox," [Pteropus, fruit bat] the great vampire bat of the Pacific, and a small species of rat. Feathered life, too, is very rare. One occasionally meets with pigeons and parrots, but the forests and bush are generally silent. One hears neither the song of a bird nor the flutter of a wing.
    Its mountain heights are sombre and forbidding. But they contain mineral treasures which have not yet been sufficiently exploited. Copper, nickel, antimony, gold, are all found in New Caledonia. And as the area adapted for cultivation is comparatively small, it is in the development of its mineral resources that the legitimate prosperity of New Caledonia should in the future lie.

    New Caledonia was discovered by Captain Cook [James Cook, 1728-1779] on the 4th September, 1774. He named Cape Colnett, and the Isle of Pines, the latter from the only species of tree growing thereon. Two boats of his expedition traversed the chain of the great reef which surrounds New Caledonia. It was on the north, at Balade [Grande Terre], that Captain Cook first saw the natives. His relations were friendly with them, although they were reputed to be cannibals, a character which they to the present time justify.
    After Cook, came the great but ill-fated mariner La Perouse [Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse, c. 1741–1788], who was lost at Vanikoro. Admiral Bruny d'Entrecasteaux [Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni d'Entrecasteaux (1739–1793], who, in 1791, was despatched in search of La Perouse, reports the natives of New Caledonia as being cannibals. For forty years the island appears to have been unvisited, except by some early "beach-comber," runaway sailor, or escaped convict.

    In 1853 New Caledonia was formally taken possession of by the French Government, although by right of discovery it belongs to Great Britain. New Caledonia, for a few years previous to that time, had a sprinkling of English population engaged in the island and sandalwood trade with the natives. The French did not want New Caledonia for purposes of commerce, but to make it a penal depot.
    For years afterwards New Caledonia was quite unknown to the general public in Australia. A few smart merchants, of whom a Mr. John Higginson was chief, grasped all the trade, and acquired all the contracts for provisions and supplies for the convicts and troops.
    In 1872 New Caledonia became known to the outer world as a place of deportation for the Communists who were sentenced by courtmartial at Versailles. The convicts were settled on the island of Nou, the Communists on the peninsula of Ducos, and on the Isle of Pines. The thousands thus added to the population caused Noumea to become a place of commercial importance.

    From the first, the French authorities paid no attention to any rights which the natives, called by the generic term of Canaque [Kanak], might be presumed to have in the soil. It is said that the Canaques of New Caledonia numbered 60,000. Their villages were situated in the valleys which run between the spurs of the mountain range. The natives were divided into a number of tribes, and the language or dialect was often completely different. The long stretch of sea-coast afforded a plentiful fish diet; but the arable land of the country was, in proportion to the population, limited in extent. I think the natives made the most of it. Their fields of taros and of yams, and their plantations of bananas, were carefully tilled. The French authorities seized the most fertile valleys, on which they planted penitenciers agricoles, or leased them to free colonists employed in cattle raising; and, in some parts, cultivating sugar and coffee...

    The fire of insurrection had been smouldering for a long time, and in June, 1878, it burst out. It was stated that all through New Caledonia there was to be a general rising of the natives. Whether this be so or not, the majority of the tribes on the west coast rebelled or were driven into rebellion. Many French lives were lost, there being over 200 massacred in one week, and the insurrection was only put down after many bloody reprisals.
    It was during this war that I first spent some months in New Caledonia, as correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, in company with the troops, and had full opportunity of studying how France treats a native population. Living, too, as I often did, in convict depots, with convict servants waiting upon me, I had a chance of investigating the French penal system as it is in New Caledonia, and how it is likely to affect the future of Australia.


    Noumea I found a pretty, well laid-out, and well-kept city in embryo. It is true many of the houses were of wood, but they were therefore so much the better adapted to a tropical climate. Many of them were most elegant residences.
    An Australian visitor, accustomed to the roughness and uncouthness of our new colonial bush towns, would be astonished at the neatness and attractiveness that is often visible in Noumea. The side-walks are good, and the town has a magnificent supply of water from a reservoir on an adjacent hill; and if there is no gas, the streets are fairly lighted with oil lamps.

    The Hotel du Gouverneur, if it resenables a Swiss chalet, standing, as it does, in beautiful gardens, seems in accordance with the climate and the surroundings; and the friendly and courteous reception I met there from Governor Olry could not be surpassed in a palace... My best thanks are due to him for the facilities given to me, which French, and even English authorities are not always ready to tender to an independent journalist, whose criticisms may be unfavourable...
    Lieutenant-Colonel Wendling was proceeding on the following Tuesday to Bouloupari, to take charge of the operations, and the governor thought I might like to go with him. This being Saturday, there was only a delay of two days, so I was glad to accept the offer... After the death of Colonel Galli-Passeboc, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexis Wendling was commander of the forces in New Caledonia, comprising the marine infantry, to which he belonged, the artillery, and the gendarmerie.

    But French marines are not like English. The latter are soldiers both by sea and land; the former comprise a force recruited especially for land service in the colonies and at the naval depots of Brest and Cherbourg. Thus, the life of a French marine is passed between Senegal, Cayenne, Martinique, Cochin China, Pondicherry [Puducherry], and New Caledonia. The length of service in each colony is three years, with the exception of Senegal and Cayenne, where, owing to the unhealthiness of the climate, the term is only two years.
    On leaving a colony the marines have generally about a year in France, at one of the naval depots, prior to being sent out to another part of the globe. It will be seen that Algeria is not included in the above list; but that is considered as a province of France, and has a Governor-General —a high and mighty personage. All the other colonies being beyond the seas, are under immediate control of the naval department of France; hence the infantry recruited for service there is styled "marine," and its soldiers wear the anchor on their collar and buttons. The governors of these colonies are always naval men, their posts being considered as the prizes of the department...

    I left my temporary abode in the Maison Lise, Noumea, at half-past five on the morning of the 30th of July. The previous day I had spent in procuring necessary and unnecessary articles for campaign life, the latter, I believe, predominating. The many kind friends to whom I said "good-bye," and who bewailed my approaching fate at the hands of les Canaques, had each and all suggestions to make as to what I must take with me. Colonel Wendling declared that a mosquito net, made tent fashion, was indispensable; others said it would be useless. However, I had it manufactured. By the time I had procured one quarter of the things I was informed it would be "impossible to live without," I found I could not take the articles i myself wanted.

    So I only purchased a sheath knife and a few pounds of tobacco, with which I felt equal to either scalp or bribe any solitary Canaque whom I might meet with. Everybody wanted to lend or give me a revolver, although I had two very good weapons of my own. One dear friend would insist on my taking his pistol—it was charged, however, with cognac. The same gentleman got quite angry because I would not accept his writing-case filled with all the luxurious materials for polite correspondence. In sooth, if I had purchased all the articles recommended to me, and accepted those offered to be lent or given, several Saratoga trunks would have been required to convey them all to the seat of war, and Colonel Wendling had issued the edict that my baggage must be kept within reasonable proportions...
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    New Caledonia: Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island was made a French possession in 1853. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864.

    Agitation for independence during the 1980s and early 1990s ended in the 1998 Noumea Accord, which over a period of 15 to 20 years will transfer an increasing amount of governing responsibility from France to New Caledonia. The agreement also commits France to conduct as many as three referenda between 2013 and 2018, to decide whether New Caledonia should assume full sovereignty and independence.
    CIA World Factbook: New Caledonia

Area of New Caledonia: 19,060 sq km
slightly smaller than New Jersey

Population of New Caledonia: 227,436
July 2009 estimate

Languages of New Caledonia:
French official
Melanesian-Polynesian 33 dialects

New Caledonia Capital: Noumea

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New Caledonia Bruno 1882
A Year in... New Caledonia Campbell 1873
Travel in Fiji & New Caledonia Anderson 1880
Cannibals & Convicts Vagabond 1887
In an Unknown Prison Land Griffith 1901
French Colonies & Their Resources Bonwick 1886

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    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:



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.

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