French Possessions in Oceania


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. French Possessions in Oceania is Number 145 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The study covers two groups of territories, New Caledonia and its dependencies and French settlements in Oceania. The latter include the Society Islands, Tubuai or the Austral Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago, Gambier Islands (Mangareva), and the Marquesas Islands. The book has sections on physical and political geography, political history and social and political conditions, and economic conditions, with the two groups of territories discussed separately. The study notes that the total population of these widely scattered islands was 31,477 in 1911, and points out that in recent years the native population had decreased and was offset by an influx of Japanese and Chinese laborers. The section on political history recounts how the various islands were discovered by Spanish, Dutch, French, and British explorers and came under French control, beginning with the proclamation, in 1842, of the French Protectorate of the Society Islands (Tahiti), the Windward group, and the Marquesas. France began using New Caledonia as a penal colony in 1864. The study concludes that the economic prospects of the islands are fairly bleak, owing to labor shortages and other factors, but notes their location as a potential economic asset. “The French Pacific Islands lie on important trade routes. The routes from Sydney to Vancouver and from Sydney to San Francisco both pass, as a rule, by the southern end of New Caledonia. The French Settlements are almost midway between Australia and the Panama Canal, and afford good ports of call and coaling stations in the south-eastern Pacific.” New Caledonia is today a special collectivity within France, probably moving toward full independence. The other French possessions discussed in the book are all part of French Polynesia.

Last updated: February 4, 2016