Item #5000960 A major manuscript discussion of the possibilities for a future French penal colony in the Pacific, echoing the perceived success of the Botany Bay experiment. Maximilien-René RADIGUET, "Max"

Manuscript discussion of a future French penal colony in the Pacific.
A major manuscript discussion of the possibilities for a future French penal colony in the Pacific, echoing the perceived success of the Botany Bay experiment.

France, probably Paris: N.D., circa 1850.

35 pp. autograph manuscript in ink, loose sheets of wove paper measuring 227 x 180 mm, numbered at top left, together with an additional 22 pp. in the same hand, being a working draft of the major manuscript; both corrected throughout in ink and pencil; modern quarter calf bookform box.

A new Botany Bay in Tahiti

A major unpublished Pacific manuscript, perhaps the most detailed analysis and most passionate argument for establishing a French penal colony in the Pacific of any of the early French voyager-writers, especially significant as it was written by the private secretary of the great circumnavigator Dupetit-Thouars, one of the mainstays of French ambitions in the entire region. A half century and more after the first stages of the Botany Bay experiment, the British vision still tantalisingly in front of the French, Radiguet presents one of the most thoughtful analyses of the prospects for what he calls "a free Botany Bay".

A major unpublished Pacific manuscript, perhaps the most detailed analysis and most passionate argument for establishing a French penal colony in the Pacific of any of the early French voyager-writers, especially significant as it was written by the private secretary of the great circumnavigator Dupetit-Thouars, one of the mainstays of French ambitions in the entire region. A half century and more after the first stages of the Botany Bay experiment, the British vision still tantalisingly in front of the French, Radiguet presents one of the most thoughtful analyses of the prospects for what he calls "a free Botany Bay".

Maximilien-René "Max" Radiguet (1816-1899) had sailed to the region with Dupetit-Thouars on the Reine Blanche, and had been present not only at the annexation of the Marquesas, but also at the more politically charged claiming of Tahiti in 1842. Following his return to France he became a recognised expert on the Pacific, notably with his book Les Derniers Sauvages (1860), but also with the long series of essays that appeared in the contemporary journals, and from his work in helping to curate a major collection of Polynesian and Pacific Rim artefacts that ranged from California to New South Wales (see following catalogue item).

The archive includes Radiguet's manuscript, amounting to some 15,000 words, and a collection of drafts and notes amounting to almost as many words again: these draft notes are often quite different in structure and emphasis, proving that Radiguet laboured over this work, correcting and amplifying his argument, adjusting his emphasis and expanding his project.

The essay proper is a major study of its kind, divided into two parts, beginning with a detailed history of the French in the Pacific and of the different colonial projects he had witnessed, then concluding with an extraordinary appeal for the administration to return to what he considered the only sensible location for any such colonial project, one which would capitalise on their now firm footing in Tahiti and the Society Islands.

Radiguet cites in detail two great examples for the likely success of such a project: firstly, the hope that the French can seize the opportunity to transform the islands into a "free Botany Bay" ('de transformer l'archipel Tahitien en un Botany-Bay libre,' p. 24) and secondly, given that his plan involves resettling both French convicts and Tahitian volunteers, the remarkable example of Pitcairn Island and the Bounty mutineers, and the sort of 'colonie Anglo-Tahitienne' that they had created (p. 31).

Far from being a vague appeal, he presents a considered thesis based on his own eyewitness reportage, with an emphasis – especially notable for its time – on the need to stop the ongoing destruction of the islander people whom he had come to respect. "Our civilisation does not transform savage societies," he writes at one point, "it annihilates them." ("Notre civilisation ne métamorphose pas les sociétés sauvages, elle les anéantit.")

Unlike many of his compatriots Radiguet consistently tries to delve into the other side of the argument: the beliefs and the reactions of the Pacific islanders. Not many writers in the 1850s could open their piece with a long story of a 'grand orateur' from Tahiti, Maré, explaining aspects of their penal code and their belief that any community could be corrupted by its impure sediment, just as any pure liquid will have its lees. Fewer still would know anything of the internal politics of the region, let alone the specifics of banishment in their laws: Radiguet believes that the ideal situation would be to graft the new colony he proposes into the Tahitian polity by specifically using the island of Meheti'a, situated midway between Tahiti and the Tuamotos, as a base. This would help Pomaré support the project because it was the traditional place of banishment for the Tahitians ('le lieu de déportation des Tahitiens,' p. 34).

The internal evidence of Radiguet's essay suggests that it was written around 1850, a critical juncture just after the ill-fated Alcmené had been sent out to New Caledonia but before news of the wreck of the ship had been heard in France. It also therefore predates the French Guiana plan of 1852 (now famous as the setting of Papillon). It was written, that is, at the very moment when the French government was finally putting into concrete action a plan they had been vaguely considering for decades.

Especially considering the fact that Radiguet worked with the Ministry in Paris for the second half of the 1840s, the manuscript can now be recognised as a major addition to the debate that was being canvassed in the writings of key figures such as Duperrey, Rocquemaurel and Dumont d'Urville. The manuscript is therefore a major contribution in the wide-ranging French debate of mid-century regarding prisons, transportation and penal colonies.

French interest in establishng a penal colony

The appeal of establishing a penal colony in the southern hemisphere was keenly studied by the French, in part because of their ongoing incredulity at the apparent successes of the English. The officers on the Baudin voyage, chiefly François Péron, reported on this aspect of New South Wales around the turn of the century, as did both Louis de Freycinet and Jacques Arago a few years later. By the time of the circumnavigation of Louis Isidore Duperrey (1822—1825) one of the explicit orders was to find an acceptable location in Australia for founding just such a colony (John Dunmore, From Venus to Antarctica, p. 31). Even more, Duperrey's successor Dumont d'Urville, during his own first major voyage (1826—1829), took the question of transportation very seriously indeed, studying the political conditions in both New South Wales and Tasmania (John West-Sooby, Nowhere is Perfect, pp. 256—263) and ultimately publishing a short but important précis on the subject in the official account (Voyage au Pole Sud et dans l'Océanie, vol. IX, pp. 18—33), based in no small part on the fuller investigations of a junior officer on board, Gaston de Rocquemaurel.

These initial studies by practical voyagers set the stage, for example, for the serious French proposal for a penal colony to be established in south-west Australia in the mid-1820s, the threat of which was one of the main reasons behind the founding of the British military post at Albany. It also promoted a small flood of French theorists and writers investigating the subject, beginning with Ernest de Blosseville's Histoire des colonies pénales de l'Angleterre dans l'Australie (1831) and Jules de la Pilorgerie's Histoire de Botany-Bay (1836), but also hinted at in the popular success of Ernst de Fouinet's novel Allan le jeune déporté à Botany Bay (1836).

Not all of the writers supported the idea – the title-page of Pilorgerie's book quotes Sir James Mackintosh, "I have no high opinion of the efficacy of transportation, either for reformation or example" – but there can be no doubting the traction the idea was gaining. In 1844 the French government passed a bill that allowed, theoretically at least, for the transportation of French convicts, although the intervening 1848 revolution delayed its implementation until 1852, when the first prisoners were sent to French Guiana in South America, and in 1863 they also set up a new colony just off the Australian coast in New Caledonia.

Indeed, of them all, Dumont d'Urville was one of the major theorists on the subject, which animated much of his mature thoughts on New South Wales and Tasmania alike, and who read widely on the subject: for one, a copy of Alexander Maconochie's Thoughts on Convict Management (Hobart: 1838), was in his personal library. Nor was he a blithe enthusiast for the project, hence Duyker's summation that "there can be no doubt of d'Urville's personal sympathy for the island's convicts and his uneasiness over the assignment system, the means by which the free settlers… had the use of convict labour without charge, except for the cost of food, clothes and, if necessary, medicine. D'Urville also recoiled from the severe and degrading physical punishments inflicted on the convicts, some of whom he knew were political prisoners rather than common criminals" (Duyker, Dumont d'Urville, p. 446).

Radiguet's point of view

Radiguet's essay begins with a broad comment on the social implications of what he thought was a growing crime epidemic and worsening social conditions in France, he argued that removing even reformed criminals would alleviate much of the pressure (p. 3). He looked with admiration at the 'English' model, exemplified through their creation of the settlement at Botany Bay which now has a significant military and commercial role ("Lorsque le gouvernement britannique a crée Botany-Bay, il ne pourait pas prévoir que la rade de Port-Jackson porterait bientôt une ville considerable, que cette rade serait au bout de si peu d'armées une point commercial très important…"). Not only, writes Radgiuet, was this an effective method of at purifying their country through their modern system of banishment, the British government was due slightly more credit than was perhaps due, implying that the rolling establishment of different colonies in Botany Bay, Tasmania and New Zealand was a formal and organised system, in which land reforms and political expansion lead neatly to self-government (p. 4).

Radiguet then sets out his bona fides with a substantial review of both the history of transportation and the history of French Polynesia, especially the Marquesas, Tahiti, the Gambier Islands and Wallis Island. Throughout, he shows that he is also thoroughly well-versed in the entire history of English penal colonies, and while discouraged by the lack of foresight in the French government regarding the Pacific, hopes that the example of their English rivals might finally encourage them to exert themselves when the stakes are so high.

After his general introduction, with its open admiration for the British model, he moves on to a comparison of the blundering and ad hoc machinations of the French.

French failures

Since the return of the much-lamented Dumont d'Urville from his second circumnavigation, he writes, there have been failed projects such as that at Port Famine in the Straits of Magellan or the proposal to acquire land in the Banks Peninsula of New Zealand (Akaroa) by a French whaling captain, Radiguet reserves his particular vitriol for the collapse of their influence in Hawaii, and particularly the clumsy intervention of Admiral Tromelin, whose sacking of Honolulu in 1849 had angered the 160,000 subjects of King Kamehameha III and meant that they had turned even more strongly towards the United States (p. 10). ("Aux Sandwich, une série d'erreurs causées par notre susceptibilité et des malentendus sans importance d'abord, transforme en mépris l'affection que nous vouaient les hawaïens, et les cent soixante mille sujets de Kaméaméa se tournent vers les Etats-Unis.") Such miscalculated aggression, he continues, had only made any possible colony in Panama or California more unlikely than ever, even despite the investigations of the ship L'Héroine in the northwest in 1849.

For Radiguet this was a bitter rollcall of missteps and failures by the French. Yet, despite these setbacks, Radiguet is keen to argue that the whole of the Pacific lies before them and that the French are not insignificant in the 'monde Océanien'. He particularly singles out the Gambier Islands, notably the fact that the only Europeans there are the missionaries who, supported by the French government, now have the rich pearling grounds to themselves: they make, he writes with enthusiasm, the locals dive for the pearls and mother-of-pearl, and the missionaries trade in the goods (p. 15). ("En dehors de la mission, il n'y a pas un seul Européen aux Gambier et, grâce à d'incroyables dispositions autorisées, ordonnées par le gouvernement français, il n'y en aura jamais. Mangaréva, Akéna, Akamaru sont des îlots riches en nacre et en perles. Les missionnaires font plonger les naturels, et trafiquent de ces marchandises.") There is also the Île Wallis, in particular the main island of Uvéa, 1000 leagues from Nuku Hiva and 800 from Tahiti, which had been investigated by the French ship L'Ambuscade, sent out from Tahiti in 1844.

The Marquesas, Tahiti and New Caledonia

All of this brings him to Nuku Hiva and the Marquesas, where Radiguet's personal experience comes to the forefront, providing a good history of the region even despite the fact, he notes ironically, that the French newspapers had written it off and the fact that most commentators struggled to differentiate it from Tahiti. In this light, he laments, the government may have designated Taouata as a very suitable place and have dithered on the question of the Marquesas, but the whole sorry debate reminded him of the fable of the bear (presumably, the version of the story in La Fontaine in which a friendly bear accidentally kills a gardener by trying to drive away a fly by crushing it with a stone, only to kill the gardener as well). "Lorsque le gouvernement de la République, à propos de sa loi de déportation, a désigné Taouata, l'une de ces îles, comme devant être un lieu très convenable, il ne s'est trouvé personne qui soit venue rappeler à l'Assemblée Nationale la fable de l'Ours" (pp. 17-18).

This is very relevant to Tahiti, where Queen Pomare IV reigns, and the most delightful place on the globe ("ce qu'il y a de plus ravissant sur le globe"). Radiguet goes on to give a long and accurate account of the Pritchard Affair. George Pritchard was a British missionary who had convinced Queen Pomaré IV to expel two Catholic missionaries, an action which so outraged Dupetit-Thouars, then on board the Vénus, to declare a French protectorate and, a few years later, to annex the entire region for France. Radiguet is no simple chauvinist, here criticising both the original expulsion of the missionaries (presumably the fly of his analogy) but also the headstrong act of possession by the French, not least because they were made so quickly to revert to being a protectorate, with the result that the local people now think the French are afraid of Great Britain, making them cut a sad figure in their estimation (p. 21).

Ironically, Radiguet reserves his strongest dislike for the area being most openly canvassed by the French, New Caledonia. Sardonic about the puff-pieces being published, Radiguet had written privately to a whaling captain who was familiar with the region, who had provided him with a bitter denunciation of a region, he writes with a dramatic flourish, peopled with utter savages – not merely cannibals, but beyond the reach of civilisation and incapable of improvement, reduced to eating soapstone to assuage their constant hunger (p. 23). Radiguet is bitter, therefore, about the enthusiasm with which the plea to colonise New Caledonia had been prosecuted, especially the memorials of a Catholic missionary whom he cannot bring himself to name – 'cet évêque' he writes with some contempt, the reference to a bishopric meaning that he must be thinking of Guillaume Marie Douarre SM, appointed Vicar Apostolique in 1847.

As this important passage suggests, Radiguet's essay was clearly written in the shadow of the voyage of the corvette Alcmène, which was being sent out to investigate various settlements and then explore New Caledonia (p. 23). Importantly, Radiguet seems not to know the fate of this expedition, which wrecked in 1851, giving added confirmation of the likely date of composition.

A new Botany Bay

This broad-ranging discussion therefore brings him back to Tahiti and his hope of making a new Botany Bay. Aware of its strategic and commercial interest (especially in terms of whaling), he is also aware of the decimation of the local peoples, which he estimates to have fallen from a high of some 240,000 before Wallis, Cook and Bougainville, to as little as some 7000 in 1851. All of this, he continues unflinchingly, is due to the destruction wrought by civilisation ("due au contact de la nature primitive avec la civilisation"), through the merchant ships and whalers, the annihilating effect of disease and want, and now the emigration and exile of many of the local men and women.

His solution, therefore, is to imagine a new colony that would blend the two cultures, French and Tahitian, in a new island colony outside the debilitating collapse of life in Tahiti and other parts of Polynesia. He sees no reason that the two groups would more likely be to flourish through the proposed union: indeed, his clincher is quite surprising, for he suggests that they could should look to the example of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn, and the flourishing community they became (leaving off-stage, for the purpose of his argument, the violent massacres that convulsed the small group of British sailors and Tahitian men and women in the first decade or so after they arrived).

He has, he concludes, the belief that none of the islander folks will view the French convicts with repugnance, but as men not so much guilty as banished, and extend their hands in comradeship (p. 32). "J'ai la conviction, si les indigènes étaient abandonnés à leur propre jugement, qu'ils accueilleraient sans répugnance nos convicts; ils verraient en eux des hommes, non des coupables, des bannis, et ils leur tendraient la main."

The only conclusion is that it cannot be Tahiti proper that is chosen, nor any of the French settlements in the Marquesas or even New Caledonia. Rather it must be a small and sparsely populated island, none better than the island of "Matia" or "Maïtia" (Meheti'a), described as the place to which the Tahitians had historically deported those they had banished (p. 34).

This is a strong conclusion, rather undercut by the fact that he immediately pivots to other possible islands more recently surveyed, among them Ouvéa, 800 nautical miles from Tahiti.


Boissery, Beverley. A Deep Sense of Wrong (Toronto: 1995)

Broc, Numa. Dictionnaire illustré des explorateurs et grands voyageurs français du XIXe siècle (2003), pp. 329—330

Dening, Greg. Islands and Beaches: discourse on a silent land, Marquesas 1774—1880 (1980)

Dumont d'Urville, Jules. Voyage au Pole Sud et dans l'Océanie… (Paris: 1841-1846)

Dunmore, John. From Venus to Antarctica (Auckland: 2007)

Duyker, Edward. Dumont d'Urville (Otago: 2014)

Howgego, Raymond. Encyclopedia of Exploration (vol. II)

O'Reilly/Reitman. 1048, 4740, 6827, etc.

West-Sooby, John. Nowhere is Perfect: French and Francophone Utopias/Dystopias (Delaware: 2008)

Provenance: Collection of Jean-Paul Morin, avid ethnographical and voyage collector and bibliophile.

Numa Broc, Dictionnaire illustré des explorateurs et grands voyageurs français du XIXe siècle, Amérique, p. 270 et Océanie, pp. 329-330; Vapereau, Dictionnaire universel des contemporains, 6e édition, p. 1293.

Condition Report: Some spotting and foxing but very good indeed.

Price (AUD): $36,000.00

US$23,923.59   Other currencies

Ref: #5000960

Condition Report