Pondicherry

Front facade of the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP)
Front facade of the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP)

PRESENTATION / OVERVIEW

Pondicherry and the Trading Posts in India

Pondicherry in its glory

François Martin was the first Frenchmen to settle in Pondicherry in 1675. The Dutch took hold of the town in 1693 and occupied it for 9 years during which they made heavy investments. They are notably the ones who planned the town in a grid pattern. They returned it to France during the signing of the Ryswick treaty. Three governors then succeeded to François Martin who died in 1706: Lenoir, Dumas and Dupleix. Lenoir then Dumas undertook many urban planning works. But France had its hour of glory under the governorship of Dupleix. Dupleix, named governor of Pondicherry in 1742 after having been the director of the Chandernagor trading post to which he gave a great boost, nearly manages, in 12 years, to create a French empire in the Indian peninsula.

The wars in Europe, between England and France notably, had repercussions nevertheless in Pondicherry. That is how Mahé de Labourdonnais took hold of Madras during the Austrian succession war. The British subsequently laid for their part, and in vain, the siege of Pondicherry. In September 1750, Bussy takes hold of the Gingy fortress, considered impregnable. Pondicherry is at that time at its peak, as much with regards to its radiance than to its wealth. But Dupleix fails to take over Trichy from the British in 1753. In 1754, he is called back to France and replaced by Godeheu. It is the end of an empire dream.

The Seven years war starts in 1756. The British take hold of Chandernagor and raze the city to the ground. France names a new governor: Lally Tollendal, a catholic Irishman emigrated to France, who hated the British. He takes over and razes Cuddalore, then heads towards Madras, but a British squadron is heading at the same time towards Pondicherry and besieges the city during one year. The white town will be razed to the ground in 1761. Lally Tollendal will be judged, condemned and executed for high treason in 1766. Five years later, he will be rehabilitated thanks to Voltaire. In 1763, Pondicherry will be returned to France during the signing of the Paris Treaty. The white town will be rebuilt in two years.

Pondicherry in turmoil

Till the end of the Napoleonic wars, Pondicherry will become at times French, at times British, many times besieged and taken over by the British. Bussy dies in 1785. In 1790, news of the Revolution comes, which provokes a big turmoil in the population. On March 1st, an assembly is constituted. The natives, who had been referred to as “maures” or “gentils” according to religious criteria, become known as “malabars”. The population writes books of grievances. A new era starts for Pondicherry. But in 1793, the British take over the city once again, which they will keep till the fall of Napoleon. Pondicherry will have therefore been besieged 6 times in less than a century.

Pondicherry, French at last

During the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1815, the British return to France, once and for all, its five trading posts: Chandernagor, Yanaon, Pondicherry and Karaikal on the east cost and Mahé on the west coast.

From 1815 to 1940, the highlights are: the establishment of the “Collège Royal” in 1826, of the first school in the French Empire by the viscount Desbassyns de Richemont, of the “Ecole de Droit” (in 1838) and of the first “Alliance française” (1893); the emigration through the Pondicherry port of the “recruited” coming from all of south India, heading towards the sugar islands (Reunion island, West Indies) to replace the slaves from 1848 onwards (abolition of slavery); emigration of pondicherian executives to provide for the colonial administration of Indochina after the taking of Saigon in 1860; the promulgation of the decree on the renunciation of the personal status (September 1881) which allowed pondicherians to become French citizens by adopting the Civil Code.

The pondicherians will take part in the First World War, where a certain number of them will lay their lives (a monument is dedicated to their memory). In June 1940, Pondicherry (and not Brazzaville!) is the first territory to rally to the General De Gaulle: many will join the FFL. All pondicherians become French at the Liberation.

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