Schlagwort-Archiv: New Caledonia

Numea, 3 June 1893

For today there was a full program planned. In the morning at 8 o’clock the governor fetched me in his boat to visit the prison which was to be constructed on the island of Nu on the spot where the first penal depot had been built in 1864. Here the hard criminals as well as those who committed crimes during their time of detention which results in harder conditions or a prolongation of the sentence were to be kept. Furthermore the prisoners coming newly from France or from the colonies are to stay there until they can be distributed to the various places on the island.

After half an hour we landed at a garden which is assigned to the director of the establishment. It consists of a large number of large widely dispersed locations which we visited guided by the director. We started at a small barracks where a detachment of about 100 men of marine infantry under the command of a captain was staying. Then we had a look at various workshops where the prisoners performed various crafts such as a bakery, locksmithery, carpentry etc. In this prison too the prisoners are housed during the night in long rows of houses side by side like in Montravel. Only here the houses are surrounded by high walls. The middle of the housing complex was a place of execution where on occasion the guillotine is set up; all prisoners have to attend the executions on their knees while behind them the soldiers take up position with loaded rifles.

Above the prisoner houses rises a mighty building without windows in which small cells intended for the hardest criminals and namely the recidivists. These contain wooden beds with a blanket each to which the prisoner can be shackled with iron bars. To my surprise I found books in some of the prisoner’s cells. The director of the prison intends to house the hardest criminals in other locations without beds where the prisoner has to sleep on the naked ground and has no benefits at all.

The first cell whose iron door was opened for me held a six-times murderer whose fate rested on the outstanding decision of the president of the republic. When the governor directed a few questions to the prisoner condemned to death, he showed his bad behavior and answered quite impertinently. The criminal was shackled on one foot. The other leg which had been wounded by a revolver shot when he had attacked one of the guards was bandaged. A still young man of a strong almost Herculean build, the deported had started his criminal career by murdering his lover.

I had almost all the cells in the building opened and made the impression that the inmates showed without exception impertinent behavior which was evident in their answers. True criminal physiognomies that indicated crime and vice and made us realize that we faced the scum of the earth.

A part of the inhabitants of these houses  is awaiting their turn at the guillotine which was shown next. I had this earnest instrument of justice never seen before and could not resist an awkward feeling, due not in the least to the the cruelties of the large revolution which passed through my mind. The executioner, a former prisoner, a truly vile guy demonstrated how a criminal is tied to the horrible board and explained the mechanism of the machine. Finally he let the blade crash down on a reed bundle which was cut through by the impact of the falling executioner’s sword. This was accompanied by the vile man’s cynical jokes and smiling, he finally presented me with his photograph which had his name and the following words: „Executeur des hautes oeuvres“.

We visited also the magazine with all supplies and tools for road construction and then walked some kilometers to the hospital which was under the care of merciful sisters and held about 150 sick persons and is situated in a beautiful, healthy location at the edge of the sea. It was exemplary well run, especially concerning cleanliness and order.

Next to the hospital was an institution for the mentally ill with a large garden where these unfortunate humans seemed to be as well cared for as was possible. During my visit there were scenes similar to those in other mental homes. As all the poor ill persons approached us and gave speeches, presented themselves as kings of Spain and other countries, declared to be kept here illegally as mentally ill persons and uttered many words of sad mental state. One man who suffered from rage attacks of such an intensity that he could break iron bars that were as thick as a thumb showed me a nice blanket he had woven.

Leaving this dark place we drove in the barge and then with the wagon to the country retreat of the governor which was half an hour outside of Numea to attend here a Pilu-Pilu, that is a music and choreographic and warlike performance of the natives, in the honor of M. Gallet, the official in charge of native affairs. Under a tent that is usually set up on a place for lawn tennis games we enjoyed this strange but exciting spectacle.

Two groups of about fifty natives each from Montfaue and Huailu performed a funeral dance together accompanied by song. These groups alternated in the performance of a number of dances and then made room for the natives from Bai who also excelled in dance and song. The natives of Montfaue then sang a song that told about episodes and memories of the uprising of 1878, the year of uprising and war. In these fights the tribe of Unua fought on the French side. One of that tribe, a chief called Dui won fame by his audacity in the fight against the rebellious natives.

The members of each tribe distinguish themselves by their appearance from other tribes only in details. Their dances and songs are also similar. All actors, tall beautifully grown men, wore full war costumes with long spears and heavy clubs while the chiefs wearing many centimeters more of clothing than during the hunt yesterday were also armed with axes made out of serpentine stones. White cock feathers as well as combs stuck into the thick curly hair served as headdress.

The dances which were executed with a precision that would make any well drilled corps de ballet proud were accompanied by wild but at least rhythmic songs which included the singers convincingly imitating animal voices and sounds of nature. The choreographic productions — every single movement was executed by all dancers in sync — were partly funeral dances, that is religious ceremonial, partly war dances partly the illustration of emotions, actions, customs, machines etc. Thus one could see in an audacious step and movement: fruit bats, cattle, love, war canoes, a taro harvest feast, hunting, fishing, a free horse, the turning of a ship screw, a European threatening with his finger, a man with crippled arms, even the signals of a semaphore and surveying the land — for a ballet master a true treasure chest of surprising new effects.

In their songs these wild artists express partly harmless views and exhortations partly energetic inimical and bellicose thoughts and even examples of anthropophagous poetry. The latter was namely also the case in the sung episodes about the year 1878 of the Montfaue. Whatever the individual truth behind the content of these tales they were taken in their whole originality from the points of view of a primitive people and formed in a most naive way: „Prepare for the dance (Nipagüeü-nipagüeü)! — You are numerous, all begin! Dance the Nequipin! — Put a canoe in the river! — Have persons thin due to the inundation and his ship be carried away! — Prepare for battle! — Shout the war cry! — We want to kill chief Dui! — I will cut his brother Meino in two pieces! —“ etc.

The spectacle received great interest not only because it permitted insight into the importance of dance and song for these primitive humans as a means to express their desires, moods and feelings but also because these spectacles showed an excellent powers of observation and real talent to perform the noticed. They thus confirm the above average intelligence of the wild artists. Most remarkable was the endurance and the effort with which they danced and sang as well the rage that flashed in the physiognomies of the dancers.

The following spear throwing of the natives offered nothing exceptional as they were probably exhausted and excited from the dance so that many spears missed their target. The slinging of stones however was very original. The islanders put hard stones that they had sharpened at both ends into conical points into a twisted slip knot made out of fibers which they swung around in circles so that the stone escapes with speed and flies toward the distant target with force. The projectile flies hurling through the sky and penetrates even fairly think planks. These slings were once used as dangerous weapons in the never-ending fights between the different tribes.

This production was followed by a Pilu-Pilu native from Lifu, the largest of the Loyalty islands. The facial characteristics of these islanders who also have Polynesian blood mixed in are more beautiful than those of the natives of New Caledonia. They are also said to be more intelligent and more open to trade with Europeans than the latter. In contrast to the New Caledonians the  Lifuese were painted in the most flashy colors mostly vermilion and sky-blue. Even their faces had been fully covered and individual artists wore grotesque face masks. The Lifu islanders acted in two groups one of which performed a dance of the warriors accompanied by song. The other produced an episode of the family history of an old demon again with song and dance. The latter production starting with monotonous singing suddenly turned into wild pantomimic movements that however were executed only by a few artists while the others crouched or clapped hands and shouted.

This performance had an erotic character as it treated the kidnapping of the wife of an old demon by multiple young devils. These appear and try to lure the wife away from the old demon with all kinds of inciting tales. The old demon’s warning voice dies away in vain. „Come with us, our land is beautiful, and the paths that led there fine“ sing the young demons. After the fearful old demon’s „Don’t listen to them“ the flighty wife sings „I will follow you“, so that the old demon left alone can only ask the empty question „Where is my wife?“ and sadly answer in resignation „I have lost her..!“ The show would not have been suitable for ladies as the wild artists enjoyed their exuberant even unrestrained fantasies and many alternating songs especially that between the wife and the young devils left out nothing of comic and drastic matter.

Thus the program of the morning was complete. I then returned on board while my gentlemen ambled through the town and there made a number of purchases of ethnographic objects for me.

In the government building illuminated brightly as daylight by lampions and gas flames and whose entrance was a glittering triumphal arch, the governor hosted a gala dinner attended by about thirty dignitaries of Numea among them the bishop, the president of the council, the ship commander, the colonel of the infantry regiment, various councillers and other officials. In full concordance with the long duration of the hunting breakfast, the dinner lasted considerable time too so that after two hours no end was in sight. When the champaign was opened, the governor rose to offer a long but good and well received toast to His Majesty and me to which I replied with a few words. The dinner music was provided by a band composed of prisoners. As waiters too deported persons were used who probably had only been sentenced for small crimes and who wore immaculate livery appropriate to the occasion instead of prisoner clothing.

After the dinner which we left only at a late night hour, M. Picquie led me into a side room where he presented me a displayed collection of Kanak weapons and fetishes and to my pleasant surprise, to offer it, a kind act for which I am all the more thankful to the governor as this collection contains some pieces that are valuable due to their rarity and thus are a valuable enrichment to my prior acquisitions.

In the brightly illuminated garden a dance number by the Loyalty islanders was seen by a large audience as the governor had invited also the staff of Elisabeth“ and those of the French warships. The show resembled those in the morning only the wild men accompanied  their dances with sounds of somewhat primitive musical instruments, a kind of drum made out of leaves and plant fibers.

Then we said good-bye to the governor, assured him our vivid thanks for the most obliging and even cordial reception he gave us as well for his successful efforts to make our short stay on New Caledonia as agreeable and as educating as possible and repeated our large interest for this island.


  • Location: Numea, New Caledonia
  • ANNO – on  03.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Der letzte Brief“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.

Numea, 2 June 1893

Today a deer hunt was to be organized. Everybody assured me that the territory was rich in game and thus the hunt promised excellent results. Even though I always am somewhat sceptic about such tales and promises in foreign countries, I was still full of hope to catch at least one specimen of the deer species introduced and acclimatized here. At dawn we set off from the board and met the adjutant of the governor at the landing as well as one of the highest civil servants who formerly had been resident in Tonkin and been assigned by the governor as his representative.

M. Picquie himself could not participate in the hunt as he had slipped and dislocated a leg while playing „catch“ with the young ladies during a garden party he had organized. Apparently the cause of his injury seemed to the governor not dignified enough to tell me and had instead communicated that he had fallen off a horse during a business trip and thus injured himself.

The company of the former resident of Tonkin by the way was very welcome as he could tell me during the drive many strange things about this country which had become important for the European Oriental politics and where he had lived for many years. We only had to cover 21 km but spent three hours as the horses were notable for their special slowness and the road went up and down the mountain.

The weather was agreeable, the temperature pleasantly fresh. We were now already in June, that is close to the coolest period in this part of hemisphere in which — in July and August — the average temperature drops from the annual average of 22 to 23° C during the day by 5 to 7° C, while it drops in cool nights down to about + 9° C.

The region we were driving through has a mostly monotonous character in scenery as the road goes almost always through the monotonous looking Niauli forests. Still there are changing and interesting impressions. Close to a saddle of a mountain which we had to cross there was an oasis amidst the Niauli forest with splendid almost tropical vegetation. We passed numerous settlements with large vegetable gardens and furthermore also hotels or more precisely road-side inns with proud names such as „Au rendez-vous des chasseurs“, „Hotel beau site“ etc. that offer the Libérés the prized opportunity to waste their small savings on drink.

The orange tree is growing splendidly here. Unfortunately, the golden fruits are fouling on the trees as it is not profitable to harvest them due to the impossibility of exporting oranges.

During the drive we saw few birds which was all the more remarkable as 45 species of birds were natives only of New Caledonia. I managed to observe only a small predator, then a kingfisher as well as a Myna and a few singing birds. Poorer still the country seemed to be as far as mammals were concerned. Apart from deer there seems to be only a species of fruit-eating  bat, large megabats (Pteropididae). This lack of large animals and the periodically recurring need for more substantial food than fish, megabats, rats, worms and snails is used by ethnographers to explain the native predilection for human meat suppressed not long ago.

The last part of the journey turned out to be very difficult as a large water pipeline was under construction for Numea and the iron pipes was just then being transported there.

Next to a small settlement we were expected by two gentlemen who led us on foot through a wide valley to the hunting ground. Here I had the first chance of seeing a large number of Kanaks who had been called out of the interior of the island to serve as drivers — beautifully built muscular men of a dark coffee-brown color with dense fully curly hair of a true Papuan character which they wore combed upwards. Their faces are not beautiful and raw, but show a certain intelligence in their expression. Clothing is limited to small waist belts. In contrast the Kanaks are all the more equipped with all kinds of ornaments which they carry as necklaces and bracelets made out of shells and footrings made by twisting megabat hair. As weapons they carry long lances with very original points as well as clubs made out of heavy ironwood that is found on the island.

The endurance of the natives at swimming and their skill in fishing are reportedly excellent. My informants claimed to have personally observed how these islanders had swum out two to three miles out into the sea and there threw out a fishing rod while „treading water“, then keep their catch under their arm and continue to fish until they had caught a sufficient number of fishes to return to land. The Kanaks are said to be highly proficient in guiding canoes and using them for fishing, a method much preferred to the just described fishing rod technique. It might well be possible that my informants had seen more than actually happened and that the fishermen stood on reefs and cliffs — not visible to the observer — below sea level and so on a firm setting could go after catching fish.

In total there are about 40.000 natives on New Caledonia whose race however is on the way to extinction as the numerous endemic and many newly introduced illnesses as well as the numeric gender imbalance causes their number to decrease year by year. The killing of new born girls is said to be widely practised. Women are also treated everywhere much worse and have to perform all the hard work. In earlier times, the population was reduced by the continued feuds between the different tribes where the prisoners and the killed were always eaten. Today the natives are more peaceful but withdraw from contact with the whites.

The civil servant in charge of the natives had set out with the drivers and posted us for the hunt at the foot of a hill covered only with grass behind which was a densely forested mountain slope. The islanders with their dogs were tasked to drive through these woods to force the deer to cross over the hills. This battle plan did not please me in the slightest and in fact neither were the drivers as well as almost all the natives that had before taken part in our hunting. They walked without order or plan during the drive, took up position on small hills or at the edge of gorges where they started shouting for extended periods while only a few drivers with dogs actually entered into the woods. The dogs still barked a few times but the hunt took another direction turned away from our position what was to be expected right from the start as the game in New Caledonia too shows no preference to cross into an open valley. All the more so as there was much noise behind us caused by the construction of the water pipeline.

Thus I sat there for a full three hours when suddenly but at great distance a spike was fleeing in front of me. I shot it, apparently a hit to the lungs but the deer stood up again and draw itself forward for a few steps to collapse in the high grass. As soon as one of the drivers had seen this, they all ran in the true sense of the word like wild men with great shouting to the deer that naturally again stood up and fled into the very dense wood pursued by the wild men and the dogs where one could hear their sounds for some time until the deer disappeared forever. From a true follow-up search one could naturally not speak and also a heartfelt request directed to the wild men to find the wounded animal in their own manner and kill it was in vain.

Thus the first drive was a complete failure even though the game was said to be plentiful which had been assured at the start of the hunt that the game was more like a plague on the land by their quantity in the woods and the fields. As usual in such cases the hunting masters were certain that the failure of the hunt would have been successful at an earlier hour or if executed as a chase — an insight that came too late. As I would have put up no resistance to start the hunt earlier, I would even have started our journey after midnight if necessary.

Unfortunately a straight continuation of the hunt was impossible as the governor who had followed us was awaiting us in a settler’s house close by for an opulent breakfast which consumed a full two hours as the majordomo and liveried servants presented a never-ending series of dishes and wines. As well meant this feast had been I still considered it a waste of time — sitting on pins and needles — and would have preferred to use the time for hunting or  collecting beetles and butterflies, with one word more purposeful as I had only a few days to visit the interesting island in the midst of the South Sea which I would never see again in my lifetime. I had not come to spend hours eating at a table! After the end of the breakfast I hoped to be released  —  but not at all. A Hiob’s message arrived that the dogs of the drivers had been lost and the hunt could only be continued after the dogs had been caught again. With the exception of my gentlemen all participants of the hunt seemed to e relieved and continued to eat until they finally managed to recall the dogs to duty late in the afternoon.

Finally a new drive started from a hill that was densely covered in ferns. The local islanders may be really honorable people and have all kinds of good qualities but driving and hunting they completely fail to understand. The dogs soon barked and one could see soon thereafter some great game run through the bushes. Unfortunately the unlucky drivers had noticed the deer too and now all ran in the direction of the game with cries. The deer naturally broke in the opposite direction which made the drivers happy and shouting and gesticulating in front of my position  perform some kind of war dance.

As I lacked the possibility to express my opinion with some native strong or swear words I slung my rifle on my back in my helpless anger and turned away from this „wild, daring hunt“ to the wagon where I received the message from the fast following hunting master that just now four deer had crossed at the position I just had vacated. I did not doubt the truth of the appearance of the deer which might also only have shown up to restore the honor of the hunting master but did not change my direction to return to the position and started calmly my homeward journey.

This partly compensated for the failed hunt. Driving between the high mountains surrounding the valley, we enjoyed the vivid color effects produced by the rays of the setting sun on the mountain slopes; The Niauli trees glittered in a blueish color next to the clefts and bare areas which glittered metallic and were glowing red due to the rich iron content in its rocks.

At a late hour we were back on board of „Elisabeth“ which its commander followed by my gentlemen and a number of officers soon after left to attend a dinner given by the officers of the French armored ship „Thetis“ on its board while I stayed home.


  • Location: Numea, New Caledonia
  • ANNO – on  02.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Der Meister von Palmyra“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.

Numea, 1 June 1893

Above the island of New Caledonia lay heavy clouds which blocked the lighthouse from our view during the night and made navigation more difficult for „Elisabeth“. Taking the bearing of Mount Mu showed that the ship had moved far to the South during the night. The position had to be corrected and course set for the lighthouse of the small island of Amédée which we sighted towards 8 o’clock in the morning. The wind and the motion of the sea had much diminished and in time the sun broke through victoriously so that the contours of New Caledonia with its high mountains became clearer and clearer appearing out of the calm waves of the ocean. Towards 9 o’clock in the morning „Elisabeth“ was in front of the Bulari passage where we took the pilot called from Amédée on board and then we drove between the reefs which accompany New Caledonia along the Northeast and Southwest coast with only a few breaks in between and reach out far in the North and South as well as through the small green islands of Brun and Dubouzet.

After we had celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi with service in the battery, the ship was moored at half past 10 o’clock in the morning in the inner harbor of Numea at the Messageries maritimes buoy offered by the harbor captain.

New Caledonia generally comprises the whole archipelago. This includes the main island discovered in 1774 by Cook and named in the honor of North Scotland New Caledonia, the  Loyalty islands Mare, Lifu, Uea and Beaupre islands to the east discovered in 1795 as well as L’Île-des-Pins, Southeast of the main island, and finally the Chesterfield islands to the West. New Caledonia and the Loyalty islands together include an area of 19.823 km2 and 62.752  inhabitants according to the census of 1890.

First colonized by English merchants and missionaries, New Caledonia and the Lifu group of islands were declared French territory by admiral Fevrier-Despointes in 1853. The actual permanent French governance over the long resisting natives only happened after the subduing the insurrection of 1875 to 1878.

Earlier ruled by the governor of the islands of Tahiti and the Marquesas, the colony called „New Caledonia and dependencies“ has its own special governor since 1860 with his seat in Numea, while the main French settlement used to be Balade in the Northeast of the island from 1853 to 1854. New Caledonia is darkly notorious for its penal colony. Even though there had been prisoner transports to here earlier, only the internment of multiple thousands of criminals in the year 1871 made the island notable for a wider audience.

The island of New Caledonia lies to the East of Australia between 20 degrees latitude and the tropic of capricorn. Its width is relatively small compared to its length of 440 km. The coasts are accompanied by mountain ranges consisting in the South-east of Mont Humboldt, 1634 m. These mountain ranges drop off sharply in the North-east to the sea, while in the South-west coast there are plains between the foot of the mountain and the beach.

The entrance to the harbor offers beautiful sights even though the scenery of the landscape we were seeing can not match those of Port Jackson. The harbor of Numea is formed toward the West by a tongue protruding into the sea on which sits the town of Numea. Towards the East the harbor is closed off by a number of small islands. Here too the view passes over picturesque bays that reach deeply into the land up to the foot of the mountains like Bulari Bay in the East and Dombea Bay to the Northwest of Numea. The Mont des Sources at 1025 m and Mont Dore at 775 m are the most notable mountains.

In the harbor anchored the armored ship „Thetis“, the transport dispatch boats „Durance“ and „Scorff“, as well as the dispatch boat „Loyalty“ and the English cruiser „Tauranga“. Our territorial salute was answered by a land battery at a very slow pace — the individual shots happened after long intervals. While mooring the ship at the buoy, a small incident took place. A steam barge bringing baggage to „Elisabeth“ collided with the ship due to its clumsy maneuvering throwing one man out of the barge into the sea. But he was soon thereafter fished out of the water with a hook.

The town of Numea, even though it is situated in picturesque surroundings, presents naturally not improved by the fact that one can see from the ship the purpose of the town as the capital of a penal colony. Along the bay are groups of small houses and prisons with high walls. Whole columns of prisoners clad in denim and protected effectively against the sun with large straw hats are working on the construction of a quay.

When we were moored, the commander of the dispatch boat „Loyalty“, ship of the line lieutenant Louis Lucas, appeared first to offer his services, then came governor M. Albert Picquie to welcome me in the name of the colony, accompanied by the commander of the land and naval forces as well as the commander of the warships, and to discuss the program of the coming days. The governor seemed to be not very pleased himself about the country that he had to govern as he repeatedly said that I would be disappointed in all aspects.

An hour later I returned the visit of the governor in his small government building which lies about in the middle of the town on a hill and is surrounded by a garden where a statue of liberty causes an artistically not really beautiful impression that stands in a rather stark contrast to the purpose of the colony. The parlors of the building are large and paneled with local wood. The governor must be an animal lover as an important number of large cages with parrots and pigeons was in the garden of the residence. Deer too could be seen whose species seemed to me to be different from those on Java.

Accepting the invitation of the governor to visit the surrounding of the town I drove in his company in a four horse carriage whose horses alternatingly became lame first to Montravel, where a prison is located for housing prisoners working in the town and the surrounding areas during the night. 50 men each occupy one house where each man is assigned a hammock. On a plank above them the prisoners could store their possessions. Between the houses of which there are I think twelve small patches of vegetable gardens are set up as well as guard houses and a kitchen.

I was very astonished about the great quantity of food the prisoners received daily. They get coffee in the morning, meat with vegetables at noon and in the evening again vegetables. It seems to me to go too far to provide these jailbirds as far as food and board is concerned as well if not better than the soldiers. My astonishment increased when suddenly a music band appeared that was constituted by 40 prisoners and welcomed me with a fast played waltz by Strauß. This musical assignment not compatible with the idea of punishment I can not approve. Apart from everything because these musicians by performing their musical activities are spared from having to do any hard labor.

In total there are about 8000 prisoners on the island who are mostly building roads but also assist in mining the large nickel mines. Regarding the local distribution and occupation one distinguishes more or less three kinds of prisoners:  Those coming directly from France or the colonies who are immediately put to work at the different places of the island. Then there are those deported who commit new crimes on the island and were sent as die-hards to the actual main depot on the island of Dubouzet or Nu. Finally the so called Libérés who had already completed their sentence but were not allowed to return to France. The latter enjoy almost a state of liberty but are still under political surveillance and had to report to the government on certain days. Prisoners who were sentenced for eight years are not allowed to return to their own soil. Those sentenced to less than eight years may return home after the double number of years. The largest contingent of the deported are naturally made up by the French, but there are also among the prisoners  numerous Arabs from Algeria as well as prisoners from Tongking. Discharged NCOs of the French army serve as guards.

The governor made many surprising remarks to me about the state of the penal colony. He is only in office for half a year and seemed to be a very energetic man who shares my opinion that humanity towards criminals individuals among the categories of the deported gone too far has bad consequences and at the same time seems to be unjust towards the decent elements of society. The predecessor of M. Picquies seemed to have acted with extreme mildness and established the principle that prisoners should not be forced to work which had the result that most refused to work. Naturally under such a forgiving rule there were a number of abuses. The patriarchal state that came to be is shown by the fact that the criminals erected triumphal arches to the former governor when he made inspections with the letters „A notre père“. The life of the prisoners were quite nice.

When these conditions were finally noticed and the newly installed governor had reined in these practices, he was met with much resistance. The prisoners were no longer used to work. It even happened that some prisoners gouged out their own eyes in order to not having to work. The governor countered by sending those who had gouged out their eyes into the mountains to have these immolators cut stones for ten hours per day — a drastic proceeding that taught the other prisoners a most healthy lesson.

When he came into office M. Picquie had two of the worst criminals and gang leaders decapitated what however made the colonial council advising the governor anxious with concerns. It thus vetoed the death penalty when the governor again wanted to condemn a criminal to death who had already murdered six persons and finally tried to kill a guard so that the governor was required to appeal the decision to the president of the republic. No decision had been made during our stay here.

Our drive now turned to the interior of the island along a beautiful road that crossed a swamp thickly covered with mangrove bushes and then along the foot of the mountains in an Eastern direction towards blue-green Niauli forests in which we found individual araucariae and coconut palms. The Niauli tree (Melaleuca viridiflora), a Myrtaceae species with a crippled trunk, covers nearly the full island and gives it a character that is reminiscent of Australia. Out of the Niauli tree oil is collected which is similar to the cajuput oil produced by Melaleuca leucodendron in chemical composition.

Along the road one finds everywhere small gendarmerie barracks and posts whose garrison keeps up the order among the working prisoners as well as the policmen’s houses or more exactly huts who are recruited from the native Melanesisan population which is mixed with Polynesian elements. If a prisoner escapes to the endless forests of the colony, something which happens fairly often, then it is these native policemen who track down the fugitive with their fine senses and return them — actually only as a dead body. Fleeing prisoners either die of hunger or are murdered by the hand of the natives as the government pays out a prime of 25 Francs for each escapee dead or alive. As the natives find it much more convenient to return but the cut-off head than the live prisoner, this is the consequence. As incredible as it seems given the about 1600 sea miles of distance between the colony and the closest point on the mainland — Brisbane, there are a few but mostly just a few cases where prisoners managed to escape successfully from New Caledonia.

We also passed the nice settlements of the Libérés. But the settlements of free European colonists are rather scarce on the islands despite all the efforts of the French government to support such settlements, as any respectable man understandably is reluctant to permanently settle on this island dedicated to criminals or stay as soon as he knows about the actual state here.

The governor deplored that this beautiful island with its good and healthy climate, its productive soil and the rich mineral wealth — gold, copper, antimony, cobalt and especially nickel — is in fact renounced from being settled by free colonists and thus lies bare in such a large part. Even though the conditions are met both for the growth of tropical plants — the cultivation of cotton, maize and coffee is growing— and the growth of temperate plants, agriculture is not at a higher state than negligently managed  cattle breeding so that the island is still today dependent in many relations on imports from Australia. Great care is given by the natives who prefer to eat plant matter to the cultivation of taro (Colocasia antiquorum), yams roots, sugar cane etc. By the way the development of the island lets as far as the roads and other public works are concerned much to be desired according to the opinion of neutral observers. In France the reasons are said to be well known that currently hinder the full development of New Caledonia and there exists an intent to send the deported in the future to Cayenne so that respectable members of society can be added to the population of New Caledonia.

In a small valley we passed a Catholic mission not far away from Numea which was led by French nuns who made it their task to educate the native children. The mission does much, like the twelve other ones on the island to raise the moral and material level of the native tribes that not long ago practised cannibalism. Instituting missions seems to be very common in this French colony and show beneficial effects. As all natives on New Caledonia who adhere to Christianity are of the Catholic faith, while the number of Protestants surpasses the Catholics on the Loyalty islands where evangelical missionaries had been at work since 1840.

Turning towards the city we ascended a steep path that offered a beautiful view upon the distant coast,  Mont Dore and the small islands of the Bulari Bay.

The artillery horses of the battery of Numea drawing our wagon did not seem to be used to this task. Soon after the departure, they already showed signs of exhaustion and had reached the end of their strength when we wanted to ascend the mountain. They could not be moved by any means and we had to leave the wagon and continue our drive in another vehicle.

The regularly organized streets of the town intersect at a right angle. The houses are small, ugly and visibly built in a haste. The general view of the town is overall a melancholic one. Everywhere one meets the long columns of prisoners marching in pairs to an from work, many of whom are in chains for having attempted to flee or disciplinary offenses etc. There is not much life in the streets only a few Europeans and now and then a few natives become visible. Numea has besides the governor’s mansion also a large military hospital, two barracks, one of which is occupied by a marine infantry regiment the other with artillery, as well as multiple schools and depots. A beautiful church is being constructed and is nearing completion.

Returned on board I enjoyed a splendid evening with a gorgeous full moon glitteringly mirrored in the calm sea. Agreeable cool air fanned the brow. Now and then the calls of the guards on the warships could be heard by us. From the Place des Cocotiers, however, where our music band was giving a concert the noble sounds of our anthem rang out which was repeated no less than three times due to the roaring demands of the numerous audience.  For a long time I remained on deck, lost in my thoughts.


  • Location: Numea, New Caledonia
  • ANNO – on  01.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Der Meister von Palmyra“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.