The World at War



1903May 8 Artist Paul Gauguin dies at age 54 in la Maison du Jouir, his home at Atuona on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands.
May 19 A decree unites French possessions in eastern Polynesia under a single administration titled Les Etablissements Français de l'Océanie (French Settlements in Oceania).
During the Year The colony's representative General Council is suppressed in favor of an Administrative Council after refusing to approve export duties on vanilla and copra.
1905Le Comité Française de l'Océanie is formed in Paris to promote development of French colonies in the Pacific. Paul Deschanel, future President of the French Republic and author of two books promoting the Pacific colonies and construction of a Panama Canal, is among the leaders of the committee.
La Banque d'Indochine establishes an agency in Papeete at the direction of the Government. The bank's principal accomplishment is the replacement of the Chilean peso with the franc as the accepted currency of the colony.
1906February A hurricane strikes Tahiti and the Tuamotu Islands killing 150 people and causing $1,000,000 in damages.
1907Jack and Charmian London land at Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas during the early stages of a planned 7 year voyage around the world in their yacht Snark. The Londons rent the Robert Louis Stevenson house for several weeks and visit the Taipivai Valley, the setting of Herman Melville's book Typee, a childhood favorite of Jack's. The London's voyage continued on with stops in Tuamotu and Tahiti.
La Compagnie Française des Phosphates d'Océanie is formed to exploit recently discovered deposits of the mineral on Makatea in the Tuamotu Islands. The Makatea ores are 65 - 90% pure phosphate.
1909La Société contonnière des Etablissements Français de l'Océanie is formed to promote the cultivation of cotton on the island of Raiatea. The company exports about 20 tons of cotton annually until folding at the start of the first World War.
1914January - April 5 English poet Rupert Brooke composes three of his best known poems; Tiare Tahiti, The Great Lover and Retrospect, while recuperating from coral poisoning at Mataiea, Tahiti. 
August The French patrol ship Zéléé under Lieutenant Maxime Destremau seizes a German freighter, the Walkure, which was taking on a load of phosphate at Makatea and escorts in to Papeete.
August 29 The colony begins to mobilize. 165 Tahitians are sent to New Caledonia for training and leave for France by the end of the year.
September The Zéléé returns to Papeete with the Walkure in tow. Lieutenant Destremau orders the ship's 12 guns and 100 man crew transferred to shore.
Three German ships, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nurnberg, their names masked and their crew members speaking excellent English, visit Bora Bora in the Marquesas.  
September 22 Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nurnberg, part of the German East Asia Fleet under Admiral Graf Spee enter Papeete harbor.
Governor Fawtier and the Bishop of Papeete go to the waterfront for a look. The French set fire to the coal stocks, dynamite the lighthouse and hide documents as the ships fire more than a hundred shells at the city. French shore batteries are quickly silenced. The patrol boat Zéléé and the captured German freighter Walkure are struck by shells and sink in the harbor. A fire begins in the central market area of Papeete. As some residents fight the spreading flames and others flee the city.
After the attack, the naval commander, Lieutenant Destremau accuses the Governor of abandoning his headquarters to take refuge in the Catholic mission during the bombing, thereby setting a bad example and being derelict in his duties. The two officials are also in disagreement over a plan to exact retribution in the form of a million franc levy on the city's German residents to pay for the damage inflicted by the raid.
October  Lieutenant Destremau orders Governor Fawtier to leave the colony. The governor refuses and the commander threatens to arrest him. Fawtier then suspends Destremau as commander of troops in Oceania and arrests him. Destremau's deputy supports the Lieutenant and the troops mutiny in their barracks. The Governor sends a messenger to Fiji requesting that the commander of the French Far Eastern Fleet be telegraphed for further instruction. The response is that Destremau should obey Fawtier. 
The commander of the French Far Eastern Fleet arrives in Tahiti and convenes an inquest. He ultimately exonerates the Governor but also credits Lieutenant Destremau with the defense of Tahiti . The Commander also blames ex-queen Marau for turning the troops against the Governor. Destremau is sentenced to two months in prison.
During the Year The Orofara Valley on Tahiti is set aside as a leper colony by governmental decree.
1916A census of military age men is conducted in Oceania. A total of 1,057 men from Oceania serve in the Battalion du Pacifique with New Caledonians.
June 4 Le Battalion des Tirailleurs du Pacifique is formed in New Caledonia and leaves Nouméa on the Gange. The battalion is sent to Marseilles were it is put to work loading supply ships for Armée d'Orient.
December 3 A second contingent of the Tirailleurs du Pacifique leaves New Caledonia for France.
During the Year 100 Tahitian poilus from the Battalion des Tirailleurs du Pacifique are sent to fight at Salonika with the Armée d'Orient. 
1917April  An artillery company is added to the Battalion des Tirailleurs du Pacifique which is redesignated the Battalion mixte du Pacifique (BMP).
June The Battalion mixte du Pacifique enters combat.
November 10 A third contingent of the Battalion du Pacifique leaves New Caledonia on the El Kantara for France.
During the Year The Seeadler, a German raider commanded by Felix von Luckner, anchors at Mopelia where von Luckner lands and raises the German flag. The ship is accidently wrecked and its crew lives on the island for the next three months. The Captain and a few crew members left the island by canoe and made their way to the Cook Islands where they passed themselves off as Dutch-American or Norwegians. The remaining Germans later commandeered a French boat sent to Mopelia to collect copra and departed leaving the Frenchmen stranded.
1918August - October The Battalion mixte du Pacifique see action in the second Battle of the Marne.
October 25 The Battalion mixte du Pacifique takes Vesles, Caumont and Petit Caumont.
November 17 A steamer carrying passengers infected with Spanish influenza docks in Papeete. 1/7th of the colony's population dies in the ensuing epidemic. 
December 10 General Mangin, commander of the 10th Army, awards a citation to the Battalion mixte du Pacifique for valor in capturing Vesles, Caumont and Petit Caumont during the 2nd Battle of the Marne.
During the Year British novelist W. Somerset Maugham visits Tahiti to perform research for a book on the life of Gauguin.
1919November The Battalion mixte du Pacifique returns to Papeete on the Kia Ora.
During the Year The Moon and Sixpence Somerset Maugham's novel based on the life of Paul Gaugin is published.
American botanist Harrison Smith leaves the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and establishes a 340 acre botanical garden on his Motu Ovini estate at Papaeri, Tahiti.
A report criticizes the Government for administrative neglect of the Marquesas. It notes that the population has fallen from 3,117 in 1912 to about 2,500 primarily due to infertility resulting from venereal disease and the absence of police, schools and transportation between the archipelago and Tahiti. The report recommends a separate administration, promotion of French colonization and creation of a shipping line to service the islands.
1920American authors Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, veterans of the Lafayette Escadrille, receive an advance for travel articles from Harper's Magazine, and take up residence in Tahiti.
New Zealand replaces the United States as the principal, indeed nearly exclusive, market for Oceania's phosphate exports.
1921Faery Lands of the South Seas, a travel book by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, is published.
1923A monument bearing the names of 203 soldiers from French Oceania who died in the First World War is inaugurated on the Avenue Bruat in Papeete.
Messageries Maritimes establishes a shipping route linking Tahiti with Marseilles via the Panama Canal. The Union Steamship Line of New Zealand holds a near monopoly on Tahitian shipping at the time.
1924The value of Oceania's exports totals 42,107,000 francs:
Value in Francs
1,334 Tons
852 Tons
1925September 9 Lieutenants Rutledge Irvin and Stephen Callaway make the first airplane flight over French Oceania in a seaplane carried aboard the American cruiser USS Trenton during a cruise through the Marquesas.
September 11 American author James Norman Hall, a veteran of the Lafayette Escadrille and resident in Tahiti, rides as a passenger in a flight over the island by a seaplane from a visiting American naval squadron.
During the Year The French patrol boat Cassiopée visits Taiohao to dedicate a monument to the French sailors who died in the Marquesas since the archipelago's annexation in 1842. The visit comes in response to off handed remarks made by visiting American naval officers regarding the possible annexation of that group by the United States.
1929June 11 The French cruiser Tourville anchors at Tahuata in the Marquesas. An FBA seaplane carried aboard the Tourville is launched for a flight over the islands.
June 16 The Tourville stops at Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotu Islands. Lieutenant Commander Bellando and Navigator Ferté depart for Papeete in a CAMS 37 seaplane to announce the ship's impending arrival in the capital. Bellando and Ferté complete the 200 mile flight in a little over 2 hours with an uneventful landing in Papeete lagoon.
1930March Henri Matisse begins a three month sojourn in Tahiti and the Tuamotu Islands. Matisse executes only one painting during his visit to Polynesia but took extensive notes and made sketches that influenced several of his future works.
May Zane Grey hauls in record 1040 lbs. Pacific Blue Marlin and 53 lbs. Mahi Mahi from the waters off Vairao, Tahiti. The American author's repeated fishing expeditions to Oceania in the yacht Fisherman II arouses suspicions among the local officials that he may be the advance guard on an American annexation attempt.
1931January 31 France is awarded possession of Clipperton Island, an uninhabited Pacific atoll 1600 miles southwest of California, in arbitration of a dispute with Mexico adjudicated by King Victor Emmanuel of Italy.
During the Year Tales of Tahitian Waters, Zane Grey's narrative of the South Pacific's pioneer anglers is published.
1932Mutiny on the Bounty, a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall is published. The book is first account of the 1789 mutiny aboard a British ship visiting Tahiti is published in over a century. 
1933Zane Grey returns to Vairao on Tahiti for yet another fishing expedition. This time he breaks his own record by hauling in a 64 lbs. Mahi Mahi and sets a new record by landing a 618 and a 710 lbs. Silver Marlin. 
Oceania is mired in the Great Depression the value of the colony's annual exports has dropped 60% since 1929. Imports have declined 71%. Copra maintains its value but exports of vanilla and mother of pearl shell decline drastically.
The Syndicat d'Initiative de la Colonie de Tahiti is formed in France to promote tourist trade with the islands but the subsequent discontinuation of steamship service to Sydney and San Francisco all but kills any hope that tourism will become substantial source of revenue.
1934October 11 The Navy Minister informs the Quai d'Orsay of German efforts to purchase the island of Meetia from its Belgian owners for possible use as a clandestine naval base or port of call for submarines.
During the Year The Post Office issues Oceania's first airmail stamp at a time when there is no landing field in the colony and a nearly thirteen years before such service is actually available.
1935January 26 The French ship Jeanne d'Arc visits Clipperton Island in the Pacific to establish sovereignty over the atoll.
During the Year Mutiny on the Bounty, director Frank Lloyd's film version of the Nordhoff and Hall novel, wins the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year. Most of the film is shot off Santa Catalina but Lloyd films background scenes in Tahiti.
The right of children born to Chinese residents of the colony to obtain French citizenship by simple declaration is abolished. Henceforth they are required to observe the regular naturalization procedures imposed on adult foreigners.
The Tahitian High Court which was maintained to settle land disputes under the 1880 treaty which made the island a French protectorate ceases to function.
1936January 9 Eighteen members of the Naval Air Squadron Tahiti arrive in Papeete aboard the Messageries Maritimes liner Eridan to man the newly constructed base at Fare Ute.
During the Year The Union Steamship Company discontinues its Sydney-Papeete-San Francisco service. Passengers seeking passage to Tahiti must henceforth travel by freighter or via New Caledonia.
1937Norwegian zoologist Thor Heyerdahl makes his first visit to Oceania. Heyerdahl and his wife spend a year on Fatuhiva in the Marquesas studying the transoceanic origins of the island's animals. Heyerdahl notices the strong easterly winds and currents whenever he ventures into the sea to fish and begins to question the traditional theory that the Polynesians originated in southeast Asia.
Felix von Luckner visits Mopelia on the twentieth anniversary of his landing during World War I.
1939Oceania's trade has recovered from the Great Depression. The value of both imports and exports more than quadruple the figures for 1933. Phosphate exports have doubled in the same period.
The number of automobiles registered in Oceania totals 700.
1940June Governor Frédéric Chastenet de Géry issues a proclamation declaring that in the wake of the armistice, "we are all ready to make the sacrifices necessary to safeguard our liberty; we join our allies, in accord with all the other parts of the French Empire, in foreseeing the continuation of the struggle." The Governor begins promulgation of Vichy decrees in Oceania.
The Comité des Français d'Océanie demands, "a solemn proclamation of loyalty to the Government of Marshal Petain," from the authorities and calls for the removal of, "half breeds whether naturalized or not" from the administration.
The Comité France Libre is clandestinely formed by a group of anti-Vichy Frenchmen.
August 24 Governor Chastenet issues a decree banning all clandestine organizations and requiring civil servants to affirm that they are not members of such organizations.
September 1 An informal referendum conducted by the Comité France Libre on Tahiti and Moorea results in a 5,564 to 18 vote preference for the Free French over Vichy.
September 2 A delegation from the Comité France Libre forces Governor Chastenet to resign and constitutes itself as the Provisional Council of Oceania.
General de Gaulle confers his recognition on the Provisional Council of Oceania by telegram from London.
September British residents of Papeete storm their consulate and demand the removal of the consul whom the consider pro-Vichy. London quickly replaces its diplomatic representative with a more committed Gaullist sympathizer.
September 9 The first of 300 Tahitian volunteers join the Free French Forces.
September 12 Edmond Mansard is installed as the first Free French Governor of Oceania.
September 18 Governor Mansard reveals his involvement in a plot with other politicians to limit the power of the Gaullists and pursue a less openly anti-Vichy policy to his Chief of Cabinet Doctor Emile de Curton. Mansard's secretary general denounces him, declares his loyalty to Marshal Petain and flees his office brandishing a pistol. The secretary makes his way to the British consulate where he demands asylum.
Governor Mansard resigns and is succeeded by Doctor de Curton who immediately dismisses pro-Vichy functionaries and orders the arrest of his personal and political opponents.
Three prominent Vichy supporters are deported to the island of Maupit for several months before being returned to Papeete for trial.
1941April 21 Captain Félix Broche leads the first group of Tahitian Free French soldiers in a march down Papeete's Avenue Bruat where they then board the cruiser Monovai for a voyage to Nouméa, where another 300 volunteers from New Caledonia and the New Hebrides.
Spring General de Gaulle dispatches Governor General Richard Brunot of French Equatorial Africa to Papeete to investigate the political quarrels in Oceania. Brunot clashes, oft times violently, with Governor de Curton and local functionaries including the British consul who suspect him of planning to establish his own clique in their place. 
May 5 The Marine Infantry Battalion of the Pacific is formed in Nouméa, New Caledonia under the command of Captain Félix Broche. The battalion includes 300 volunteers from Tahiti and 300 from New Caledonia.
July General de Gaulle appoints Captain Georges Thierry d’Argenlieu High Commissioner for Free French territories in the Pacific, "to re-establish definitively and without have measures the authority of Free France, to render operative for war all the resources which are there, and to assure there, against all the dangers which are possible and perhaps imminent, the defense of the French territories in union with our allies." The crew of the Atlantis, an armed German cargo ship disguised as a Norwegian freighter, takes shore leave on Vanavana in the Tuamotu Islands. Commander Rogge's men trade chocolate and tobacco for coconuts with the natives. The visit goes unnoticed by the French authorities.
October High Commissioner d'Argenlieu orders Governor General Brunot and Governor de Curton to leave the colony and appoints Georges Orselli as the new Governor of Oceania. The appointment puts an end to the personal and political squabbling and secures the colony's loyalty to Free France. Orselli remains in office until the end of 1945. 
October 1 The French Naval Air Base at Fare Ute on Tahiti is officially closed.
During the Year Thor Heyerdahl publishes an article in International Science suggesting that Polynesia had been settled by two successive waves of immigrants, the first having reached French Oceania from Peru via Easter Island on balsa rafts and the second having reached Hawaii several centuries later from British Columbia in double canoes.
1942February 17 Force 6614 from New York lands 3,900 soldiers and 500 sailors on Bora Bora in the Marquesas. The Americans begin construction of a refueling base for air flights between the United States and New Zealand. Bora Bora becomes a major rest and recuperation area for American forces in the Pacific once the Japanese threat to Oceania subsides. Among the thousands of Americans to visit Bora Bora during the war is a young naval officer, James A. Michener.
June The Marine Infantry Battalion of the Pacific sees action with the General Koenig's Free French 1st Division at Bir Hakeim, Libya. Captain Broche is killed during the battle.
1943The Marine Infantry Battalion of the Pacific sees action with the Free French forces at Cape Bon in Tunisia.
1944April The Marine Infantry Battalion of the Pacific sees action with the Free French 1st Division under General Brosset in Italy at Monte Cassino, Sienna and Rome.
August 15 The Marine Infantry Battalion of the Pacific lands in Provence and later takes part in the liberation of the Rhone Valley, the Vosges and Belfort.
December The Marine Infantry Battalion of the Pacific is withdrawn from Eastern France and assigned to garrison duty in Paris. The decision to withdraw Polynesian and Melanesian soldiers is based on the harsh winter conditions in the Ardennes.
1945General de Gaulle awards the Cross of the Order of the Liberation to the Marine Infantry Battalion of the Pacific.
1946May 8 The surviving members of the Marine Infantry Battalion of the Pacific return to Papeete aboard the Sagittaire, a freighter operated by the Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes, 5 years and 9 days after departing Nouméa. Seventy six members of the battalion were killed in action, wounded or died of disease during the war. Papeete's memorial will be inscribed with the names of 87 Free French volunteers from Oceania who died during the war.
June 2 The last American troops are withdrawn from Bora Bora.
1947Thor Heyerdahl and five companions cross 8,000 kilometers of open ocean between Callao, Peru and Raroia atoll in the Tuamotus on a replica of an aboriginal balsa raft named Kon Tiki to test his theory that the Polynesians could have originated in South America.
1948James A. Michener is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his first novel, Tales of the South Pacific.

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