Decolonization, History and Culture

France’s forgotten territories: Saint Helena, Guernsey and Oberhausen

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Paris, in the prestigious Ecole Militaire. The topic of the conference was the French forgotten territories, those pieces of land scattered around the globe which few people know about. On this blog, I have previously talked about Mayotte and some former French colonies such as Madagascar, but I have not yet touched upon the inhabited territories that France possesses. Based on his book “tour du monde des terres françaises oubliées”, Bruno Fuligni presented the enclaves, islands, rocks, houses and memorials which continue to make France an empire on which the sun never sets. Many believe that France is now a small country, as it is only a fraction of what it used to be. This is, however, only partly true. France may have lost its African, American and Asian possessions to decolonization, but some corners of the world were spared by this process.

Last week, I told you about the pieces of land France owns in Europe; Ile Julia and Ile des Faisans, two territories with very distinct but quirky stories. In this article, I will touch upon French possessions which relate to famous figures in French history. On foreign soil, France owns houses and memorials to perpetrate the glory of several French heroes.

Saint Helena and Napoléon

Longwood, Napoleon's quarters on Saint Helena

Longwood, Napoleon’s quarters on Saint Helena

Napoléon is still today one of France’s biggest pride; the name of the emperor comes with the idea of greatness, grandeur, reforms and modernity as some of Napoléon’s creation are still in place today, such as the Code Civile, even beyond France. Going back to the topic of this article, we must go to Saint Helena where the Emperor died in exile in May 1825. The house and area where the Emperor died still belongs to France today, in memory of the national figure Napoleon was and still remains. There is therefore a French enclave on British territory in the South Atlantic Ocean; it is Longwood, Napoleon’s last residence, as well as the small pavilion Briars and the Valley of the Tomb where Napoleon was first buried. The isolation of Saint Helena makes visiting the island very difficult (this is what made it so interesting for exiling Napoleon) as only one ship accesses the territory every three weeks. The construction of an airport due to open in 2016 might change everything. We can expect hoards of tourists rushing to Saint Helena to follow Napoleon’s last steps. But think that tourist shops will probably be set up. If they are within the French enclaves, tourists will have to pay in Euros will being surrounding by British territories were the British Pound is used. It might get confusing for many.

Guernsey and Victor Hugo 

Victor Hugo's House, Hauteville House, St Peter Port.

Victor Hugo’s House, Hauteville House, St Peter Port.

This case is actually quite similar to the previous one: there is a piece of land on a British island which used to belong to a famous Frenchman which now belongs to France. This time, we are talking about Victor Hugo’s house on the island of Guernsey located between France and the UK, in the middle of the Channel. An again, just like Napoleon, Hugo was in exile (from 1856 tp 1870). Victor Hugo had already been in exile in Guernsey for five years for opposing the coup d’état staged by Napoléon III and had been banished from Brussels and Jersey successively . With the proceeds from sales of the anthology Les Contemplations, published in 1856, he purchased an estate comprising a five-storey house, garden and belvedere overlooking Havelet bay, in Saint Peter Port.”. It is the sale of Les Contemplations which enabled him to put a roof on his head, namely that of the Hauteville House, on the British island. It is the famous writer who decorated the interior of the house. “Hauteville House remained in the family until 1927, when Jeanne Nègreponte, Victor Hugo’s grand-daughter and the children of his grandson Georges Hugo donated it to the City of Paris on the occasion of the celebrations marking one hundred years of Romanticism.” Today, the City of Paris still administers Hauteville House.

La Tour d’Auvergne in Oberhausen, Bavaria

Latour Memorial in Oberhausen, Bavaria

Latour Memorial in Oberhausen, Bavaria

Théophile Malo de La Tour d’Auvergne-Corret was a French soldier and musketeer, who throughout his life, has been recognized as brave. He also took an active part in the French Revolution. Refusing many promotions under the Ancien Régime despite his central role in several wars, notably against Spain at the end of the 18th century, he finally received the title of “Premier grenadier de de la République” from Napoléon Bonaparte. He died at war in Oberhausen, Bavaria in June 1880. His superior; General Moreau, in honour of his death, acquired a piece of land where La Tour d’Auvergne died to bury him there (see picture). This piece of land still belongs to France today, even though the remain of La Tour d’Auvergne were moved to the Panthéon in Paris for the 100th anniversary of the Revolution of 1789.