Situated on the Coromandel coast, about 160 kms south of
Chennai, lies Pondicherry.
Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient 16001800
The French ruled this territory for 300 years, and today, it stands as a living
monument of the French culture in India.
It was the site of conflict between the British and the French, and was the
capital of French India, before it attained its independence.
In the 1690s there was little concern with French competition. Yet France
constituted the "largest market for the textiles and spices" brought back
from the East.
It was not until1700 (after many years of peace and enormous profits) that
the company were considered to be on a solid financial footing.
The Compagnie was modelled on the Dutch, yet the merchants feared the
whole enterprise might be controlled by the King.
The Government House (Raj Niwas) Once the location of the Hotel de la
Compagnie (the French trading
company that ruled in Puducherry from
its first settlement in 1674 until the
French government took over in 1769)
and later played host to Dupleix.
Rival Empires 2
The activities were chiefly focused on the Coromandel coast, the company
placed its hopes on the piece goods trade.
Pondicherry important "because piece goods and other wares can be got there
at first hand and cheaper than anywhere else in India".
The French East India companies, excluding Calonne’s private company, were
primarily political and not economic enterprises.
The Dutch bombarded Pondicherry in 1693 and the French fled to Ceylon and
after six years the French finally re-entered.
Martin was adamant to return Pondicherry to its former glory, with
fortifications, trading associations, the acquisition of fine looms.
The French were plagued with bad luck with their maritime missions. Extreme
financial difficulties, incompetent directors, wars back in Europe which
diverted ships and affected communications.
Fortunes a Faire
The new French Company inherited two settlements in India from its
predecessor, one of which was Pondicherry
Unlike the English with different presidencies to control different regions
of India, the French company formed a single administration unit with the
superior council based at Pondicherry.
The number of French in India in 1st half of 18th century was difficult to
determine. In the 1690’s estimate there were 200 French in Pondicherry.
Jesuit missionaries calculate that there were 2000 Christians in 1703 out
of population of 30,000, by 1753 there were 4000 Christians out of pop of
Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
erected in 1700s by French
Fortunes a Faire 2
At Pondicherry in 1727 a company of 120 men consisted of 40 topasses, Indian
Christians who served alongside Europeans. 4 companies were stationed in
Pondicherry which with their officers and a small battery of artillery numbered
364 Europeans and 160 topasses.
There were traders and artisans who came in the wake of the company of its
employees, often soldiers after serving their term remained in India. Noel
Jallobert was a jeweller based in Pondicherry. Innkeepers, carpenters,
wigmakers and booksellers are mentioned, indicating the development of
services inseparable from any small French town.
Missionaries, company anxious to appoint their own chaplains. Choice
normally fell on the Capucins who held the office at Pondicherry. Although
Jesuits were also in Pondicherry after being ejected from Siam in 1689, who
competed for influence.
Pondicherry took over supply of piece goods preciously drawn from Gujarat.
Textiles, pepper, coffee, saltpetre bulk cargo from France but Indian textiles
most in demand, coarser cloth come from Coromandel coast.
Voyages, Settlements, Wars and Commerce
in the French in the East Indies.
French expansion in India brought large numbers of troops to Pondicherry.
At this time Pondicherry saw its territory increase by some ten leagues and 80 villages.
Pondicherry was the chief settlement of the French in India. All the merchandise
purchased at Karikal, Yanam and Masulipatnam is taken to Pondicherry.
The Town rose from small beginnings, it became in time large, powerful and famous.
Its streets, all quite straight and mostly very wide, were flanked by two rows of trees,
which kept them cool, even in the middle of the day.
Map of Pondicherry in1741, one
year before Joseph François
Dupleix’s (Governor of French India)
Voyages, Settlements, Wars and Commerce
One mosque, two pagodas, two churches and the government building,
considered as the most magnificent edifice in the east, were all noteworthy public
A small citadel had been constructed in 1704 but had become useless once
permission had been given to build houses all around it. To replace this defence 3
sides of the town had been fortified with a rampart, a moat, bastions and a glacis
(artificial slope of earth), incomplete in places. The roadstead was defended by
Fort St Georges
Voyages, Settlements, Wars and Commerce
The town, with a circumference of more then a league, had 70,000 inhabitants,
of these 4000 were Europeans or of mixed race and at most 10,000 Muslims.
The remainder were Indians of whom 15,000 were Christians while others
belonged to 17 or 18 different castes. Three villages dependent on the town
had a combined population of some 10,000.
Tanjavur Temple
Voyages, Settlements, Wars and Commerce
Although the town is without a harbour, it had the advantage of a much more
commodious roadstead. Ships are able to moor near the shore, under the
protection of the cannon from the fortifications.
Its territory is only infertile sand on the coast but most of it is suitable for
cultivation of rice and vegetables. Two small rivers that flow through the land
providing water which is excellent for dyes, especially blue.
Three miles from the town is a hill, 600 feet in height which acts as a landmark
for mariners, an advantage on a coast which is generally low.
Colony favourably placed to receive the provisions and merchandise of
Carnatic, Mysore and Tanjore.
Voyages, Settlements, Wars and Commerce
Decline of Pondicherry: The French squadron failed to beat the English, as
such the English controlled the seas. This failure resulted in the loss of India.
Pondicherry subjected to the horrors of famine was forced to surrender on 15th
January 1761.
Lally, who was given command of the French expedition to India, replacing
Dupleix, made the situation worse by refusing to capitulate to the British
general because the British were the kind of people who would not abide by its
Joseph François Dupleix
(Governor of French India 1742-1754)
Voyages, Settlements, Wars and Commerce
Once the British took possession of Pondicherry they shipped to Europe not
just the garrison but in addition all the French in the service of the company.
They carried their revenge further, Pondicherry was destroyed, the magnificent
town was reduced to a heap of rubble.
However due to its strategic location the French decided to rebuild
Pondicherry. When agents arrived on the 11th April 1765 unhappy Indians
flocked back after being scattered by war.
By beginnings of 1770 there were 27,000 of Indians living in Pondicherry who
had rebuild their old homes from the ruins.
Armoires de la Compagnie des Indes Orientales
Further Images
French East India Company Coat Of Arms
French Letters
French Currency in Indochina
Stamp - 1893
Raynal Book 4, Voyages, Settlements, Wars and Commerce in the French
in the East Indies.
Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient 1600-1800
Manning, Fortunes a Faire
Images from British Library and French Institute of Pondicherry