New Caledonia - Encyclopedia

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NEW CALEDONIA (Fr. Nouvelle-Caledonie), an island in the western Pacific Ocean, belonging to France. (For map, see Pacific Ocean.) It is about 250 m. long, and has an extreme breadth of 35 m. and an area including adjacent islets of 6450 sq. m.; is situated at the southern extremity of Melanesia, between 20° 5' and 22° 16' S., and between 164° and 167° 30' E., and, like all the chief islands of that chain and the chain itself, lies north-west and south-east. An almost unbroken barrier reef skirts the west shore at about 5 m. distance, enclosing a navigable channel; on the east, which is more abrupt and precipitous, it is much interrupted. To the north the reefs continue, marking the former extension of the land, for about 160 m., ending with the Huon Islands. The Isle of Pines, so called from its araucarias (its native name is Kunie), geologically a continuation of New Caledonia, lies 30 m. from its southeast extremity. It formerly abounded in sandalwood, and consists of a central plateau surrounded by a belt of cultivation. At the two extremities of New Caledonia, parallel longitudinal ranges of mountains enclose valleys; for the rest the island consists essentially of confused masses and ranges of mountains, rising to an extreme elevation of 5387 ft., the plains being chiefly the deltas of rivers. The landscape is rich and beautiful, varied with grand rock scenery, the coast-line being broken by numerous small bays, into which flow streams rarely navigable even for short distances, but often skilfully utilized by the natives for irrigation; and sometimes flowing in subterranean channels. The larger rivers in the wet season form impassable morasses, especially in the S.E., where the mountains rise in isolated masses from flat plains.

Geology.' - Speaking generally, New Caledonia may be described as a band of Palaeozoic and probably Lower Palaeozoic rocks, associated doubtless with some Archean beds; this band runs from north-west to south-east, through the whole length of the island. The second element in the composition of the island consists of Mesozoic beds, which occur in a broken band along most of the south-western coast. Most of the island is occupied by the band of the old rocks, which include mica, glaucophane and sericite-schists and slates; there are small intrusions of granite, and numerous dikes and masses of basic eruptive rocks. The slates are interbedded with limestones containing fossil brachiopods, which have led to their determination as Silurian or Devonian; but L. Peletan classes all these limestones as Triassic. Triassic beds of the Pacific coastal type occur in a band along the south-western coast. They are covered by marine Jurassic beds and they in turn by Cretaceous coal-bearing, terrestrial deposits, resembling those of New Zealand. According to E. Glasser, the basic igneous rocks which are associated with the mineral deposits of New Caledonia were intrusive in Cainozoic times, at the severing of the connexion between New Caledonia and New Zealand. New Caledonia is part of the Australasian Festoon, and in its general characters resembles the geology of New Zealand. The main mineral deposits are the nickel ores, occurring as veins of garnierite, associated with peridotite dikes, in the ancient rocks of the eastern slope of the island.

1 The basis of knowledge of the geology of New Caledonia was laid by Garnier, Ann. des Mines, ser. 6, vol. xii. (1867). Later accounts are by E. Glasser, "Les Richesses minerales de la Nouvelle Caledonie," Ann. des Mines, ser. 10, vol. iv. mem. pp. 299-392, pl. xi., and vol. v. mem. pp. 2 9-54, 5 0 3-7 01, pl. ii. and xii. (1904); and by L. Peletan, Les Richesses minerales des colonies francaises (Paris, 1902).

Table of contents

Climate, Flora, Fauna

The hottest and wettest months are from December to March, but there is usually a fresh trade-wind blowing and the climate is healthy. There is much less moisture, and the flora is of a less tropical character than farther north; it has some Polynesian and New Zealand affinities, and on the west coast a partially Australian character; on the higher hills it is stunted; on the lower, however, there are fine .grass lands, and a scattered growth of niaulis (Melaleuca viridiflora), useful for its timber, bark and cajeput oil. There is a great variety of fine timber trees. The bread-fruit, sago, banana, vanilla, ginger, arrowroot and curcuma grow wild. The cocoa nut, maize, sugar-cane, coffee, cotton, rice and tobacco (which last does not suffer like other crops from the locusts) do well. The orange, indigo, lucerne and European vegetables are grown. Mammals are very few; they include the rat and Pteropus and other bats. The commonest birds are pigeons (the large notou and other varieties), doves, parrots, kingfishers and ducks. The kagu (Rhinochetus jubatus), a peculiar "wingless" bird, is found here only. Turtle abound on the coast, and fish, of which some kinds, as the tetrodons (globe-fish), are poisonous, especially at certain seasons. Land and marine molluscs are numerous, and include various edible kinds.


At the census of 1901 the population of New Caledonia numbered 51,415, consisting of 12,25 3 free Europeans (colonists, soldiers, officials), 2 9 ,106 natives, io,056 convicts. In 1898, however, the introduction of convicts into the island ceased. The centres of population are Noumea (Numea), the capital, on a fine harbour of the west coast near the southern extremity of the island, with 7000 inhabitants; Bourail, an agricultural penitentiary (1800); La Foa, in the centre of the coffee plantations; Moindu, St Louis and St Vincent.

The natives, whom the French call Kanakas (Canaques, a word meaning "man," applied indiscriminately to many Pacific peoples), live on reservations. They are Melanesians of mixed blood, of two fairly distinct types, one sub-Papuan and the other Polynesian. Of the first the physical characteristics are a small, thin-limbed body, hair black, short and woolly, projecting jaws, rounded, narrow, retreating forehead, long and narrow head, enormous eyebrow ridges, flat nose and dark skin. The second type is characterized by a lighter skin, sometimes of a reddish-yellow, longer, less woolly hair, body taller with better-proportioned limbs, and head broader. This is the prevailing type in the east and south of the island. There is nowhere a real defining line between the two (many New Caledonians having black skins and woolly hair with Polynesian superiority of limb), but the Polynesian type is generally found among the chiefs and their kindred.

Both sexes among the natives pierce the lobes of the ear for ornaments. Tattooing is almost entirely confined to the women. Both sexes go naked, or with the scantiest loin-cloth. Their huts are usually beehive-shaped, with a single apartment, low narrow door, and no chimney. There are various degrees of hereditary chiefships, and a supreme chief recognized by all. As in some other Pacific islands, when a son is born the chiefship passes to him, but the father continues to govern as regent. All property descends to the eldest son by birth or adoption, though custom demands that the younger members of the family should have a share. The people have to work on the chief's plantations and fisheries, and also work in parties for each other, breaking up new land, &c. This often ends in feasting and in dances (pilu pilu), which include allegorical representations of events or ideas. The supreme chief's authority is limited by the advice of a council of elders, whom he is obliged to summon in certain emergencies. The standard of morality is low; women are practically slaves, and infanticide was formerly common.

The Kanakas are excellent agriculturists, being accounted superior in this matter to every other race of the Pacific. About the middle of the 19th century the indigenous population was 60,000. Returns for 1904 showed that this had fallen to rather less than half.

The languages of the different tribes are mutually unintelligible. They express abstract ideas imperfectly. Thus there are several words for eating, each applied to a particular article of food. Their reckoning shows the same peculiarity. The numbers go up to five, and for living objects the word bird is added, for inanimate yam, for large objects ship.'- There are other terms for bundles of sugarcanes, rows (planted) of yams, &c.; and sometimes things are counted by threes. Ten is two fives, 15 three fives, 20 is a "man" (ten fingers and ten toes), 100 is "five men," and so on.

Administration and Industries

The colony is administered by a governor, who exercises military power through a marine infantry colonel, and civil power with the assistance of a privy '- A similar usage exists in Malay; see paper by Yule in Jour. Anthrop. Inst. ix. 290.

council, a director of the interior, a judicial head, and a director of the penitentiary administration. There is also an elective general council. Noumea is the seat of a superior tribunal, a tribunal of first instance, and a tribunal of commerce. The island and its dependencies' are divided into five arrondissements. Noumea alone has (since 1879) a municipality, other localities being administered by commissions. There are about 1600 sq. m. of cultivable lands in the alluvial valleys, where coffee, maize, tobacco, sugar-cane, the vine, vegetables, potatoes, and some of the cereals are grown with success. Coffee was introduced about 1870, and has prospered well. Cheap agricultural labour is supplied by the convicts, by the liberated convicts, the Kanakas, and (to some extent) labourers from the New Hebrides. The soil is in three domains: that of the state, for the working of which concessions may be granted; that of the penitentiary administration; and that of the native reserve. Many horses, cattle and sheep have been imported, and the meat-preserving industry is prosecuted. Gold is found in the valley of the Diahot, as well as lead and copper at Balade. Iron is found everywhere. The yearly output of nickel and chrome is considerable, and these minerals, with cobalt, constitute the characteristic wealth of the island. Coal has been worked near Noumea, and kaolin is found in places. Gypsum and marble also deserve mention. The chief industrial establishments are smelting furnaces for cobalt, meat-preserving works at Ouaco, sugar-works and distilleries at Noumea and La Foa, tobacco, oil and soap factories at Noumea. The commerce in 1888 amounted to £480,000, of which ,200,000 represented the trade with France. In 1900 the total had risen to £820,000, of which £480,000 was for imports and £340,000 for exports, the share of France in that year having been 45% of imports and 47% of exports. The island imports wines, spirits, tissues, clothing and ironmongery; and exports ores, nickel, cobalt and chrome (which represent over three-quarters of the total exports in value), preserved meats and hides, coffee, copra and other colonial produce. There are about 150 m. of carriage roads, and in' the mountainous regions there are many footpaths. A railway running north-westward from Noumea to Dumbea, &c., is designed to connect the capital with Bourail. The islands annexed to the colony of New Caledonia are the Isle of Pines, used as a place of detention for habitual criminals; the Loyalty Islands, E. of New Caledonia; the Huon Islands, a practically barren group; the Wallis Archipelago; and Futuna and Alofa, S. of the Wallis group.


New Caledonia was discovered by Captain Cook in 1774. He touched at the haven of Balade (the original name of the island) near the north-western extremity, as did d'Entrecasteaux in 1793, who closely explored the coast and surrounding seas. They subsequently became known to sealers and traders in sandalwood, who, however, established no friendly relations with the natives. In 1843 French missionaries arrived at the island, and it was claimed for France, but on British representations the claim was renounced. In 1851 a landing party from a French vessel lying at Balade was attacked by the natives, and massacred with the exception of a single member. France was now determined on the annexation, and the flag was raised at the same spot in 1853, but simultaneously the commander of a British vessel was in negotiation with the native chief of the Isle of Pines, and the British flag was hoisted there. The chief, however, subsequently sided with the French, and the British claim was finally withdrawn. The capital, Noumea, was founded in 185 4 (it was then called Port de France); in 1860 New Caledonia became a colony distinct from the French possessions in the Pacific at large; in 1864 the first penal settlement was made on Nou Island, off Noumea. In 1878 there was a serious native insurrection, and another in 1881 was only put down after much bloodshed.

See H. Riviere, Souvenirs de la Nouvelle-Caledonie: l'insurrection canaque (Paris, 1881); Gallet, La Nouvelle-Caledonie (Noumea, 1884); Cordeil, Origines et progres de la Nouvelle-Caledonie (Noumea, 1885); C. Lemire, La Colonisation. en Nouvelle-Caledonie (Paris, 1878); Ibid. (Noumea, 1893); Voyage a pied en NouvelleCaledonie (Paris, 1884); M. A. Legrand, Au pays des Canaques (Paris, 1893); Moncelon, Le Bagne et la colonisation penale a la Nouvelle-Caledonie (Paris, 1886); A. Bernard, L'Archipel de la Nouvelle-Caledonie (Paris, 1895); Nouvelle-Caledonie, ses richesses, son avenir (Paris Exhibition, 1900); G. Griffith, In an unknown Prison Land (London, 1901); Carol, La Nouvelle-Caledonie miniere et agricole (Paris, 1900); Vallet, La Colonisation francaise en NouvelleCaledonie (Paris, 1905).

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