It is by a bill adopted on 19 July last, announced by The chained Duck of August 10, 2022, that the French Senate declared itself in favor of “the dignity of Admiral of France being conferred on Rear Admiral Yves Joseph de Kerguelen”. The result of a reflection led by the senator Les Républicains (LR) of the French abroad, Christophe-André Frassa, this senatorial initiative aims to honor posthumously a navigator, one of the first explorers of the southern lands who, in 1772, will be knighted of Saint-Louis by Louis XV for his discovery of the land of Kerguelen in the Indian Ocean.
The one who was described in the 18th century as “French Christopher Columbus” had indeed taken possession, in the name of King Louis XV, of the archipelago of the “Kerguelen Islands”, of which France is celebrating the 250th anniversary this year. Qualified as “confetti” of the former French colonial empire, these islands nevertheless allow France to hold the second largest maritime area in the world, enlarged by 500,000 km2 in 2015 thanks to the extension of exclusive economic zones around of these island spaces, and to make our country the world’s leading maritime power through its diversity and biodiversity.
Chronology: key dates in the history of slavery practiced by France
Born in 1734 in French Finistère, Yves Joseph de Kerguelen a briefly made the monarchy dream with this discovery in the far south of the Indian Ocean. She was convinced that these islands – as large as Corsica, but almost uninhabitable – could compensate for the loss of Canada to the British following the Seven Years’ War. The French conquest was confirmed at the end of the 14th century, before a parliamentary resolution in 1949 which established republican sovereignty there with the construction of the Port-aux-Français base. Administratively attached to the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF), within the Overseas Ministry, this territory, devoid of a permanent population, is populated only by scientists, technicians and soldiers who are periodically renewed.
Council of war for the slave trade of 200 Africans
It was between 1773 and 1774, during his second expedition to the southern seas, that the slave, slave and criminal nature of Kerguelen was revealed, whose career had hitherto been marked only by honors and glory. In Brest, May 15, 1775, says Annick Le Douget in her book Judges, slaves and slave traders in Lower BrittanyYves Joseph de Kerguelen is judged by the Court of War, chaired by Vice-Admiral of France d’Aché, for having trafficked 200 Africans from Madagascar on a Royal ship during his mission, in contravention of the Louis XIV’s ban on trading imposed on captains and officers serving on the king’s vessels.
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Very often transgressed – we will have seen how, in Rochefort, ships of the Royal will engage shamelessly in the slave trade – the royal prohibition did not obey any feeling of humanity towards Africans. For the monarchy, the king’s ships should always be in a condition to fight “to maintain the honor of the flag”, without being embarrassed by goods in the preservation of which “those who would be interested in it would think more than of the glory of the nation”.
At the end of the Brest trial, the explorer was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment despite his defense minimizing the facts and ensuring that he had only acquired a few “niggers” along the way: “Eight or nine niggers that the pilot aid bought on behalf of Kerguelen”.
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The opportunity to recall that French Finistère, if it cannot “compete” with the major Atlantic ports of Nantes, Le Havre or Bordeaux, also engaged in the slave trade and slavery. Between 1698 and the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in 1848, 200 slave expeditions left from the main ports connected at the logistical levels et economic: Brest, Landerneau, Vannes, Morlaix and Quimper.
racist and supremacist
Several thousand Africans were deported by ships from Finistère, hundreds died in the appalling conditions of the Atlantic crossing while many of them, mostly reduced to slavery, left their traces in Brest. Thus, from the “depot of the Negroes”, which has become the Musée de la Marine, to rue Jean-Mor, passing through a few slave traders and an abolitionist magistrate, the capital of Finistère is dotted with little-known evocations of a crime against humanity which few Brestois make the link with the history of their city.
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A street in Brest already bears the name of Yves Joseph de Kerguelen, a character whom the Senate wants to raise to the rank of “Admiral of France” by a President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, who is surely unaware of the role played by this explorer. in what the 2001 law qualifies as a crime against humanity. Because Kerguelen did not only engage in the slave trade. Reading his writings, in particular his logbook, reveals a convinced pro-slavery owner who, according to Annick Le Douget, does not hesitate to engage in “the use, not to say the ustensilization of blacks in the difficult times in order to preserve his white crew”.
From the Cape of Good Hope, in the logbook of an expedition of June 27, 1773, he wrote to the commander of one of the ships: “As in the course of the long voyage that we are going to make, and especially in case from any establishment whatsoever in the countries we are going to travel, ten to twelve good blacks could serve us and spare our crews in the works of drudgery, as in dredging, diving, fishing, plowing, etc. I authorize and I ask M. de Rosnevet to kindly order that during his stay in Madagascar, an attempt will be made to procure them for me at any price whatsoever. »
Slavery: the debate is necessary
Are these cold calculations, in perfect contradiction with the great republican principles, that Emmanuel Macron wants to reward by promulgating the bill tabled by Senator Christophe-André Frassa? If, for the street that honors Kerguelen in Brest, an explanatory panel seems necessary to rise to the height of current citizen and memorial issues, it remains difficult to accept that an additional honor, contemporary and presidential, be granted to a character whose actions as much as words attest to a racist and supremacist conscience that current generations want to eradicate from public space for greater equality.
We hope that the President of the Republic will know to own account !