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Thursday, December 14, 2017

French India

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on January 17, 2012

A small but long-lived colonial outpost.

The French got interested in India somewhat belatedly.  The Portuguese formally established a colony in India in 1510.  The Dutch arrived in 1605, followed by the British in 1612 and the Danes in 1620.  The French made unsuccessful efforts to trade with India in 1604 and 1615, but it wasn’t until 1668 that the first French factory was established in Surat.  A second factory was established in Masulipatam in 1669 and a third in Chandernagore in 1673.  The most successful factory was founded in Pondicherry in 1674.  The French factories were in direct competition with those of the British and the Dutch and there was intermittent conflict between the colonial powers.  In 1693, the Dutch seized Pondicherry, holding it until 1699.  In 1720, the British seized all of the French factories, except Pondicherry, which had been extensively fortified.  The French then established (and fortified) new factories at Yanam, Mahe, and Karaikal.  In 1757, Robert Clive led the British forces and his Indian allies in a decisive victory over Indian forces allied with the French at Plassey, after which the French gave up hope of expanding their influence in India.  Pondicherry was lost in 1761, but it and other factories were regained in 1765.  At the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1816, the French held Pondicherry, Chandernagore, Karaikal, Mahe, Yanam, Masulipatam, Kozhikode, and Surat, while the British ruled over almost the entire Indian subcontinent, except for the small Portuguese, Dutch, and Danish enclaves.  Machilipattam, Kozhikode, and Surat were ceded to India when it became independent in 1947.  Chandernagore was transferred to India following a popular election in 1950.  In 1954, the remaining French colonies became a de facto territory of India, with the formal transfer of power occurring in 1962.  Thus, the French, who were the last European power to settle in India, eventually became the last European power to vacate India.  French influence is still present in India, particularly in and around Pondicherry, even though the French never exercised significant economic power on the subcontinent.

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