France took possession of New Caledonia and turned it into a penal colony. The French judicial system transported about twenty-five thousand convicts to this distant island, and most of them were required to remain after their prison term had been served. It was against this early colonial background that a collection of essays by Eugène Vieillard and Èmile Deplanche appeared in France in 1863. Both hailing from Normandy, they lived in isolated posts where they dispensed medical treatment to soldiers, settlers, and Kanak. This chapter presents translated extracts from Vieillard and Deplanche's Essai sur la Nouvelle-Calédonie, dealing with land and land ownership, the character of the New Caledonians, and their political organization. Also included are extracts from Dr. Louis Thiercelin's Journal d'un Baleinier (1866) about the appearance of the people and the ownership of coconuts.
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