La Nouvelle France: Nineteenth century propaganda
By Stacey Larner, Librarian, Queensland Memory | 7 September 2022
Between 1879-1881 four ships carrying European colonists sailed for a remote island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, dreaming of a better life. Persuaded by smooth-tongued agents and a newspaper full of beautiful woodcut illustrations and “testimonials” from the colony, several hundred people signed up, eager to relocate to the “paradise” of the Free Colony of Port Breton, or “New France”. La Nouvelle France: journal de la colonie libre de Port-Breton, Oceanie was the propaganda piece used to lure the unsuspecting colonists and reassure them that the perilous journey was worth undertaking. They had no reason to think the scheme was anything other than legitimate.
Title image from issues 1-10, Volume 1. La Nouvelle France : journal de la colonie libre de Port-Breton, Oceanie. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
Sadly for the prospective colonists, the utopia of Port Breton did not exist. It was a scam manufactured by the self-styled Marquis de Rays, and as a result of this swindle, hundreds of immigrants lost their lives. Josephine Niau’s The Phantom Paradise: the story of the expedition of the Marquis de Rays traces the voyages and fates of the four ships the Nouvelle Bretagne, the India, the Génil, and the Chandernagore and their human cargo.
Marquis de Rays, issue 13, Volume 2. La Nouvelle France : journal de la colonie libre de Port-Breton, Oceanie. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
The New Guinea Memoirs of Jean Baptiste Octave Mouton details Mouton’s personal experiences of the ill-fated venture. The young Mouton and his father joined the last expedition to the Free Colony of Port Breton, or New France. He describes seeing the newspaper called La Nouvelle France when the Marquis’ representative was in Brussels, saying,
Mouton and his father departed on the Nouvelle Bretagne, and arrived at Port Breton on the 15th August 1881. He says of the arrival,
Mouton and his father were among the few to stay in Papua New Guinea after the colony collapsed.
Map of Port Breton, Issue 21, Volume 2. La Nouvelle France : journal de la colonie libre de Port-Breton, Oceanie. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
The colony was evacuated after failed attempts to secure supplies for the starving colonists. A handful resettled in Cairns, but the majority settled in New South Wales, forming the settlement known as Little Italy. The resulting publicity from the event kindled fears the French would secure the territory, impacting trade routes and the young Queensland colony quite heavily. In 1883 Premier Sir Thomas McIlwraith annexed British New Guinea for the colony of Queensland, a controversial action that had little support from the British government and was subsequently disavowed. In 1884 a British protectorate was proclaimed over the southern coast of New Guinea and adjacent islands, and in 1888 the British New Guinea protectorate was formally annexed. Papua New Guinea became independent in 1975.
Le café, Issue 20, Volume 2. La Nouvelle France : journal de la colonie libre de Port-Breton, Oceanie. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
State Library has acquired two bound volumes of issues of La Nouvelle France published between 1879–1881. The volumes have been digitised and can be viewed online.
- La Nouvelle France
- The New Guinea memoirs of Jean Baptiste Octave Mouton / edited, with an introd. by Peter Biskup
- The phantom paradise : the story of the expedition of the Marquis De Rays / by J.H. Niau
- George Brown, D.D. : pioneer-missionary and explorer : an autobiography
- Paradiso: A Novel / by Steve Capelin
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