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First Madagascar expedition
Part of the French colonial wars
Tamatave bombarded and occupied by the French 11 June 1883.jpg
Tamatave, bombarded and occupied by the French under Admiral Pierre, on 11 June 1883. Le Monde Illustré, 1883.
Date May 1883–Dec 1885
Location Madagascar
Result French victory
France France Madagascar Merina dynasty
Amiral Pierre
Admiral Galiber
Counter-Admiral Miot
Cruiser La Flore
Cruiser Le Forfait
Scout Le Vaudreuil
Aviso Le Boursait
Cannonboat La Pique
Transporter aviso La Nièvre

The First Madagascar expedition was a French military expedition against the island of Madagascar in 1883. It was succeeded by the Second Madagascar expedition in 1895.


British influence

Following their capture of Mauritius from the French in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars, with ownership confirmed by the Treaty of Paris (1814), the British saw Madagascar as a natural expansion of their influence in the area.[1] The Merina chief Radama I managed to unite Madagascar under one rule, benefiting from British weapons and military instructors.[1] He signed treaties with the British, allowing Protestant missionaries and outlawing the slave trade.[2]

When his xenophobic queen Ranavalona I took power in 1828, however, all foreigners were expelled, and British influence was essentially suppressed.[1][2] An exception, the Frenchman Jean Laborde, was able to remain in the island to build foundries and an armament industry.

French comeback

In 1854, Prince Rakoto (future Radama II) asked Napoleon III to invade Madagascar.

Meanwhile, the Queen's son Prince Rakoto (future King Radama II) had been under the influence of French nationals at Tananarive. In 1854, he wrote a letter to Napoleon III asking him to invade Madagascar.[2] He further made secret concessions to Joseph-François Lambert, a French adventurer by signing the Lambert Charter on 28 June 1855.[2] Through this document, Lambert obtained exclusive right on all mining, forest and empty lands, in exchange for a 10% fee to the Merina monarchy.[2] A coup to topple the Queen and replace her by her son was also planned, in which Laborde and Lambert were involved. The secret treaty was revealed in 1857 by Rev. William Ellis and repression followed.[3] Upon the death of the queen, her son took over as King Radama II in 1861, but he only ruled two years before being assassinated. He was succeeded to the throne by his widow Rasoherina.

The Prime Minister Raharo revoked the Lambert Treaty in 1863. From 1864, Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony endeavoured to modernize his state by putting an end to slavery in 1877, modernizing the legal system in 1878 and setting up a new constitution in 1881.[4] Under the anglophile Rainilaiarivony, British influence grew considerably, in the economic and religious fields.[1]

Proximate causes

In the early 1880s however, the French colonial faction, the right-wing Catholic lobby and Réunion parliamentarians all advocated an invasion of Madagascar in order to suppress British influence there.[4] The non-respect of the Lambert Charter and the letter to Napoleon III were used by the French as the pretext to invade Madagascar in 1883.[2] Various disputes also helped trigger the intervention: the minority Sakalavas remained faithful to a French protectorate in the north of the island, a French national was killed in Tananarive, and the Merina placed an order for the French flag to be replaced by the Madagascar flag in French concessions.[1] This triggered the first phase of the Franco-Hova War.


Queen Ranavalona II died during the French intervention.

The decision was taken to send the naval division of Admiral Le Timbre.[1] The French under Admiral Pierre[5] bombarded the northwestern coast and occupied Majunga in May 1885.[6] A column brought an ultimatum to Tananarive, asking for recognition of French rights in northeastern Madagascar, a French protectorate over the Sakalavas, recognition of French property principles and an indemnity of 1,500,000 francs.[1][6]

When the ultimatum was refused, France bombarded the east coast, occupied Tamatave, and arrested the English missionary Shaw.[4][6] Meanwhile, queen Ranavalona II died, as did Admiral Pierre, who succombed to the fatigue of the campaign.[1] Admiral Pierre was replaced by Admiral Galiber, and then Counter-Admiral Miot.[1]

A Treaty was signed in December 1885, the French interpreting it as a Protectorate Treaty, while the Malagasi royalty, queen Ranavalona III and Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony denied it.[4] The Treaty included the acceptance of a French resident in Tananarive, and the payment of an indemnity of 10 millions.[1]

The Treaty however remained without effect, and would lead to the Second Madagascar expedition in 1895.[1]

See also




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