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Franco-Tahitian War
Prise du fort de Fautahua à Tahiti, 17 décembre 1846, Charles Giraud, 1857.jpg
Capture of Fort Fautaua in Tahiti, depicted by Sébastien Charles Giraud
LocationSociety Islands
Result Tahiti remained a French protectorate
Jarnac Covention of 1847
France France
Tahitian allies
Bora Bora and Tahaa
Commanders and leaders
Abel Aubert Dupetit Thouars,
Armand Joseph Bruat,
Louis Adolphe Bonard
Pōmare IV,
Teriitaria II,
Tamatoa IV,
Tapoa II

Pomare, Queen of Tahiti, the Persecuted Christian Surrounded by Her Family at the Afflictive Moment when the French Forces Were Landing, painting by LMS artist George Baxter, 1845.

The Franco-Tahitian War or French–Tahitian War (1844–1847) was a conflict between the Kingdom of the French and the Kingdom of Tahiti and its allies in the South Pacific archipelago of the Society Islands.


Tahiti was converted to Protestant Christianity by the London Missionary Society (LMS) in the early 19th century. In 1836, Queen Pōmare IV of Tahiti, under the influence of British consul and former LMS missionary George Pritchard, evicted two French Catholic missionaries from the islands in order to maintain the dominance of Protestantism in the island kingdom. Seeing this as an affront to the honor of France and the Catholic religion, Jacques-Antoine Moerenhout, the French consul in Tahiti,[1] filed a formal complaint to the French.[2] In 1838, the French naval commander Abel Aubert Dupetit Thouars forced the native government to pay an indemnity and sign a treaty of friendship with France respecting the rights of French subjects in the islands including any future Catholic missionaries. Four years later, claiming the Tahitians had violated the treaty, he returned and forced the Tahitian chiefs and the queen to sign a request for French protection which he sent back to Europe for ratification.[3]


Pritchard had been away on a diplomatic mission to Great Britain during the incident with the admiral and returned to find the islands under French control. Encouraged by Pritchard, the queen resisted in vain against French intervention, writing to Queen Victoria, asking for British intervention, and to King Louis Philippe I of France.[2][4] In November 1843, Dupetit Thouars deposed the queen for her continued resistance and formally annexed the islands, placing Armand Joseph Bruat in charge as colonial governor. Pōmare IV and her family fled into exile on the neighboring island of Raiatea aboard the British ship HMS Basilisk.[3][5] Pritchard was imprisoned and deported by the French, an action which nearly sparked conflict with the British had the French not formally apologized for the seizure of the British consul.[2][6]

In the absence of their queen, the Tahitian populace loyal to the Pōmare Dynasty revolted against the French forces which included a few pro-French Tahitian chiefs. At the Battle of Mahaena, on April 17, 1844, a force of 441 French soldiers defeated an under-equipped native force twice its size. A total fifteen French soldiers and 102 Tahitians died in this battle.[7] Following the defeat of the native forces at Mahaena, the two sides engaged in guerrilla warfare in the fortified valleys of the Tahitian countryside.[8]

On the second front, the French attempted to conquer and annex the three neighboring island kingdoms in the Leeward Islands. These were Raiatea under King Tamatoa IV (where Pōmare had sought refuge), Huahine under Queen Teriitaria II, and Bora Bora under King Tapoa II. These islands had traditionally owed formal allegiance to the Pōmare family which the French interpreted as actual jurisdiction.[3][9] A naval blockade of Raiatea by French captain Louis Adolphe Bonard was lifted when the warriors of Huahine under Queen Teriitaria "massacred" the French forces at the Battle of Maeva, in which eighteen French marines were killed and forty-three were wounded.[8][9]

Although Great Britain never intervened militarily, the British Navy officer Henry Byam Martin and commander of HMS Grampus, was sent to the Society Islands to spy on the conflict. He was charged with investigating Queen Pōmare's suzerainty claims to the other islands. His account of the closing months of the conflict are recorded in The Polynesian Journal of Captain Henry Byam Martin, R.N.[10][11]

The guerrilla conflict came to an end in defeat of the Tahitians at Battle of Punaruu in May 1846 and the capture of Fort Fautaua on December 17, 1846.[7][8] In February 1847, Queen Pōmare IV returned from her exile and acquiesced to rule under the protectorate. Although victorious, the French were not able to annex the islands due to diplomatic pressure from Great Britain, so Tahiti and its dependency Moorea continued to be ruled under the French protectorate.[6][9][12] A clause to the war settlement, known as the Jarnac Convention, was signed by France and Great Britain, in which the two powers agreed to respect the independence of Queen Pōmare's allies in Huahine, Raiatea, and Bora Bora.[3][13] The French continued the guise of protection until the 1880s when they formally annexed Tahiti and the Leeward Islands (through the Leewards War which ended in 1897), forming French Polynesia.[3]


  1. Buck, Peter Henry (1953). "J. A. Moerenhout" (in en). Explorers of the Pacific: European and American discoveries in Polynesia. Honolulu: Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. pp. 85–86. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Garrett, John (1982). To Live Among the Stars: Christian Origins in Oceania. Suva, Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. pp. 253–256. ISBN 978-2-8254-0692-2. OCLC 17485209. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Gonschor, Lorenz Rudolf (August 2008). Law as a Tool of Oppression and Liberation: Institutional Histories and Perspectives on Political Independence in Hawaiʻi, Tahiti Nui/French Polynesia and Rapa Nui. Honolulu: University of Hawaii at Manoa. pp. 35–38, 42–51. 
  4. O'Brien, Patricia (April 2006). "‘Think of Me as a Woman’: Queen Pomare of Tahiti and Anglo-French Imperial Contest in the 1840s Pacific". Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 108–129. Digital object identifier:10.1111/j.1468-0424.2006.00417.x. OCLC 663096915. 
  5. Pritchard, George (1878). Queen Pomare and Her Country. London: Elliot Stock. p. 60. OCLC 663667911. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Adolphus William Ward; George Peabody Gooch (1991). The Cambridge History of British Foreign Policy. 2. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press. pp. 182–185. OCLC 1327327. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Layton, Monique (2015). The New Arcadia: Tahiti's Cursed Myth. Victoria, BC: FriesenPress. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-4602-6860-5. OCLC 930600657. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Kirk, Robert W. (2012). Paradise Past: The Transformation of the South Pacific, 1520–1920. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 151–154. ISBN 978-0-7864-9298-5. OCLC 817224972. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Matsuda, Matt K. (2005). "Society Islands: Tahitian Archives". Empire of Love: Histories of France and the Pacific. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 91–112. ISBN 978-0-19-534747-0. OCLC 191036857. 
  10. Dodd, Edward (1983). The Rape of Tahiti. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. ISBN 978-0-396-08114-2. OCLC 8954158. 
  11. Martin, Henry Byam (1981). The Polynesian Journal of Captain Henry Byam Martin, R. N.. Canberra: Australian National University Press. pp. 7–11. ISBN 978-0-7081-1609-8. OCLC 8329030. 
  12. "La guerre franco-tahitienne (1844–1846)". Histoire de l'Assemblée de la Polynésie française. Retrieved January 1, 2017. 
  13. Olson, James Stuart; Shadle, Robert (1991). Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 329. ISBN 978-0-313-26257-9. OCLC 21950673. 

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