Looking at the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, there is a group of islands called St. Paul and Amsterdam.

In the Amsterdam article, you can find this text:

The islands of Île Amsterdam and Île Saint-Paul were first claimed by France in June 1843. ... However, the French government renounced its possession of the islands in 1853.

It has a cite, some book, however no explanation on why. Why did France renounce these claims?

And also, when did they re-claim them? They are part of a special territory of France today.

  • 5
    I think a proper answer would probably start with checking the WP references, which look to be in French (so out of my bailiwick). However, I can see that during the 10 years in question, France went through 3 different forms of government: Monarchy-> Republic -> Empire. It isn't tough to see how its foreign policy, particularly its attitude towards small remote uninhabited foreign possessions, might have changed drastically as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 31, 2023 at 13:49
  • If you wanted to claim somewhere as your territory, you had to exercise effective control, preferably by occupation but at a minimum physically removing any later unauthorised arrivals. That is difficult to say when you abandon a distant place and have no plans to visit it regularly with warships.
    – Henry
    Sep 1, 2023 at 0:33

1 Answer 1


As @T.E.D. correctly points out in their comment, answering this question requires looking into French sources. In particular, the French Wikipedia article Îles Saint-Paul et Amsterdam is more detailed than the English language version. Regarding the period in question it says:

En 1842, elles éveillent l’intérêt du Polonais Adam Mierosławski (pl), capitaine du Cygne de Granville. Le capitaine Mierosławski a passé son diplôme de capitaine au long cours sous le nom de son frère Pierre Louis Adam Mierosławski, en utilisant le passeport français de ce dernier. En 1843, Adam Mierosławski propose au gouverneur de l’île Bourbon (Réunion), le contre-amiral Bazoche, la prise de possession de ces îles désertes. En absence de navire de guerre en rade, Bazoche fait appel au trois-mâts L'Olympe, commandé par Martin Dupeyrat. Le capitaine Dupeyrat et son bateau vont ramener Adam Mierosławski sur ces îles. Le capitaine Mierosławski est mandaté par le gouverneur de Bourbon, par l’arrêté du 8 juin 1843, pour assumer le commandement de ces îles aussitôt la prise de possession au nom de la France.

In 1842, they aroused the interest of the Polish Adam Mierosławski (pl), captain of the Cygne de Granville. Captain Mierosławski graduated as a long-distance captain under the name of his brother Pierre Louis Adam Mierosławski, using the latter's French passport. In 1843, Adam Mierosławski proposed to the governor of Bourbon Island (Reunion), Rear Admiral Bazoche, to take possession of these deserted islands. In the absence of a warship in the harbour, Bazoche called on the three-master L'Olympe, commanded by Martin Dupeyrat. Captain Dupeyrat and his boat will bring Adam Mierosławski back to these islands. Captain Mierosławski is mandated by the governor of Bourbon, by the decree of June 8, 1843, to assume command of these islands as soon as possession is taken in the name of France.

Entre-temps le Royaume-Uni conteste cette prise de possession. Pour éviter les problèmes et au vu de la pauvreté des deux îles, la France envoie une dépêche à l’amiral Bazoche demandant le rappel de la garnison. Mierosławski le conteste (il menace même de hisser le drapeau polonais!). Il commence alors à négocier avec Bazoche, un ami, Adolphe Camin et d'autres interlocuteurs de la Réunion avec qui ils fondent une société par actions en 1845 pour l'exploitation des deux îles et la création d'établissements sur place. L'île Saint-Paul, où est alors installée une pêcherie, compte pendant la période qui suit jusqu'à 40 habitants, mais privée de son fondateur et désertée peu à peu par les pêcheurs, l'entreprise s'interrompt en 1853.

In the meantime, the United Kingdom is contesting this takeover. To avoid problems and in view of the poverty of the two islands, France sends a dispatch to Admiral Bazoche requesting the recall of the garrison. Mierosławski disputes this (he even threatens to raise the Polish flag!). He then began to negotiate with Bazoche, a friend, Adolphe Camin and other interlocutors from Reunion with whom they founded a joint-stock company in 1845 for the exploitation of the two islands and the creation of establishments on the spot. Saint-Paul Island, where a fishery was then installed, had up to 40 inhabitants during the following period, but deprived of its founder and gradually deserted by fishermen, the business was interrupted in 1853.

I leave to Google translate to provide a detailed translation, but in a nutshell - the islands didn't represent any particular military or commercial interest and taking their possession was an initiative of a single man - Adam Mierosławski, a Polish commander of a French ship (he also had a French passport.) While in 1843 the French government does respond positively to this initiative, it does not want to make much effort in defending the islands, when their possession is contested by the United Kingdom, the very same year. Mierosławski is not satisfied with this situation and organizes a society aiming at the development of the two islands, which results in a fishery installed on Saint-Paul. The population then grows up to 40 inhabitants, but the fishery eventually ceases to exist in 1853, and the island is de facto abandoned this year. It is only in 1871 that the French return to the islands and their development and serious exploration begin.

  • 1
    According to the text quoted, the captain actually didn't have french citizenship, his brother did, and he used his passport.
    – jcaron
    Sep 1, 2023 at 10:05
  • @jcaron Yes, I corrected it. I think this is not the main point whether he was really French or not - it is worth mentioning to explain why he claimed the islands for France (I imagine that Poland at the time had even less means of holding it (I am not even sure it existed as an independent political entity in 1843.)
    – Roger V.
    Sep 1, 2023 at 10:10
  • 1
    @Spencer It's not duplicated, the machine translation is nested inside the original French text.
    – IMSoP
    Sep 1, 2023 at 11:00
  • 2
    @ImSoP I'll bet my phone translated it automatically.
    – Spencer
    Sep 1, 2023 at 12:04
  • 1
    @DrZ214 True. I am not sure what the relevant legal procedures were at the time. Note that France did not renounce its claims in 1853, as could be concluded from the articles cited in the OP - it merely didn't insist on it in 1843, while in 1853 there was no legal action - apart from ending the physical presence. In a way, in 1853 France did renounce its possession of the islands, but not in the legal sense.
    – Roger V.
    Sep 1, 2023 at 14:02

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