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Jean Laborde: adventurer and Consul of France in Madagascar

The gersois Jean Laborde Established on the red island since 1831, remains a too little known character in Franco-Malagasy history. First Consul of France appointed in Madagascar (April 12, 1862) by Napoleon III, our native auscitain succeeded in becoming the tutor of a future liberal king, confidant of missionaries, initiator of Malagasy industry, lover of a bloodthirsty sovereign while watching over the interests of his distant homeland ...

The Emperor took little interest in this part of the Indian Ocean - thus avoiding offending England with whom he engaged in the Battle of Crimea. So the French influence will be maintained there thanks to Monsieur Laborde. At that time, Madagascar remained resistant to foreigners under the long despotic reign of Ranavalona I era (1828-1861).

The call of the sea

Having left France very early without having succeeded in a military career, Jean embarked for India in 1827 with a few suitcases full of glassware, and encyclopedic manuals signed "Roret", practical works intended for the popularization of science and good manners. , arts and crafts. For several years, his resourcefulness and his creative genius enabled him to make himself useful to the Maharajas, and to amass a small nest egg. Adventurer at heart, he hears about a treasure on an island not far from Madagascar –Juan de Nova- and it is then that he embarked on a dhow to try his luck… But the capricious waves of the he Indian Ocean will play the marine and natural version of the best of Marlowe and Goethe together!

Collected at the age of 26 by Charles and Napoléon de Lastelle - farmers established in the eastern part of Madagascar, and representatives of the House of Rontaunay established in Mauritius to exploit sugar cane - Jean Laborde will not take long to become indispensable to his saviors. A friendship links him with the local Napoleon, from Saint-Malo by origin, having privileged relations with the sovereign.

The latter's policy is to repel all foreign interference in its country. The most perfect isolationism is close to his heart. Should we still have the means and be able to push back the “vazahas” (English and French)? It's not with a few shabby rifles swapped here and there that you could win a fight! Jean Laborde in the eyes of the trader of Lastelle seemed to be the providential man of the Merina monarchy: the ruling class of the highlands of Madagascar (even today)! The trader in the tropics had time to notice the capacities and creative genius of the Gers region for several months; While thinking of the prosperity of its trade ...

"The difficulty of succeeding only adds to the need to undertake". Jean Laborde, did he remember these few words from Beaumarchais? One can imagine it. The task that awaits him to win and survive is not won in advance ...

Before 1850, Laborde therefore endeavored to build a vast industrial city where several workshops produced powder and weapons, tiles, soap, lightning rod, earthenware, and silkworm breeding. A blast furnace was enthroned instead, lime kilns, forges, etc ... A royal residence was located there, as well as a private house. The latter, moreover, escaped destruction during his exile and is still visible today. A beautiful space also allowed fruit trees brought back from Europe, cows from Normandy, sheep, to acclimatize in Mantasoa, a village located fifty kilometers from the capital Antananarivo.

Laborde was far from imagining that he would spend all his life on this island, and start a political career there ...

Jean Laborde, a diplomatic vision

Its presence in Malagasy soil is much more important than it seems. He has a sense of the homeland, will never forget his native country, and will prove it when he fights the influence of the English on the Red Island to better defend French interests there: "He never ceased to to honor France and humanity there with their dedication and zeal "writes Father Jouen, apostolic prefect of the region (Letter addressed to Napoleon III, 01/08/1861). For sure, he never denied his nation. Otherwise, why would he have participated in the plot of 1857 to destabilize Queen Ranavalona I? Why would he write during his exile in Reunion to Prince Napoleon, Minister of Algeria and the Colonies, that his only concerns remain the future of Rakoto - heir to the Malagasy throne - and the interests of France for which his blood flows? ?

For Laborde, the second empire is like identical to a Napoleonic glory. He expects a lot from the Emperor and would like to see Madagascar come under a protectorate. For years, English and French have looked at each other doggedly through their respective missionaries. Ranavalona advocating a return to ancestral values ​​in his country, regularly chased them. It will still be at the heart of this nineteenth century, under our Second Empire, that a Catholic Mass will be given for the first time in Antananarivo in the greatest secrecy! and that… in the house of Laborde! The date is set for July 8, 1855 with Father Finaz - camouflaged under the name Hervier - in a small hut at the end of the French garden, in front of an audience of less than ten people, including Prince Rakoto.

At the heart of political and religious twists and turns, Laborde knows how to make friends with the rebels and the Queen's associates. The bloodthirsty white lover will even receive from the royal hands various honorary distinctions which will sow confusion among some passing Europeans and which will go so far as to pretend that the Gersois had abandoned his original nationality to become entirely Malagasy!

The French influence on the big island will be maintained clandestinely by our man who enjoys great prestige with Crown Prince Rakoto and certain dignitaries. Indeed, the future king vowed an admiration for our country through the lessons and the knowledge of his skilful tutor. Laborde, for example, had succeeded in bringing in from Paris two paintings representing Napoleon III and Eugenie. Thus, the imperial couple "reigned" (in a way) in Malagasy country in the bedroom of the crown prince! The young Rakoto, impatient to accede to the throne to open his country to European influences and free his people from the yoke of his cruel mother, will write a letter to Napoleon III to this effect on January 18, 1854. He will go so far as to submit to her. the idea of ​​answering him via Hubert Delisle, governor of Reunion, to avoid any leak. Jean Laborde, as we know today, was the author of this letter. A second letter dated July 1855 once again reminded the Emperor of the purpose of the princely request. Joseph Lambert going to France is responsible for delivering the mail. Thanks to Laborde, he has also developed a draft Charter with the Prince, the execution of which will take effect on the coronation of the new king: he will be able to form and have the exclusivity of a mining company ... Lambert (trader in Mauritius) therefore warns - during his stay in Europe - both politicians and the clergy, of the importance of addressing the issue of Madagascar. He is received by Pius IX wishing to introduce Catholicism to the Red Island. Napoleon III, he is more mixed. He suggests a Franco-English protectorate. It was Alexandre Walewski, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who sent a letter to this effect to the Count de Persigny, then French Ambassador to London, to dictate instructions. It is true that England with its Mauritius Island located not far from the great lateritic land would perhaps benefit from looking into this co-protectorate. No agreements in the end.

On the Malagasy side, we are dangerously busy establishing a plot against the queen. And it is none other than the sovereign's own son, supported by his "vazaha" friends - including Laborde - who are preparing him ... An English Methodist, Ellis, will thwart princely ideas. Suddenly, on June 20, 1857, all French were expelled, without exception. It was in Réunion that Laborde spent his four years in exile. During these years, Prince Napoleon - Minister of the Colonies - will meet in Paris with our Gascon to develop the Malagasy question. The latter refused, arguing "Serious and judicious friends for whom I profess boundless deference and affection, strongly advised me not to move away from Madagascar (...) I left someone there who is for me. a son even more than a friend, it is Rakoto the heir to the crown (….) it is I who taught him to know and cherish France (…) I know all the efforts that will be made to death of the queen, (…) an absence could be prejudicial to the civilizing work that we are pursuing (…) ”.

During his exile, Jean Laborde also learns that the Emperor appointed him a knight of the order of the Legion of Honor on February 27, 1861, the year in which the bloodthirsty queen died.

Now is the time for Rakoto to take the throne. Immediately he made Laborde return.

Napoleon III appoints Laborde consul of France

Napoleon III sends Baron Brossard de Corbigny to congratulate the young king who, moreover, for the occasion, will don a uniform copied from that of the Emperor! Various gifts from France are offered to the sovereign. The clergy, under the leadership of Reverend Father Jouen - head of the Catholic community - brought medallions and jewels.

H.M. Radama II very quickly received Lambert to finalize the agreement unofficially drafted a few years earlier. This is the birth of the Lambert Charter. France at that time decided to formalize its relations with the Malagasy capital. Jean Laborde becomes the first Consul of France in Madagascar, we are in April 1862. Among his prerogatives now, to instill in Radama II the idea of ​​developing cotton, because France is booming in its textile industry. It will also be necessary to tackle Education and open schools, churches, expand trade. And the French Consul, because of his privileged position with the king, had every chance of winning his case.

But Madagascar is the country of "mora-mora" (slowly-gently) and some ideas will never see the light of day.

On the other hand, in his multiple reports, Laborde will regularly alert the French authorities of the king's weakness and the favors too easily granted to his entourage.

Laborde transmits quantified information on the population and its number to the Orsay wharf, amounting to approximately 1,100,000 inhabitants. He told the Emperor that Alfred Grandidier was working for France by carrying out numerous studies on this subject. The Consul evokes the traditions, the establishment by the Malagasy government of schools, he writes on the exports which evolve and are sources of income: oxen, pigs, cereals, straw hats, sugar, tanned leathers, towards the colony. neighboring Reunion for 1,500,000 francs of goods. He demonstrates to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Madagascar would be an added value in the enlargement of the Empire. It looks at imports, tariffs.

Second Empire imprint in the Malagasy kingdom

Jean Laborde between 1850 and 1870 manages his business and takes part in multiple meetings with French visitors and missionaries. He gave parties, brought from Paris various women's magazines "La mode illustrée" and "La revue de la mode". Indeed, since elegance, beauty, refinement, were very fashionable under the Second Empire - and magazines diversified a lot despite the very regulated period of the press - he thought of influencing the ladies of the Malagasy Court. on their clothing. He won't have a hard time finding newspapers because more than eighty titles devoted to clothing existed at that time: from the simple double-sided sheet to the small catalog. He offered various gifts to maintain his facilities at the Court, such as Napoleon III style furniture such as sofas or cupboards, brought wigs and other modern objects from France. He animates evenings with crockery and glasses of champagne around the table, he also teaches waltz - the master dance throughout the Second Empire - for the Malagasy courtiers, he evokes with Prince Rakoto the musicians of his time as Gounod and his hymn "Vive l'Empereur".

Thanks to the generosity of Jean Laborde and the welcome he extended to prestigious travelers like Alfred Grandidier (a renowned naturalist who makes frequent stays there with the support of the Paris Museum and the Geographical Society), Auguste Lantz ( Conservative), men of the Church, our Consul weaves a network of significant influence. But he uses - and abuses too much according to Paris - corruption with figures of Malagasy politics to obtain secret information. That's expensive ! too much ... We blame him. After the assassination of Radama II, the new British-influenced government will no longer take into account the trade treaty with France.

To review a new agreement, it was decided to appoint a replacement for Laborde (who had not received good press on an indemnity story), the Comte de Louvières. But the latter will not be able to master Malagasy customs and traditions, he will even have a hard time talking to Hova officials. He died in 1867.

Benoit Garnier, stationed in Aden, is appointed by the Marquis de Moustier, new Imperial Minister of Foreign Affairs. He stayed there for a few months, realizing the importance and influence of Laborde in all kinds of affairs, negotiations or support with the Malagasy government. He told the Quai d'Orsay (August 11, 1868) “This worthy and commendable compatriot only took into account the interests of his country (…) it is thanks to his active cooperation that I was able to obtain solution ”. Laborde will then very quickly regain its consular functions.

In 1870 he felt the need to travel to his native land when France declared war on Germany. He abandoned his travel plan. Until his death in 1878, he fought the advance of Protestantism on the Red Island as well as the various Anglo-Saxon interference. His funeral will be almost royal.

Jean Laborde will therefore never see - as he hoped - the establishment of the French protectorate, since it was not until 1895 that Madagascar came under our authority.


- Raymond Blin "The great adventure of Gascon Jean Laborde, creator of a Madagascan industry in 1837" Speech 1967 / Courts of appeal Toulouse

- Jean Chauvin "Jean Laborde" released in 1939 Editions de Tananarive.

- A.Grandidier "Travel diaries, Physical history" 1868 -1870. Museum of Man in Paris.

"Revue de Paris" May 1924, details on the Laborde company.

- Bulletin of the Société des Archives du Gers - 1909 "Un gascon à Madagasca" r, page 132 and 133

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