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New Caledonia

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New Caledonia, one of the largest islands of Oceania, lies about 900 miles east of Queensland, Australia between 20° 10' and 22° 16' S. lat., and between 164° and 167° E. long. It is about 250 miles long by 30 broad, and has an area of 7650 square miles. It is a French colony, its principal dependencies being the Isle of Pines and Loyalty Islands (including Lifou, Mare, and Uvea). Its population, together with that of these dependencies, is estimated at 53,000 inhabitants (13,000 free; 11,000 of convict origin; 29,000 black). The coasts of New Caledonia are deeply indented, and the island is almost entirely surrounded by an immense madrepore reef, which now retires to some distance from and now approaches close to the shore, but regularly leaves a broad channel of water between itself and the island. This species of canal, in which the sea is always calm, greatly facilitates communication between the various settlements on the coast. The island is very mountainous, and about one half of its area is thus uncultivatable. The so-called central chain, which divides the island into an eastern and a western section, attains the height, of over 5500 feet. The hills which fringe the coast, and at times rise sheer from the water, do not in general exceed the height of 600 feet. Between these lesser ranges stretch good-sized plains of great fertility, admirably watered by numerous streams which the natives skilfully utilize for purposes of irrigation. The streams of the same basin usually unite to form one river which is navigable for vessels of light draught for about a dozen miles from the coast. Unlike most intertropical regions, the island has no well-defined wet season, some years being very rainy and others characterized by prolonged droughts. The scenery is wonderfully beautiful and for salubrity of climate the island is almost unrivalled. The temperature rarely reaches the extremes of 96° by day during the hot season (December to March) and 56° by night during the cold (May to August). The administration has divided the island into three sections: the convict settlement, that reserved exclusively for the natives, and the remainder which is leased to colonists by the French Government. The chief agricultural products are coffee, maize, sugar, grapes, and pineapples, while efforts are being made at present to foster the cultivation of wheat, rubber, and cotton. The island also possesses valuable deposits of nickel, cobalt, chrome, and copper ores, all of which are being exploited chiefly by Australian miners. Discovered by Captain Cook in 1774, the island was occupied by the French in 1853, and on 2 Sept. 1863, a decree was passed authorizing the establishment of a convict settlement there. In May, 1864, the first criminals arrived, and between that date and 1896, an aggregate of about 22,000 were transported thither. As no convicts have been sent since 1896, the convict element of the population is rapidly diminishing. Nouméa is the chief town and the seat of government. It has an excellent harbour for the improvement of which various works are in course of execution. The colony is administered by a governor, assisted by a council consisting of various officials and two notables nominated by the governor. There is also an elective general council.

The ethnology of the natives, whose number is gradually decreasing, is somewhat uncertain, but they probably spring from a mixed Melanesian and Western Polynesian stock. Their height is above that of the average South Sea Islander; they are as a rule well built and quite erect; their colour varies from a very dark brown to a light complexion, and their hair is coarse and woolly. Cannibalism, which was generally practised on the island in former times, has disappeared in consequence of the strict measures taken by the administration. Although the men of the same tribe live together in the greatest harmony (such being in fact a leading dictate of their religious belief) intertribal wars have been always frequent, and have been in the past almost the sole occasion of cannibalism, as the flesh of a fellow tribesman is one of the most intelligible of their numerous and in very many cases peculiar taboos. The native religion is so closely intertwined with superstitions that distinction is rather difficult. The natives undoubtedly have a firm belief in a future life; the dead are supposed to live under the great mountain Mu, where the good are welcomed after death and where the general conditions bear some striking analogies to the Harmonic Hades. Ancestral worship is universally practised among the pagan natives, and there is a special class whose office it is to feed the deceased kinsmen, partly by consuming the food as their proxies and partly by exposing it for them in a taboo hut. The natives live together according to their tribes under chiefs, who exercise an extensive authority in purely native affairs. The food of the natives consists of yams, taros, sugar-cane, dried fish, and shell-fish. At various places on the island are held markets, at which the natives of the coast, and of the mountains meet to exchange produce, dancing forming a regular feature of the transaction. Though excellent farmers the natives are lazy.

New Caledonia was separated from Central Oceania and erected into a distinct vicariate Apostolic by decree of 2 July and Brief of 13 July, 1847. Besides the main island, the vicariate includes the Isle of Pines and the Belep and Loyalty Islands. The mission is entrusted to the Marist Fathers, who, besides ministering to the French settlers and convicts, have devoted themselves sedulously and with the greatest success to the conversion of the natives. According to the latest, statistics the vicariate includes: 35,000 Catholics (11,500 natives); 48 missionary priests and 40 brothers of the Marist Congregation; 126 sisters; 61 catechists; 68 churches and several chapels; 45 schools with 1881 pupils; 1 orphanage with 50 inmates. The present vicar Apostolic, who is the fourth to fill the office, is Mgr. Chaurion, titular Bishop of Carlopolis.


Statesman's Year Book (London, 1910); Missiones Apostolicæ (Rome, 1907); GUILLEMAND, Australasia, II (London, 1894), 455-63, in Compendium of Geography and Travel; ATKINSON, The Natives of New Caledonia in Folk-Lore, XIV (London, 1903), 243-59.

About this page

APA citation. Kennedy, T. (1911). New Caledonia. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Kennedy, Thomas. "New Caledonia." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph McIntyre.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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