The Workers' Convoys to Algeria
26 October 2013
The year 1848 was one of uprisings across Europe and there were two in France. In February, after a period too long of unemployment, financial crises, bad harvests and a constitutional monarch quashing freedoms in an effort to roll back history and bring back an absolute monarchy to France, people lost patience and took to the streets. The streets of Paris were barricaded, there were fights, the Prime Minister resigned. Outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, soldiers fired into the crowd, killing fifty-two people. The king abdicated and moved to Britain (where else?).
The Second Republic was formed, pleasing no one. At first, jobs and workshops were created for the unemployed. One of the rebels was made a sort of consultant or token worker in government. Radicals wanted more democracy, opportunity and freedom. Conservatives, as ever, wanted the same things but only for themselves. Mobs took to the streets again in June. Karl Marx was in Paris at the time and was most hopeful. However, the revolution was crushed. It took over 120,000 soldiers to overpower armed workers and their families. Afterward, the government became more repressive and somewhat vengeful.
Even before the June Days uprising, the mayor of the First arondissement of Paris had been promoting the idea of sending the unemployed and their families to colonize Algeria. By September, it was a plan, approved by the Ministry for War and by the Senate. Money was approved for the establishment of agricultural colonies and the offer to the poor was made.
Only volunteers were accepted, and they had to be workers. They and their families had to be French citizens. They had to complete a form, produce a certification of "good morals" (presumably from their local mayor) and a doctor's certificate of good health. They were promised land and financial support. The land was to become theirs after they had successfully farmed it for a few years. The number of people to be accepted as colonists was set at 12,500 but there were many, many more applicants, so it was raised to 13,500. In the end, the numbers of those who went were 13,903 adults and 391 children.
The first convoy left from Bercy in October, 165 years ago. Over the next six months, there would be sixteen more convoys of workers turned colonists, the majority from Alsace and Lorraine. It took them about two weeks to get to Marseilles, travelling on inland rivers and then by train, then about three or four days to sail the Mediterranean to Algeria. Their colonies in Algeria were named:
- Bou Haroun
- La Ferme
There were successes and catastrophes. Most of the colonists and then their descendants stayed until the Algerian War for independence began in the 1950s. Then, though many came to France, many others went elsewhere in this wide world.
If you find that your family history travels this very strange path of being starved into rebellion, suppressed, then packed off to a colony, there are some blogs and websites dedicated to documenting these people:
- Emigration Algérie covers the Alsatians who went on the convoys.
- Algérie Migrants - by the same people as the above, lists all of the villages from which the Alsatian colonists came.
- Généalogie Algérie Maroc Tunisie - is the genealogy association concerned with the French of North Africa. They have a number of well-written publications and a search box for surnames on their website, which is excellent.
- The website of the Archives nationales d'Outre-Mer, about which we have written before, have the civil registrations of Algeria online.
©2013 Anne Morddel