Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/273

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241
ANNEXATION OF TAHITI

established,[1] and the Reine Blanche having saluted the Protectorate flag, desired the queen and chiefs to do likewise—an order which they were unable to obey, till the admiral politely offered to lend the necessary gunpowder! Thus was this buccaneering expedition carried out, and France established as ruler in the three groups—the Marquesas, the Paumotus, and the Society Isles.[2] It was a South Sea version of

"The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;"—

but in this case the lamb found no deliverer.

  1. We can scarcely describe this proceeding as the thin end of the wedge, but it was obvious from the beginning that the assumption of the Protectorate was merely a cloak for forcibly taking possession of these gems of the Pacific. The cloak was finally thrown aside in June 1880, when King Pomare V. was persuaded by the commandant to cede the nominal sovereignty of the isles to those who had so long held its reality, and to accept a life-pension of 12,000 dollars a-year, which he might enjoy in peace in his own fashion, and so escape from the continual tutoring, which made his kingly rank a wearisome burden, devoid of all honour.

    The annexation of Tahiti was formally proclaimed in Papeete on 24th March 1881, and was made the occasion of a brilliant festival, such as the light-hearted crowds are ever ready to welcome. Great were the official rejoicings. From every ship in the harbour, and every corner of the town, floated the tricolour, which likewise adorned the raven tresses of the women and the button-holes of the men. Great was the noise of big guns, and the amount of powder expended on salutes. An imposing column of all branches of the service—sailors and marines, marine artillery, with their guns, infantry, and gendarmes—marched round the town, headed by the band: "A Tahiti, comme en France, on aime à voir passer nos soldats," says the 'Messager de Tahiti.' So the lovely town was en fête. Every himène chorus had arrived from every corner of the isles, making the whole air musical. Thousands of natives, all in their brightest, freshest dresses, kept up incessant movement in the clear sunlight or cool shade. Everywhere games and feasting were the order of the day. In the governor's beautiful gardens, a brilliant banquet for upwards of a hundred persons was served in a great tent, all as graceful as the combined taste of France and Tahiti could make it. Then followed a lovely garden festival, just such as that described by "The Earl and the Doctor," a gay ball for the leading inhabitants, while "the people" danced no less joyously on the green, outside the sacred precincts. Games, music, dancing, and feasting, with a night of brilliant illuminations and fireworks,—all these, combined with lovely surroundings and perfect weather, made the great official festival of Tahiti a day which the French naval officers very naturally consider one to be remembered for ever, but which, perchance, may have caused some of the older inhabitants an angry and bitter pang, for the independence of their country thus lost for ever.

  2. Immediately after the declaration of the annexation of the Society Isles, comes the news that the French have also annexed the Gambier Isles, which lie to the south-west, in the direction of Pitcairn's Isle. Our Gallic friends have thus secured