French Settlements in India
Établissements français dans l'Inde (French)
Flag of French India
French India (shaded in white) after 1815
French India (shaded in white) after 1815
StatusColony of France (1664–1946)
Overseas Territory of France (1946–1954)
Common languagesFrench (de jure)[1]
GovernmentColonial administration
• 1668–1673
François Caron (first) [2]
• 1954
Georges Escaragueil[3]
LegislatureRepresentative Assembly of French India
• First French East India Company Commissioner of Surat
• De facto transfer
1 November 1954
1936510 km2 (200 sq mi)
• 1936
CurrencyFrench Indian Rupee
Preceded by
Succeeded by
French East India Company
Puducherry (union territory)
West Bengal
Today part ofIndia

French India, formally the Établissements français dans l'Inde[a] (English: French Settlements in India), was a French colony comprising five geographically separated enclaves on the Indian subcontinent that had initially been factories of the French East India Company. They were de facto incorporated into the Republic of India in 1950 and 1954. The enclaves were Pondichéry, Karikal, Yanam on the Coromandel Coast, Mahé on the Malabar Coast and Chandernagor in Bengal. The French also possessed several loges ('lodges', tiny subsidiary trading stations) inside other towns, but after 1816, the British denied all French claims to these, which were not reoccupied.

By 1950, the total area measured 510 km2 (200 sq mi), of which 293 km2 (113 sq mi) belonged to the territory of Pondichéry. In 1936, the population of the colony totalled 298,851 inhabitants, of which 63% (187,870) lived in the territory of Pondichéry.[4]


See also: Franco-Indian alliances, Colonial History of Yanam, and History of Puducherry

India at the height of French influence (1751)
A portrait of Ananda Ranga Pillai
Colonial Yanaon
View of Pondicherry in the late 18th century
French factory (trading post) at Patna on the Ganges
Governor's Garden at Pondicherry, 18th century
View of the Palace of the Governor of Pondicherry in 1850

France was the last of the major European maritime powers of the 17th century to enter the East India trade. Six decades after the foundation of the English and Dutch East India companies (in 1600 and 1602 respectively), and at a time when both companies were multiplying factories (trading posts) on the shores of India, the French still did not have a viable trading company or a single permanent establishment in the East.

Seeking to explain France's late entrance in the East India trade, historians cite geopolitical circumstances such as the inland position of the French capital, France's numerous internal customs barriers, and parochial perspectives of merchants on France's Atlantic coast, who had little appetite for the large-scale investment required to develop a viable trading enterprise with the distant East Indies.[5][6]


Initial marine voyages to India (16th century)

The first French commercial venture to India is believed to have taken place in the first half of the 16th century, in the reign of King Francis I, when two ships were fitted out by some merchants of Rouen to trade in eastern seas; they sailed from Le Havre and were never heard of again. In 1604, a company was granted letters patent by King Henry IV, but the project failed. Fresh letters patent were issued in 1615, and two ships went to India, only one returning.[7]

La Compagnie française des Indes orientales (French East India Company) was formed under the auspices of Cardinal Richelieu (1642) and reconstructed under Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1664) when he sent an expedition to Madagascar.[8][9][7]

First factory in India (1668)

In 1667, the French India Company sent out another expedition, under the command of François Caron (who was accompanied by a Persian named Marcara), which reached Surat in 1668 and established the first French factory in India.[8][9]

French expansion in India (1669-1672)

In 1669, Marcara succeeded in establishing another French factory at Masulipatam. In 1672, the French captured Fort Saint Thomas, but they were driven out by the Dutch after a long and costly siege. Chandernagore (present-day Chandannagar) was established in 1692, with the permission of Nawab Shaista Khan, the Mughal governor of Bengal. In 1673, the French acquired the area of Pondicherry from the qiladar of Valikondapuram under the Sultan of Bijapur, and thus the foundation of Pondichéry was laid. By 1720, the French had lost their factories at Surat, Masulipatam and Bantam to the British East India Company.

Establishment of colony at Pondichéry (1673)

On 4 February 1673, Bellanger de l'Espinay, a French officer, took up residence in the Danish Lodge in Pondichéry, thereby commencing the French administration of Pondichéry. In 1674, François Martin, the first Governor, initiated ambitious projects to transform Pondichéry from a small fishing village into a flourishing port-town. However, the French found themselves in continual conflict with the Dutch and the English. In 1693, the Dutch captured Pondichéry and augmented the fortifications. The French regained the town in 1699 through the Treaty of Ryswick, signed on 20 September 1697.

Establishment of colonies at Yanon (1723) and Karaikal (1739)

From their arrival until 1741, the objectives of the French, like those of the British, were purely commercial. During this period, the French East India Company peacefully acquired Yanam (about 840 kilometres or 520 miles north-east of Pondichéry on Andhra Coast) in 1723, Mahe on Malabar Coast in 1725 and Karaikal (about 150 kilometres or 93 miles south of Pondichéry) in 1739. In the early 18th century, the town of Pondichéry was laid out on a grid pattern and grew considerably. Able governors like Pierre Christophe Le Noir (1726–1735) and Pierre Benoît Dumas (1735–1741) expanded the Pondichéry area and made it a large and rich town.

Ambition of establishment of French territorial empire in India and defeat (1741–1754)

Soon after his arrival in 1741, the most famous governor of French India, Joseph François Dupleix, began to hold the ambition of a French territorial empire in India in spite of the pronounced uninterested attitude of his distant superiors and of the French government, which didn't want to provoke the British. Dupleix's ambition clashed with British interests in India and a period of military skirmishes and political intrigues began and continued even in rare periods when France and Great Britain were officially at peace. Under the command of the Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau, Dupleix's army successfully controlled the area between Hyderabad and Cape Comorin. However, Robert Clive, a British officer, arrived in India in 1744, and dashed the hopes of Dupleix to create a French empire in India.

After a defeat and failed peace talks, Dupleix was summarily dismissed and recalled to France in 1754.

French vs British intrigues (1754–1871)

In spite of a treaty between the British and French agreeing not to interfere in regional Indian affairs, their colonial intrigues continued. The French expanded their influence at the court of the Nawab of Bengal and increased their trading activity in Bengal. In 1756, the French encouraged the Nawab (Siraj ud-Daulah) to attack and take the British Fort William in Calcutta. This led to the Battle of Plassey in 1757, where the British decisively defeated the Nawab and his French allies, resulting in the extension of British power over the entire province of Bengal.

Subsequently, France sent Lally-Tollendal to recover the lost French possessions and drive the British out of India. Lally arrived in Pondichéry in 1758, had some initial success and razed Fort St. David in Cuddalore District to the ground in 1758, but strategic mistakes by Lally led to the loss of the Hyderabad region, the Battle of Wandiwash and the siege of Pondicherry in 1760. In 1761, the British razed Pondichéry to the ground in revenge for the French depredations; it lay in ruins for four years. The French had lost their hold now in South India too.

In 1765, Pondichéry was returned to France in accordance with a 1763 peace treaty with Britain. Governor Jean Law de Lauriston set to rebuild the town on its former layout and after five months 200 European and 2000 Tamil houses had been erected. In 1769, the French East India Company, unable to support itself financially, was abolished by the French Crown, which assumed administration of the French possessions in India. During the next 50 years, Pondichéry changed hands between France and Britain with the regularity of their wars and peace treaties.

In 1816, after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, the five establishments of Pondichéry, Chandernagore, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam and the lodges at Machilipatnam, Kozhikode and Surat were returned to France. Pondichéry had lost much of its former glory, and Chandernagore dwindled into an insignificant outpost to the north of the rapidly growing British metropolis of Calcutta. Successive governors tried, with mixed results, to improve infrastructure, industry, law and education over the next 138 years.

By a decree of 25 January 1871, French India was to have an elective general council (conseil général) and elective local councils (conseil local). The results of this measure were not very satisfactory, and the qualifications for and the classes of the franchise were modified. The governor resided at Pondichéry and was assisted by a council. There were two Tribunaux d'instance (Tribunals of first instance) (at Pondichéry and Karikal) one Cour d'appel (Court of Appeal) (at Pondichéry) and five Juges de paix (Justices of the Peace). Agricultural production consisted of rice, peanuts, tobacco, betel nuts and vegetables.[7]

French India
French establishments and loges as of 1947
  Bengal   Coromandel coast   Gujarat   Malabar coast   Orissa

Independence movement (18th–20th century) and merger with India (1954)

The Independence of India on 15 August 1947 gave impetus to the union of France's Indian possessions with former British India. The lodges in Machilipatnam, Kozhikode and Surat were ceded to India on 6 October 1947.[10] An agreement between France and India in 1948 agreed to an election in France's remaining Indian possessions to choose their political future. Governance of Chandernagore was ceded to India on 2 May 1950; it was then merged with West Bengal state on 2 October 1954. On 1 November 1954, the four enclaves of Pondichéry, Yanam, Mahe– and Karikal were de facto transferred to the Indian Union and became the Union Territory of Puducherry. The de jure union of French India with India did not take place until 1962 when the French Parliament in Paris ratified the treaty with India.

The myth of "our immense empire in India"

From the mid-19th century onward there developed in France the belief that the five tiny settlements recovered from Britain after the Napoleonic Wars were remnants of the "immense empire" acquired by Dupleix in the 18th century. "Our immense empire of India was reduced to five settlements" wrote French economist and colonial expansion promoter Pierre Paul Leroy-Beaulieu in 1886.[11] An atlas published in the 1930s described those five settlements as "remnants of the great colonial empire that France had created in India in the 18th century".[12] More recently, a historian of French India post-1816 described them as "debris of an empire" and the "last remnants of an immense empire forever lost".[13] However, France never held much more than the five settlements recovered in 1816. The historian of French India and archivist Alfred Martineau, who was also governor of French India, pointed out that the authority granted to Dupleix over the Carnatic in 1750 should not be construed as a transfer of sovereignty, as wrote most historians, given that Dupleix only became so to speak the lieutenant of the Indian subah, who could withdraw his power delegation at his convenience.[14] Philippe Haudrère, historian of the French East India Company, also wrote that Dupleix controlled those territories through a complex system of treaties and alliances, a system almost feudal in nature, territories guarded by garrisons with French commanders, but neither annexed nor transformed into protectorates.[15]

List of French settlements in India

Further information: Municipal administration in French India

French establishments in the Indian peninsula as of 1839 were:[16]

  1. On the Coramandel coast,
    • Pondichéry and its territory comprising districts of Pondichéry, Villenour and Bahour;
    • Karikal and its dependent maganams, or districts.
  2. On the coast of Andhra Pradesh,
  3. On the Malabar coast,
  4. In Bengal,
  5. In Gujarat,

Under the French East India Company's regime, the name 'lodge' was given to factories or insulated establishments consisting of a home and adjacent ground where France had the right to fly its flag and establish trading posts.

List of chief governing officers



In the days of the French East India Company, the title of the top official was most of the time Governor of Pondicherry and General Commander of the French settlements in the East Indies (French: Gouverneur de Pondichéry et commandant général des établissements français aux Indes orientales). After 1816, it was Governor of French establishments in India (French: Gouverneur des établissements français de l'Inde').

Quai Dupleix at Strand Road Chandernagor
Chandernagore Government House and Convent

French India became an Overseas territory (French: territoire d'outre-mer) of France in 1946.


French India de facto transferred to the Republic of India in 1954.

High Commissioners

See also: List of lieutenant governors of Puducherry

Further information: List of consuls general of India in the French India

The first High Commissioner, Kewal Singh was appointed immediately after the Kizhoor referendum on 21 October 1954 as per Foreign Jurisdiction Act, 1947.[19]: 964  The Chief Commissioner had the powers of the former French commissioner, but was under the direct control of the Union Government.[20]: 198 

The list of Chief Commissioners is given below[19]: 977 

No. Name Took office Left office
1 Kewal Singh 21 October 1954 16 November 1956
2 M.K. Kripalani[21]: 103  17 November 1956 27 August 1958
3 Lal Ram Saran Singh[22]: 197  30 August 1958 8 February 1961
4 Sisir Kumar Dutta[23] 2 May 1961 1 August 1963
5 K.J. Somasundaram 2 August 1963 13 October 1963

See also


  1. ^ In France, it was popularly known as les Comptoirs de l'Inde. Strictly speaking though, a comptoir is a trading station, whereas the five French settlements were entire towns with the surrounding area, and not mere trading stations.
  1. ^ The French Factory at Masulipatam was founded in 1669
  2. ^ It is the largest and most significant loge among all others and was located on the outskirts of Masulipatam. It included two bungalows, a chapel and some other buildings. Its total area is around 61 acres (0.28sqkm).[17]: 64 
  3. ^ This French Loge was within the British-held Calicut town and consisted of 6 acres on the seashore about half a mile north of the Calicut Lighthouse and adjoins the old district jail site.
  4. ^ This factory supplied silk goods cargoes and situated in the heart of silk belt.
  5. ^ This factory supplied ordinary fabrics to the French East India Company. It was established in 1735 by Dupleix.
  6. ^ This factory exported muslins of 4 lakh rupees per annum by the mid-eighteen century. It was founded in 1722.
  7. ^ This factory was founded at the end of the seventeenth century but suffered from a lack of proper road transport and it lost its commercial activity during the next century.
  8. ^ This factory used to sell drapes from Europe and bought saltpetre and opium. It was founded in 1727.
  9. ^ This factory was founded in 1668 after securing a firman and a factory site from Emperor Aurangazeb.


  1. ^ Not as widespread as English
  2. ^ as Commissioner
  3. ^ as High Commissioner
  4. ^ Jacques Weber, Pondichéry et les comptoirs de l'Inde après Dupleix, Éditions Denoël, Paris, 1996, p. 347.
  5. ^ Holden Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600–1800, University of Minnesota Press, 1976, p. 201.
  6. ^ Philippe Haudrère, Les Compagnies des Indes Orientales, Paris, 2006, p 70.
  7. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "India, French". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 421.
  8. ^ a b Lach, Donald Frederick (1998), Asia in the making of Europe, University of Chicago Press, p. 747, ISBN 9780226467672.
  9. ^ a b Benians, Ernest Alfred; Newton, Arthur Percival; Rose, John Holland (1940), The Cambridge history of the British Empire, p. 66.
  10. ^ Accord par échange de lettres relatif à la date de la cession des anciennes loges françaises de l'Inde au gouvernement de l'Inde [Agreement by exchange of letters relating to the date of the cession of the former French lodges of India to the Government of India] (in French). Paris: Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères. 1947. p. 5. Retrieved 2 September 2022. the Government of India note and accept with pleasure the decision of the Government of France that October 6th will be the day from which the historic rights which France has exercised in the areas known as the French Loges in India will be renounced.
  11. ^ Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, De la colonisation chez les peuples modernes, Librairie Guillaumin et Cie (2nd edition, 1886), p. vi
  12. ^ Kathryn Dale, France’s Lost Empires. Fragmentation, Nostalgia and la fracture coloniale, edited by Kate Marsh and Nicola Frith, Lexington Books, (2010) p. 37
  13. ^ Jacques Weber, Les établissements français en Inde au XIXe siècle (1816-1914), Librairie de l'Inde Éditeur (1988), p. 24-25
  14. ^ "Elle n'entraînait pas le droit de l'exercice de la souveraineté, ainsi que l'ont écrit presque tous les historiens; Dupleix ne devenant en réalité que le lieutenant, ou naëb, du soubab; celui-ci conservait le pouvoir éminent et pouvait à sa convenance retirer sa délégation" Alfred Martineau, Dupleix, sa vie et son œuvre, Société d'éditions géographiques, maritimes et coloniales (Paris 1931) p. 168-169
  15. ^ "Dupleix mène une grande politique visant à contrôler un vaste territoire, il s'agit bien de contrôle et non d'annexion, ni même de protectorat; c’est un ensemble compliqué reposant sur une série de traités et d'alliances et sur l'installation de garnisons commandées par des officiers français. [...] C'est un système très souple de caractère presque féodal" Philippe Haudrère, Présence française en Inde et dans l’Océan indien, in Présences françaises outre-mer (XVIe-XXIe siècles), Philippe Bonichon et al., Karthala (2012), tome 1, p. 245
  16. ^ Chapitre II, Notices statistiques sur les colonies françaises, 1839.
  17. ^ Thomas Bowrey (1993). A Geographical Account of Countries Round the Bay of Bengal, 1669 to 1679. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120608481.
  18. ^ Claude Markovits (2004). A History of Modern India, 1480-1950. Anthem Press. p. 210. ISBN 9781843311522.
  19. ^ a b Cabinet Responsibility to Legislature. Lok Sabha Secretariat. 2004. ISBN 9788120004009. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  20. ^ The Statesman's Year-Book 1963: The One-Volume ENCYCLOPAEDIA of all nations. MACMILLAN&Co.LTD, London. 1963. ISBN 9780230270893. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  21. ^ "Civil Affairs". Monthly Journal of Local Govt. and Public Administration in India. 1958.
  22. ^ The Statesman's Year-Book 1960: The One-Volume ENCYCLOPAEDIA of all nations. MACMILLAN&Co.LTD, London. 1960. ISBN 9780230270893. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  23. ^ The Statesman's Year-Book 1963: The One-Volume ENCYCLOPAEDIA of all nations. MACMILLAN&Co.LTD, London. 1963. pp. 474–475. ISBN 9780230270923. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)