Massenet Première in Saïgon, 1900

From Le Ménestrel, journal de musique, 30 December 1900.

A first in Saigon!  The new Saigon Theatre, a marvel of architecture inaugurated earlier this year, recently presented the première of La Navarraise, the poignant lyrical drama by Jules Massenet. Great success! Our brave soldiers, just returned from the campaign in China, were thus able to experience a little of France and applauded with enthusiasm the master’s work. We join with all those in Saïgon in congratulating the directors of the new theatre, Messrs Aristide Boyer et Baroche, who have transformed the capital of Cochinchine into a great cultural centre…. 4,000 leagues from Paris!

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

The Emperor of Annam – The Investiture Ceremony at the Court of Hue, from Saïgon Républicain, 6 March 1889

It was in the prison where he had been confined since the death of Phan-Dinh-Binh that they found the new king, designated as heir by the Grand Dowager Empress, the Court and the Co-Mat, and conducted him to the palace.

The induction ceremony took place on 31 January. It was a marvellous spectacle; more than 300 mandarins, all dressed in their great costumes of brocaded silk of different colours, all entirely new, were arrayed in front of the throne room; 300 men of our naval infantry formed the royal guard of honour.

Bursts of artillery exploded upon the ramparts, and bugles rang in the fields, as our Résident-Supérieur, M. Rheinart, followed the civil and military officials by standing in attendance before the throne.

Suddenly, great shouts were heard from the interior of the palace, and a few moments later the new king appeared.

He is a nice little boy of just 10 years, slightly little crushed by the weight of his brocaded royal costume and hindered in his movement by his great mandarin boots.

After having offered his tiny hand to M. Rheinart and two or three other persons, he climbed, supported by a servant, onto the gilded throne, which was just too high for him.

He responded to M. Rheinart’s speech in a crystal clear voice. The French officials then retired to let the mandarins do their laïs. At the front of the throne room were the princes; beside them were the ministers and great dignitaries, and finally all the other mandarins.

At the command of a voice singing a kind of chant, the laïs began, so numerous and so frequent that they could almost be considered as some form of exercise.

At the end of the ceremony, the new king was led in procession into his private apartments.

(Avenir de Tonkin)

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“Saigon Life,” from Société de géographie de Lille, January 1883

Chinese shops on the rue Catinat

Life in Saigon changes little from day to day. Indeed, it will be much the same tomorrow as it was today and yesterday.

The days when the Messageries Maritimes courrier vessel arrives from France are without doubt the most interesting days for everyone in this town.

The arrival of the courrier vessel within sight of Saigon (which, because of the many meanderings of the river takes place long before its actual arrival) is announced by the hoisting of a black ball on the Signal Mast, and accompanied by a shot from the cannon of the good ship Duperré. Its docking at the port in front of the Messageries is signalled by a second shot. The courrier vessel must wait for the tide in Cap Saint-Jacques before sailing up the Saigon River, so in order to save some time, a small steam ship is usually dispatched to Saigon ahead of it, carrying the most urgent mail from France. It is expensive to take advantage of this service, but some find it useful.

Saigon harbour in the late 19th century

The courrier vessel stays for 24 hours in Saigon before leaving for Hong Kong.

Soon after the arrival of the courrier, colonial residents go to the post office to collect their letters and parcels; this is a most enjoyable time for everyone,

A few hours after the arrival of the courrier from France, a second courrier vessel coming from Japan and China also arrives in Saigon. It too remains here for just 24 hours, then leaves for Europe carrying letters and packages from Saigon. At this time, traders are very busy; they have just 24 hours to process a voluminous quantity of correspondence, take important decisions and draft replies. Only after both steamers have left does calm return to Saigon.

The greatest public distraction in Saigon is “la musique,” held at 8.30 every Friday evening and often thwarted by rain, a problem which affects almost all concerts held on fixed days and at fixed hours. A number of military officers, sailors and colonial officials pace up and down in front of the musicians; ladies are very rarely present.

There is now also an important official distraction in Saigon, a bimonthly soirée hosted by the Governor, who issues a circular to a selected few every 15 days, announcing that he will open his salons to them. So let it be known!

The barn which serves as a reception room for this event is equipped at each end with two small raised platforms. One serves as the ladies salon, while the other accommodates the musicians, and dancing takes place in the space between them. The evening often begins with a theatrical performance presented by local amateurs, for which the musicians’ platform serves as a stage. After the performance, the seats are removed from the dance area, the ladies go and sit on their platform, and the dance commences.

French military officers on parade in Saigon

This is when the vigorous lieutenant-commander or the energetic marine clerk get to work. The ladies… Ah! The ladies! But shh, let’s talk softly. All colours of skin are represented here, from the pale hues of Europeans exhausted by the climate to the darker shades of the so-called “créoles.” Later, the Governor gives a little speech. He has been hosting a dinner in a room adjoining the barn, with Mrs X on his right side, Ms Y to his left, and in front of him the General of our troops. After this meal, while the gaiety fuelled by champagne wine is at its height, the Governor rises, and, with a voice moved by the circumstances, delivers his small address. He offers a toast to the ladies of Saigon who have the grace of the Virgin Mary (and probably all the qualities, too).

At the end of the evening, everyone withdraws, dripping with sweat and emotion. Such are the official pleasures of colonial Saigon.

After dinner, the men take a little promenade, spending the rest of their evening at the Cercle des officiers. As I have said, life on one day in Saigon is much the same as it was the day before and will be the day after.

The promenade on horseback or by horse-drawn carriage from 5.30 to 6.00 in the evening is a popular distraction, but it’s always the same. The same large man carrying a baton and putting on the airs of a Marshal of France; the same aide de camp, as thin as a cuckoo, shrivelled with resentment after being repeatedly overlooked for promotion to captain of frigate; the same young Bourbonnien, swerving from left to right on his tiny nag which he launches at a gallop until it’s ready to drop….. The normal route of the promenade by carriage is the road which leads to the Chinese town of Cholon, 5 kilometres from Saigon; half way along is an army barracks known as les Mares.

The rue Catinat in 1890

Saigon at night

For an evening walk through the city, start by descending the rue Catinat, principal thoroughfare of Saigon, to the quayside. Then, passing the Maison Wang-Taï, take the rue Rigault de Genouilly as far as the rue de l’Eglise, take the rue d’Adran to the market and finally return to rue de l’Eglise along rue Chaigneau. This will permit you to visit the entire Chinese district of the city.

As you descend the rue Catinat, you’ll pass Chinese shops and a few French houses to your left and right. This is the main street of cobblers, tailors, purveyors of canned food, etc. The Chinese businessmen Apan and Atho, well known in Saigon, do business here.

Within a single shop, one may find tailors and cobblers working together. All of the shops are located on the same level as the street and you can enter at will, since everything opens directly onto the street.

When we walked down this street, we saw inside one shop five or six coarse lamps with paper lampshades; these lamps were placed on the ground or on low tables, and around them were gathered eight to ten Chinese, shirtless, legs crossed, each working on one garment. The light projected onto their bare shoulders shone in a strange way. Behind them on the wall was a large image of the Buddha on yellow paper, with red and blue decoration. There was also a mirror with facets which sparkled in the light. Beyond the shop area we saw a back room. It was a resting place which we could not penetrate – the shop dog, seeing me stop and look, barked. He clearly doesn’t like the French!

Chinese shops on the rue Catinat

In this part of the street there are five or six stores, located side by side. If you have seen one you have seen them all.

Leaving the shop, I passed a lantern which illuminated an itinerant food vendor carrying over his shoulder two heavy baskets supported at opposite ends of a long pole. He sounded his usual cry, one which is well known to his customers. One of the Chinese inside the store called to him: the food vendor stopped, lowered his baskets to the floor, removed the carrier rod from his shoulder, breathed a little, then started to prepare the pittance requested, the ingredients of which he took from five or six different pots – two peppers here, three species of beans there…. He blew on his little fire to prevent his dish from getting cold. In such situations, the customer, standing or sitting according to the time he can devote to feeding, eats somberly and pays little. The food vendor left, and his cry was soon heard a little further along the road. Sometimes, mischievous Annamite boys working in the service of French colons will deliberately call two of these food vendors at the same time, forcing the poor devils to compete for their customers.

Suddenly, close by, we heard in the dark the sound of a silvery voice, sweet, plaintive, melancholic. It was the cry of a little boy aged just 7 or 8 years, who ran through the streets carrying on his head a basket containing small pieces of sugar cane. Just 20 centimetres long, they are sold cheaply. They are then peeled, or given two or three knife incisions to liberate the sweet juice; all the Oriental peoples – Annamites, Chinese, Malays and Indians – find this juice delicious.

On the left side of the street, you will see the shop of the Chinese merchant Apan, sparkling with tin boxes of canned food and glass bottles of various liquids.

Cafes on the Saigon River quayside in the late 19th century

Further along in the shadows, standing on the corner of the street, who is this mysterious character wearing a blue garment and a cap of cylindrical blue cloth, carrying a sword at his side? It’s a night watchman, who each night is supposed to prevent the store of his boss from being robbed. Thieves are bold in Saigon, as I can vouch from personal experience.

Opposite, you’ll see the famous Salle des ventes (Auction room). At this time of night it’s closed, of course.

Further down are the garage and stables of the Malabars, who rent out horse-drawn carriages. Several dark shadowy forms, wearing little by way of clothing, rub down and harness sad horses to sad carriages. Their companions, bodies glistening with coconut oil, bask in a sweet sleep awaiting customers.

Near the bottom of the street is the shop of the Chinese merchant Atho, a branch of the shop belonging to Apan. Arriving finally at the quayside, you’ll see a few French cafes, whose customers drift in and out loudly.

From the quayside, we forked right onto the rue Rigault de Genouilly, but then left it almost immediately, turning into a very short, tiny street located immediately behind the Maison Wang-Taï. This street is made up of two parts, each at a right angle to the other; to the right and left are the busiest gambling houses in Saigon, along with several other more seedy establishments. In front of the shop openings, as with the Chinese shops, hang large spherical or cylindrical lanterns made from coloured paper of various types, with inscriptions in huge Chinese characters. Considerable animation reigns in this street, which is home to at least four or five gambling dens.

The players are so engrossed that you can stand and watch them without fear of being disturbed. As I said, there is no door to these gambling establishments. The walls of the houses facing the street do not exist at ground floor level; you may go straight into a small room where you will find three or four Chinese sitting around a mat on which the game is played. The game can continue for several hours; sweat trickles down every face and a croupier sings a monotonous chant, a chant of death or triumph, until a winner emerges.

An itinerant food vendor in Saigon

When important players arrive, in order to show them respect, the mat is spread on a table at about waist height rather than on the ground, as is the practice in more vulgar gambling establishments.

Here one often sees French soldiers or sailors playing and fraternising with the children of the Middle Kingdom – the soldier with his blue jacket and white salaco, the naval deckhand out on a binge… Sometimes you’ll even see a boy gambling with his master’s money – if he loses, he’ll run. If he wins, he’ll also run! The number of gambling dens in Saigon is frightening, there are now around 40, not to mention those of Cau-Ong-Lanh and Cholon.

Almost all day long, and especially at night, you’ll hear the monotonous song of the Chinese croupier, or the metallic sound of his copper chips which, in between games, he places in a large canvas bag, holding the ends in each hand and shaking them strongly in order to attract customers. Everyone plays!

But let’s leave this small alley, where we have stayed too long already. As we leave, we can see through wooden window bars of adjacent houses groups of women dressed in the Chinese style, like ferocious beasts behind their gates, making all the propositions they believe customers will find the most engaging.

Soon you will arrive in a muddy square steeped in the stench of the market. This is the rue d’Adran, where you’ll find many more gambling dens, and also some fruit and sugar cane sellers, who set up their mobile stalls in the street. They sell their products to the Chinese and to wheelwrights, carriage repairers and joiners who live in this area.

The rue Rigault de Genouilly was on the west side of the Grand Canal (now Nguyễn Huệ boulevard)

We continued to the rue de l’Église, having visited almost all the Chinese quarter. At 9.00 we heard the distant melancholic sounds of a bell marking the extinguishing of the fires at the Camp des lettrés and the tam tam of the Inspection de Saïgon.

We stayed in Saigon for several weeks, meeting the inhabitants of this city, both European and Asian. We paid our price to the climate of the country by spending a few days afflicted with the most common ailment. In our carriage rides, we went to the Chinese town of Cholon. We visited the pagodas, which are quite remarkable, especially the exteriors, which feature monstrous dragons in blue, green and red, with flaming tongues, terrible eyes bursting from their sockets, and long tails with bristly spines down their backs.

Cholon is a very populous city. It is in the hands of the Chinese, who make a great trade from the rice of Cochinchina. It is also the residence of our Inspector of Indigenous Affairs.

We also went across to the other side of Saigon, taking the route de Govap and visiting the tomb of the Bishop of Adran. Located around 3 or 4 kilometres from the town, it sits in a grove of trees on the edge of a vast plain of rice fields which stretches out from the plain of tombs. Entering the enclosure, we found ourselves in front of a vertically-placed flat granite stone, on which was carved an inscription in local characters, reproducing the titles of the Bishop of Adran given by the sovereign and his people for services the Bishop had rendered to the country. Behind this stone was one of the entrances to the tomb itself, a kind of pagoda built through the munificence of the king.

The Chinese caretaker, attentive to visitors, opened the doors of the tomb. Inside, we saw a rectangular masonry structure around 1 metre in height, beneath which lay the remains of the Bishop of Adran. Behind the tomb was a small altar where one can say mass.

The tomb of the Bishop of Adran

I need not reiterate here the services rendered by the Bishop of Adran to the rulers of Cochinchina nearly a century ago. He was one of these brave Frenchmen who, at the end of the last century, knew how to make our name loved throughout Cochinchina. In particular, he was one of those energetic missionaries who have carried, and continue to carry, the flag of the Catholic faith high and firm into the most far-flung regions. It was not without emotion that we visited the tomb of the Bishop of Adran. At the entrance to the grove where the tomb is located, we also saw the grave of one of our missionaries, who died a few years ago in the dungeons of the last ruler of Annam. An inscription on another vertically-placed flat granite stone gives the name of the martyr whose remains rest in this place.

I remember visiting this tomb as the last rays of the setting sun made the characters of the inscription sparkle. Nature was peaceful, a few buffalo grazed in front of me, under the watchful eye of a small Annamite boy, happy to tread this ground of rice paddies on which stood two or three miserable cai-nhas. We returned at night along the Govap road, bringing us a few minutes later back into Saigon.

During our stay we also crossed the arroyo-Chinois and visited the Fort du sud, passing more cai-nhas located at the edge of the Saigon river, downstream from the town.

Then we retraced our steps back across the arroyo-Chinois and took the street which runs through Cau-Ong-Lanh, following another row of Annamite cai-nhas built at the edge of the water. This area has a small Catholic church that I was not able to visit, its doors being constantly closed. The rectory is next door, and it struck me that perhaps the priest is not often in his parish. There are two brickyards along the Arroyo, they both belong to Wang-Taï. Finally, we returned to Saigon and crossed the river, where another Catholic village and the workshops of a boat builder may be visited.

While these little excursions give us only a superficial idea of Cochinchina, they also encourage us to make a real excursion into the Interior of the country.

Chinese shops on the rue Catinat

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Emperor Khai Dinh in France: A Victory for French Cuisine, Le Monde illustré 8 July 1922

Emperor Khải Định (ruled 1916-1925)

Our host, His Majesty Khaï-Dinh, Emperor of Annam, has on several occasions shown himself to be an Asian sovereign who knows how to appreciate European customs.

At the time of his reception at the Hôtel de Ville, when he was obliged to sign the registers of honour, the Emperor, before taking his calligraphy brush as is customary in his own country, wanted first to sign in European style, with a pen. What an amiable tribute to our traditions! Even before landing in Europe, His Majesty Khaï-Dinh had informed the Ministry of Colonies that during his stay in France he “would be delighted to get to know the true French cuisine, and that there was no need to prepare Annamite dishes for him.”

Pierre Pasquier, one of the organisers of Khải Định’s visit to France

To avoid any hindrance, the emperor left his own chef de cuisine in Hue. It is known that Annamite menus are generally composed of fish prepared in various ways, with rice and sweet dishes.

Until they reached Marseilles, His Majesty and his suite relied on the care of a voluntary cook in his entourage to prepare only Annamite dishes.

But that experiment seems to have been conclusive enough for the Emperor to decide that, once he had arrived in France, only French cuisine would be eaten.

Would this complete change of regime please or displease His Majesty and his followers? It was curious to know, for one does not change one’s culinary habits overnight without being somewhat confused.

Let us say immediately that French cuisine has won, yet again, a brilliant victory. At the Ministry of Colonies, the good offices of a retired cordon bleu chef were called in: Mme Angèle, who made it her duty to let the Annamite sovereign taste her cuisine, both homely and refined, a quality which has assured the supremacy of our chefs throughout the world.

“Renouncing the dishes of his country, His Majesty Khaï-Dinh, during his stay in Paris, honoured our national cuisine. Here we see the Emperor in the dining room of the Ministry of Colonies, savouring a menu prepared in the French style”

We have before us the first two menus which were served to His Majesty, and we transcribe them faithfully:

First menu:
Smoked salmon
Buttered radish
Niochi
Leg of lamb with asparagus tips
York ham
Salad
Green beans
Savarins, candied fruits
Cherries, peaches, pastries

Second menu:
Soup
American lobster
Duck with peas
Gigot salad
Strawberry ice cream
Peaches, bananas.

We can confirm that His Majesty Khaï-Dinh highly appreciated the flavour of the dishes served to him, even the duck with peas. The sovereign declared himself delighted with the menu and the excellence of the wines, and he did not feel the desire to change his regime.

Cordon bleu chef Mme Angèle “made Emperor Khải Định appreciate the science of Brillat-Savarin”

The upshot of this story is that the boxes of rice which His Majesty had brought with him, as a measure of foresight, are still intact, and that no one is thinking of opening them for the moment.

In the monarch’s entourage, this French-style diet did not seem displeasing, and if there is some old servant who secretly misses his national fish and rice, he would not turn his nose up at the cuisine of Mme Angèle.

The chef of the Ministry of the Colonies has every reason to be satisfied with this victory over the palates of our guests.

Let us also congratulate the Minister of Colonies, M. Sarraut, and the eminent Résident Supérieur of Annam, M. Pasquier, who have regulated with so much genuine elegance and pertinence all the arrangements for the Emperor’s stay amongst us. In this way, His Majesty Khaï-Dinh will be able to see that our country is not only the cradle of civilisation and progress, a country of affable diplomats and luminous festivals, but also the last refuge of gourmets, since our cuisine has the symbolic privilege of disconcerting no palate and quickly conquering all those who taste it.

Raoul Viterbo

“The lady who makes our Imperial guest appreciate the science of Brillat-Savarin: Mme Angèle, the great cordon bleu chef of the Ministry of Colonies”

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“Assassination of a King: Details of the Latest Annamite Intrigues” from Le Matin, 4 August 1883

The Cần Chánh Palace

Kien-Phuc, nephew of Tu-Duc – The assassination of his predecessor – A palace revolution – Causes of our Expedition – The role of M. de Champeaux – The poisoning of Hiep-Hoa

We know by dispatch of the death of the king of Annam, Kien-Phuc, who was aged just seventeen. Who was this sovereign? How had he ascended the throne? In the hands of which party, which mandarins, did he meet his fate? Specific information allows us to give precise details on these various important points.

The Succession of Tu-Duc

Kien-Phuc was the nephew of King Tu-Duc and his fourth adopted son. It is known that Tu-Duc had no children; he had successively adopted four of his nephews: 1. Duc-Duc; 2. Hiep-Hoa; 3. Me-Trui; and 4. Me-Men. The latter, according to Annamite law, had regularly been called to serve the old sovereign, and at length succeeded him under the name of Kien-Phuc.

Tôn Thất Thuyết (1839-1913)

But before he ascended the throne, events occurred which are interesting to relate, and which perhaps throw significant light on his premature death.

Intrigues of the Court

On the death of Tu-Duc, several parties disputed the royal inheritance, in spite of the rules of the Annamite monarchy. That of the first adopted son was at first the strongest, and Duc-Duc was proclaimed sovereign. But his reign was ephemeral; an intrigue by the Minister of War, Ton-That-Thuyet, deposed him within two months. The powerful controller of the royal palace then raised to the throne his creature, Hiep-Hoa, the second adopted son of Tu-Duc.

Ton-That-Thuyet was a relentless but not very intelligent opponent of French influence. His hostility was so open that M. Harmand, then our Commissaire-général in Tonkin, obtained from the French government authorisation to direct an expedition against Hue. The forts at Thuan-An were bombarded and occupied. M. Harmand then imposed on Hiep-Hoa and his ministers a treaty, the clauses of which were unfortunately insufficient, but which stipulated that a garrison of 600 men should occupy the forts on the river some fifteen miles from the capital, and that a guard of 200 men would be attached to our Legation in Hue itself.

The Overthrow of Hiep-Hoa

Unhappy with this adventure, the king resolved to be rid of his protector, Ton-That-Thuyet. But this was a wrong move, since the dismissed minister immediately forged an alliance with the mandarin Nguyen-Van-Tuong, one of our principal opponents who had been well known to us since our first expedition to Tonkin, where he had given much trouble to M. Philastre, the successor to Francis Garnier.

Minister Nguyen-Van-Tuong

Nguyễn Văn Tường (1824–1886)

This person, a former intimate and favourite advisor to Tu-Duc, had married his daughter to a brother of Prince Memen, the last of the four adoptive sons of the former sovereign. He was Minister of Finance, and through his perpetual intrigues had contributed in no small way to provoking our second expedition to Tonkin. Also, he knew very well that, in case our influence should triumph at Hue, all power was at stake for him. This circumstance united the two ministers, who had hitherto been rivals. Ton-That-Tuyet consented to favour the candidature of Prince Memen, dear to Nguyen-Van-Tuong. The two ministers said that it was a matter of life or death for them to have in their devotion a sovereign of their choice, under whose protection they would reign. Prince Memen was their creation; He was only sixteen. But how would they substitute him for Hiep-Hoa in the presence of his protector, the Resident of France?

The Conspiracy of the Two Ministers

Our resident, M. de Champeaux, an old “Cochinchinois” who was well informed about all these intrigues, informed the authorities in Tonkin and asked them for instructions. But they were seemingly so completely absorbed by the events at Song-Koï that they failed to reply to M. de Champeaux’s letters and gave him no order. He could not act on his own initiative because the ministry had ordered him to do nothing without having first referred matters to the Commissaire général of Tonkin, a very long process which usually required about a month. In this way, our Resident was completely paralysed.

In the circumstances, the two mandarins, our enemies, understood that they had the upper hand. They initially planned a coup towards the middle of December, but the king felt so threatened that he moved to be rid of the conspirators, announcing his first public audience to our Resident and forcing them to bring their plans forward. The news of this unusual event, a complete departure from established practice, caused great annoyance in the mandarinate.

Emperor Hiệp Hòa (30 July-29 November 1883)

Yet the two chiefs of the conspiracy realised that this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. They had the audience postponed until the following day, when they knew that M. de Champeaux would be leaving for Thuan-An to ask the commanding officer of our troops to send reinforcements to Hue.

The Poisoning of Hiep-Hoa

The conspirators made Hiep-Hoa swallow poison. The coup d’etat took place very quickly and without any great deployment of forces; only a few soldiers were sent to stand guard around the Missions, in order to prevent them from informing the Residence. As a result, M. de Champeaux did not hear what had happened at Thuan-An until about noon. He then hastened to return to Hue together with fifty soldiers, whom he had obtained with some difficulty. By the time he arrived, at ten o’clock in the evening, everything had calmed down.

The next day the mandarin-interpreter, Father Tho (a former banned Annamite priest) carried to the resident an apocryphal letter of abdication by Hiep-Hoa, saying that the sovereign had committed suicide.

This did not fool M. de Champeaux; without order, he refused to recognise the new king and broke off official relations with the court.

Nguyen-Van-Tuong and Ton-That-Thuyet, who had proclaimed themselves Regents, were thrown into disarray and thought themselves lost when 50 Annamite riflemen from Cochinchina and the gunboat Javeline arrived in Hue. They expected an imminent attack from us and hastily massed five or six thousand men around the residence, pointing all available cannon on their ramparts toward us.

A barracks building in the French Legation

The Legation had a garrison of 150 soldiers. While it had little to fear from the Annamese bands, armed for the most part with pointed bamboos, it was quite exposed, being situated only 700 meters from the Citadel. It could still be bombarded by the cannon on the ramparts. The situation continued to be critical for several days.

Meanwhile, Nguyen-Van-Tuong and Ton-That-Thuyet repeatedly disavowed the bands which they themselves had excited. They protested their friendly intentions and promised to recognise the Harmand Treaty. In reality, Hiep-Hoa was not a great loss for us; we would not have got far with a king lacking partisans, indeed we ourselves would have had to support him by force of arms. So it was that Memen remained as king under the name of Kien-Phuc, with Nguyen-Van-Tuong and Ton-That-Thuyet as Regents. An edict of pacification was issued, and the bands were dismissed, although this did not prevent them from running amok in the countryside under the orders of hostile mandarins, and massacring a hundred Christians.

The Taking of Son-Tay

The two Regents just let this happen, but after the capture of Son-Tay they realised that it would be prudent to capture and execute the perpetrators of the massacres. These executions enabled them to make a fine show when M. Tricou arrived to revise the Harmand Treaty. They lavished him with assurances of dedication, and thanks to this diplomatic pantomime they were able to secure rather good conditions, and in particular to avoid an essential clause, the occupation of the Citadel of Hue.

M. Tricou and M. Patenôtre

The signing of the Giáp Thân or Patenôtre Treaty on 6 June 1884

M. Tricou having left, the two Regents recommenced their intrigues, but this time the game was known. M. Patenôtre arrived and imposed, as a precondition, that we should have a serious garrison installed at Hue. They had no choice but to submit. But it is evident that this last treaty of Hue was a mortal blow to the influence of Nguyen-Van-Tuong and Ton-That-Thuyet.

This very accurate account of events, we repeat, permits us to ascertain as a probability that, following the Patenôtre Treaty, the two Regents – at the instigation of China and against a background of the conflict which had broken out over the terms of the Lang-Son Convention – launched against the young Kien-Phuc the very same kind of coup d’etat which they had already perpetrated in 1883 against Hiep-Hoa, following the Harmand Treaty.

 

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“King Dong-Khanh,” from Saïgon Républicain, 5 February 1889

Đồng Khánh, 1885-1888

Since the start of the Tet holidays, news of the death of the King of Annam, Dong-Khanh, has circulated in our city. This sad news was confirmed by the telegram which we publish above.

The king was just 26 years old. He was the son of a Prince named Kien-Thai-Vuong, (brother of King Tu Duc), elder brother of Kien-Phuc whom he succeeded, and half-brother of Ham-Nghi, currently detained in Algeria.

Hàm Nghi, 1884-1885

Let’s recall under what conditions he ascended the throne.

After the attack against General de Courcy in Hue (5 July 1885), the Regent Ton-That-Thuyet fled with the young King Ham-Nghi and raised the mandarins and scholars against us.

A month later, Dong-Khanh, elder brother of the fugitive, to whom the crown should have gone first, was proclaimed king.

Unfortunately, after the events of 5 July 1885, his position was very precarious.

At the time he ascended to the throne, Dong-Khanh was indeed a very slender figure, without authority over his subjects or over foreigners. He could rely neither on the people who had been terrorised by the mandarins, nor on the ruling class of the literati, who had made common cause with Regent Thuyet.

M. Joseph Chailley-Bert, in his book Paul Bert au Tonkin, retraced for us the spectacle of the court at that time:

“His court resembled a desert. The city, the citadel and the suburbs had once held more than 100,000 people, yet now there hardly remained 30,000. All around the palace rose great buildings constructed to accommodate countless servants or relatives, but now they were empty. In the street of the Ministries, where there once thronged a crowd of mandarins, there was little movement other than a few isolated palanquins. Meanwhile, the few advisers or servants who were retained by the new king had neither notoriety nor serious influence.”

Finally, Paul Bert arrived. King Dong-Khanh gave him a welcome reception and there explained the disrespect which was being shown to his person, and the little authority he had in the eyes of his subjects.

Paul Bert understood that the time had come to raise the prestige of royal authority, and at the same time to assert the influence of France. He transferred to the monarch half the treasure of Annam; the other half was sent to Paris to be converted into piastres bearing Dong-Khanh’s image.

The compound of the Viện Cơ Mật or Privy Council

The meetings of Co-Mat were no longer to be attended by foreign witnesses. Now, only the Résident supérieur M. Bihourd retained the right to attend. Finally, the doors of the palace were no longer to be guarded by French soldiers.

M. Constans and M. Richaud also continued to ensure that in Algeria, the detained former king was still the liberty and honours compatible with our security requirements.

A dispatch from the Governor General registered the fidelity with which His Majesty Dong-Khanh had fulfilled its obligations to us, and the sympathy of pledges which our country had constantly received from him. This was not banal praise, but recognition of a truth understood long ago.

On 24 April 1887, in an interesting note published on King Dong-Khanh, M. Petrus Ky said the following:

The tomb of Kiên Thái Vương Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Cai (1845-1876), 26th son of Emperor Thiệu Trị and father of three emperors – Đồng Khánh, Kiến Phúc and Hàm Nghi (BAVH)

“The present king was loved and respected by his brother Kien-Phuc, in a manner which was unusual in Asian royal families. When he was out walking, the late king affectionately carried with him a portrait of his elder brother. During his youth, Dong-Khanh lived in a special residence called the Chang-Mong-Duong, where he devoted himself passionately to study. Enthralled day and night by the love of reading, he hardly ever drew himself away from his office. He was therefore well versed in the philosophy, history and literature of the Far East, much more so even than an average member of the literati.

The only distraction he permitted himself was the exercise of horse riding. Tu-Duc, seeing how he studied so hard, permitted him to go three times a month to the palace of the Noi-Cac (royal office) to expound on the classics, and there to write literary compositions and assist in the development of the edicts and administrative acts of the kingdom.

He was distinguished at these sessions by the quickness of his mind in estimating the value of both men and things.

The French Concession in the Citadel

This young prince did not have, it seems, the ambition to ascend the throne. Also, when disagreements arose between the mandarins of the court, or abuse of authority needed to be suppressed, he took sides fairly, with no regard for self-interest.

Living among the people, he was also able, by personal observation, to come to appreciate the miserable state of the population.

As for his personal conduct, he observed between his brothers and his parents the perfect harmony prescribed by Confucius. This young prince was very intelligent and affable; he readily adopted foreign customs, in a manner which surpassed that of many of his countrymen.

I speak as a personal witness, from what I have seen and heard.

From the particular point of view of French interest, it is very fortunate that Dong-Khanh occupied the throne.”

Đồng Khánh, 1885-1888

We have before us a photograph of the King of Annam published in the weekly French newspaper L’Illustration. His face expresses sweetness rather than firmness.

He sits on a richly carved throne, hands resting on his knees. He wears the Annamite costume: a robe embroidered with silk and gold, wide silk trousers, and bare feet in slippers supported on a pedestal. His head is covered with a traditional turban.

France will stage for this young prince a funeral worthy of him and of the people who observe to such a great extent the worship of the dead.

And now we can all exclaim: “Dong-Khanh is dead! Long live Thành-Thái!”

Đồng Khánh, 1885-1888

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014).

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“La Compagnie française des Tramways de l’Indochine,” from Le Courrier colonial illustré, December 1928

The French Indochina Tramway Company (Compagnie Française de Tramways de l’Indochine) was founded on 14 February 1890. At the outset, and for several years, it had to bear many difficulties.

A CFTI steam-hauled tram on boulevard Charner (now Nguyễn Huệ boulevard)

From 1892 to 1913, the company successively constructed the Saigon-Govap, Dakao-Tandinh, Govap-Hocmon, Giadinh-Can-Bong and Govap-Laithieu lines, and electrified the line from Govap to Binthay.

The electrification works were completed in 1923, and the company commissioned new rolling stock with railcars of the highest quality, bringing a remarkable improvement to the transportation of passengers on that part of the network which passed through Saigon.

A CFTI electric tram in Chợ Lớn

At the same time, the company participated fully in the creation of the Indochinese Electric Power Company (Société l’Energie Electrique Indochinoise), which supplied it with the power needed to operate its trains, while at the same time rendering other important services to the colony.

In 1925, the Company completed another extension to Thudaumot, in order to service the large plantation area there.

If we recall that the initial concession was provided only for horse-drawn trams, we can understand how the company has always taken the initiative to encourage the development of its network and to facilitate transportation by consistently improving its services.

A CFTI electric tram in Chợ Lớn

Currently, the network extends over 52 kilometres running on electricity. Independently of its official concessions, the company has also launched a bus service between Saigon and Cholon, in order to provide for the increase in the number of travellers.

The company has in Govap a tramway depot and a very well-equipped workshop for the maintenance of tramway lines, locomotives and driving trailers, with neighbouring land allocated for future enlargement.

The directors of the firm in Saigon have been, successively – Messrs. André LECADRE, Jacques LECADRE, BARRY and BOYER, and in Paris – M. TRIOULEYRE, Director General. The Board of Directors now comprises: President – Mr. Maurice ALLAIN; Vice-President – Mr G. HERMENIER; Managing Director – Mr. Paul DERVIEU; Directors – Messrs. Roger BARON, Jean DOLLFUS, Fernand DUBOSC, André MAGGlAR, Albert GARNIER and René THION DE LA CHAUME.

Gò Vấp CFTI Tramway Depot

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014).

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“The Renovation of Annam” by Frédéric Brévili, Revue du Pacifique, 15 January 1933

The main gate of the Viện cơ mật or “Secret Institute,” which functioned as the Privy Council and key mandarin agency of the royal court

Those interested in the development of our colonial policy in Indochina will have read with real appreciation about the significant reforms which have been promulgated in recent days by Emperor Bao-Dai.

Less than a year, in fact, has elapsed since the return of the young prince from France. We still remember the cordial words of farewell addressed to him before he boarded his ship in Marseille by the Colonial Secretary, M. Albert Sarraut, promising all the support of the French government to the sovereign called to deal with a situation which his long absence had made difficult. For what was already being called in Indochina the “Bao-Dai experiment” posed a number of questions.

Emperor Bảo Đại pictured in 1935 (Fonds Sogny-Marien)

How could the actions of a monarch whose reason now seemed so perfectly formed to Western conceptions be accommodated to that of certain circles of “old Annam,” with their strong attachments to the political and moral traditions of Confucianism?

We know now how events have taken shape so far. Welcomed by eager people in Tourane and Hue, and then through all the provinces of the kingdom, the young emperor has quickly gained sympathy and confidence through a series of happy gestures, abandoning obsolete protocol and demonstrating his desire to live in close contact with the Annamite people.

Moreover, by his regnal ordinance of 12 September, he announced his intention to undertake many reforms in the administrative, judicial and educational fields. Soon after, finally, he called to the leadership of his own cabinet, with the rank and prerogatives of a minister, an entirely new personality from Tonkin, M. Pham-Quynh, whose influence amongst young intellectuals has always been considerable.

Against this background, around two months ago, the Nam-Giao Festival was held. The accomplishment of the rites of this ceremony was to Bao-Dai a new and definitive consecration of the imperial power with which he was now fully clothed in the eyes of his subjects.

Phạm Quỳnh (1892-1945)

The time of the reforms approached. By an order of 3 May last, in full agreement with Governor General Pasquier, the young ruler of Annam came to initiate them. Whatever his good intentions, Bao-Dai was not slow to realise that his initiatives could, to some extent, be paralysed by the “atmosphere” of the court of Hue. For, undoubtedly, a gulf already begun to appear between the desires of the sovereign and those of his respectable mandarins, all of whom had been in his entourage for a good many years. These were people for whom policy was always blended perhaps a little too much with the games of small intrigue so often forged in the ancient courts of the Far East. No-one would doubt that a figure like H E Nguyen-Huu-Bai, a scholar of senior years and Prime Minister of the Court of Annam for the past quarter century, remains worthy of the highest honours. Yet is it desirable that in future the gatekeepers between the emperor and his people should continue to be tied by invisible bonds to the forms and traditions of a bygone era?

Absolutely not, declared the wish of the Emperor, which on this occasion was consistent with that of the administration of the protectorate.

In fact, it was less a problem for Bao-Dai to address the final implementation of the reforms promised by last September’s regnal order than to tackle the issue of the “atmosphere” in which these reforms could and should be realised.

Emperor Bảo Đại’s new ministers, from left to right: Hồ Đắc Khải, Phạm Quỳnh, Thái Văn Toản, Ngô Đình Diệm (later RVN President), Bùi Bằng Đoàn

Basically, it was a question of ensuring the quality of his entourage – finding men who were ready to co-operate loyally with the emperor, to bring him the support of their enlightened wills. After all, how could the sovereign initiate reforms if he were unsure whether his closest collaborators would apply them with the loyalty and perseverance necessary, in a period of transition, for their efficiency?

So here, briefly summarised, is what was eventually determined by Bao-Dai immediately after the Nam-Giao Festival. The resignations of the six ministers already in office were accepted by the sovereign, who then took responsibility for changing the composition of the government. With the exception of H E Thai-Van-Toan, who was moved from Finance to Public Works (with the addition of Rites and Fine Arts), the Cabinet today consists of four entirely or mostly new personalities – Pham-Quynh (who also occupies the post of Director of the Emperor’s Cabinet) in charge of Education, Ngo-Dinh-Diem in charge of the Interior, Bui-Bang-Doan in charge of Justice and Ho-Dac-Kai in charge of Finance – with the former Minister of War having not been replaced. An important indication is that all these new ministers, who between them have an average age of just forty years, have only been invested for a period of three years, the Emperor having also taken care to clarify in his ordinance that he had chosen them only by consideration “of their personal value, of their intellectual and moral qualities, and of the good reputation they enjoy in the eyes of the people, regardless of their seniority or rank in the mandarin hierarchy.”

The original main building of the Viện cơ mật or “Secret Institute,” which functioned as the Privy Council and key mandarin agency of the royal court

Of course, in Annam, and even in the whole of Indochina, these decisions by Bao-Dai were not without a considerable impact: we must go very far back to find any trace in the political actions of an Annamite sovereign of such radical changes to the state of affairs in the kingdom. Of particular note is the fact that the emperor also announced his will always to chair personally the meeting of the Council of Ministers, or Co-mat, “taking himself the direction of the country’s affairs,” that is to say actually governing, in contrast to his predecessors, slaves to the rites and traditions of the court, who were content not to.

If the consequences for Annam of the new order established in Hue have already appeared, it is not superfluous to attempt now to take a look at the future: for, to have been approved by Governor-General Pasquier, Bao-Dai’s decisions must interest the protectorate in a special way.

In this respect, it seems that our representatives in Indochina have nothing to fear from this small “palace revolution,” to call it by its name, which the emperor has just completed with such flexibility. Not that the Resident-Superior in Annam has always met systematic opposition to his wishes at the court of Hue. Although in the early years of the protectorate, obstruction was common, it has over time become more and more rare. However, the archaic organisation of the court, the multitude of client relationships connected to the various personalities, and the games of intrigue, still created frequent difficulties. Happily, the road to the royal residence Kien Trung Palace is now more level than it was before.

Emperor Bảo Đại pictured in 1932 (press image)

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014).

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“Forgotten Statues of Cochinchina,” from Le Monde colonial illustré, 1937

Monsignor PIGNEAU DE BEHAINE — place de la Cathédrale, Saïgon

On that admirable fresco of the French project in Indochina, a living and harmonious multi-racial synthesis of activities and hopes, a few figures clearly stand out in the light of history.

Francis GARNIER – place Francis-Garnier, Saïgon

Whether French or Annamite, these public figures are entitled to recognition. Each of them, in pursuit of their respective ideals, have met on the same path leading to common action.

Pigneau de Béhaine, protector of a prince of Annam, fugitive and unhappy, laid the first foundations of Franco-Annamite relations. Indeed, one may wonder what would have become of Indochina if this prelate had not devoted his intelligence to the service of the last Nguyen prince.

Did this permit French influence to take root in the land of Annam? Without a doubt! But it also prevented the installation of the Dutch or the English, on whom Nguyen-Anh’s protégé was about to call for aid. And it enabled Nguyen-Anh, as Emperor Gia-Long, to carry out a constructive work of great significance in the annals of this country.

DOUDART DE LAGRÉE – place Rigault de Genouilly, Saïgon

Later, circumstances required that, in order to command respect for our flag, Admiral Rigault-de-Genouilly came to anchor at Tourane. The French peace has since been extended to areas long disturbed by dynastic rivalries and struggles between neighbours. The statues of Rigault-de-Genouilly, Francis Garnier, and Doudart-de-Lagrée in Saigon attest to the heroism of our sailors and soldiers, the genius of their commanders, the sacrifice, in a word, of all those who, far from their native land, fell during the gestation of our colonisation of Indochina.

But our officers were not just fighters. We had some who were explorers and scholars. Such was Général de Beylié, archaeologist and ethnographer, who, during his investigations to extract the secrets of this Asian land, died in the rapids of Tha-Dua (Laos) on 17 July 1910. His works greatly enriched our museum in Saigon and paved the way for other scholars.

Général de BEYLIÉ – rue Blancsubé, Saïgon

Similarly, in the long chain forged by all of us to unite the destinies of Indochina with those of France, the link added by the botanist Jean-Baptiste-Louis Pierre is certainly not the least solid. This world-renowned scientist has inventoried the flora of the colony and thus prepared the field on which farmers and botanists can work more easily.

Besides our great colonialists, impartial history has retained the names of many Annamites — generals, scholars, diplomats, pacifiers — who have all done great service to their country.

Thus, in the dark days of Annam, there were some soldiers who permitted Gia-Long to restore order and security in the kingdom: Le-Van-Duyet, Marshal of the Emperor and Viceroy of Cochinchina; Vo-Tanh, General; Vo-Di-Nguy, Admiral; Le-Van-Phong, General; and many others.

Maréchal LE-VAN-DUYET — Gia-Dinh

Among them, Le-Van-Duyet occupies a special place. His courage, his devotion to the king and public affairs, his loyalty and his disinterest have made him one of the most seductive figures of old Annam and justify the quasi-religious veneration of which his memory is still the object in Cochinchina. It was he who, at the risk of displeasing his sovereign, did not hesitate to tell him the truth. It was again he who refused to read to the French an edict of expulsion which reached him from the court. For he declared that he could not forget the services rendered by them to his country.

Similarly, one cannot forget Vo-Tanh, that other valiant and stoic soldier, who remains engraved in the memory of his compatriots.

Général VO-THANH — village de Phu-Nhuan (Gia-Dinh)

Enclosed for two years in the citadel of Qui-Nhon, obliged at the end of the resistance to repulse the furious and repeated assaults of an opponent superior in number, he nonetheless discouraged Nguyen-Anh from coming to his rescue, persuading him instead to go and take Phu-Xuan (Hue), whose capture was more important. By the time the Emperor’s victory had been achieved and a rescue mission was launched, Vo-Tanh and his soldiers were dead.

The history book of Annam contains some other beautiful pages of the same kind. To ensure order, there have always been both leaders and humble auxiliaries ready to devote their lives to the cause. Pham-Van-Khanh, for example, victor of the attack on My-Tra by the plunderers of the plaine des Joncs on 22 July 1865; Le-Van-Phong, younger brother of Le-Van-Duyet; Phan-Thanh-Giang; and many others.

Capitaine Félix SALICÉTI — village de Trung-Ngai (Vinhlong)

In the work of pacification which followed the conquest, French and Annamites mixed their blood for the same cause. The Saliceti monument in the village of Trung-Ngai is proof of this. Captain Saliceti, who entered the service of France on 17 February 1872 at the age of 29, had his head cut off. At his side, also succumbing to the attack, were canton chief Tran-Cong-An, interpreter Vien, and militiamen Chon, Tao, Nay and Van.

The stele in Baria to the modest notable Bui-Thanh-Lièm is also worthy of the admiration of his fellows for his 40 years of community service.

When we move from the plan of collaboration for the maintenance of public order and security in the country to that of intellectual co-operation, we find another great Annamite, Pétrus Truong-Vinh-Ky, whose centenary will be celebrated in Saigon at the end of this year.

PETRUS KY — boulevard Norodom, Saïgon

Petrus Ky put his knowledge in the service of France and Annam, believing that true brotherhood lies in the heights of human intelligence.

This initiative of the Monde Colonial Illustré, bringing many forgotten faces out from the shadows, is one of the happiest. For it allows us to see, through the successive stages of colonisation, men who, each according to his own temperament, endeavoured to work for the greatness of their country.

It shows, above all, how their spirits and hearts merged to escape from daily pettiness and collaborate in the realisation of a unique, solid and eternal work.

Édouard MARQUIS

List of Monuments and Locations
Monument d’Odera – Xuan-Lôc (province de Bienhoa)
Monument de l’Enseigne de vaisseau Lareynière – Tan-Son-Nhi (Province de Gia-Dinh)
Monument de Morère – Nui-Bara (province de Bienhoa)
Monument du Capitaine Paulus – Tan-Thoi-Nhi (Province de Gia-Dinh)
Monument du Capitaine Saliceti – Trung-Ngai (prov. de Vinhlong)
Pagode et Tombeau du General Vo Tanh – Phu-Nhuan (Province de Gia-Dinh)
Pierres tombales du Maréchal Nguyen-Ngoc-Thoai – au pied du Nui-Sam (province de Chaudoc)
Statue à la mémoire de Doudart de Lagrée – place Rigault-de-Genouilly, Saigon
Statue à la mémoire de Jean-Baptiste-Louis Pierre – jardin Botanique, Saigon
Statue à la mémoire de Lamaille – place Rigault-de-Genouilly, Saigon
Statue de Francis Garnier – place Francis Garnier, Saigon
Statue de Gambetta – parc Maurice Long, Saigon
Statue de George Washington – place George Washington, Saigon
Statue de l’Amiral Rigault-de-Genouilly Saïgon – place Rigault-de-Genouilly, Saigon
Statue de Monsignor Pigneau de Béhaine – place de la Cathédrale, Saigon
Statue de Pétrus Ky – boulevard Norodom, Saigon
Statue de Quach-Dam – Marché central, Cholon (Gia-Dinh)
Statue du Général Léon de Beylié – rue Blancsubé, Saigon
Statues de P. Doan-Cong-Qui et E Le-Van-Phong – devant l’église de Chau-Doc
Stèle à la mémoire de Bui-Thanh-Liem – près du marché de Long-Dien (province de Baria)
Stèle à la mémoire de l’Administrateur Hugon – Soc-Trang, cimetière de la ville
Stèle à la mémoire de l’Administrateur-adjoint Luciani – Hoa-An (province de Bienhoa)
Stèle à la mémoire de Nguyen-Duc-Ung – Long-An (province de Bienhoa)
Stèle à la mémoire de Pham-Van-Kanh – My-Tra, Cao-Lanh (province de Sadec)
Stèle à la mémoire de S. E. Phan-Thanh-Giang – Bao-Thanh (province de Ben-Tre)
Stèle à la mémoire de Thoai-Ngoc-Hau – Thoai-Son (province de Long-Xuyen)
Tombeau de l’Amiral Vo-Di-Nguy – Phu-Nhuan (Province de Gia-Dinh)
Tombeau de Le-Van-Phong – Tan-Son-Nhut (Province de Gia-Dinh)
Tombeau de Monsignor Pigneau de Béhaine – Tan-Son-Nhut (Province de Gia-Dinh)
Tombeau du Général Mac-Cuu – sur une colline à 200m. de Hatien
Tombeau du Maréchal Le-Van-Duyet – Gia-Dinh
Tombeau du Pere Jacob Liot – Tan-Son-Nhut (Province de Gia-Dinh)

Amiral RIGAULT DE GENOUILLY — place Rigault-de-Genouilly, Saïgon

LE-VAN-PHONG — village de Tan-Son-Nhut (Gia-Dinh)

Enseigne de vaisseau LAREYNIÈRE – village de Tan-Son-Nhi (Gia-Dinh)

QUACH-DÀM — Marché central, Cholon

BUI-THANH-LIEM — près du marché de Long-Dien, Baria

Jean-Baptiste-Louis PIERRE —jardin Botanique, Saïgon

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014).

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Monograph of Saigon Parish, 1917

La première messe célébrée à Saigon (Cochinchine) – The first mass celebrated in Saigon – 1861

This unpublished document, housed in the library of the Archdiocese of Saigon, describes the early years of Saigon Parish.

1. Historic memories of the city of Saigon

The origins of the city of Saigon are rather uncertain. It appears that, before the time of Gia-Long, it was a simple Cambodian village. In 1680, however, it was for a certain time the residence of the second king of Cambodia.

In 1789, Gia-Long, after taking Saigon from the Tay-Son, commissioned the construction of the first Citadel, which was enclosed by the rue Testard [Võ Văn Tần] in the north, rue Mac-Mahon [Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa] in the west, boulevard de la Citadelle [Đinh Tiên Hoàng] in the east and rue d’Espagne [Lê Thánh Tôn] in the south. The centre, where the mast of the pavilion stood, was approximately at the site of the present Cathedral.

The city of Saigon was occupied by Gia Long for 22 years.

Marshal Lê Văn Duyệt

After his return from France, Monsignor Pigneau de Behaine, Bishop of Adran, lived in Saigon, in a house which Gia-Long had built for him at the outer corner of the Citadel, close to the site of the former maintenance shop in the nursery of the Botanic Garden, now the barracks of the indigenous militia. He accompanied Prince Canh to the siege of Qui-Nhon, where he died on 9 September 1799, at the age of 58 years. His remains were brought back to Saigon on the 16 September, and on the 16 December his funeral was solemnly held at the Tomb of Adran.

From 1811-1831, Gia-Long having established his residence in Hue, Viceroy Le-Van-Duyet peacefully ruled Lower Cochinchina until the year of his death. He was feared by Minh-Mang, who dared not undertake anything against him. The importance of his services and the authority he had managed to acquire made him almost invincible. Here is a fact which shows his good disposition. Once, when attending a cock fight in 1828, he was told of the first edict of persecution launched by Minh-Mang against the Catholic religion and the Europeans in general. “Why are we persecuting the co-religionists of the Bishop of Adran and those Frenchmen whose rice we still grind between our teeth?” He exclaimed. “No, as long as I live, we will not permit that. Let the king do what he pleases after my death.” His tomb, desecrated first by Minh-Mang, then repaired and maintained by the French administration, is located opposite the Inspection de Gia- Dinh.

After the death of Viceroy Le-Van-Duyet, Saigon fell into the hands of Nguyen-Van-Khoi, who revolted against the king. Minh-Mang retook Saigon in 1834. The sons of Khoi, the rebellious mandarins, and a French missionary, the Blessed Father Marchand, detained in the midst of the siege, were caged and taken to Hue for death. Minh-Mang then destroyed the Citadel raised by Gia-Long, and replaced it by a work of lesser extent, which was taken by the French in 1859. On the same site today stands the new Marine Infantry Barracks.

2. Beginnings of Saigon Parish after the occupation of the city by the French

The martyrdom of Saint Paul Lê Văn Lộc (1830-1859), unknown artist

On 11 February 1859, Admiral Rigault de Genouilly forced his way into Cap Saint-Jacques, and sailed up the Saigon River to seize the city. At that time in the prison of Saigon was a young Annamite priest named Paul Loc. The king’s judges, hearing of the arrival of the French, unexpectedly led him out to be executed. He was decapitated near the gates of the Citadel, at the corner of rue Paul Blanchy (formerly rue Nationale) and rue Chasseloup-Laubat. He was canonised by Pope Pius X on 2 May 1909.

At the time of the arrival of the French, a price had been placed on the head of the Vicar Apostolic, Monsignor Dominique Lefèbvre. However, he was able to escape, and on 15 February 1859, he boarded a French ship, where he was received with due regard for his dignity and person.

Finally, on 18 February 1859, Saigon belonged to France.

After the capture of Saigon, many Christians, fleeing persecution, came from everywhere to take refuge under the French cannon. This explains the presence today of so many Christians in the neighbourhood of Saigon. However, at that time, the parish of Saigon as a separate Christian community did not yet exist; Monsignor Lefèbvre spent much of his time founding it. In order to establish Christianity more firmly in the centre of his diocese, and to make it radiate outwards into other neighborhoods, he began by establishing major institutions and furnishing himself with devoted auxiliaries.

Seminary

The first of the major institutions set up by Monsignor Lefèbvre in date and importance was the Seminary. Initially established in the swampy and tiger-infested area of Thi-Nghe, in the vicinity of the Annamite soldiers’ post, the Seminary was transferred to Xom-Chieu in 1860. But a few months later, the Mission obtained a large plot of land on the Boulevard Luro, and Monsignor Lefèbvre definitively installed the Seminary there, entrusting it to the care of M. Theodore Wibaux.

The Seminary in 1866

The latter constructed a large building which lasted for about 13 years. After that, it was necessary to rebuild the Seminary almost entirely. The new buildings, which still exist today, were thanks mainly to the intelligence and devotion of Messrs Julien Thiriet, second superior of the Seminary since 1877, Félix Humbert and Charles Boutier. In 1887, Monseigneur Colombert solemnly inaugurated the most important building, which occupies the central position. Thereafter, the two wings were added, both designed by Father Humbert, one destined for the students of the grand seminaire, and the other for the students of the petit seminaire.

At present, the total number of seminarists is 129, a figure made up of 26 in the grand seminaire and 103 in the petit seminaire.

Sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres

Having assured the recruitment of the clergy by founding the seminary, Monseignor Lefèbvre provided for other needs by calling on the Sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres, who arrived at Saigon in 1860. They were first charged with gathering the orphans created every day by the persecution, and the numerous pagan children abandoned by their parents, who wandered the streets of the city in rags, begging for food. This was the first nucleus of the work of the Sainte-Enfance (Holy Childhood) orphanage in Saigon.

The first building constructed for the Sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres

This work began very modestly in a large and rather unsuitable hut, located near the primitive first bishop’s palace, near the site of the old market. Two years later, Admiral-Governor Bonard gave to the Reverend Mother Benjamin, Mother Superior of the Sisters, another vast site on the Boulevard Luro, occupying the space between the Arsenal and the Seminary.

The establishment of the Sisters of Saint-Paul today consists of: (i) a Novitiate for the training of indigenous Sisters; (ii) a boarding school for European and mixed race girls; (iii) another boarding school for Annamite girls belonging to the rich families of the Colony; (iv) an orphanage for abandoned children; and (v) a refuge for poor Annamite girls who had been seduced and desired to rehabilitate themselves in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.

Indigenous Hospital

Monseignor Lefèbvre also created, for the benefit of sick and destitute indigenous people, a hospital, whose administration he entrusted to the Sisters of Saint-Paul. This hospital, located initially near the first bishop’s palace, was relocated in September 1864 to the north bank of the arroyo Chinois in Cho-Quan, by mutual agreement between the Mission and the government. Since 1909, the Sisters have been relieved of their duties at this hospital, but they do not cease to give their care to a very large number of patients in their own hospital in Thi-Nghe, which was built for this purpose 300 meters from the church in the parish of the same name. They thus continue the work begun by Monsignor Lefèbvre.

Carmel

The Carmelite Convent

It is not enough to work for the salvation of souls. In the supernatural order, human efforts may end in no result if God does not support and nurture works with his grace. It was in order to secure perpetual prayer and to draw the blessings of Heaven upon his work and that of his auxiliaries, that Monsignor Levèbvre invited the Carmelite Order of Saint Therèse to Saigon. The first four Carmelites arrived in Saigon on 9 October 1861. They were welcomed by the Sisters of Saint-Paul, and settled soon after near the Seminary, on elevated ground on the other side of boulevard Luro. Their pious community has always prospered, and for a long time it has had around 40 Sisters, including 4 Europeans and 36 Annamites.

While Monsignor Lefèbvre worked to make Saigon a Christian town, the Admirals continued the conquest. On 1 November 1859, Admiral Rigault de Genouilly was replaced by Admiral Page. The expedition was continued in 1860 by Rear-Admiral Charner, and in 1861 by Rear-Admiral Bonard. On 5 June 1862, when the Treaty of Peace between Emperor Tu-Duc and France was signed in Saigon, the religious question was regulated in accordance with the principles of Admiral Bonard by Article 2: “The subjects of the two nations of France and Spain may practice their Christian beliefs in the kingdom of Annam; and the subjects of this kingdom, without distinction, who would desire to embrace and follow the Christian religion, may do so freely without constraint. But those who do not desire to become Christians will not be forced to do so.”

This treaty put an end to open persecution; but the arbitrary advances and vexations against the Christians continued almost as in the past, especially in Annam. Meanwhile, the Christians in Saigon and neighbouring provinces, being closer to the French, lived in greater tranquility.

Admiral Pierre-Paul de La Grandière by Mascré-Souville, Musée du quai Branly

Admiral de la Grandière, who replaced Rear-Admiral Bonard in May 1863, understood that the assimilation of the natives in Cochin-China could only be achieved through Christianity, and that the Christian element, the fidelity of which could not be questioned, was entitled to be treated with more consideration. His solicitude for the religious interests of the colony was manifested by the measures he took to protect the good Sisters and by the example of his irreproachable conduct.

3. Definitive foundation of the parish of Saigon and its development to the present day

Until the year 1863, the Missionaries residing at the Seminary or in the neighbouring Christian communities served the city’s religious and administrative communities with the Holy Sacraments. The time had come to found a separate parish, which would include the agglomeration of these various communities and all the Christians, French and Annamite, living in the city. This is what Monseignor Lefèbvre did, by appointing M Oscar d’Amplemann de Noioberne as parish priest of Saigon, and by fixing the parish limits, which have remained almost the same since its date of foundation.

Scope and limits of Saigon parish

The parish of Saigon is bounded to the north-west by the rue Richaud, which separates it from the parish of Tan-Dinh; to the north by the arroyo de l’Avalanche, which separates it from the parish of Thi-Nghe; to the east by the Saigon River, which separates it from the parish of Thu-Thiem; to the south by the arroyo Chinois, which separates it from the parish of Khanh-Hoi; and to the south-west by the rues MacMahon, Filippini, Taberd, de la Pepiniere, Chasseloup-Laubat and Lareyniere (up to rue Richaud), which separate it from the parish of Cho-Dui.

Since the construction of the new City Market in 1914 and the new Railway Station in 1915, the populous centre of the Annamite city has been moved, and the Christians who live on the streets below the station are now obliged to make a long detour in order to reach Cho-Dui Church.

Saigon, 1920

It thus follows that, whatever one may do and say, almost all Christians from that area now find it easier to come to the Cathedral for worship and for reception of the Sacraments. It would therefore be desirable that, for the greater good of souls, the limits of the parish of Saigon near Cho-Dui should be moved back as far as the rue Bourdais. In this way, the parish of Saigon would encompass the Market, which would fall under her by force of circumstances, and would be separated in a straight line running south from the parish of Cho-Dui along rue Lareyniere and rue Bourdais, cutting through the middle of the Jardin de la Ville.

By 1863, Monseignor Lefèbvre had successfully completed all his undertakings; He had gathered under the parish the various new elements (communities, French, Annamites) in the city of Saigon. In the following year, 1864, the Apostolic Vicar, feeling his strength to be diminishing, asked the Holy See to be released from his office. He ceded the government of the Mission to Monsignor Miche, the first Apostolic Vicar of Cambodia since 1852. When the new bishop arrived in Saigon, Admiral de la Grandière gave him a triumphal reception, which produced the strongest impression on the Annamite population.

A few months later, on June 1865, another religious event came to rejoice and comfort the Christians of the city and its environs in their faith. For the first time, the Fête-Dieu was publicly celebrated in Saigon; and the God of the Eucharist was carried in triumph through the same streets and public squares where Christian blood had once flowed. An immense population, hastening from afar, came to contemplate this extraordinary spectacle. The communities of all the neighbouring parishes, preceded by their banners, together with the orphans of the Sainte-Enfance, the Christian Brothers, the Sisters and the Schools formed a cortege of Jesus the Saviour, which thus took official possession of the capital and of the whole colony.

La première messe célébrée à Saigon (Cochinchine) – The first mass celebrated in Saigon – 1861

Twenty missionaries preceded the canopy, under which the Apostolic Vicar elevated the sacramental Host. It was escorted respectfully by a large number of soldiers and officers, the Admiral Governor at their head. When they arrived on the quayside opposite the ships, the Holy Sacrament was deposited on a magnificent altar made by the sailors themselves, and then the blessing descended upon this immense multitude, while a salvo of 21 cannon shots announced in the distance the triumph of Christ, the splendours of his religion, and the faith of his worshippers.

This imposing religious manifestation, which had the advantage of recalling to our compatriots the memories of their absent homeland, and of giving to the natives, both pagans and Christians, a high idea of Catholicism and of France, was repeated every year down to 1881. At that time, for reasons of neutrality and freedom of conscience, our troops were no longer authorised to take part officially in such ceremonies, so the episcopal authority thought it necessary to suppress this procession, which could no longer be carried out with the same grandeur and solemnity. But the government never banned it. To this day, the parishes around Saigon, Tan-Dinh, Cho-Quan, etc, continue this old tradition every year in their own communities. The Christians always display great zeal in adorning the streets, and flock in crowds to accompany the Most Holy Sacrament, which is carried through their villages.

By all that we have just said, it is easy to see that Admiral de la Grandière really had at heart the development of Catholicism in the colony. He proved this by bringing the Brothers of the Christian Schools to Saigon. Six of them arrived on 6 January 1866, the Mission having given them the Collège d’Adran, which had been founded two years earlier by M. Puginier. They immediately set to work, devoting themselves to the education of youth until the end of 1882, when they were obliged to retire.

“La première résidence des Gouverneurs à Saigon” – the Salle de spectacles or events hall of the first governor’s palace, from the 1931 book Iconographie historique de l’Indochine française (1931) by Paul Boudet and André Masson

The work they had begun was seconded at first, then continued by the Collège Taberd; But in the meantime, several changes had taken place in the Christian community of Saigon. Monseigneur Miche died in 1873, and was replaced by Monseignor Colombert. On my side, M. Oscar de Noioberne, the first parish priest of Saigon, left office, and ceded his post to M. Henri de Kerlan. It was Henri de Kerlan who, in 1874, at the same time as the Cathedral was transferred from the lower town into the salle de fêtes of the old Palace of the Government, founded the École Taberd in its old outbuildings.

At this time, the present location of the Institution Taberd housed the temporary Cathedral, the Presbytery and the School.

Directed initially by the Missionaries, the École Taberd was, in 1889, entrusted to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who had been invited here by Monseignor Colombert. Tody this College teaches more than 800 pupils, both Christian and pagan, European, mixed race, Annamite, Indian and Chinese. It is located at the corner of rue Paul Blanchy and rue Taberd. Its buildings, large and well furnished, were built largely by Monsignor Mossard, now Apostolic Vicar, and completed by the Christian Brothers. They are the property of the Mission.

M Henri de Kerlan died in 1877, and was replaced by Henri Le Mée, who remained priest of Saigon parish until 1897. In the year of his installation he had the joy of seeing the construction of the new Cathedral, and next to it a beautiful Presbytery, which is still in use today.

Cathedral

Inauguration of the (first) cathedral constructed in Saigon by the French government in 1863 (after a sketch by Naval Lieutenant Dumont)

First among all the religious edifices of the colony is, of right, the Cathedral of Saigon. Yet it was not always so. At the beginning, Monseignor Lefèbvre converted an abandoned pagoda into a church. Then in 1863, Admiral Bonard had a more suitable church built in the lower town, on the site now occupied by the Justice of Peace. But, after 10 years, this edifice, built almost entirely of wood, was devoured by white ants. In 1874, it was necessary to set up a temporary church in the salle des fêtes of the former Governor’s Palace, on the site where the Collège Taberd now stands. Clearly this provisional measure could not be permitted to continue indefinitely. Admiral Dupré (1874-1877) had the merit of understanding that France, now firmly established in Saigon, had to assert its faith and consecrate its conquest in this distant country, by elevating to God a definitive temple, more worthy of His Supreme Majesty.

On 7 October, 1877, Monsignor Colombert, in the presence of the Governor and all the authorities of Saigon, blessed the first stone of this sacred edifice, which was to be constructed in an excellent position at the top of the rue Catinat, the highest point in the city. The work was carried out so rapidly that the blessing of the church could be achieved after just two and a half years, on 11 April 1880. It was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and to St Francis Xavier.

The Cathedral of Saigon is a Romanesque style building which measures 93 metres from the front porch to the extremity of the apse; The width of the transept is 35 metres, and the towers rise 36.6 meters from the ground and house six bells, together weighing 25.85 tonnes. Two spires of 21 metres, completed in 1895, take the height of the Cathedral to 57 metres total. The interior of the building is adorned with sobriety and good taste. At the top of the triforium, a series of stained glass windows depict a procession of the Saints of the Old and New Testaments, who pay homage to the Immaculate Virgin, patroness of the Cathedral, whose image is located in the apse of the church.

The (second) Saigon Cathedral pictured soon after its inauguration in 1880

The high altar, made from precious marble, is adorned with three magnificent bas-reliefs, and supported by six angels carrying the Instruments of the Passion. On either side is a monumental Way of the Cross, each Station serving as an altar in one of the lateral chapels which stretch along both sides from the transept to the front doors, paved with rich mosaic and decorated with 20 large and artistically crafted chandeliers. Radiating out from the sanctuary are the chapels of the Blessed Virgin, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Saint Joseph, Saint Paul and Saint Francois Xavier, also decorated with stained glass images which relate to the themes of each altar.

It is under the vaults of this temple that, on great ceremonial days, crowds of Frenchmen, Annamites, Chinese and Indians gather and the liturgy unfurls in all of its inimitable majesty.

Since the month of October 1913, a thousand electric lamps, installed by M Soullard in the chandeliers and around the columns, have added a new shine to the beauty of these ceremonies. It is above all in the Pontifical Masses and on the day of the First Communion of the Children that our beautiful Cathedral is adorned with all its finery and shines in all its light. In particular, we will remember for a long time the extraordinary pomp, the rich ornamentation, and the magnificent songs on 17 October 1909, when 5,000 people crowded into the Cathedral to honour St Jeanne d’Arc, beatified just a few months before by Pope Pius X.

Beside these extraordinary solemnities, the preparation of which require more time and more work, the occupations of the parish priest of Saigon are the same as everywhere else; “his time, as regards the administration of his parish, is divided between administering the sacraments, visting the sick, giving instruction to children, and serving religious communities.” Such was, in summary, the view of M Le Mée, the third parish priest of Saigon.

The Pigneau de Béhaine statue in front of the Saigon Cathedral in the early 20th century

M Le Mée was succeeded in 1898 by the current Apostolic Vicar of Cochin-China, Lucien Mossard, who established in the parish the Work of the Tabernacles, the purpose of which was to furnish the poor Christians of the Mission with the necessary ornaments for Divine Worship. The ladies who were part of it contributed their money and their labour to the making of these ornaments. The work, which counts some 60 members, prospered as long as it was directed by Mesdames Teillard d’Eyry and Beer; However, it then suffered the fate of many parochial works of its kind which have been attempted in countries like ours. These sorts of works have no chance of sustaining themselves for a long time, for the simple reason that most families of officers and employees come here only to spend two or three years at most, They are soon replaced by others who do not make a longer stay, and their work soon disappears along with the elements of which it was formed.

Monseigneur Mossard, who was to leave the parish to take charge of the government of the Mission, begged M Moulins, a missionary for many years in Mytho, to come and replace him in the parish of Saigon. M Moulins occupied this latter post only from April 1899 to January 1900, when illness forced him to go to Hong Kong, where he died. He was succeeded by M. Charles Boutier, who remained until March 1906. In 1902, in front of the Cathedral, in the middle of the garden which adorns the square, was erected the statue of Monseigneur Pigneau de Béhaine, Bishop of Adran. This statue, the work of sculptor Lormier, depicts the great Bishop extending his arm to his pupil prince Canh, and holding in the other hand the edict of the French government which helped restore that young prince’s father to his throne. Monsignor Mossard, surrounded by a numerous clergy, gave the benediction to the monument with great solemnity.

Governor General Doumer, Lieutenant Governor Lamothe, Admirals Pottier and Bayle and all the civil and military authorities, as well as the great notables of Cochin-China, attended this imposing religious and patriotic ceremony. Numerous delegations from the Annamese parishes in the neighbourhood of Saigon, who had come with their banners, could be seen massed around the lawn, in the middle of which stood the statue of the Bishop of Adran.

Inauguration of the Pigneau de Béhaine statue in front of the Saigon Cathedral in 1902

In this way were the Church, France and Annam gathered together to honour worthily the hero of the day, Monsignor Pigneau de Béhaine, Bishop of Adran. His memory will be perpetuated by this high monument in his honour, which will remind future generations of the great influence he has exercised over the future of this country, and the services he has rendered to Annam, France, and the Church.

No important event worthy of notice has taken place since that time, apart from the great feast in honour of Jeanne d’Arc, which I mentioned at the end of the notice I gave on the Cathedral.

In March 1906, Mr. Boutier returned to France for health reasons. Eugène Soullard has succeeded him to this day in the administration of the parish.

The Christian population of the parish of Saigon has hardly changed over the last 10 years. It now amounts to about 5,530 souls, including 4,000 Europeans, 800 Indians, 700 Annamites and some 30 Chinese. It has, however, decreased considerably with regard to the Europeans since the mobilisation in 1914. The pagan population is approximately 45,000.

Eugene Soullard, Parish Priest,
Presbytery of Saigon, 13 November 1917

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014).

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

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