History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1970. Part 2

3 & 4 March 2021

France in Algeria: From Conquest to Colony, 1830-1900

 with Mariam Habibi

Marie Eleonore Godefroid, Abd El-Kader (1807-1883), 1830-44, Paris, musée de l'Armée

In June 1830 a massive French fleet consisting of 37,000 men landed at Siddi Ferruch, on the Algerian coast 27 kilometers from the town of Algiers. This event opened the Franco-Algerian chapter for the history of both countries.


The conquest and later the colonisation of Algeria raised a number of ethical, philosophical and tactical questions. The period coincided with a number of regime changes back in France and consequently, each new administration had its own brand of rule to impose.  


The lecture will cover these events from 1830 to near the end of the 19th century. In those early years during the reign of Louis Philippe, the Algerian conquest was slow and difficult, yet the battles were remembered, thanks to artists such as Horace Vernet, as glorious victories. Indeed, the ‘victories’ were displayed in the galleries of the newly inaugurated History museum of the palace of Versailles, as a tool for national unity. Napoleon III referred to Algeria as his Arab Kingdom; he was both the emperor of the Arabs and the emperor of the French. This ideal was reflected in the Arab Bureaus whose aim was to view Arabs, ‘not as enemies who must be destroyed, but as men who must be convinced’. This attitude contrasted vastly with that of the settlers, who sought first and foremost to take possession of the land of Algerians and repopulate the land. With the advent of the Third Republic, given the loss of Alsace Lorraine, the maintenance of French Algeria became an essential duty to all patriotic republicans.    


The relationship between France and Algeria is a convoluted and complicated stretch of memories. Historians on both shores still have a great deal of work to do to complete it. This lecture will aim to lay the first bricks in that edifice.

Morel Fatio, The Attack on Algiers by sea, 1830, Commissioned by Louis Philippe, Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon