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Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes (Shipping company, France)

Last modified: 2012-04-30 by ivan sache
Keywords: messageries maritimes | letters: mm (black) | messageries nationales | letters: mn (black) | messageries imperiales | letters; mi (black) | letter: p (black) | messageries francaises de madagascar | stars: 3 (red) |
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[Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes house flag]         [Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes house flag]

House flag of Messageries Maritimes - Images by Ivan Sache, 12 January 2012
Left, first flag, used until the 1970s;
Right, second flag, used subsequently.


See also:


Presentation of the Messageries Maritimes

The Compagnie des Messageries Nationales was created in 1796 as a mail-coach service, superseded by the railway in the middle of the 19th century. On 8 July 1851, Ernest Simons, director of the Messageries Nationales, and the Marseilles-based shipowner Albert Rostand, founder of the Compagnie des Bateaux à Vapeur du Levant (1849), created a shipping line, which was granted a state contract for the postal service to Italy, the Levant, Egypt and Greece. On 9 September 1851, the Hellespont inaugurated the service on the Marseilles-Civitavecchia (Italy) line. The shipping company was incorporated the next year in Paris, as the Compagnie des Services Maritimes des Messageries Nationales, renamed in 1853 Compagnie des Messageries Impériales to reflect the proclamation of the Second Empire. The company purchased the shipyard of La Ciotat, where it would build most of its ships. As a reward for its efficient transport of the French troops during the Crimean War (1853-1856), the company was granted the postal lines to Algeria, Tunisia, and the Black Sea, and to South America (1857) as well. The Bordeaux-Brazil line was the first French line served by steamships. Between 1862 and 1865, lines were set up to Far-East and Japan. A secondary line served the Indian Ocean via the Reunion island and Mauritius.
On 17 November 1869, the liner Péluse inaugurated the Suez Canal, sailing just behind the Imperial vessel. The canal dramatically reduced travel duration and increased trade, boosting shipping. On 1 August 1871, after the fall of the Second Empire, the company was renamed Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes, mostly known as the "MM".
In 1880, the North African lines were transferred to the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. Lines to Australia, New Caledonia and the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) were opened in 1882, via Bombay and Colombo. Until the First World War, the MM experienced its first Gilded Age, being a main driver of the French colonial expansion. Saigon was the second home port of the company, which operated there smaller "stationary ships" on local lines to Haiphong, the infamous penal colony of Poulo Condor, Hong-Kong and Shangai. In 1912, the South American line was sold to the Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique, a subsidiary of the Chargeurs Réunis. During the First World War, the ships of the company were used as hospital ships and troop carriers. At the end of the war, one third of the fleet, that is 22 ships, was lost.

In 1919, the El Kantara inaugurated the circumnavigation line, being the first French ship to cross the Panama Canal. On 29 December 1920, the Société des Services Contractuels des Messageries Maritimes, a subsidiary of the MM, was granted the operation of the postal and other national lines. The parent company kept the control of the commercial lines and the local lines overseas. The period 1920-1930 was the second Gilded Age of the MM. Fuel oil boilers were installed for the first time on the Angkor (1921). Experimenting several new navigation technologies, the company paid great attention to the decoration of its luxurious liners, such as the Mariette Pacha and the Félix Roussel.
In 1932, the Georges Philippar burned in the Indian Ocean. It was suggested that the fire was a successful attempt aimed at the journalist and writer Albert Londres (1884-1932). A very popular lawman-reporter, Londres had exposed in very well documented articles the dark side of the French economical miracle, that is the penal colonies, the abusive colonial system, prostitution etc. Londres has several powerful enemies and knew a lot of shameful things on politicians and businessman. The people behind the attempt, if any, were never found since the police did not consider (or was ordered not to) seriously the criminal hypothesis.

During the Second World War, the fleet of the MM was commissioned and half of the ships were lost. The Law of 28 February 1948 reorganized the merchant navy in France. The limited liability semi-public company (compagnie d'économie mixte) Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes was created by merging the assets of the former company of the same name and of the Société des Services Contractuels des Messageries Maritimes, whose contract with the state had expired. In 1949, the first newly-built ship of the company, La Marseillaise, served the Far-East line. In 1962, the South American line was served by ships purchased from the Chargeurs Réunis company. The last ship of the company, the Pasteur, was inaugurated in 1966 and sold in 1972 to the Shipping Corporation of India, which would operated it until 1985.

On 23 February 1977, the Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes merged with the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique to form the Compagnie Générale Maritime.
The gas tanker Tellier, launched in 1972 by the MM and operated by its subsidiary Messigaz, was the last ship of the Messageries Maritimes still sailing in 2011.

Sources:
- French Lines association website
- L'encyclopédie des Messageries Maritimes, by Philippe Ramona

The Messageries Maritimes, especially the line to Far East, formed a significant component of the the heritage of Marseilles, then the "Gate of East" and the main French colonial port. Marcel Pagnol's play Marius (1929) starts with a discussion between Marius, a young man attracted by exoticism and travel, and his father César, the owner of the Bar de la Marine café on the Vieux-Port. A "siren" rings in the background:
- Marius: Té, c'est le courrier de Saïgon / Hey, this is the mail boat from Saigon.
- César: Hé non, idiot, c'est le percolateur / "No, dude, that's the coffee machine".
This is also the opening scene of the movie Marius, shot in 1931 by Alexander Korda and starring Pierre Fresnay and Raimu, in which the MM-operated Saghalien appears (reconstructed). The original Saghalien, inaugurated on 25 July 1880, served the Far East line from 1881 to 1898, transporting in January 1895 the famous musician Camille Saint-Saëns.
Louis Brauquier (1900-1976), a Marseilles-born officer of the Messageries Maritimes, was a delicate painter and poet, awarded in 1971 the Grand Prize in Poetry by the French Academy. Inspired by his travels to Alexandria, Djibouti, Saigon or Sydney, his poems, published in 1922-2000, were grouped in 2001 in a single, posthumous volume, Je connais des îles lointaines (I know remote islands). Brauquier was a main contributor to the review Les Cahiers du Sud, founded in Marseilles in 1925 by Jean Ballard to succeed an early review, Fortunio, founded in 1914 by Marcel Pagnol.

Ivan Sache, 12 January 2012


House flag of the Messageries Maritimes

The original flag of the Messageries Maritimes is white with a red triangle at each corner of the flag and the black letters "M. M" in the middle.
In the 1970s, the house flag was changed to reflect the new logo of the company, made of two black outlined white connected "M"s.

The original flag in the cloth can be seen on several ship's plates and photos available on the Messageries Maritimes encyclopaedia:
- Egyptus, undated (sailed 1843-1856);
- Dupleix, 1867;
- Meï-Kong, undated (sailed 1870-1877);
- Peï-Ho, some date between 1895 and 1902;
- Tonkin, La Ciotat, c. 1900;
- Paul Lecat, La Ciotat, 1911;
- Lotus, undated (sailed 1912-1932);
- Watercolors of ships lost during the First World War, by Sandy Hook: Ville de la Ciotat (1915), Yunnan (1915), Magellan (1916), Memphis (1916), Portugal (1916), Breton (1917), Ernest Simons (1917), Gange (1917), Himalaya (1917), Kouang-Si (1917), Mossoul (1917), Sontay (1917), Yarra (1917), Basque (1918), Djemmah (1918), Mécanicien Donzel (1918) and Polynésien (1918);
- Dupleix, Nouméa, 1924;
- Jean Laborde, La Ciotat, 1944;
- Maréchal Pétain, La Ciotat, 1944;
- Marseillaise, Marseilles, undated;
- Mékong, 1950;
- Polynésie, Nouméa, 1965;
- Vosges, Marseilles, undated;

Ivan Sache, 12 January 2012


Variants of the house flag of the Messageries Maritimes

Variants of the original flag retaining its basic pattern are shown on different documents.

[House flag]

Flag with blue letters - Image by Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012

A company's poster by David Delleplane depicts the flag with the letters "M. M" in blue, most probably an artistic license.

[House flag]

Flag with letters "M M" - Image by Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012

A project of company's poster depicts the flag with letters "M M", without the dot after the first "M".

A black and white print from L'Illustration shows the Sénégal during its inaugural journey to Algiers (June 1872; the ship transported the first Olympic tourists to Athens in 1896), flying the houseflag sketchy represented with a white disk charged with the letters "MM".

[House flag]

Flag shown by Reed (1891) - Image by Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012

Reed (1891) shows the flag as a red field with a small white diamond outlined black and bearing the black letters "M.M."; as pointed out by Neale Rosanoski, "this seems suspect in lieu of any supporting information".

Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012


Forerunners of the Messageries Maritimes

Sea Postal Service

[House flag]

House flag of Sea Postal Service - Image by Dominique Cureau, 11 January 2012

According to Loughran (1979) [lgr79], the state-owned State Sea Postal Service, founded in 1835, used red flag with a white lozenge charged with a black "P", therefore the remote forerunner of the house flag of the Messageries Maritimes.

Dominique Cureau, 11 January 2012


Compagnie des Messageries Nationales

[House flag]

House flag of Messageries Nationales - Image by Dominique Cureau, 11 January 2012

The Messageries Nationales used the same flag as the Messageries Maritimes but with the letters "MN" (no dot after the "M"). The flag is seen on plates depicting the Egyptus and the Pericles.
The flag is also reported by Paul Bois in Le Grand Siècle des Messageries Maritimes.

Dominique Cureau & Ivan Sache, 11 January 2012


Compagnie des Messageries Impériales

[House flag]

House flag of Messageries Impériales - Image by Dominique Cureau, 11 January 2012

The Messageries Impériales used the same flag as the Messageries Maritimes but with the letters "MI" (no dot after the "M"). The flag is reported by Paul Bois in Le Grand Siècle des Messageries Maritimes.

Dominique Cureau, 11 January 2012


Subsidiary companies of the Messageries Maritimes

Compagnie des Messageries Françaises de Madagascar

[House flag]

House flag of Messageries Françaises de Madagascar (unconfirmed colours) - Image by Ivan Sache, 13 January 2012

The Compagnie des Messageries Françaises de Madagascarr was founded in 1898 by the Messageries Maritimes. At the time, the MM shared with the Compagnie Havraise Péninsulaire the lines between France and Madagascar. Later renamed Société Malgache de Transport Maritime (suppressed in 1998), the company was merged in 1969 into the MM-owned Union Maritime du Pacifique Sud.

The house flag of the company, as shown on a company's share, is very similar to the house flag of the MM. Assuming that the colors of the original house flag were kept, the flag would be white with a red triangle in each corner and the black letters "M.F.M" in the middle.

Jan Mertens, Dominique Cureau & Ivan Sache, 13 January 2012


Société de Navigation France-Indochine

[House flag]

House flag of Société de Navigation France-Indochine - Image by Ivan Sache, 13 January 2012

The Société de Navigation France-Indochine, aka Compagnie de Navigation à Vapeur France-Indochine, was founded in 1917 as a joint-venture by the Messageries Maritimes and the Chargeurs Réunis. The Ministry of the Colonies indeed urged the two companies to establish a daughter company dedicated to the resupplying of Indochina during the war. The company operated four ships built in Japan: Mécanicien Donzel and Capitaine Faure, managed by the MM, and Aden and Bangkok, managed by the Chargeurs. A fifth ship, Docteur Pierre Benoit was incorporated directly to the MM.
The Mécanicien Donzel was torpedoed on 3 June 1918 during its inaugural journey. It was replaced in December 1919 by the Lieutenant de Missiessy, which served the Dunkirk-Far East line.
When the state contract ended in 1924, the two partners reintegrated the ships in their respective fleet. The company officially winded up in 1932.

Source: French Lines association website

The house flag of the company, as shown by Paul Bois (Le Grand Siècle des Messageries Maritimes) is a mix of the house flags of the two parent companies, that is a white flag with a red triangle on each corner (MM) and three red stars placed horizontally in the middle (Chargeurs).

Dominique Cureau & Ivan Sache, 13 January 2012


 
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