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Kerguelen is an overseas department of the French Republic. Located off the coast of Antarctica, Kerguelen consists of several islands in the Southern Ocean (including the islands of Amsterdam, Crozet, Kerguelen, and Saint Paul). The islands were discovered during the Age of Exploration and organized into a French colony in the late 18th century. The islands played a key role for the Free French Forces during World War II. Since Kerguelen is a direct part of France, the islands mark the southernmost point of the European Union and the Eurozone.
The first sighting of one of the Kerguelaine islands was in 1522, when Spanish explorer Juan Sebastián Elcano sighted Amsterdam Island. Portuguese sailors sighted Saint-Paul Island in 1559, but there were no actual landings until 1633, when Dutch explorer Anthonie van Diemen visited (and named) Amsterdam Island. Willem de Vlamingh, another Dutchman, made the first landing on Saint-Paul in 1696.
All of the islands remained unclaimed until January 1772, when Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne discovered the Crozet Islands (which he named for his First Mate Jules Crozet), where he made landfall, and claimed them for France. This marked the beginning of French dominance in the area.
Just one month later, in February 1772, Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen de Trémarec discovered the Kerguelen archipelago, correctly believing it to be the most significant landmass in the southern Indian Ocean. Upon his return to France, he was given a Royal Charter to further explore and colonize the islands, and he took a second expedition later that year.
This expedition proved immensely successful, and founded the future capital city of Port-aux-Français. It survived its first Winter, and supplies began to arrive from France in early 1773.
The Kerguelen and Crozet islands soon became more populated, due to their wealth of natural resources: they were bases for lucrative fishing, sealing and whaling operations.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the British Royal Navy seized the islands, and they remained under British control from 1810 to 1815, when they were returned to France by the Congress of Vienna. There was no British settlement of the islands during this period, simply a military occupation consisting of a few hundred sailors and Royal Marines.
Shortly after the Congress of Vienna, the Kerguelen and Crozet islands were combined into the Colony of Kerguelen, and separated from Réunion.
- Main article: French Antarctica
After the discovery of Antarctica in 1820, French officials began discussing the possibility of a mainland colony, and in 1828, a Kerguelen-based expedition established French Antarctica, which became a Dependency of Kerguelen, governed from Port-aux-Français. However, the mainland settlements were ill-prepared for the conditions of Antarctica, and the French government provided little funding to the colony, as their efforts were focused elsewhere, particularly Algeria.
After ceding a large portion of its land to the British colony of New Devon in the early 1830s, the colony slowly began to fail, and most of the French population returned to Kerguelen or other French territories. Finally, in 1841, the mainland colony was officially dissolved — though a small French community remained at what is now Cap-des-Baleines, New Vestfold.
Late colonial era
In 1843, partly to compensate for the failure of French Antarctica, the citizens of Kerguelen petitioned Governor Jules Dumont d'Urville to claim Saint-Paul and Amsterdam Island for France, and an expedition was sent out to begin populating them.
Around the 1880s, it became common for one or two large French warships to be stationed in Kerguelen at all times. This was partly as a deterrent against the piracy and smuggling which was beginning to grow on the islands; partly as a defence against the more populous colonies in Antarctica which France was suspicious of; and partly to provide easy transport between Kerguelen, Crozet and the other islands, in the event of a shipwreck or other emergency.
In 1902, the Du Fresne Naval Base was completed, and the French Naval detachment to Kerguelen became a significant force in the area. In World War I, the Kerguelaine navy was critical to the blockades of New Swabia and Santiago, and during the Russian Civil War, they formed a major part of the French expeditionary force which began the occupation of Adélie.
When Adélie was fully secured as a French territory in 1919, it was separated from Kerguelen and governed by a French military administration.
Second World War
- See also: Assault on Kerguelen
Politics and Government
- See also: Cantons of Kerguelen
As an integral part of France, Kerguelen's Head of State is the French President; who selects a Prefect to represent him during his absence.
The unicameral General Council has 10 seats, and the unicameral Regional Council has 7. The members of each Council elect their Council President; and the President of the General Council acts as the Kerguelaine Head of Government.
Kerguelen elects one Senator to the French Senate, and two Deputies to the National Assembly.
As in other French regions, Union for a Popular Movement and the Socialist Party are the main right and left-wing parties (respectively). The Union Démocratique Bretonne (a Breton nationalist party), is the only other national-level party represented in Kerguelen. The Department also has numerous small, regional parties which operate only in Kerguelen.