Monday, January 24, 2011

Episode 5 - Je ne regrette rien

Alexander Salmon in his prime
The Salmons paid a high price for their peacemaking efforts. Not only had they lost their son, but they also faced the prospect of financial ruin. Their plantations had been destroyed either in the fighting or by saboteurs angered by the couple’s public support of the Protectorate. Many marriages would have faltered under the blow of losing a child and of their financial troubles, but the Salmons had forged a strong and lasting partnership as they had worked together to end the war.
After a long gap, the couple began adding to their family again in 1848, with a daughter and three sons being born in the following eight years. Meanwhile, in an attempt to restore the family’s fortunes, Alexander devoted himself to farming his wife’s extensive lands. He added coffee plants and orange trees to the family’s coconut groves and raised pigs and cattle using the most modern methods of production. Despite his ingenuity and abilities, it was an uphill struggle to make a profit because the French administration was inefficient and took no interest in promoting the commerce of the island during the 1850s.
Unfortunately, the Salmons’ popularity with the French didn’t last long. Bruat was recalled to France soon after the Queen returned. This was the start a long tradition by the French Foreign Office of changing the man at the top just when he was starting to understand the job and the people and replacing him with someone who had never set foot in Tahiti before. Many of the Governors were threatened by the Salmons – seeing them as a focus for British interests on the island. Ariitaimai’s position as Chief of all the Tevas (after her grandfather’s death in 1854) clearly gave her much influence over the politics of the island. And the French saw Alexander as essentially opportunistic and ambitious and, as such, not entirely to be trusted. He was, after all, a citizen of Great Britain and clearly a man of independent judgment whose allegiance could not be taken for granted. As a result, after Bruat’s departure, there was no sign either of the Legion of Honor or of the financial compensation that he had promised the Salmons for their losses.
After being thwarted in many petty ways by the French authorities over several years, Alexander lost patience. A complex man, Alexander was fiercely loyal to his family and friends and passionate about defending the interests of his adopted country. But he was also quick to feel slighted and long to hold grudges. When it became clear that the compensation that Bruat had promised to the Salmons was never going to be forthcoming, Salmon decided to use whatever means necessary to restore the family’s fortunes and if that meant antagonizing people along the way then so be it. This is how he began to get a reputation for actively working to promote the British interest in Tahiti, but his critics failed to see that Salmon’s priorities lay much close to home - with the proud family and clan into which he had married.
So great was Alexander’s frustration that in 1858 he went all the way to Paris – a round trip taking many months – to present his case to Emperor Napoleon III. When he got no response from anyone in the government, Salmon decided to publish his letter as a pamphlet, which was circulated both in France and in Tahiti. From that time onwards, the French administrators of Tahiti branded Alexander Salmon as a potential subversive in their midst.  
After Paris, Alexander traveled to London where he was reunited with his widowed father, now aged 77, who was still in living above his shop on Piccadilly with three of his daughters. This was the first time Alexander had seen his family since leaving England almost 20 years earlier. What he did not know was that it would also be his last.


  1. Keep us on tenterhooks! I love the continuing saga, and so does my sister--she came upon it independently and happened to bring it up on Saturday when I saw her. She said it's a fascinating story.


  2. He doesn't look anything like how I pictured him prior to seeing this pic! Story continues to be riveting. Reading on...

  3. That isn't Alexander Salmon. It's William Stewart, a businessman and plantation owner. Check this link, it also shows an actual photograph of Alexander Salmon.

  4. Kavebear, I've looked at the link you mentioned and the photographs have been transposed i.e. the photo of Salmon is next to the biography of Stewart and vice versa. I can assure you, this picture is definitely of Alexander salmon. But thanks for your interest!