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Messageries Maritimes de France History and Ephemera

Messageries Maritimes de France. - Originally known as the Messageries Imperiales, this company sprang from a land-transit undertaking. It received its first contract for the conveyance of oversea mails from the French government in 1851. It then extended its services to Italian, Greek, Egyptian and Syrian ports. In the following year it included Salonica in its itinerary.

The occurrence of the Crimean War gave an increase to its fleet and a stimulus to its operations. For it was not only given the task of maintaining mail communication with the French forces in the Black Sea, but was largely entrusted by the government with the duty of transporting troops and stores to the seat of war. At that time it was a considerable purchaser of British tonnage.

In 1857 it had the French mail contract to Algiers, as well as to the Danube and Black Sea ports, whilst in the same year a new mail contract for a service between Bordeaux and Brazil and the river Plate was granted to it. By this time it had, either afloat or under construction, a fleet of no less than fifty-four steamships of 80,875 tons.

In 1861 further employment was found for its vessels in the conveyance of the mail to India and China. By the year 1875 its fleet embraced 175,000 tons of shipping, and also employed a large number of chartered sailing vessels. It was at that time the largest steam shipping company in the world. It had already ceased to employ British shipbuilders and now constructed its own tonnage in its own yards.

The extension of its services to Japan followed, and eventually it put forth branches which served Madagascar, Mauritius and Zanzibar, as well as Australian ports and the French colony of New Caledonia. Some of the steamers employed in the mail services to the Far East and South are of a very fine character. In 1909 its fleet traversed 1,019,046 marine leagues and carried 1 97,3 20 passengers and over a million tons of cargo.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

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