When did the French Come to India


In 1674, French East India Company set up a trading centre at Pondicherry (which became the chief French settlement in India) in the European period. However, François Bernier (First French Man to Enter India), a French physician and traveler, came India in 1658 and he stayed for several years looking after the medical needs of the emperor.

Presence of French and their Effect on our Country –

“Puducherry” is the French interpretation of the original name “Puducheri” that means “new settlement”. The name itself says a lot about the influence the Union Territory has that of France on it, 280 years of its rule entrusted upon Pondicherry. It is not surprising at all that even today Puducherry is known as France in India. The French influence Puducherry seems to be under as for its culture, clothing, food and festivals is concerned, it is evident that even today the hearts of the people of Puducherry and France beat together.

In Search of New Avenues for Business

During the reign of King Francis in France, two ships were sent out by some merchants of Rouen, a city on river Seine in north of France. But they could never make it back or either to any other destination. The ships & its entire crew were lost. In 1616, two more ships were sent out, this time to India, out of the two only one returned. The first French expedition to India is believed to have taken place in the first half of the 16th century.

First French Man to Enter India

François Bernier, a French physician and traveler, who was appointed as the personal physician at the court of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was assigned to come to India. He came in the year 1658 and here he stayed for several years looking after the medical needs of the emperor.

India, an Easy Ground to Enter Into

The internal conflicts and fights among various Indian states gave ample opportunities to the European traders to gradually establish political influence and acquire land in the name of trading goods, making factories and living spaces. Gradually they started maintaining armies to fight each other out of the country.

Following the Dutch, the British set up in the west coast port of Surat in 1616; so did the French much later than the other European powers. This is, when, we can say, the French stepped into India. But the presence of so many other European countries in India never allowed the French to have a strong foothold in the territories they tried to acquire, and later establish their factories.

Establishing Trade and Transforming the Town

In 1667 the French India Company sent out another expedition, under the command of François Caron. He was accompanied by a Persian named Marcara. They reached Surat in 1668 where they established their first French factory in India. In 1673, February 4th, Bellanger, a French officer, took up residence in Puducherry, India and this is said to be when the French Period began in Puducherry. In 1674 Francois Martin, the first Governor, started to build Puducherry and transformed it from a small fishing village into a port-town.


Chandannagar was established as a French colony in 1673, when the French obtained permission from Ibrahim Khan, the Mughal subadar of Bengal, to establish a trading post on the right bank of the Hughli River. Bengal was then a province of the Mughal Empire. It became a permanent French settlement in 1688 till the time the Dutch took over the city again in 1693; only to return it back after a peace treaty signed between Holland and France. Able Governors like Lenoir (1726-1735) and Dumas (1735-1741) and an ambitious Governor Dupleix (1742-1754) expanded the area of Puducherry and made it into a large and rich town.

Braving the British and Striving To Stay Put

But it was not soon before Robert Clive arrived in India. He crushed all the hopes of Dupleix to create a French Colonial India. After a defeat and failed peace talks, Dupleix was recalled to France and this time the British took over Pondicherry. Despite of a treaty between the English and French not to interfere in local politics, their conspiracy continued. In 1756, the French encouraged Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah to attack and take the British Fort William in Calcutta.

All enraged, the British fought back and Battle of Plassey was the result of that. In the year 1757 the British defeated Siraj-ud-daula and their alies, the French. They gained complete control of West Bengal as a result. Where the British defeated the Nawab and his French alies; resulting in the extension of British power over the entire province of Bengal.

Mistakes the French Made and Lost All They Built

The French Rulers still did not give up and sent Lally Tollendal to regain the losses they incurred in the fight. The objective was to chase the English out of India. In an initial success they attacked Fort St. David in Cuddalore District and razed it to the ground in 1758. But mistakes by Lally later on, led to the loss of the Hyderabad region, the Battle of Wandiwash, and Pondicherry in 1760.

In 1761 Puducherry was completely destroyed with all the structures and the dwellings were reduced to dust. This was the result of warring with the then super powers and their reign was reduced to ruin for 4 years. The French had lost their hold in South India.


Pondicherry – A Juggler’s Implement

Then in 1765 the town once again was returned to France after a peace treaty with England in Europe. Governor Law de Lauriston rebuilt the town but during the next 50 years Puducherry changed hands between France and England sometimes witnessing wars and other times negotiating peace treaties. In 1769, the French East India Company to support it’s by then had drained out for money and could not support itself in sustaining in India.

French Crown abolished The French East India Company and assumed the duty of administering the duty governing Pondicherry and overtook all the possessions they had in India. During the next 50 years Pondicherry changed hands between France and Britain juggling between their wars and peace treaties.

Peace Finally – France Rules For 138 Years

Only after 1816 the French regained permanent control of Puducherry, but the town had lost much of its former glory. The French establishments included Pondichéry, Karikal and Yanaon on the Coromandel Coast, Mahé on the Malabar Coast and Chandernagor in Bengal.  The long successive battles, peace treaties and the personal greed and ambition of various nations to possess the most wonderful piece of land made it witness years full of glory and gloom. That is how France was able to establish their rule in India, only to return it in 1954, 138 years later.


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