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the River Shipping Company of Cochinchina, story of a monopoly - 3/3

Le Cambodge sunk in 1904, 115 lives lost. image:

Power and neglect

The adventure and passion for the river must have dwindled with the advent of the later contracts: in 1914, no question of a 20-years monopoly anymore, and the terms were tightened so much as to turn the Messageries essentially into an administration.1) Between the ebb and flow of the Mekong, the lack of diligence of the officers in charge and insufficient infrastructures, The Messageries, went on neglecting their duties until the outrage flared in the late 20s.

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the River Shipping Company of Cochinchina, story of a monopoly - 2/3

The launch Hàm Luông, truncated, set on rails on the South of Khône island in October 1893

a time for adventure

The Messageries fluviales took a central part in the logistics of the 1893 expeditions upstream to Laos, with launches like the Hàm Luông, Lagrandière, or Massie, which allowed access up to Luang Prabang and even to the Golden Triangle and the Southernmost confines of China. But at that time, like today, the Khôn falls, at the 4000 islands, prevented steamers from crossing the Mekong upwards from Cambodia to Laos. In order to transport the first launches to the first bief upstream, the Messageries installed on the large Khôn island first a metric railway with three hand-powered carts, then a real railway when commercial traffic took up.

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the River Shipping Company of Cochinchina, story of a monopoly - 1/3

Livret du voyageur, 1912

Uncertain origins

The history of the Messageries takes us back to the 1870s, at a time when the French admiralty was supporting about three thousand troops in Cochinchina and when the Saigon port, then a little over fifty thousand inhabitants, was hosting the Colonial Council, which, before the time of Governor General Paul Doumer, was levying taxes from the indigenous population and employing them in a discretionary fashion. That is also to say, if you wanted to set up a trade in those times, you needed a real spirit of adventure and a strong will, or much political clout in this small pond.

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Lost meanders of the Mekong delta


The Mekong is a long, quiet river. But here and there you can find marks of history kicking the landmarks and reshaping the rivers.

Who navigates the Măng Thít river will cross the Măng Thít bridge, which 80 years after it was first built is still “Cầu mới”, or “new bridge” as all bridges are called when they are first built –the name may endure: in Paris, the “Pont neuf” is 400 years old.

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Last modified: 2021/08/13 11:46 [benoit] Copyright (c) 2014-2023 TransMékong 144 Hai Bà Trưng, QNK, Cần Thơ - 0903 033 148