Thursday, 28 June 2007

Amiable Frenchmen

I sometimes wonder what the world would have been like had England failed in its attempt at world domination in the 18th and 19th centuries. Portugal, Spain, Holland and France all had their chances to rule the world. Germany, Belgium, Japan and Russia put in some good showings. And that isn't to mention the Third Division of the Colonisation League, comprising Italy, the almost-nowadays-unknown colonial empires of Denmark and Sweden, and complete obscurities like Courland.

The world would have been a more interesting, and richer, place, I think. For starters, the French especially were reknowned for being much more willing to cooperate with Native Americans as equals, and if they'd kept control of Canada and Louisiana we might have seen a very different, more recognisably native North America emerging. India might never have suffered the ignominy of complete subjugation if Britain had not won at Plassey, and a subcontinent that was a mixture of indigenous polities like Mysore, Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Maharashtra, and European-founded city-states like Portuguese Goa, French Pondicherry, British Calcutta, Danish Serampure and Dutch Masulipatam, would now exist. Indigenous Alaskans would worship in Russian Orthodox churches. The world would be an utterly different place.

More importantly, for my purposes, the Australians wouldn't be around to make lousy day-time Soap Operas, because they might very well have been busy speaking French instead - hanging out at pavement cafes, smoking too much, having great sex, and drinking Chateauneuf-de-Pape rather than Castlemaine XXXX. This is because a certain "amiable Frenchman" (as described by Bill Bryson in Down Under) by the endearingly ornate, pre-revolutionary name of Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de La Perouse, could very well have got there first and claimed Australia for France. As it was he arrived just after the first motley collection of cockney criminals, under Captain Phillip, had started to disembark in Botany Bay. Bryson captures the event rather nicely: "La Perouse's expression when it was explained to him that Phillip and his crew had just sailed 15,000 miles to make a prison for people who had stolen lace and ribbons, some cucumber plants, and a book on Tobago, must have been one of the great looks in history, but alas there is no record of it."

He then goes on to note, drily, that if only La Perouse had arrived a little earlier, he could have saved the continent 200 years of English cooking. Sport lovers among us will be more interested in the fact that it would have saved us English years of humiliation on the cricket pitch, too.


mattiecore said...

Hmmm....You know, I've never really thought about this before...

I wonder how different America would be, beyond the more recognizable native North America

noisms said...

I don't think it would be recognisable as the America we know. The thirteen colonies might still have rebelled against Britain, but once independent they would have faced a strong French Canada/Louisiana, so westward expansion would likely not have occurred. That means Mexico might well still be in control of the South-West. I imagine a federalised nation in the Mississippi and the Midwest, comprising 'native' States under a French sphere of influence, a French Eastern Canada, British West Canada, and Mexican South West. Maybe I'll write a counterfactual novel about it someday.