General issues: French colony 1892-1946, French overseas territory 1946-1958
Country name on general issues: Établissements de l’Oceanie, Éts Français de l’Oceanie
Special issues: Local issues Tahiti 1903, 1915
Currency: 1 Franc = 100 Centimes 1892-1958
Population: 29 000 in 1900, 78 100 in 1958
Political history French Oceania
French Oceania is located in the south central Pacific Ocean. As a political entity, French Oceania consists of a number of island groups, including the Society Islands, the Tuamoto Archipelago, the Marquesas Islands, the Gambier Islands and the Austral Islands. The indigenous population is Polynesian. The first Europeans to explore the islands were the Portuguese and the Spanish in the 16th century. British, Dutch and French explorers visited different islands at different times in the 18th century. The French were the first to establish a lasting presence when they annexed the Marquesas Islands as a French colony in 1842. Later the same year, the French proclaimed a protectorate over the kingdom of Tahiti, which comprised the windward group of the Society Islands, the Tuamoto Archipelago and part of the Austral Islands. In 1880, the kingdom of Tahiti was annexed to become a French colony. The other islands that would come to be part of French Oceania were annexed between 1881 and 1901.
The kingdom of Tahiti went by the name of ‘Tahiti & Dependencies’, while the French possessions, as a whole, went by the name of ‘Établissements de l’Oceanie'‘Settlements in Oceania’. From 1880, the French gradually established a centralized administration, defined in 1885 by a decree appointing a Governor supported by a Privy Council and a General Council in which the islands were represented. In subsequent years, power was more and more concentrated in the position of the Governor. In 1903, the Privy Council was abolished and the General Council was given an advisory role. Also, in 1903, the name of the colony was changed to ‘Établissements Français de l’Oceanie’.
During WWII, metropolitan France was ruled by the Vichy regime collaborating with Germany. In French Oceania, factions formed supporting both the Vichy regime and the Free French, led by Charles de Gaulle. In 1940, by way of a referendum, French Oceania voted for association with the Free French. After WWII, the French Empire was reformed. In 1946, French Oceania became a French overseas territory and was granted a ‘Territorial Assembly’ – a first step towards future self government. The powers of the Territorial Assembly were enlarged in 1957. Also, in 1957, the name of the territory was changed from ‘Établissements Français de l’Oceanie’ to ‘Polynésie Française'French Polynesia. French Polynesia was granted self government in 1984. The status changed to that of a French overseas collectivity in 2003 – designated an overseas country since 2004.
Economically, French Oceania largely depended on subsistence agriculture, fishing and manufacturing. Exports included copra – derived from coconuts, vanilla, pearl oysters and pearls. The population majority is Polynesian with minorities of European and Chinese descent.
Postal history French Oceania
The first stamps used in French Oceania were the general issues for the French colonies from 1862. The first stamps issued for specific use in French Oceania were the issues for Tahiti, issued between 1882 and 1893. The first stamps issued with the designation ‘Établissements de l’Oceanie’ appeared in 1892 – the general issues for the French colonies overprinted with the new designation. The first definitives appeared in 1913 – a set of pictorials. In 1934, the first stamps inscribed ‘Éts Français de l’Oceanie’ appeared. During WWII, stamps were issued by the Vichy regime between 1941 and 1944 – even though French Oceania had joined the Free French in 1940. As these were never put to use in French Oceania, only mint issues are listed in the catalogs. The Free French issued stamps for French Oceania from 1941. French Oceania joined in a number of the ‘Grands Series'Omnibus issues, for the French colonies. The issues of French Oceania were superseded by the issues of French Polynesia in 1958.
In 1903 and 1915, stamps appeared overprinted ‘Tahiti’. The 1903 issues were stamps of French Oceania overprinted ‘Tahiti’ and a new face value. The 1915 issues were stamps of French Oceania overprinted ‘Tahiti’ and a red cross – semi postals for the benefit of the Red Cross. The world wide catalogs list these issues either with French Oceania – Michel – or with Tahiti – Scott, Stanley Gibbons and Yvert & Tellier. Although I have not found resources that explicitly address the issue, I assume the Tahiti issues were issued under the authority of French Oceania for local use in Tahiti.