The historical site

The penal colony’s set up of the isle of Nou

When Nouville’s peninsula was still an island, the main prison camp of New Caledonia was settled in Paddon Cove.

On the 9th of May 1864, the first convicts forced to hard labour disembarked after four months crossing on board The Iphigenia frigate. Between 1864 and 1897, almost 22 000 men were transported to New Caledonia.

A convict’s life

Before joining the colony, the convicts were divided according to their case files and skills. They were spread out in camps that belonged either to individuals or to companies throughout the country.

The rest of the convicts that stayed on the Isle of Nou slept in big dormitories. They were employed in les ateliers (workshops) where they would shape materials such as iron, wood. Those who could read and write were assigned to office work. Others supplied with or water and unloaded merchandises shipped from the crane’s platform. Others were kept busy in the bakery producing bread, the main staple diet of the convicts.

They prisoners were supervised by military guards who lived in the barracks overlooking the camp. The supervisors’ wives and children stayed on site. A school was even set up for children’s education. On Sundays, the prison chapel would celebrate weddings, births, baptisms and sacrament.

Exceptional site

Since 1973, the main buildings of the site have been classified as monuments with a historical interest. Today, visitors can enjoy the typical architecture throughout the various buildings: the guards barracks, Rectory, workshops, bakery, the wharf and quay.

Visitors can discover the historical site on their own by following the information signs “The convict’s path”, set up by the Southern Province or attend guided tours or cultural events organized by the association Témoignage d’un Passé, with whom CREIPAC has a partnership.

The closing of the camp and new allocation

The main camp was closed in 1927 after transferring the last convicts to the East Camp prison. The main buildings were reallocated and used as housing for civil servants. The objective was to remove any mark from the penal colonialism as it had become shameful for many New Caledonians. In 1928, the Isle of Nou was re-named “Nouville” and in 1939 the dormitories and custody area were deliberately destroyed. During Second World War, the site is an American base. After the war the buildings were allocated to different institutions and cultural vocations.