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Tunisia under French Administration

Last modified: 2019-08-06 by rob raeside
Keywords: tunisia | star (white) | crescent | sword |
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[Tunisia] image by Željko Heimer

Status of flag uncertain.

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Discussion about the Flag

DK Pocket Book reports "During the French Administration (1881-1957) it became a sea flag, with the French tricolor in the canton; this was removed when independence was achieved in 1956." Did this flag ever exist or are they getting mixed-up with Morocco?
Martin Grieve, 13 April 2003

This seems consistent with French custom in their overseas possessions, though it seems also that all these flags are very seldom well documented and that sometimes at least they are "wishful thinking" or are patterns very rarely used. I guess we should look forward to someone demystifying these "French ensigns".
Željko Heimer, 13 April 2003

This seems to be consistent with French administrative thinking: don't publicise it because it's nobody else's business. Books on railways are able to tell you when a particular class of locomotive was in use on a particular line - provided the colonial territory was British. But if the territory was French, you can discover that a particular class was in use in a certain territory in a given period, but they never say on what line, and if the territory covered more than one colony (like French West Africa) they don't even indicate which colony the locomotives were used in.
Mike Oettle, 15 April 2003

I have the Moroccan legislation, and I, too, would be interested if there is anything on Tunisia. As far as I was aware, there was never a tricolor on the Tunisian flag but this, of course, does not mean that there wasn't one.
Christopher Southworth, 14 April 2003

On this occasion, DK Pocket Book is not fully mistaken. The Flag Bulletin, no. 195, Sep.-Oct. 2000, is more or less devoted to Tunisian flags, and includes references in two articles to an *unofficial* and *short-lived* Tunisian flag with French canton. It also shows the flag on its cover.

Firstly, Smith (2000j), p. 187, says: "An unofficial modification of the Tunisian national flag, used for a few years, added the French Tricolor to the design as a canton (...) (37).

Footnote (37) says: Henri Hugon, "Les Emblèmes des beys de Tunis" (Paris: Leroux, 1913), p. 61.

Secondly, Smith (2000l), p. 197, says: "Tunisia, a French protectorate, retained its national flag on land and at sea. Nevertheless, in the late 19th Century or early 20th Century an unofficial version of the flag was used with the tricolor canton. In 1925 a formal proposal was made to adopt that flag as official, but no action was taken. That flag, featured on the cover of this issue, does not appear to have been illustrated in any vexillological source."

However, the first article mentions Tunisian ensigns repeatedly, and only refers to this unofficial variant as a flag -- so I would understand that such a variant was never used as an ensign. Thus DK Pocket Book's statement regarding the Tunisian flag saying "during the French Administration (1881-1957) it became a sea flag, with the French tricolore in the canton" is most probably wrong, and a mix-up with Morocco, as I guessed in the first place.
Santiago Dotor, 16 April 2003

I found an old French journal (1904) on the net, reporting the visit of the Bey of Tunis in France. We can see on the picture the same flag as above used when the Bey visited the "Hôtel De Ville" of Paris at
Baba Sanfoor, 10 August 2005

The newspaper here is the daily "Le Petit Journal", founded by Moïse Polydore Millaud (1813-1871) in 1863. This daily leaflet (40 x 30 cm) was 50% cheaper than the other ones and was not sold by subscription but in booths and by hawkers. "Le Petit Journal" was the first French high-circulation daily. Millaud said "I have the courage to be stupid" and founded a new kind of journalism, mostly apolitical (which avoided paying a tax), and based on good sense and conformist moral. The daily included long cultural and scientific popular chronicles, long and vivid descriptions of news items and trivial events and serials, such as the famous "Rocambole" series written by Ponson du Terrail (incredible events or news are still commonly called "rocambolesque" in French). In 1890, the circulation of "Petit Journal" reached 1,000,000. Its new director, Girardin, created supplements, the most famous of them being the colour "Supplement illustré", whose pictures are one of the best examples of the popular iconography of the end of the 19th Century in France. In the early years of the 20th Century, the importance of "Petit Journal" decreased and it was superseded by the "Petit Parisien" as the main popular daily. [Encyclopaedia Universalis]

The "Petit Journal" iconography seems today very naive, but remember that information and, above all, images were very rare at that time - photography was still uncommon and there was of course no TV. The "Petit Journal" was a main source of information on what happened in France and in the world, and it probably contributed to the development of the very specific French colonial iconography and (kind of) mythology.

Therefore, it is not easy to assess the reliability of the representations shown by "Petit Journal". The scene of interest for us took place in the City Hall of Paris, which does not necessarily prove that the designer of the picture actually attended the scene. Once again, we shall forget the camera flashes and the press conferences, which did not exist in the 1900's. Concerning the Tunisian flag, several hypotheses are possible:

  • the flag is represented as it was used during the ceremony.
  • the designer was told there were Tunisian flags (or was requested to represent them), but had no idea of how they could look; he consulted another source, maybe correct, maybe erroneous, or was told by someone, maybe reliable, maybe not.
  • the designer was "inspired" by another flag of the same kind. We can think of Morocco, but the civil ensign of Morocco with the French national flag in canton was created only in 1919.
A bad corollary is that the picture in the "Petit Journal" might have been the source, maybe correct, maybe wrong, for further reports of that particular flag of Tunisia.
My conclusion is that we have a source showing a Tunisian flag with the French national flag in the canton, dated 1904, but I cannot be sure of the reliability of that source.

Ivan Sache, 19 August 2005