Saigon Harbour – 1866
The Mekong Exploration Commission comprised a group of five French naval officers and one civil servant. It was funded and promoted by the French colonial government of Cochinchine.
Its primary objective, apart from scientific documentation, was to assess the river’s viability as a trade route to link the port of Saigon to the riches of southern China and upper Siam. The French were ambitious to turn Saigon into a successful center of commerce to rival British-controlled Shanghai on the mouth of the Yangtze.
Over the course of two years, the expedition traveled 9,900 km through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Burma and onward into China’s Yunnan province. It eventually arrived in Shanghai after mapping over 5,800 km of previously unexplored territory.
Despite its undeniable political and economic aspirations and its revelation that the Mekong was totally unsuitable as a commercial conduit, the expedition was acclaimed by scholars and lauded by the Royal Geographical Society as the first to reveal the regions of the Mekong valley, and southern China, to Europeans.