Léon Roches was a student at the Lycée de Tournon in Grenoble, and followed an education in Law. After only 6 months in University, he quit to assist friends of his father as a trader in Marseilles.
As Léon's father acquired a plantation in Algeria, Léon left France to join him on June 30, 1832. Léon would stay for the next 32 years on the African continent. Léon learned the Arab tongue very rapidly, and after two years was recruited as translator for the French Army in Africa. He became an Officer (Sous-Lieutenant) of cavalry in the Garde Nationale d'Algerie from 1835 to 1839. General Bugeaud asked him to negotiate with Abd-el-Kader in order to stop fighting with the French. He is noted as having been highly respected by Arab chieftains.
Under Bugeaud's recommendation, Roches joined the French Foreign Ministry as an interpreter in 1845. In 1846 he became Secretary of the legation in Tanger, and then took responsibilities at the French mission in Morocco.
By an exceptional nomination, Roches became first-class Consul in Trieste, allowing him to acquire a strong experience in trading matters. After three years, he was nominated to become Consul in Tripoli. In 1855, he was Consul in Tunis. He often wore the Arab dress and was renowned for his abilities with guns and horses.
On October 7, 1863, Roches was nominated Consul General of France in Edo, Japan. His great rival was Harry Parkes. The French government took the side of the Tokugawa Bakufu and thus was not very popular in Japan after the Meiji Restoration.
Roches also helped the Shogunate modernize. He arranged for an "Ecole Franco-Japonaise" to be established, and organized the building of the Yokosuka arsenal. In 1866, he wrote to the French Minister Drouyn de Lhuys:
"The character of the Japanese essentially distinguishes them from other oriental people... We must act towards them with goodwill and dignity, critically but with justice; we can often appeal to their sentiment of honour and to the pride found among all of them, even among the lowest classes... They are gay, lively and communicative; they are disposed towards us as well as to other foreigners; whatever will be the material development of English power in this country, they run to us alone for reforms"—Léon Roches, 1866 letter to French Minister Drouyn de Lhuys.
Gustave Duchesne de Bellecourt
|French Ambassador to Japan
- Medzini, Meron French Policy in Japan Harvard University Press 1971, ISBN 674322304
This article incorporates text from OpenHistory.