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Dejeuner menu, Paquebot Tonkin(?) 1890s
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Dejeuner menu, Paquebot Tonkin(?) 1890s


This menu was found along with one from the Paquebot Tonkin, but doesn’t identify the boat or year it is from (this information was hand-filled, and clearly someone couldn’t be bothered).

We do know it was from a Messageries Maritimes vessel; Messageries Maritimes (often known as MM) was a French commercial shipping company which operated both passenger and cargo services from France to destinations around the world. The Far East was a particular focus of MM, with it having the monopoly for French routes to the region (and France’s colonial possession in Indochina – now Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – weren’t going to rule themselves now were they? Spoilers: yes they were).

This menu, from the height of MM’s golden age, gives a suggestion as to the atmosphere aboard ship: rich meals, glamorous parties and dancing: a generally luxurious experience. But MM was not just about luxury. Its ships were some of the fastest and most advanced on the ocean, and provoked curiosity from the Royal Navy.

As with other cruise companies, commercial air travel did for MM from the 1950s onwards. By the 1970s, a shadow of its former self, MM was merged with Compagnie General Transatlantique to form CMA CGM, a freight shipping operation only.

Courtesy Private Collection.

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