Early traces of old Phú Nhuận before the French

by Erik Harms

The village (thôn) of Phú Nhuận is said to have existed since 1698, when Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh established taxation regimes for the Nguyễn Lords in what is now known as the southern region of Vietnam. At that time, Phú Nhuận was part of Gia Định Province (Tỉnh Gia Định), Tân Bình prefecture (phủ Tân Bình), Bình Dương District (huyện Bình Dương). Bình Dương district at that time consisted of 6 cantonments (tổng), with a total of 123 villages. According to the 1998 Vietnamese translation of Trịnh Hoài Đức’s Gia Định Thành Thông Chí, compiled in the early 19th century, Phú Nhuận was one of 76 villages or communes located within the cantonment of Tổng Bình Trị. Nguyễn Đình Đầu’s research into Nguyễn Dynasty cadastral records further specifies that it was part of the sub-cantonment Tổng Bình Trị Hạ, which consisted of 26 villages.

Along with the Gia Định Thành Thông Chí, Professor Nguyễn Đình Đầu’s book is a very useful source for approaching the early history of Saigon. Here is an image of the book, including a photo of the esteemed professor on the back cover.

NguyenDinhDau.1994_Cover_web

Figure 1: Nguyễn Đình Đầu’s 1994 Study of Nguyen Dynasty Cadastral records is a useful source for learning about villages in Vietnam during the 19th century.

Professor Đầu’s research shows that in 1808 Bình Dương District was incorporated into Phiên An (Sub-)Province (Trấn Phiên An), and Tân Bình Prefecture (phủ Tân Bình). The position of Phú Nhuận village within the administrative structure of Gia Định Province at that time looked something like this:

GiaDinhAdministrativeOrganization_1808_PhuNhuan

Figure 2: Rough Sketch of Phú Nhuận’s position within the administrative Structure of Gia Định Province during Nguyễn Dynasty.

Perhaps the best map for visualizing the spatial organization of Saigon at the time of the Nguyễn Dynasty is the 1815 map by Trân Văn Học called the Plan de Gia-định et ses environs. The following reproduction of the map was printed in the Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Indochinois, Saïgon, in a 1935 article by the famed archaeologist Louis Malleret. The map was an appendix to his research into the early history of Saigon’s citadel and other fortifications, and hence focuses on the built landscape. However, the Nhiệu Lọc – Thị Nghè canal is clearly visible in the map, and one can get a rough idea of where Phú Nhuận was located by tracing the meandering snake of the canal in the middle of the highlighted area below.

SaigonMap_1815_TranVanHoc_PhuNhuanHighlight

Figure 3: Trân Văn Học map of Gia Định and surroundings in 1815. Reproduced in Malleret, 1935. Phú Nhuận would be located along the canal somewhere near the center of the shaded area on the map.

PhuNhuanMap_1815_ExtractTranVanHoc

Figure 4: Enlargement of the shaded area depicted in Figure 1.

According to Nguyễn Đình Đầu’s research, the total area of land and fields in Phú Nhuận was 39 mẫu 2 sào 7 thước and 5 tấc. Of that, taxable land (điền tô điền) comprised 38 mẫu 8 sào 10 thước and 5 tấc, divided into 41 parcels. The largest landholder had 3 sào and 2 thước of fields, and the smallest had 12 thước. Residential land was 3 sào 12 thước divided into three areas.

NguyenDinhDau.1994_PhuNhuanSnip

Figure 5: Snip from Nguyễn Đình Đầu’s writing on Phú Nhuận.

 

Not long after the French captured Saigon in 1861, they changed the administrative structure. We will trace Phú Nhuân’s position in that structure in a follow-up blog post.

References:

Malleret, Louis (1935). “Eléments d’une monographie des anciennes fortifications et citadelles de Saïgon.” Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Indochinois, Saïgon.

Nguyễn Đình Đầu (1994). Nghiên cứu địa ba Triều Nguyễn:  Gia Định [Cadastral Registers Study of the Nguyễn Dynasty: Gia Định ]. Ho Chi Minh City, Nhà xuất bản Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh.

Nguyễn Đình Đầu (1998). From Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City: 300 year history. Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh, Land Service Science and Technics Publishing House.

Trịnh Hoài Đức (1999 [1820]). Gia định Thành thông Chí [Observations of Gia Dinh]. Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Nhà Xuất Bản Giáo dục.

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