La Catastrophe de la Martinique: thirty-four

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique















Interview with M. LAGARRIGUE

A moving voyage aboard the Rubis, on the morning of the 8th



Lagarrigue, confessor of Saint-Pierre is, I do believe, the only man of the cloth of this city who still exists. This he owes to having been, on the 7th, called to Fort-de-France. He had the intention of returning to Saint-Pierre on the 8th. He was going to embark at 8:50, on the Rubis.

He told me the events of this crossing, which carried him within view of the burning city, where all that was his perished, where his house burned, annihilating his fortune.


“We are about to climb aboard, when a woman says to me: ‘But see!’ And I see a grey, ashy cloud that comes from the mountain and surpasses the peaks of Carbet. We settle ourselves on board. At ten minutes after eight, the sea retreats, and the moorings of the boat break. The captain takes his post, nonetheless, and we leave. We are barely 150 meters from the wharf, when over us falls a hail of ash and pebbles. The boat continues on her route. Arriving at the heights of Case-Navire, we meet with a yacht making her way opposite our own. The people on this yacht shout to us, ‘Go back! Go back!’ We ask them to stop and explain, but they fly away without wishing to hear.

“The Rubis goes aside and follows them to Fort-de-France, to the carénage. There the pilot of the yacht tells us that, arriving before Case-Pilote, he heard an enormous noise, received a fall of pebbles, saw the smoke, and that Saint-Pierre was destroyed.

“‘Have you seen this?’


“Then the Rubis left once more for Saint-Pierre. On the beach of Carbet we saw people who made us the sign of turning back. We went on.

But, scarcely outside Carbet, we saw again a vast smoke along the coast. A new vent of the volcano, someone said. It was a burning hut.

“This was a little near eleven o’clock.

“We arrive at the cove of Latouche. Everything is burned. Then we can go no further, because of the ashes and the heat. All Saint-Pierre burns, all. The city, and the harbor, and the fields. All!

“We return to Fort-de-France, terrified, anguished… Our people, are they in this furnace?

“En route, we meet with the Suchet, which will try to approach the city.

“On the 12th, I went to Saint-Pierre. It burned no more. I saw corpses and rubble. A meter and a half of rubble and thousands of corpses. My fellow citizens…naked, scorched… An electric burn…but, this is not my area of competence.

“What struck me, is that in this ruin, in this chaos of death and terror, within the buried pipes still flowed, clear and alive, the water of the Goyave. And I drank.”






The Service of the Gendarmes



It is the fashion, in France, to mock the police. The constabulary offer subject matter to spur easy laughs, in an lighthearted spirit. Oh, well! To the course of these tragic events in Saint-Pierre, they have come to prove time and again that if they have boots…

You’ll allow me to dispense with the rest, won’t you?

These boots forge the paths of brave men.

On the 8th of May, at three o’clock, a detachment of gendarmes, including the brigadier Marty, the Constables Santandréa, Patin, and Allard, under the direction of Captain Leroy, embarked aboard the Pouyer-Quertier.

After stationing itself before Carbet, of which all the north part was burned, and whose inhabitants had come to be taken away on the dredging-boat, the ship tried to dock at Saint-Pierre. It was impossible, because of the number of flaming wrecks that burned in the harbor. They took to the sea, arriving at dawn in view of Cape Martin. At six a.m., they approached Macouba. They called out. No one answered. The houses appeared intact. It was the same at the Grande-Riviére.

At Prêcheur, there were many people on the beach. A blinding rain of ashes fell. They put two cutters in the water. Impossible to land, the bad sea barring this…they then used canoes, on which the women and children embarked, with shrieks and tears. They learned that 300 people who were north of Prêcheur, had found themselves with nothing to drink or eat for three days…

On the hill La Talie, were 300 calcined corpses. The Prêcheur had suffered a tidal wave, and a rain of fire.

At 11 o’clock, an upwelling from under the sea took place. At noon, the mayor sent a letter addressed to the governor, a letter asking aid for five thousand people without food and without water…

At twelve-thirty, the rescue became impossible because of the bad sea.

Captain Leroy said:

“We could no longer make out the coast. The low rumblings gave the illusion of trains passing on metal bridges, without interruption. A strong turbulence of fumes, several, with bubbles, formed on the sea all around the ship.

“At three o’clock, we left.




La Catastrophe de la Martinique

Public domain photo of candles for Martinique deadSee More on Catastrophe page
Catastrophe: thirty-five












(1902, Jean Hess, La Catastrophe de la Martinique; 2018, translation, Stephanie Foster)



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