La Catastrophe de la Martinique: thirty-five

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique









“The inhabitants of the north were ignorant as to the destruction of Saint-Pierre. Two hundred people from Céron refused to embark. The curé of Grande-Rivière related to us the exodus of inhabitants towards Basse-Terre, and La Trinité.

“In summary,” said the Captain Leroy, “on this journey, the Pouyer-Quertier collected from the town of Grande-Rivière and that of Prêcheur, around five hundred people, of whom the greater part had had nothing to eat or drink for three days, following the drying up of sources, and the interruption of communications with Saint-Pierre, an interruption that began with the 5th May eruption.”

The same day, another mission, commanded by the Chief of the Squadrons Herbay, and comprising the adjutant Lagarde, the local marshal Lamfranchi, and constables Calé and Donati, embarked aboard the Rubis, accompanied by R. P. Vetgli, Father Auber, the chemist Rozé, and a few customs officers.

The priests, debarking onto the Place Bertin, gave the last rites of the dead*, and chanted the Libera. Then, they went to the treasury and the bank. The treasury was pillaged. Thieves had taken 103,000 francs. At the bank, in the first room, the safe was gutted; in the second, the safe remained intact. The vaults were surrounded by fire.

The information furnished by the gendarmes permitted the public prosecutor to go, next day, with Captain Evanno, and the treasurer Peyrouton, to carry out the salvage of the bank’s valuables.

The 10th and the 11th, the gendarmes made missions of reconnaissance and surveillance.

The 12th, they accompanied the incineration mission.

The 12th, they learned that bandits were pillaging at Bellefontaine and Carbet. Five gendarmes went to chase them.

The 13th, a surveillance post was established at Saint-James.

The 14th, they took forty-five looters.

The 15th, they made seventeen arrests.

The 20th, they were exposed to the second eruption. The post of Saint-James had to flee before a rain of stones.

Etc…, etc…

Add to this the intelligence service in the northern communities, then the policing of all the regions where looters circulated in search of abandoned houses to plunder, and you still will have but a feeble idea of the crushing task charged to the brigade of Martinique, a task perfectly accomplished, thanks to the sense of the chiefs and the devotion of the soldiers.






The Crows…


 Sad acts. Sad Accusations… Ever the racial hatreds. The prejudice of color.



Some journals, who find it easier to invent the scenes they describe or that they draw, than go look at them (it is cheaper and faster), have drawn upon the ruins of Saint-Pierre a flight of crows.

There never were. (1) Birds flee a volcano at work. In Central America, the people recognize an approaching earthquake by the panic, the flight of birds. They know there will be no more shaking when they hear the cock crow.

So, despite the piles of corpses in the air, there was no living bird hovering over the carnage. Vultures, scavengers, and crows, have too much fear for this…

But, if the menace of the volcano frightens birds of prey, it does not inspire the same terror in men of prey…

The note you have just read on the service of the police proves it.

One day, forty-five looters are taken in the ruins; another day, seventeen.

These thieves, they call the crows.

The tribunal at Fort-de-France condemns almost a hundred in the “same batch”. The punishment, uniform: five years in prison.

Now and again the volcano charges itself with dispensing justice. There were found corpses of thieves killed by the eruptions which, free of police, left the field clear to the “crows”.

When I went to Saint-Pierre, on board the dredging-boat, a hunt was recounted to me by the gendarme, the “hunter”, and a priest, who was “spectator”. This gendarme had accompanied a trader, who searched for his house-safe in the ruins. The thieves were already at work on this same objective. The gendarme took twenty. But a gang of a hundred almost gave him a bad end. They threw rocks at him, also at M. Cappa and other people.

The looters were organized into real gangs, obedient to their chiefs.




(1). The prophet of the lamentations of the Bible, has noted this.





This blog, ASK FATHER, gives the best summary I’ve found on the question of last rites for a disaster’s dead, where the bodies have been destroyed. The last rites are essentially for the living, and no living person was found in Saint-Pierre (arguably, but see Hess’s remarks). Either a type of ceremony, and the chanting of the Libera, functioned as a service for the dead, or the rites were given to some of the looters who ran afoul of the still-burning fires.



And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.


It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever; from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.


But the comorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it; and he shall stretch out upon it the line of emptiness.


Isaiah 34:9, 10, 11


La Catastrophe de la Martinique

Public domain photo of candles for Martinique deadSee more on Catastrophe page
Catastrophe: thirty-six












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



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