La Catastrophe de la Martinique: thirty-nine

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique








They even itemized facts:

They said that for the common man, the factory owner pressured by the weekly wage, the new management did not accept his documents, the receipts of deposit; the new order raised the objection, they said, that the accountability of the Bank was destroyed, that no one could know if his accounts of deposit were not annulled by accounts of withdrawals, and that only the courts had the standing to determine this.

And the whites added that each of these formalities, albeit legal, had not been observed when M. le sénateur Knight had asked reimbursement of a sum of 125,000 francs, for which he produced nothing but a receipt of deposit, going back to March…

They had immediately counted out for him the sum, in gold. Why, ask the friends of M. Clerc, why wait a court judgment for the common man, and waive this for M. le sénateur Knight, in class a simple trader like the others? Why suspect the good faith of documents produced by traders X, Y, and Z… And not that of a paper presented by the trader Knight?

Why two weights and two measures? Is this, in a democracy, the mandate of a senator, outside of Luxembourg [Palace, in Paris], and out of session, a privilege conferred to be invested howsoever…?

Is it that the dealer has to recognize the senator, bestow on him favors refused to others; and, they add (for this, perhaps, in this country of overheated self-regard, most excites his enemies), put at his disposal warships, the Suchet, when he wants to go to the ruins of his house before his other relations…etc…

Neither will they forgive his electoral tours of the 8th and the 11th, with the artillery vans.

And even those less passionate found it strange, the effacing ways of the administration before the senator, proceeding from the 11th. They say it is not quite regular, that Senator Knight boards warships and tours the shoreline, giving himself the airs of a great chief, having under his orders the governor, the army, the navy—in a word, everything…

It is he who requisitions, they said…*


I made the return crossing with M. Knight, and spoke of all this with him, wishing, as I said, to be given an exact idea of the Martiniquais mentality, and the colonial, for the occasion when I publish…everything…

“I understand perfectly,” he tells me. “It is your right and I don’t prevent you.”

“But I will publish your remarks, equally.”





“Then write that all these gentlemen who attack me are…”

“Oh! Monsieur le Sénateur!”

“It is not French. They have always been hostile to the metropolitan government. I demonstrated this in one of my speeches to the Senate, in a speech that lasted three hours…”

“Three hours, monsieur le Sénateur!”

“Yes, three hours, and Waldeck congratulated me… In this speech I had shown that the colonials believe themselves the absolute masters of the island. When royalty wanted to impose any measure that bothered them, they set themselves at open rebellion. They appealed to the foreigner…  You have not seen them, now, flirting with the Americans?

“They reproach me for having ‘commanded’ these warships. This is infantile. I did have, it is true, blank requisitions signed by the governor, p. i. [par intérim], to be ready in all eventualities for the rescuing of the victims. But while the factory owners fled, abandoning their properties in the north to the keeping of poor negroes…me, I carried on with the rescue of victims. I have risked my life. I came near drowning several times. I have done my duty as a senator.”

“And your 125,000 francs from the bank?”

“It’s true, I was paid at once, but I had produced the receipt of deposit.”

“Not dated from March?”

“Yes. But I showed at the same time my account-book, the movements of the funds.”

“Countersigned by the bank?”

“No, since it was a personal book. You see it, this is an odious maneuver.”

“They contend, however, monsieur le Sénateur, that for other depositors, the bank will hear nothing, they will give nothing, unless on the judgment of the courts…”

“The other depositors…the factory owners, aren’t they? Our adversaries, the soldiers of M. Clerc. But they have only liabilities to the bank…they don’t know where to turn to renew their deadlines… They are all in debt. It is for this they cry so loudly today. There is one to whom we had to give 3000 francs, to pay his workers. Well, I made an enquiry, monsieur. He has given nothing to these unfortunates…nothing. He has eaten the 3000 francs.

“And it is these people who already are claiming vast indemnities. They have nothing more than debts. And they sign themselves on for enormous losses, hoping for proportionate settlements…”

“And you, monsieur le Sénateur, you who had a prosperous commercial house, you whose holdings owed nothing to anyone, you must have had incalculable losses…”





“That is the word. Incalculable.”

“And you yourself must have signed…”

“For a trifle. For three million.”


I affirm once more that all I have written is absolutely exact. The Martiniquais today, senator in the lead, battle for the insurance compensation. The poor devils who have nothing for their lives to eat, but the American fat…a horrible distillation of coconut oil…dream of tasting a pittance of butter…a pat, as they say there.

For others, it is a voyage, and making-do in Europe…

For others, it is the millions…

Not to insist. Human nature is truly, in all latitudes, a most dirty nature.















*Translator’s note: This comment of Knight’s enemies, left to trail by ellipsis, may, to judge from the use of the term requisitions, have been an imputation that the senator funneled relief money to his political supporters. The topic of corruption in distribution of charity has been raised by the battling factions of Martinique already. (See post number thirty-seven).



Stock photo of Martinique Senator Knight

Senator Amédée Knight



Newspaper clipping on subject of oleo



Above: From the Omaha Daily Bee, 22 July 1902, from “Too Smart for the Farmer”. Oleo spawned a political controversy in America during the early 20th century. Presumably some surplus product was sent to the volcano victims.



La Catastrophe de la Martinique

Public domain photo of candles for Martinique deadSee more on Catastrophe page
Catastrophe (forty)












(1902, Jean Hess, La Catastrophe de la Martinique; 2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)



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