La Catastrophe de la Martinique: forty

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique















A conversation with former deputy M. Duquesnay


An explanation of the phenomenon. And again, politics…


M. Duquesnay is the deputy not reelected from Fort-de-France. He did not give me details on the eruption of the 8th, but he had a good view of that of the 20th.


“It was a black cloud. When the cloud had crossed the peaks, to advance on Fort-de-France, it appeared very black and plated in silver with patches of yellow-red. There were spirals of rolling smoke, as such that religious painters give to support their virgins. There was no storm in the air. However, after having crossed the peaks, the cloud was laced with lightning, lightning without noise. Then the cloud spread. There were two or three enormous flashes, after which a rain of stones fell, cold, with an odor of sulphur.”


M. Duquesnay is a doctor of medicine. He has thus received with a curiosity more enlightened than that of the commonality, those indications furnished by people who had observed the eruption of the 8th. I asked him if these observations allowed him to grasp the phenomenon’s destruction.

He understood. He told me:


“It was not the volcano that vomited lava, nor the rain of fire. The mountain opened itself laterally. It came out like an explosion of gas; a carbonaceous whirlwind filled with stones. It was not electrical lightning that pulverized the city. It was a huge jet of gas, a succession of jets of gasses igniting themselves in long lightning flashes, destroying and burning everything they overtook in their sphere of action.”

“Then, why nothing similar at Fort-de-France, in the second eruption?”

“Because the ‘materials’ had had in their trajectory time to oxygenate, so had arrived burnt up, at Fort-de-France. In this way the city was preserved from a deluge of asphyxiating gas. It received only cold pebbles.”





M. Duquesnay had noticed that the eruption of the 8th coincided with a partial eclipse of the sun. He had also noted the coincidence with phases of the moon, of various recrudescences of the crater’s activity. But M. Duquesnay, in the conversation, was not slow to neglect the volcano and its ravages. He is a political man. He was not reelected. He has been beaten by Dr. Clement. He represents, himself, the party of the whites, and M. Clement, that of the blacks. He accuses the administration of having advanced a detestable policy of race, in favor of the blacks, to the detriment of the whites. He accuses it notably of ‘treason’, because the elections had been scheduled three days after the catastrophe, despite the catastrophe, and in a disarray of mourning that struck, particularly, the whites, so cruelly tried by the disappearance of Saint-Pierre, where had been the head of their party, their great planning committee, their printing-press, their newspaper, etc., etc. M. Duquesnay is very bitter in his reproaches against the administration. He has not much love for M. Lheurre.

If a boatman of the harbor had told me his complaints, I would not have dreamed of repeating them, but M. Duquesnay is an important person, the outgoing deputy, and his declarations are worth the garnering, as they give to those who would like an accurate sense of the Martiniquais mentality, an element typical to the course of these sad events which have stricken the island, the nature of it (and perhaps also of these men): this that they seem to devote to all their misfortunes.

It is in mourning, this unhappy island, but this does not prevent the practice of politics. I have found politics everywhere. They have them everywhere. And they keep it up everywhere, even on the volcano’s corpses. There is not a man among those I have interviewed, who has not, before, during, or after having spoken to me of the volcano, slid into his little political tirade, a tirade for the overwhelming of the enemy’s.

When I write not a man, however, I am at fault. There are in fact two, who said nothing of this to me. Two: M. Lhuerre, and M. Bloch, the director of the ministerial mission of condolence, and of 500,000 francs of relief. It is true that they have told me nothing at all, if not that they don’t know. Here are two marvelously faithful to their orders, when their orders are to keep quiet. And the orders were, indeed, for these two personages, to keep quiet.

They must not, they did not wish to speak, so to be certain they said nothing that could compromise their patron, His Excellence Decrais.





They had reason, otherwise, a thousand times over…for they knew the abominable reality: the evacuation of Saint-Pierre forbidden for the electoral cause!

And while speaking, when under this discussion, there are a few things of such enormity, that never can they be kept quiet…

This is what happened with the others, with those who on the fact of the Landes dispatch, and the affirmations of M. Clerc, gave to me two successive versions, beginning with denial, pure and simple; then admitting but the half, slanted towards an equivocation… Which was to confess doubly.

M. Lhuerre with his fat figure and his expansive smile, M. Bloch with his meagre figure and his retentive smile, both said nothing. In this way, they were certain of making no gaffes.


Here are two images of the virgin, appearing in clouds of ethereal vapors, if not smoke—the type of thing M. Duquesnay was thinking of.


Painting of Ascension

Nossa Senhora da Porciúncula between 1801 and 1812


Painting of Virgin

Aparición de la Virgen a san Alfonso Rodríguez 1863


Public domain photo of Saint-Pierre when thriving

Saint Pierre from the Fort District, before the volcano




La Catastrophe de la Martinique

Public domain photo of candles for Martinique deadSee more on Catastrophe page
Catastrophe: forty-one














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



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