La Catastrophe de la Martinique: forty-one

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique















Among the Experts


A Guardian of Sanitary Regulations


Protests All Down the Line



A man who truly is no longer content, not at all, with the governmental and administrative actions at Martinique, but there—through the month they are already calling “Volcanic Month”—he has been, is Dr. Lidin, director of the sanitation services.

M. Lidin does not do politics. No. That he has no regard for. He is a service officer, consequently outside and above all these relationships that butter the bread…so much on the table of M. X…. So much on that of M. Y… All this he scorns as much as the first tooth cut in the mouths of his soldiers… But, that’s the devil!

He is white. Things aren’t favoring the whites in Martinique. And have been, since the volcano, worse still.

The trinity of color that weighs on Martinique, the governor Lhuerre, a man of color; the mayor of Fort-de-France, Sévère, a man of color; the Senator Knight, a man of color…

Dr. Lidin does not say negro. He says man of color. This dark trio, he says, have undermined his task.

The director of sanitation services does not allow himself to judge the masters of Martinique for their acts, of which appreciation is not his competence. But of public health, he tells me that these three men have made an absolute mockery. And that the sanitary regulations worry them no more than if there had been none.

“However, monsieur, it is in these times when everyone loses their heads, that leaders truly deserving of the name, show they know how to keep theirs.”

And M. Lidin recites to me inconceivable omissions of regulation.

“So, when the D’Assas arrived, carrying the ministerial mission, do you suppose they would have waited for the ship to be boarded, to receive the all-clear from customs? Not at all…without a scruple…like the coloreds, although they were white, the aide-de-camp of the governor took a boat reserved for the medical examiner [it appears there is only one of these in the port—JH], and simply went aboard the D’Assas, with no precautions for sanitation… And he brought back M. Bloch and the ministerial mission, with no worries for sanitation.





“Here, we have regulations…monsieur. The regulations are not observed but when they can be used to bully an enemy. Oh! Then, they forget nothing. And at the least infraction, the magistracy moves.

“But this doesn’t concern me. All that concerns me is public health. Now, would you like another proof, of the shamelessness with which these gentlemen treat it, this poor public health?

“Look at the street corners, the notices the town hall has just had posted. You see that they sell, to profit the victims, the putrid cod, the spoiled flour, the fermented rice…  Is it not a cheat, at this moment when traders complain they have no stocks, and retailers don’t know which house to supply, is it not a cheat to put on sale spoiled food, rotten, dangerous…but which can be bought for next to nothing!

“I know that they will say this is to feed the cattle, to make fertilizer. A good joke! They arrange this, for the feeding of the whites, this rottenness… And they will say, even so, that it is too good for them…

“In no civilized country, in no country that has public health regulations, is it permitted to market rotten food. But here, in a country commanded by these three men, we find it so… As you know…”


Dr. Lidin complains also that in destroying the corpses of Saint-Pierre, they had proceeded, “in the way of the negro”; an epidemic coming soon to complete the island’s misfortune, in striking the people spared, would not astonish him. He had to insist that they draw up a regulatory decree, for these “excavations” at Saint-Pierre, in a manner civilized, European.

In brief, Dr. Lidin is not content. Like all the whites, by the way!


Here, the official document, the text of the decree relative to the excavations:


The Governor, par intérim, of Martinique.


In view of the record of the medical commission rendered at Saint-Pierre, May 16th.

Considering that, in the present state, the prolonged stationing of persons in the city constitutes for them a grave danger, due to the infection of the corpses, the menaces of the volcano, and the instability of the walls which remain standing:







First Article: That excavations are, in general, prohibited in the area of Saint-Pierre.

Art. 2: That special authorization can be given by the commission of excavations for the recovery of valuables, and business papers, as contained in safes.

Art. 3: That these authorizations are given to consuls general, to establishments of public interest, to industrialists, and to traders, who can establish the existence of such safes.

Art 4: That the specific location where the safe is to be found, must first be searched to avoid the discovery of corpses in the process of decomposition.

Art 5: That any request for the sole purpose of searching for bodies cannot be admitted.

Art. 6: That authorizations to excavate are carried out at the expense and at the risk of the interested parties, and under supervision regulated by the Administration.

Art. 7: That the men making up the teams must have a change of clothing. The clothing used during the work must be washed and disinfected in an antiseptic solution of mercury dichloride, before it is returned to Fort-de-France.

Art. 8: That the corpses that may be found during the course of the excavations, are burned or buried.


In the event of persons wishing to transport these bodies outside of Saint-Pierre, this transportation cannot be effected, but under conditions provided by the regulations on the subject… etc., etc.


A later decree regulated conditions for “civilians”, as to excavations.

This decree named a commission charged with examining requests for excavations addressed to the Administration, and advising on the rights of petitioners; the authorization be agreed to by the head of the colony.


This commission (stated the decree), is to assure that the ruins where the excavations take place, must in reality prove those referred to in the requests. The searches shall take place under the supervision of an agent of the public constabulary. The commission will collect the valuables found, and deposit them in a special vault, etc., etc.


If Dr. Lidin complained that the decree of hygiene for the excavations was made tardily, and was not observed, I have heard many people issue similar complaints regarding the decree, as to the “security”, or if one prefers, the “sincerity”, of the excavations.




La Catastrophe de la Martinique

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













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



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