La Catastrophe de la Martinique: forty-five

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique















An Observation of M. Muller
The equipage of the doctor. Proof of instant death.



Some persons who have observed, from the first days, the fallen bodies in the streets of Saint-Pierre; and notably, in those which were not strewn with rubble, had expected to see these dead in attitudes of flight. And from their observations, they might deduce that the victims saw death coming, had tried to escape; that the burned bodies had been burned alive.

Here is an observation wholly characteristic, absolutely demonstrative, and which proves instant death by asphyxiation or by stupefaction, and destroys the hypothesis of burning, against which these unfortunates could have fought.

I owe it to M. Muller, colonial administrator, and former chief of M. Mouttet’s cabinet.

M. Muller went from the first to Saint-Pierre. What he saw was that seen by others, and what one may read in the various interviews I publish. But he saw, further, a fact of the greatest importance in reconstructing the scene, the tragic, lightning-quickness of the crushing collapse, of Saint-Pierre on her inhabitants, to instantly strike the totality of the living, all.

It is in the street of Longchamps, before the house where a doctor had lived. The street was clear of rubble. The houses, which sat low, had collapsed on the inside. The axis of the destructive current showed parallel to the street. This street had gained thus only a little of debris.

Before the doctor’s house was his horse, his carriage, his servant. The cataclysm came at the moment the doctor had begun his run. His equipage was surprised waiting. And there it was, still in the same place. The horse, carbonized, lay on its chest, its calcined legs supporting it no longer. At its side, in normal order, the fittings of the yoke, of the harness. To the rear, in order also, the metallic carcass of the car. And before the house, the body lying, equally carbonized.

That is the fact. It rejects all theories that death had not been instantaneous, a bolt of lightning. It destroys the legend of the rain of fire, against which the unhappy inhabitants of Saint-Pierre tried to shelter themselves while fleeing to the sea, by curling up in bathtubs, in basins, in streams under overturned canoes.

More than man, an animal, seeing a phenomenon, a so-to-speak, “thing”, to which he is unaccustomed, who hears a terrible noise, who senses the fall of a rain of fire—more than a man, this animal will obey his instinct for survival…immediately, as a creature, a brute, and before him seeing no obstacle, thinking of nothing, with no weighing of what he may break…he flees, blind, deaf, mad. Nothing can make him stay. He flees…he flees…

If any fire had fallen on him, the horse of the doctor of Longchamps, the horse that was not restrained, since the coachman was near the house, would have fled, galloped, jumped, run headlong.

It would have gone to die further away. The carriage would have been broken, etc., etc. But none of that. He is dead “in place”, calm. He was killed without suffering.

And all the people of Saint-Pierre also. That this statement confirms, that this is proof irrefutable, is a consolation to those who loved them, those who weep for them.






The Observations of M. Rozé
The appearance of the corpses. The death by asphyxiation proved. An explanation of the destructive phenomenon.



M. Rozé, pharmicist second-class of the colonial troops, had been assigned, immediately after the catastrophe, as director of sanitation to the search parties, for the burial or burning of corpses.

He was, from the 9th, at Saint-Pierre. He was, on the 11th, at the Carbet. He had thus seen the bodies of victims, on dates useful for making good observations.

Here are the most typical:

First, M. Rozé believes that any sign, be it the detonation spoken of by some witnesses, be it the eruptive column that ascended, in aspect larger and more red, be it the sight of the falling gas, which, from certain quarters had been perceived bringing mayhem down the slope of the mountain, and the valleys of the two rivers…M. Rozé believes a warning born of one, perhaps all, of these phenomena, caused panic in Saint-Pierre.

And he admits that one could have flown, a half-minute between the sensation of imminent catastrophe, which set in motion the flight of a certain number of inhabitants, and the abrupt death that struck all instantly. He cites these facts. In the street of the hospital, for example, all the personnel of a horse dealer were lying, face down, on the other side of the street, in front of the Colonial Bank.

At the hospital, a man was found in a basin, where there was no longer any water. Though he was carbonized, they recognized him…he was a nurse, named Alexandre. Had this nurse put himself in the basin, under the water, because he had wanted to shelter himself from the menacing flame of the volcano? Or simply because he’d wanted it for a bath?

In the street Saint-Jean-de-Dieu, where many women lived, there were corpses arranged one against the other, as they had been sheep, frightened in a herd. These groups were meshed together. A panic of women frozen in death. The quarter was that of the prostitutes. I have seen, in Fort-de-France, on the evening of the 26th, from this third eruption, and the cloud that threw its flashes of fire over the city, how easily the “sweethearts” of Martinique frightened themselves, and fled in tight bands, moaning, shrieking, hugging… There might have passed a thing like it, in this quarter where probably, all the night they had watched in terror.



1902 photo of Saint-Pierre street day after volcano




La Catastrophe de la Martinique

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

















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



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