La Catastrophe de la Martinique: fifty

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique










The 9th, we resumed the rescue.

At 11:30 we were moored before the cove of Belleville, 200 meters from land. A movement underwater occurred. Bubbles, swirls, turbulence. The boat carried three times around its anchor. Pods of frightened porpoises veering off as well.

The 10th, again rescue work.

The 11th, there were clouds of very thick ash. We went slowly before the Suchet.

The 12th, we embarked still more of the victims.

We had a good view of the eruption of the 20th.

At 6:00 in the morning, we observed the same phenomena as the 8th. With this difference, that we did not see the two flashes. And that there was less ash and more of an odor of sulphur. There was in the sea a quantity of wreckage, six miles in length. We saw two corpses floating along the shore.

With many pains taken we arrived to raise our cable, to repair it, and replace the ends damaged by the underwater tremors. One hundred meters of cable were stripped of their sheathing, twisted, tangled, and disordered, like a skein of yarn pulled from the paws of a cat.


And the officers of the Pouyer-Quertier, among whom I breakfasted while taking these notes, conducted me to the front of the boat, to show me the two ends raised of the broken cable. And I saw a thing most difficult to comprehend. A cable underwater is a solid line, of spun steel, rolled into a rope of 5 centimeters in diameter and enrobed in gummed hemp. At 2620 meters of depth, there is a pressure. One end of the cable was literally twisted into a corkscrew. The other, matted with shells that encrusted it, had embedded itself around a log of 8 centimeters diameter by 1.50 meters in length.

 Explain who will, or rather, who can, how this log of wood found itself at 2620 meters below the sea, just at the moment the cable broke, and just the moment to get tied up in a ribbon of steel.

What unknown power…?

The officers of the Pouyer-Quertier have told me only the fact. They state; they do not explain.





They really had no luck with this cable, which, repaired on the 20th, was broken again on the 23rd, at 1:30 in the afternoon, exactly in the same place as the first time.

The Pouyer-Quertier is commanded by M. Thirion, one of the men who has shown the greatest sangfroid during these sad days.

I had been told at Fort-de-France of incidents which occurred between the commander of the Pouyer-Quertier and the authorities, the public prosecutor, the governor, the senator…

I questioned, regarding this information, the commander of the Pouyer-Quertier:


“That’s right.” (He said to me.) “The Prosecutor of the Republic, a little gentleman… So you call him… Toilet water… Ah! Yes, Lubin! M. Lubin, then, was wrong to take us for clients of his, and try treating us accordingly. The 8th, we arrive at Carbet. We are mooring. At once comes aboard a little meagre fellow, poorly turned out, who demands of us, ‘if we had come there to spectate’.

“But, who are you?

“The Prosecutor of the Republic, monsieur… And the little man tries to grow larger. Are you, yes or no, at my disposal?

“I have received a requisition. Tell me if you have something of use to ask of me. And I will judge.

“No need for you… The population of Saint-Pierre is evacuated. The governor is dead. I am going…”

And he rattled down the ladder. It was time that he was going.

“And with the governor?” [Hess, taking up his questioning.]

“Oh, nothing… Only, on the 9th, they had sent the governor letters from the people of Prêcheur, and those of the Grande-Rivière, asking that they be rescued. And we were not sent there until the 11th. We wished to go sooner. And I have perhaps said that before occupying themselves with searching for the strongboxes in the midst of the dead, it would have been more humane to go and relieve the living of their distress.”

“And, without doubt, it was this that had you at odds with Senator Knight?”

“Of that one, if you will allow, we will not speak.”


That the reader, I pray, does not think these lines superfluous and spiteful gossip… All this is documented in the nature of fixing the human psychology, that in tragic adventures must be noted, and repeated. It is all the human record… And of value…






Bonus: The World of 1902
Two views of era fashions.



1902 newspaper clipping men's hat styles


1902 newspaper clipping bridal styles



La Catastrophe de la Martinique

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


















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



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