La Catastrophe de la Martinique: fifty-four

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique









Then the admiral, still in his capacity as a practical man, adds:

“But this is not all. The catastrophe is a fait accompli. One hews to the present. We have buried the dead. We have saved the survivors. We have fed them. We act now for the future. Martinique has lost her commercial metropolis. It is necessary to provide another. We must make these waves rise to a better shore, a New Jerusalem! Yes, Monsieur, a better shore. And it is here that I intervene with my ideas, my ideas of the hydrographer-sailor.

“Let us see a marine map. There, look at the west coast of Martinique, where Saint-Pierre was… Impossible, the great heights of the land and the great depths of the sea. There, see, bottomless, a new tremor.

“Eh! Eh! The mountain smokes, the mountain is working… This is not an unbelievable hypothesis… This can be. And then, everything, away to the depths. No security for the New Jerusalem on this coast.”

“But, Fort-de-France?”

“Bad, monsieur, bad, very bad, very dangerous in the hurricane season, the ships are not safe, they must take to the open sea…”

“And the hurricane season lasts, admiral?”

“Half the year, monsieur.”

And despite myself, I murmur: “Charming harbor and choice of preference for the spending of millions, so as to make a ‘solid’ base for our fleets.”

“You speak,” said the admiral.


“So, you follow me, nothing to be done with the West of the island. No more at Lamentin than at Fort-de-France. All the harbor is military…and to want, in the same shelter…and you can see what shelter… A port of commerce and a port of war. No. A port of commerce is a port of commerce, and a port of war is a port of war.”


“It’s obvious, isn’t it. So, it must be that one searches the East, the coast where Martinique is well seated on the ocean floor, on the side where there is no risk of sliding into the ‘bottomless’ sea, at the first new tremor of the volcano. And one does not have to search for a long time. There is only one possible place. That, I have pointed out to the American reporters, for I have already received a few. You, you are the first French journalist I see here, but of Americans have come to me already about fifty; they have found my ideas and my volcanic map very good.





“There was even one who told me that this piece of paper was worth $1000…. But we return to our port to create our New Jerusalem. We will build it in the bay of Caravelle. And the city will occupy the isthmus that goes from the bottom of this bay, actually, to the town of Trinity. I know well that the access is difficult. But, we will drag, we will build, we will clear away, we will make a dyke. This cannot exceed three million francs…a trifle.

“Then, making a start with the factory railroads that already exist, we connect them without excessive costs, and link the new city to Fort-de-France. And this will be very good, the commercial interests in the East, the military in the West.

“Ah! Monsieur, the more I think, the more I see, the more I believe, the more I feel that it is our duty, your duty as a journalist, and my duty as an old sailor, to bring forth from the ashes that cover Martinique, a New Jerusalem.”

The admiral is not only an ingenious man, a practical man, he is also an eloquent man. Now, if someone, peradventure, is tempted to believe I preach a little too much the eloquence of a brave sailor, of whom I have faithfully rendered this…biblical conversation; here, to convince that someone of my sincerity, is the letter I received from the admiral at the moment of my departure:


Cruiser Tage, 1 June 1902. Fort-de-France.




The innumerable occupations and preoccupations of the moment, have not permitted me to see you again. I have, however, thought of you, and I send to you the tracing of the map that you had asked of me.

Help us to undertake this task, help in the material and moral uplifting of this unhappy country.

I have shared with you some views from my deepest reflections.

Help us to bring forth the New Jerusalem.

There are difficulties. The campaign of absolute discouragement has begun already.

In hearts of steel, mourning and memory engrave themselves, and vigor is restored.

In hearts of wax, impressions melt.

The sailors of the Vengeur sang the Marseillaise while sinking.

The wanted to affirm that nothing of what is, or what has been France, must abdicate the work of eternal renewal.

With my wishes for a good crossing, take care, etc…






1903 photo of French Admiral Servan in Martinique







The Vengeur de Peuple went down in battle with the HMS Brunswick in 1794; the captain’s actual name was Renaudin, and he was among those rescued. The event was used by the First Republic as a propaganda tool. The slogan the doomed sailors cried, and the singing of the Marseillaise are thought by historians legend, or semi-legend.

While researching this allusion, I found the following bit of interest, on the censorship of Napoleon III’s regime. That we can smile at the censor’s work is proof of the freedoms we have, and mean to keep, in publishing.



Figaro, 23 February 1868


We read in the Journal de Paris, under the signature of M. Noir:


On the subject of the Vengeur, they worry themselves a great deal about the cry the actors hurl when the ship goes down. Some pretend, having logic on their side, that the cry is: Vive la République! Others assert, having for themselves precedent, that the cry is: Vive l’Empereur!  The censor has found an angle: the Vengeur will be engulfed to the cry of: Vive la France!

We believe that it is not without interest to place before the eyes of the reader the end of the last scene, as it is written by the authors, and to show it to them after, as corrected by MM. les censeurs.


Before the Censor


THE ENGLISH CAPTAIN (with his bullhorn): Bring your flag!

RICHARD, captain of the Vengeur: No! Never!

ELOY, to Richard: Captain, we’re sinking!

RICHARD: Vive la République!

ELOY: Vive la République!

THE ENTIRE CREW, hanging on everywhere to escape the waves, at the rear of the ship: Vive la République!

(The ship sinks more and more and disappears. The orchestra plays the first measure of the Marseillaise.)


After the Censor


THE ENGLISH CAPTAIN: Bring your flag!

RICHARD: No! Never!

ELOY, to Richard: Captain, we’re sinking!

RICHARD: Vive la France!

ELOY: Vive la France!

THE ENTIRE CREW: Vive la France!

(The ship sinks more and more. The sail falls.)


We do not know yet what the orchestra plays.

During this historical lie, why not accompany the disappearance of the Vengeur with the air from Reine Hortense, or, if one cannot be political, replace the Marseillaise with the Chapeau de Marguerite; one being permitted in the Vengeur to change the verses of the Chant du départ


La Catastrophe de la Martinique

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
















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