Catastrophe (part thirty-nine)

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique

(part thirty-nine)












They even itemized their facts:

They said that for the common man, meaning the factory owner pressured by the weekly wage, the Bank’s new management did not accept his documentation, his receipts of deposit; the new order raised the objection, they said, that the accountability of the Bank was destroyed, that no one could know if accounts of deposit were not annulled by accounts of withdrawals, and that only the courts had the standing to determine this.

And the whites added that each of these formalities, albeit legal, had not been observed when M. le sénateur Knight had asked for reimbursement of 125,000 francs, for which he produced only a receipt of deposit, dating from March…

The Bank immediately counted out the sum, in gold. Why, ask the friends of M. Clerc, why must the common man wait for a court judgment, while this is waived for Senator Knight, in class a simple trader like the others? Why suspect the good faith of documents produced by traders X, Y, and Z, but not those presented by the trader Knight?

Why two weights and two measures? Is this, in a democracy, the mandate of a senator, outside of Luxembourg [Palace, in Paris], and out of session—a privilege to be made use of for any convenience?

Is the Bank required to recognize the senator, bestow favors on him refused to others; and, M. Clerc’s supporters add (for in this country of overheated self-regard, this perhaps most excites the senator’s enemies), put at his disposal warships, the Suchet, when he wants to go to the ruins of his house before his neighbors…etc…

Neither will they forgive his electoral tours of the 8th and the 11th, with the artillery vans. And even those less passionate found strange the effacement of the administration before the senator, proceeding from the 11th. They say it is not quite regular that Senator Knight boards warships and tours the shoreline, giving himself the airs of a great chief, having the governor under his orders, the army, the navy—in a word, everything.

He directs the requisitions, they said…*



I made the return crossing with M. Knight, and spoke of all this with him, wishing, as I’ve said, to be given an exact idea of the Martiniquais mentality, and the colonial, for the occasion when I publish…everything.

“I understand perfectly,” he told me. “It is your right and I won’t prevent you.”

“But I will publish your remarks, equally.”








“Then write that all these gentlemen who attack me are [words omitted].”

“Oh! Monsieur le Sénateur!”

“It is not French. They have always been hostile to the metropolitan government. I argued proofs of this in one of my speeches to the Senate, a speech that lasted three hours…”

“Three hours, monsieur le Sénateur!”

“Yes, three hours, and Waldeck congratulated me. In this speech I showed that the colonials believe themselves the absolute masters of the island. When royalty wanted to impose any measure bothersome to them, they set themselves at open rebellion. They appealed to the foreigner…  Haven’t you seen them, now, flirting with the Americans?

“They reproach me for ‘commanding’ these warships. This is infantile. I did have, true, blank requisitions signed by the interim governor, to be ready for the rescuing of victims in all eventualities. But while the factory owners fled, and abandoned their properties in the north to the care of poor negroes…me, I carried on with the rescue of victims. I have risked my life. I came near drowning several times. I have done my duty as a senator.”

“And your 125,000 francs from the bank?”

“I was paid at once, but I had produced the receipt of deposit.”

“Not dated from March?”

“Yes. But I showed my account book, and the movements of the funds.”

“Countersigned by the bank?”

“No, since it was a personal book. You see, this is an odious maneuver.”

“They contend, however, monsieur le Sénateur, that for other depositors, the bank refuses a hearing, will give no funds, unless on the judgment of the courts…”

“The other depositors…the factory owners, aren’t they? Our adversaries, the soldiers of M. Clerc. But they have only liabilities to the bank. They don’t know where to turn to extend their deadlines. They are all in debt, which is why they cry so loudly today. I know of one we gave 3000 francs to, so he could pay his workers. Well, I made an enquiry, monsieur. He has given none of it to those unfortunates…nothing. He has eaten the 3000 francs.

“And it is these people who are already claiming vast indemnities. They have nothing but debts. They sign themselves on for enormous losses, hoping for proportionate settlements.”

“And you, monsieur le Sénateur, you who had a prosperous business, whose holdings owed nothing to anyone, you must have had incalculable losses…”








“That is the word. Incalculable.”

“And you yourself must have signed…”

“For a trifle. For three million.”


I affirm once more that all I have written is absolutely exact. The Martiniquais today, their senator in the lead, battle for insurance compensation. The poor devils who have nothing to eat but the American fat, a horrible distillation of coconut oil…dream of tasting a mere pittance of butter—a pat, as they say in America..

For others, a voyage, and making-do in Europe…

For others, millions…

I won’t be insistent. Human nature is truly, in all latitudes, a dirty nature.
















*Translator’s note: This comment of Knight’s enemies may have been an imputation that the senator funneled relief money to his political supporters. The topic of corruption in distribution of charity has been raised by the factions of Martinique already. (See post thirty-seven).




Stock photo of Martinique Senator Knight

Senator Amédée Knight




Newspaper clipping on subject of oleo



Above: From the Omaha Daily Bee, 22 July 1902, from “Too Smart for the Farmer”. Oleo spawned political controversy in America during the early 20th century. Presumably some surplus product was sent to the volcano victims.




La Catastrophe de la Martinique

Public domain photo of candles for Martinique deadCatastrophe (part forty)












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