Posted by: Gary Guertin | January 31, 2013

8. Caribbean – Brazil – Devil’s Island, French Guiana

Hi All,

I’m going to start out by confusing you. It says we were going to Devil’s Island (French – Ile Du Diable), but we actually tendered to Royal Island (French – Ile Royale).  You see what we visited today, Wednesday, Jan. 30th, was a small group of islands off the French Guiana coast called the Salvation Islands (French – Iles Du Salut).  The three islands are Devil’s Island, Royal Island, and St. Joseph Island (French – Ile Ste–Joseph).  Here’s a map of the three island so you can follow me as I explore Royal Island:

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I’m going to try and un-confuse (if there is such a word) you.  First of all, what makes this place so interesting is (like Australia was to the British) this is where the French sent some of their criminals between 1852 and 1946.  There were many prisons established by the French along the French Guiana coast but Devil’s Island was by far the worst and most famous.  It was a major penal settlement, almost impossible to escape from because of the swift currents and the sharks.  It was so bad that almost 70% of the prisoners died there, so imprisonment was the same as a death sentence.  If a prisoner was sentenced to up to 8 years he had to then spend an equal time in French Guiana.  If he was sentenced to more than 8 years he had to remain in French Guiana for life.  The horrors of the settlement became notorious after the French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus was sent there in 1895.  A novel and Hollywood film of the prison was made in later years called “Papillon”, the fictional tale of Henri Charriere, who in real life was never sent to Devil’s Island.   It is always referred to as Devil’s Island, although as you can see from the map, the main camp was on Royal Island.

OK, let’s go visit the island.  First the ship’s port sign:

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Let’s go down to the tender (notice the sign, the lifeboat holds 90 people):

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The tender on its way:

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Here’s a shot of Susy standing on the Royal Island pier with St. Joseph Island in the background.

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The port sign for the Salvation Islands:

 

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Here’s a look at the bay from Royal Island with the Maasdam anchored well off-shore.

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Now if you will refer back to the map of Royal Island, we’ll start our climb up to the top by passing the “Directors Quarters”.

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As we reach the plateau at the center of the island (the highest point) we see the Supervisors residences to our right:

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The Chapel and its interior on our left:

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There is a Hotel, Bar, and Souvenir Shop on the Island, which use to be the Guards Mess Hall:

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and now a look at the small little “Devil’s Island” from which this settlement got its name.

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I want to show you the best of this island, so here’s a Peacock and a Bougainville Bush:

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Your probably wondering how this can be such a bad place with the pictures I have shown you.  Well, I didn’t get any shots of the prison cells, so you’ll have to take my word for it, it was a “bad” place.  In those early years the French relied on malaria and severe climate to finish off “undesirable” citizens.  To make matters worse, those who were “awarded” command of such camps were not exactly “cream of the crop” officers.  All told, 80,000 prisoners were sent to the islands, but only 30,000 lived to tell about it.  The island held about 2000 prisoners at a time.

That’s it for Devil’s Island, it’s now a day at sea, sailing finally along the Brazilian coast with our first stop at Belem, Friday, Feb. 1st.  Until then;

Love You All,

Gary (alias Gagu)


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