• TABLE OF CONTENTS
HIDE
 Front Cover
 Half Title
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 'You are to go'
 A soldier's diary
 A gateway to hell
 Prophesy upon these bones
 A plan of campaign
 'The army is here!'
 The doors are opening
 'I want to see France again'
 The first repatriation
 'Out of darkness and the shadow...
 Towards the final goal
 Last boat to the Bagne
 'He bringeth the prisoners out...
 The mission accomplished














Group Title: conquest of Devil's Island
Title: The conquest of Devil's Island
CITATION THUMBNAILS PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE
Full Citation
STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00078536/00001
 Material Information
Title: The conquest of Devil's Island
Physical Description: 187 p. : illus. ; 21 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Péan, Charles
Publisher: Parrish
Place of Publication: London
Publication Date: 1953
 Subjects
Subject: Missions -- French Guiana   ( lcsh )
Exiles -- French Guiana   ( lcsh )
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: French Guiana
 Notes
General Note: The author's life and work among the convicts of the penal settlement of French Guiana as a representative of the Salvation Army, through whose efforts the colony was abolished.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00078536
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: ltuf - ADQ4127
oclc - 02057520
alephbibnum - 000712122
lccn - 54033140

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Half Title
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Title Page
        Page 3
        Page 4
    Table of Contents
        Page 5
        Page 6
    'You are to go'
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    A soldier's diary
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
    A gateway to hell
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
    Prophesy upon these bones
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
    A plan of campaign
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
    'The army is here!'
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
    The doors are opening
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
    'I want to see France again'
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
    The first repatriation
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
    'Out of darkness and the shadow of death'
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
    Towards the final goal
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
        Page 157
        Page 158
    Last boat to the Bagne
        Page 159
        Page 160
        Page 161
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
        Page 165
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
    'He bringeth the prisoners out of captivity'
        Page 169
        Page 170
        Page 171
        Page 172
        Page 173
        Page 174
        Page 175
        Page 176
        Page 177
        Page 178
        Page 179
        Page 180
        Page 181
        Page 182
        Page 183
        Page 184
        Page 185
        Page 186
    The mission accomplished
        Page 187
        Page 188
        Page 189
Full Text





LAN Tj


s Jean,


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01


T is. of Salvadin
DevilS Island


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CaYent&c


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QI


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UNIVERSITY
OF FLORIDA
LIBRARIES







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND






THE CONQUEST OF


DEVIL'S ISLAND


CHARLES JPEAN
CHEVALR DE LA LION D HONNEUR
CHEVALIER DE LA LEGION D'HONNEUR


MAX PARRISH LONDON









First published in 1953 by
MAX PARRISH & CO LTD
55 Queen Anne Street
London W
Second impression 1953


Printed in Great Britain by The Campfield Press St Albans








CONTENTS


I 'YOU ARE TO GO' 7

2 A SOLDIER'S DIARY II

3 A GATEWAY TO HELL 8I

4 'PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES' 40

5 A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN 57

6 'THE ARMY IS HERE!' 74

7 THE DOORS ARE OPENING 80

8 'I WANT TO SEE FRANCE AGAIN' I00

9 THE FIRST REPATRIATION 112

IO 'OUT OF DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW
OF DEATH' 127

II TOWARDS THE FINAL GOAL I45

12 LAST BOAT TO THE BAGNE 159

13 'HE BRINGETH THE PRISONERS OUT
OF CAPTIVITY' 169

14 THE MISSION ACCOMPLISHED 187

A map of French Guiana will be found on the endpapers























1. 'YOU ARE TO GO'


'P6an, I have decided to send you to the Bagne. The
moment has come to put into practice a plan which I have
long had in mind, for the government has now agreed to
my proposals.'
Thus Albin Peyron, leader of The Salvation Army in
France from 1918 to 1934, spoke to the writer, a young
officer of eight years' service.
'Since I9I0,' continued the Commissioner, 'Devil's
Island has been on my heart and mind, and what I read all
those years ago of the departure of a group of convicts from
St Martin de RC moved me to write to the then Minister
of Justice. There was no response, but in 1918 I wrote
again, suggesting that our officers be allowed to visit the
men in the transports and share their lot. Again there was
no response, so I wrote yet once again in 1921 to Edouard
Herriot, for I felt that the Bagne was literally a hell upon
earth. Now the door is opening and you are to go.'
7







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
I interrupted with my first question: 'When am I to
sail?'
Apparently such details had already been given consi-
deration in the administrative offices below, for the Com-
missioner waved them aside and dropped to his knees.
'Let us pray,' he said. 'Only thus can we be equipped to
serve the Kingdom.'
I went out into the street in a daze. All France indeed
all the world knew about the Bagne. Since the Middle
Ages France had used her criminals in varied forms of
forced labour instead of merely shutting them up in en-
forced idleness at the public expense. As far back as 1550
men had been sentenced to the galleys instead of being
sent to prison, though the needs of the Navy rather than
the course ofjustice finally determined the number of men
so punished. When sail, and later steam, took the place of
oars, the French Government built huge prisons in such
ports as Brest, Toulon and Rochefort, from which torment
there were but two ways out escape or suicide.*
The abolition of slavery in the French Empire in 1848
gave rise to economic disturbances similar to those which
occurred when Britain ended slavery in her colonial posses-
sions. In one day Guiana was stripped of its manpower.
Within two years the primeval forest had overrun the cul-
tivated land to such an extent that less than ten acres
remained under production. To provide white slave labour
where black had been free, convicts were thenceforward
sentenced to transportation and, by the end of 1852, two
thousand, two hundred and twenty had been sent to the
Bagne.
The law ratifying this procedure had a fourfold purpose:
prevention of crime, rehabilitation, segregation and coloni-
zation.
Prevention of crime. Forced labour in a tropical climate,
*Cp. Jean Valjean and Javert in Hugo's Les Misdrables,
8






'YOU ARE TO GO'
coupled with a statutory obligation to remain in the colony
for a specified number of years over and above the actual
prison sentence, would prove, it was thought, an adequate
deterrent to crime.
Rehabilitation. Under certain restrictions permission was
to be granted to convicts to follow a trade and, on com-
pletion of their sentence, they would be given a piece of
arable land, a house and tools. This was intended as a way
back to useful citizenship.
Segregation. A sentence to Guiana was virtually a sen-
tence for life since, by a system known as doublage, anyone
condemned to less than eight years' penal servitude had to
remain in the colony for a further term equal to the origi-
nal sentence. Those sentenced to more than seven years
had to remain in the colony for life. In this way determined
criminals were to be prevented from returning to society.
Colonization. It was thought that liberated men (liberzs),
compelled to remain in Guiana during their doublage or
life sentence, would establish themselves as colonists.
The scheme promised well at first, but within fifteen
years the experiment had to be abandoned. Attempts to
use convict labour elsewhere failed and deportation to
Guiana was resumed, but metropolitan France was never
happy about this black spot.
At the beginning of the present century a disturbing
report was published by Pastor Richard, which was fol-
lowed by a tragic book from the pen of Liard-Courtois,
the anarchist, who was on Devil's Island with Dreyfus, and
in 1925 the public conscience was thoroughly aroused by
the publication of Au Bagne by Albert Londres.
The Salvation Army would have been untrue to its
essential genius had this cry of need been neglected, and
plans were greatly aided by Etienne Matter, a civil engi-
neer who had been influenced for good in his early years
by the Marechale (Mrs Booth Clibborn, eldest daughter







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
of William Booth), and who thereafter dedicated his life to
the service of discharged prisoners and homeless children.
He facilitated the necessary contacts with the Ministry for
the Colonies, and the charge given by General Bramwell
Booth directed me to work (a) for the salvation of the con-
victs; (b) to set up a colony for the libreds; (c) to reunite the
men and their families wherever wise and practicable; and
(d) to organize the repatriation of those who had com-
pleted their term in Guiana.
On 5th July 1928, I embarked on the Puerto Rico at St
Nazaire. I sailed the same evening. The task of a lifetime
had begun.






















2. A SOLDIER'S DIARY


JULY I6TH 1928. This morning, before dawn, an un-
usual silence awakens me. The engines have stopped, and
from the deck I can see through the morning mist a long
strip of land from which rise tall, fronded palm trees,
darkly silhouetted against a pale drop-cloth. Suddenly the
sun rises, and the whole scene is illuminated as if con-
cealed lighting effects had flooded a giant stage with vivid
colouring. This is Pointe-a-Pitre. Along the coast white
houses cluster beneath giant trees, some of which bear scar-
let flowers, and here and there tall coconut palms lift their
branches as though they were trying to sweep the sky clear
of morning cloud.
We remain for the day at Guadeloupe and in the even-
ing the Puerto Rico weighs anchor for Fort de France.
JULY I 7TH. At Martinique we leave the mail-boat for
the Biskra, which plies between here and Guiana. This is
an old ship, not so comfortable, and the passengers number
about forty.






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
JULY I8TH. Although we spend only two hours at St
Lucia, I go looking for The Salvation Army. Most houses
are either in ruins or in course of reconstruction, for two
years ago an earthquake virtually destroyed the town. At
last I find myself in front of a wooden hut whose walls are
window-shutters of a nondescript colour; a young Negro
woman opens the door, bids me welcome and introduces
herself as a Salvation Army cadet. Another Negro woman
appears. She is the Captain and, after I have introduced
myself, we go off together like old friends to see the hall.
On the way she introduces me to several other Salvationists
whose colour, so it seems, deepens according to the dignity
of their office! Here is a faithful group and the townsfolk,
though mainly Roman Catholic, are favourably disposed
towards the Army.
The Captain does not see her superior officer often for
he lives in Barbados, a sea journey of twenty-four hours.
But she is happy in her work and the meetings are well
attended. The time passes all too quickly and back we go
to the Biskra. We bid each other goodbye under the
astonished eyes of my fellow travellers, and the ship casts
off, hugging the coast of the island as we steam on.
JULY I9TH. The island of Trinidad. Here is Port of
Spain, a modern city of forty thousand inhabitants, with
modern transport and fine shops. Unfortunately, I have
only just time for a quick visit to the Army headquarters
and even less to take in the beauty of the mountainous
island, forest-covered to the water's edge. Green foliage is
streaked by trees of a fiery red, around which the sea
gleams like an emerald girdle. Great birds soar and swoop
over this variegated splendour and every now and again
there is a glimpse of superb red and black flamingoes.
JULY 20TH. The Guianas are five in number although
they form one great country between the Orinoco and the






A SOLDIER'S DIARY
Amazon, the two giant river arms which enfold the terri-
tories of Venezuela, Britain, Holland, France and Brazil.
The Biskra steams up the yellow muddy waters of the
Demerara to reach Georgetown. The capital of British
Guiana is an attractive town with macadamized roads,
inviting shops, numerous churches, banks, commercial
houses and delightful bungalows decorated with flowers
of all colours. Motors, cycles, trams run along the streets
- in short, here is all the life of a modern colonial city.
The European lite is helmeted and elegantly dressed
in white. The Indians, fine-featured, with intelligent eyes,
have but a few rags with which to cover their emaciated
bodies, often deformed by prolonged fasting or undesired
hunger. In spite of this, they carry themselves with dignity
and their colour and bearing speak of the former greatness
of their race.
Working among these Indians, the Army has eight corps,
four hostels, a restaurant, a bakery and a sailors' home,
with six other centres of activity up-country.
During the three hours ashore I visit one of these hostels
- a two-storied structure, with an unrailed gallery, shaped
like a horseshoe, which serves as a dormitory. The smaller
of the ground-floor rooms serves as office and kitchen; the
larger, separated by a latticed partition, is used as a
common room.
Some of the lodgers look inoffensive enough; others have
tousled hair and tangled beards which give them a rather-
grim appearance. A few late risers have wrapped them-
selves in blankets as well as donning their own rags which
pass for clothes. Squatting there, with feet crossed and
knees touching, they serenely smoke a kind ofcalumet pipe.
Here the officer and I hold a meeting. The monotonous
melodies are strange to my ears but seem to open the souls of
these Indians to some kind of spiritual influence. We pray
together. They commit me to God's care and then sing:
13






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
To the hill of Calvary
Just as I was I came;
There, to give me peace, was raised
A Cross of shame.
Several women join in with the men. A solo follows, the
Bible is read, a last exhortation made, then everyone takes
his separate way, carrying with him something of the
atmosphere of the unseen world.
As I sail on towards Dutch Guiana, I think of the Army's
powers of adaptation, its manifold activities and the
effectiveness of its witness. I pray that in the Bagne this lone
Salvationist may be a cheering voice crying in the wilder-
ness, a light shining in the darkness and the darkness
mastering it not.
JULY 2 1 ST. I awaken this morning to three blasts on the
siren announcing the arrival of the Biskra at Paramaribo
(Surinam). A few minutes later I am received on the quay
by the Captain and his wife, two charming young officers.
After breakfasting, the Captain and I leave for the
Botanical Gardens, which is also an agricultural college,
and for two hours one of the lecturers explains to me all
that I want to know concerning certain seeds whose culti-
vation is thought suitable for Guiana. I wilt under the
brassy sun; the ants and mosquitoes are really venomous;
great lizards slither between our feet. The impenetrable,
mysterious forest, from which parrot cries can be heard, is
but a stone's throw away.
The Army here is a credit to us and dates from the work
of a Moravian lady who had succeeded in winning some
twenty converts for Christ. Through a sister living in
Holland she heard about The Salvation Army, and in due
course received copies of the Articles of War* and The War
Cry. The new converts were so thrilled that they signed and
*The declaration of faith signed by every Salvationist upon enrollment.
14






A SOLDIER'S DIARY
dispatched their Articles of War to International Head-
quarters, London, by return, adding the postscript:
'Twenty soldiers request an officer!' Out came a Captain
and his wife who found this little group of soldiers, a house
all furnished, four thousand francs in the bank and the
entire area as their parish.
The corps has now seventy soldiers, and a hall seating
three hundred people is under construction in the centre
of the town. A second corps awaits new officers, and a
cheap restaurant has been open for some two months.
There is even a small motor-boat, painted in Army colours,
which takes the officers and soldiers by river to neigh-
bouring villages. Work for and among prisoners is being
organized, and in the streets can be seen comrades in
white uniforms wearing their 'S's' and with an Army band
on their cap or bonnet.
But a short call here, then on to Devil's Island. Already
I have come to know the outline of the country and the
names of the districts. French Guiana is part of a great
plateau, about one-sixth the size of France, bounded on
two sides by the Oyapock and the Maroni, and on the
other two by the Atlantic Ocean and the Tumac-Humac
range respectively. The coastal belt is flat but the land
rises slightly towards the interior.
Apart from the occasional houses along the coast and
the territory occupied by the Penal Administration, the
colony appears to be virgin soil. Covered by forests, with
a hot and damp climate, infested by mosquitoes, parti-
cularly in the coastal area, the place is very trying for
Europeans.
Population is sparse. The aboriginal inhabitants are
Indians with red-brown colouring and Asiatic features.
Since the advent of the white man they have taken refuge
in the interior. There is no trade with them and it is
extremely difficult to estimate their number probably






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
there are a few hundreds only. They belong to the tribes
known as the Galibes, Emerillons, Caraibes and so on, but
have remained impervious to European influence.
In the same districts, though distinct from the Indians,
are Negro tribes of Boschs, Bonis and Saramacas. Their
ancestors were brought over from Africa by slavers and,
escaping from their plantations, were laterjoined by others
of their countrymen when slavery was abolished. They live
a quiet life, hunting, fishing and farming. Numbering
between two and three thousand, easy to trade with,
friendly towards the Europeans, they hire themselves out
as canoe-men and sell the rare woods which they bring
down from the forests.
On the coast and in the towns live the Guyanais en-
gaging and friendly, a mixture of white, black, yellow and
red races. These mulattoes have shaken off their primitive
ways and each successive generation has increasingly
followed the European way of life. Of varying shades of
colour, ranging from pure white to ebony, they number
about twenty thousand and constitute the main population
of Guiana.
Mention must be made also of the Chinese numbering
some five or six hundred who are chiefly traders, and of
the hundred-odd Frenchmen who form the nucleus of the
administrative service. Lastly, there are the convicts and
their guards. Roughly, the total population works out at
one inhabitant per square kilometre.
Guiana is the oldest French colonial possession and is
rich in gold, though this is not easily mined as it is found
in sand, quartz and nuggets. Nevertheless, a number of
adventurers have tried to work the soil and the sub-soil-
but without much success. The largest town is Cayenne,
where are to be found the principal government services -
judicial, medical, educational, legal and postal. There
also are the banks, shops and the seat of the bishop.
16







A SOLDIER'S DIARY
JULY 25TH. I have read all there is to read about the
penal settlements in Guiana and now I await the inevitable
difference between what has been written and what actually
exists.
It is one thing to read that the Maroni bounds the
country on the north and the west, and to sail up this
broad river as we are doing now. The lush green vegetation
is a delight to the eye. Our boat passes so close to the banks
that we brush the branches of the mangroves. Palm trees
and coconut trees mingle their shapely branches with the
tall ferns which rise in feathery fashion out of the thick
undergrowth. The piercing cries of multi-coloured parrots
call attention to thickets bright with flowers of vivid hues.
A cloud of butterflies dances over our heads and the bril-
liant tropical sun adds an unwonted lustre to these gleam-
ing tints.
Leaning on the rail I feast my eyes on this riot of colour,
this mysterious Guiana the door to the Bagne.
























3. A GATEWAY TO HELL


At midday on July 25th we put into St Laurent-du-
Maroni, the capital of the Bagne, which was virtually a
self-governing colony with this as its nerve-centre. Though
but a large village, it was indeed a strange one, for it was
hardly possible to take a step without meeting convicts, or
to hold a conversation without speaking of the Bagne.
A few hundred yards from the landing stage rose a high
wall, pierced by a great door over which was the sign
'Transportation Camp'. This was the camp depot, and
here were a number of rectangular buildings set out in two
lines. These were the huts where the convicts, shut away
in groups of forty from six in the evening until six in the
morning, lived their tragic communal life. What happened
during the hours of darkness was beyond the imagination,
but in the morning, when the guards (who were on duty
only during the day) came to open the padlocked doors,







A GATEWAY TO HELL
sometimes a corpse was found, a knife between the
shoulders or the stomach ripped open.
Farther on were the punishment cells, blockhouses
where convicts, their feet fast in irons, awaited their trans-
fer to what were ironically known as the lies du Salut (the
Isles of Salvation). Several of these men were to be seen
stretched out on bare boards in a state of indescribable
filth, passing the time by recounting in detail their crimes
or their vices. The buildings themselves gave off a foul
stench.
There was a government quarter in St Laurent, how-
ever, with neat brick villas surrounded by flower gardens
where the prison officials lived. There was also a business
district separated from these official residences by the post
office, the bank, the customs and the treasury. Here there
were no gardens but a collection of wooden houses, behind
whose greasy counters could be seen the inscrutable faces
of Chinese traders who made a living out of the shame and
suffering of the Bagne.
Lastly, St Laurent had its quarter occupied by the
libdrds. This doublage* was more severe than the original
sentence; the odds were heavily weighted against the libbrrs.
The more nimble-witted sought to screen their misery in
wretched, worm-eaten hutments; the rest by far the
greater number wandered about without shelter. More
than ever before the Bagne was their prison. Some of them
retained a vestige of civilization, and for clothing wore a
pair of linen trousers of uniform cut as they worked un-
loading cargo under a blazing sun.
Convicts were to be seen everywhere. A group stared at
my uniform with such effrontery as to make me feel un-
easy. Ten yards farther on five of these wrecks were sitting
by the roadside and ten piercing eyes were fixed on me -
piercing, dark-ringed eyes of a disconcerting fixity, which
*See page 9.






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
compelled me to quicken my steps. On my right appeared
another detachment of prisoners in every way similar to
the others. They had the same lined faces, the same look of
anonymity or, more precisely, the same lack of expression.
Everywhere was alike. At Cayenne convicts in the
streets, on the squares, in the houses. At Mana, Sinamary,
'Aprouague still more convicts. From the Oyapock to
the Maroni, from Brazil to the ocean convicts. They were
to be found throughout the colony; some under guard, the
rest either libre's or men who had escaped. They wandered
through the towns, hid themselves in the forest, worked in
the gold mines, stole, killed, blasphemed, died. Their
prison was as large as a sixth of France. Their gaolers were
the impenetrable jungle, the deadly forest, the swamp, the
sea, the sharks.
Next day some of the liberes and convicts who were free
to move about the town stopped me. With great emotion
one of them grasped my hand and said: 'At last, you are
here! Since March we knew you would be coming and we
have all been waiting for you. You see how we are placed.
All our hopes are fixed on you! Stay with us! We are for-
gotten men!'
The following day a convict (known locally as a 'house-
boy') was placed at my service. He was clean and tidy
and liked to put flowers on my table. He was a little man
who looked sixty-five but who was only fifty. I asked if he
had been there a long time.
'Thirteen years and four months,' was the reply. Con-
victs usually counted even the days!
'Have you still long to serve?'
'I was given twenty years; that means three more years
to go, for my four years' imprisonment in France count,
and then' here he nodded his shaven head and, coming
closer to me and lowering his voice as if he feared someone
might overhear him, added 'and then residence for life!'
20






A GATEWAY TO HELL
Feeling that he had a sympathetic hearer, he told me
something of his past. He was dining one night with some
friends when a discussion arose at the end of the meal. He
flew into a temper and, under the influence of drink, drew
his revolver and killed one of his companions. For a
second's lack of control he must end his days in the Bagne!
He moved me as he spoke of his unhappy wife and five
children whom he had not seen for thirteen years. He had
never ceased to love them and wrote to them regularly in
the vain hope that one day he might rejoin them.
I had hardly left him before the siren from the Biskra
announced the mail-boat's departure. A strange feeling
gripped my heart. Now I too was a prisoner in Guiana for
a month. No letter could reach me during this period nor
could I send one; and if, for one reason or another, I
wanted to return to France, I could not. I had the feeling
that I, in my turn, had become a convict.
During odd moments of leisure I studied penal statistics
but at night I could hardly sleep; my mind was too full of
what I had seen during the day, and the heat was almost
as stifling at midnight as at high noon. As if in a cage I sat
under my mosquito net and, in order to keep insomnia at
bay, studied law books, from which I learnt that there
were three grades into which this convict population was
divided: the transports, the reldguds and the ddportes.
The transport was a man who had been sentenced to
penal servitude for murder, homicide, sexual crimes, rob-
bery with violence, housebreaking and so on.
The reldgus were old offenders, recidivists between
twenty-one and sixty years of age, who had already been
sentenced to specified terms of imprisonment for crimes of
violence.
The ddporte' was one who had been sentenced under the
law of 8th June, 1850, and this form of hard labour was
reserved for political offenders.
21







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
The transports fell into three further sub-divisions. The
assigns were convicts employed by private persons who
were under contract to maintain them and to pay the
government fifty francs per man per month, ten of which
were returned to the assigned. On 31st May 1928, there
were two hundred and eighty-three assigns. The conces-
sionnaires were those who, although still serving their sen-
tence, were given a small piece of ground, either in the
town or country, on which they could live. At the above
date there were eleven of these. Finally, there were the
concessionnaires who were employed in farming, lumbering,
or in a workshop where they served either the government
or some private person.
Five days after my arrival the Governor took me to see
the neighboring penal centres. We went to St Maurice,
a convict settlement some ten miles away. As we left the
town we took the road along which concessionnaires used to
live, but which is now bordered by old and neglected pro-
perties. At one point there was a once beautiful garden,
overrun by tall grasses, the pattern of which dimly out-
lined flower beds of former days. Farther along there was
a kitchen-garden, also abandoned, and from another,
turned to swamp, arose a sickening stench. Later we passed
a little paddock surrounded by a fence which looked as if
it had been well tended for, in the strangling grip ofjungle
vegetation, fruit trees were still struggling to live.
The spectacle of disappointed hopes and vanished
dreams would move the hardest heart. The Governor
noticed my surprise and sadness and leaned over to me as
the mule broke into an uncomfortable trot.
'All this was very well cultivated,' he said, 'but one day,
while the concessionnaire was away selling his vegetables in
the town, some libirds came and wrecked the whole place.
When he returned that evening everything had been stolen
- chickens, rabbits, clothes, tools, all had gone. Lacking
22






A GATEWAY TO ~ELL
the energy to begin again, he abandoned his ground. Cir-
cumstances drove him to thieving, so he was arrested
again and is now in the New Camp.'
The fact was that the demand for garden produce was
too slight to absorb what was grown. This was a further
source of discouragement and, in any case, for whom could
a man work? He had neither wife nor child, unless he
married a Negro woman from the bush.
The carriage rolled on, when suddenly we came across
the blackened remains of a rough hut made of branches,
where a libdrd, without friends, protection or prospects, had
had the courage to begin life anew, working hard enough
to accumulate a little money. Then others came to live
nearby, and one morning he was found with his throat cut
and his meagre savings stolen.
We journeyed on through equally desolate countryside.
My mind could not throw off the thought of these crimes
committed in this wilderness of a land, where the cry of
the victims mingled with the cynical laugh of the red
monkeys. Once upon a time these men were happy in their
homeland, blessed by the love of wife and family. Then,
one glass too many, a fit of temper, an unlucky blow with
a knife or a wild revolver shot and the Bagne. After dis-
charge the doublage, and then as unceremonious an end as
a dog whose throat is cut.
The sudden stopping of the carriage broke my gloomy
reverie and a watchman stood before us. He took us to his
home, a broken-down hut in which he lived with his wife.
We were on a little plateau overlooking a valley where
even the brick-kiln seemed asleep, and where a few Arab
libdres were tending some cows, even thinner than those in
Pharaoh's dream. The young watchman explained that
he was a kind of supervisor over the few concessionnaires
who still worked there. He was armed to the teeth. At
night, he and his wife barricaded themselves in their house!






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
By this time the sun was setting and we returned by
another road, but still through scenes of similar desolation.
The Governor broke the silence by explaining that the
light soil was unfit for cultivation and, without fertilizers,
was exhausted after two or three crops. Seemingly even
the soil over there was worthless.
Night suddenly fell, and with it came the rain. Conver-
sation ceased. All was dark, dismal and humid.
Next day I went to the town hall but was caught in the
rain. I was told that this was the middle of the dry season,
and wondered what the rainy one must be like! Since my
arrival not a day had passed without torrential rain, but
it was still so oppressively warm that the slightest move-
ment was a herculean effort. The mosquitoes were in-
tolerable; this insect is as formidable as any wild beast!
An Arab was waiting for me on my return. He was
about twenty-five and had arrived with the last shipment
in the spring. He was a primaire, which meant that he had
only had one conviction the one which brought him to
the Bagne. In view of his good conduct he had been given
work as a house-boy, and boarded with his employers,
who gave him a small gratuity each month. All this was
of no small value to a convict.
Said that was his name seated himself close to my
desk. Slightly-built and thin, he trembled with emotion.
as was often the case with those who had been ill-treated.
Nervously he twirled his cap between his fingers before
giving me a letter from his former employer, a government
official who believed him to be innocent.
He had been sentenced to imprisonment for life for
having killed his brother. He gave me all the details and
compelled me to live again with him those scenes of
despair.
The Saids were a united family. One day this man's
brother was killed, and he was falsely accused of the






A GATEWAY TO HELL
murder. He spoke but little French and was unable to
prove his innocence. When the news of his sentence was
brought to the old father he died suddenly, unable to bear
the loss of both his sons. Only his mother and sister were
able to bid the lad farewell when he left for Guiana.
Now he sobbed so violently that I could not understand
what he was saying. I tried to comfort him, to speak to
him of God who sees and knows all things. He listened to
me and then left despondently, thinking in all probability
of his home a little white house, bathed in sunshine and
smelling sweetly of jasmine and oleander.
The next day, at five o'clock in the morning, I made
my way to 'The Bamboos' in order to find my pousse
(a small four-wheeled trolley) and its twin motor two
convicts were going to push me along a light railway of
ancient vintage. Had I, by any chance, gone back to the
days when slaves acted as beasts of burden?
Having surveyed this new-style coach for a moment, I
settled myself gingerly on the seat, from which several laths
had disappeared and whose vertical back forced me into
an almost comically upright position. Every five metres,
where the rails joined, the back of the seat struck me a
violent blow and these recurring jolts, accompanied by a
deafening noise of clanging metal, threatened to shake me
to pieces.
As we left the main road we were shrouded in a fog
which the rising sun had not yet succeeded in dispersing.
From the earth there arose the unpleasant smell of stag-
nant water. The fever-laden mist was so dense that in a
few minutes I was soaked as if I had been caught in a
shower of rain.
Into the forest we went. The stillness was broken only
by the screeching of the birds, which flew off at the
approach of my trolley, and the laboured breathing of my
two companions. They had been running for half an hour






THE CONQtUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
when a slight incline compelled them to slow down. I
learnt that one was a Moroccan, sentenced to life imprison-
ment for robbery with violence. The other, from Lyons,
was given seven years for killing a man who was drunk, as
was he himself. Both of them spoke with a callousness that
made me inwardly shudder, and I wryly remembered that
I was completely at their mercy.
At last the mist cleared and I could admire the luxu-
riance of the tropical vegetation. Along the track were
magnificent flowers of strange form and varied tints. Here
and there were clusters of orchids; out of reach were fur-
ther specimens whose names were unknown to me but
whose beauty was enchanting. Intensifying the multi-
coloured scene, tiny butterflies with luminous yellow wings
darted about among others of their kind whose violet-blue
tints were streaked with gold. In the branches of tall trees,
black, green and red parrots called raucously to each
other. In the distance there was a little stream, known
locally as a crique, whose quiet waters gave to this wild
forest the look of a cultivated park.
Every prospect here would have pleased if the uneven
motion of my unique transport had not reminded me that
the two men who pushed me were bruising their naked
feet on the stony railroad. The sun was now so hot that,
after having been drenched by the mist, I was soaked with
perspiration although I was sitting still.
Another trolley approached, travelling from the New
Camp and bound for St Laurent. We stopped several
yards away from each other and I got out to stretch my
legs. One of the men who was pushing the oncoming trol-
ley was tall and thin, with little but tattoo marks to cover
his nakedness.
'Are you a Salvation Army officer?' he politely asked.
When I agreed, he said, 'When you go to the New
Camp, ask to see Anglade. He is anxious to speak to you.'






A GATEWAY TO HIELL
'I will certainly do so. Do you know The Salvation
Army?'
'Yes, I have slept in your hostel at Lyons. That was
before the war.'
When I asked him his name he moved off, saying, 'Go
to the New Camp. You will find more interesting people
there than me.'
I looked at his trolley. It was the same as mine, except
that the seat had been replaced by a case in which
crouched a man who was trembling from head to foot,
shaken by spasms of fever.
'A leper,' whispered one of my men.
I looked at the poor wretch. He no longer had a nose.
His dilated eyes and extreme emaciation made him look
like an exhumed corpse on which the worms had already
started to work. For a brief moment our eyes met and I
tried to let him read in my look all the compassion which
his misery evoked in me. Overcome, I turned away.


It was ten o'clock when we arrived at the Charvin Camp
- the former camp site of the Incos incorrigibless). A hun-
dred men were working in the forest, devoured by mos-
quitoes or eaten up by fever. I spoke to one and gave a
gospel to another.
A male nurse stepped forward; he had been there since
1914.
'Try and get me a pardon,' he said. 'I have repented
and I do not want to rot here.'
Another man stopped in front of me. Tall and strong,
he, like his comrades, had the characteristic features of
the convict hollow cheeks, cavernous eyes, a sullen ex-
pression. In that face sorrow, hate, revolt and more than
a hint of indifference inextricably mingled.
'Have you been here a long time?' I asked.






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
'Eight years,' he replied, taking off his outsize straw hat
which he held in clumsy fashion.
'From what part of the country do you come?'
'From Fondroche,' he said. 'Not very far from you.'*
When I spoke to him about his family he dropped his
straw hat, his eyes became misty, his voice broke and he
began to sob. At last he said: 'Go and see them. I haven't
received anything from them for five months. Go and see
them.' He told me how to get to his little village hidden in
the mountains, and how to find his cottage at the end of
the road close to the fountain.
At Charvin the men worked for the prison authorities
and were required to make fifty bardots per day. These are
little boards that are used in lieu of roof tiles and cost
seventy francs a thousand in St Laurent. A man's work
brought in therefore about three francs fifty centimes per
working day about one-fifth of what it cost to keep him.
I took my place in my 'taxi' and we set off for the New
Camp which, at a distance, looked rather inviting. The
white thatched huts, the wells and the kitchen-garden
reminded one of a gay, hospitable colonial farm. Alas, the
mask soon fell and the hideous face of the convict settle-
ment stood revealed. We were spared none of its blemishes.
Greater misery than this could hardly be imagined. Here
was an anteroom to the grave, a gateway to hell. Here
two hundred and sixty-eight men were dying if such a
word may be used to describe the end of these beings who
were eaten through and through with disease.
Two of the huts resounded with the throaty rattle of
consumptives whose waxen faces, drained of all colour,
were contorted by each successive paroxysm of coughing.
Farther on was a hut containing the cripples, the armless,
the legless who, lying around all day, passed the time in
an exchange of obscenities.
*The Salvation Army has a corps (an evangelical centre) near this village.






A GATEWAY TO HELL
In yet another hut were more dying men. Stretched on
their foul straw mattresses were paralytics, disfigured
syphilitics, and one man with cancer of the face but with-
out any bandage to cover his running sores.
In this unhappy group was a young man of twenty-seven
who had been blind for six years and who was sent to this
hut because of his inability to look after himself. His sen-
tence was twenty years' penal servitude for desertion in
the face of the enemy; hearing strange footsteps, he cried,
'Get me out of here!' It was Anglade.
What could be done for these men? Anything?
Nothing? Few visitors came to this camp; even the deaths
were not registered. On rare occasions the doctor from St
Laurent paid a visit, but what could he do? As I gave
these men a gospel I would have liked to say 'Hope!' but
I could not utter a single word. Can the word 'hope' be
used in such a place?
The camp commandant took me home to dinner, and
I could not help noticing the small, thin house-boy whose
sickly, half-closed eyes avoided mine. His arms were too
long for his deformed body, he was knock-kneed and his
feet were big and flabby; a flat face and a prominent chin
gave him a grotesque look. But there was no temptation
to laugh at his absurd appearance for his physical defor-
mity revealed his disordered mind.
'Where are you from?' I asked.
'From Montpellier.'
'You should try and obtain his pardon,' suggested the
commandant. 'He no longer remembers what he did.'
But he remembered! 'I was drunk,' he said, as he
mimed his assault on a thirteen-year-old girl.
'Have you any relatives?'
'No, I am a ward of the Public Assistance.'
'Bring in the coffee and hurry up about it,' interrupted
the commandant and, turning to me, added, 'You see,
29







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
there are all sorts in this place. The blind man you saw a
little while ago is the son of a university professor. This
one here does not know where he comes from. One is no
better than the other. For these men every manner of
obtaining money is justified. My man steals what he can
from me in order to sell it; the others work as little as
possible and then steal from one another.'
'But the blind man, what does he do to get money?'
'It is not for nothing that he is young,' replied the com-
mandant. 'Everything has its value in prison.'
I left the camp at once although it was the hottest part
of the day. I had had enough for once. Besides, my trolley-
men were in a hurry to get back to St Laurent before
nightfall, for by five o'clock giant shadows would be cast
by the setting sun. At a turning in the track we met two
men who greeted us with uneasy smiles; these 'civilians'
were not convicts at least not in appearance.
'They are escaping from the New Camp,' whispered
one of my men.
My eyes followed them. They hurried along the track
but soon were lost to view behind the creepers which hung
from the trees. The secret places of the giant forest soon
absorbed them; the evening shadows became their accom-
plices. Now I quite understood why men wished to escape
from the New Camp!
Overnight it was almost impossible to sleep, but next
day I went to the camp at Godebert a place of sinister
associations for the convicts. Before the advent of a humane
Governor, Godebert had a wood-yard where men took the
place of beasts of burden; the convicts were harnessed two
by two and dragged from the forest the timber which they
had cut. Godebert was a camp for concessionnaires where
the penal authorities hired out convict labour to private
employers at about four francs per day, while continuing
to feed, house, clothe and police them.







A GATEWAY TO HELL
The various employers insisted that each convict should
be fit for work. If one fell sick or died because the work
was too heavy, that did not trouble his employer; there
would be a replacement next morning. Obviously the em-
ployer received all the benefits under such a system; but
what could one say about the lot of the employee? If one
of the buffaloes which hauled the timber was hurt, it
would be rested, for a buffalo costs from five to six hundred
francs. A convict was worth but four francs per day! There
is little difference between this system of forced labour
and the slavery of a previous age only these slaves were
white, not black.
The camp of the Malagasies was situated about two
miles from the town, between the swamps and the bush.
Some forty convicts worked here, felling tall trees which
they cut and stacked in regular lengths.
The camp commandant lived alone, his family having
remained in Europe. He was acutely melancholy and my
visit provided him with an opportunity to bemoan his lot.
Badly paid, misjudged and criticized, he was not even able
to get obedience from his prisoners. As I listened to him I
began to think that Guiana was certainly a country where
everyone had some reason for complaints.
As we went round the huts where some of the men
were doing odd jobs, he called my attention to a young
man, barely twenty years of age, who, on seeing us, put on
an ambiguous smile. 'I employ him here,' said the com-
mandant, indicating the particular hut which served as an
office. 'In the huts the others used to annoy him. A young-
ster of twenty years is a windfall for the old convicts. Now
he is sticking it out, that is to say he is behaving himself
better.'
In turn Lablat, for that was his name, introduced his
friend Gaudron to me. These two young men interested
me greatly, and I was to hear of them again.
31







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
Leaving the camp after having given away a number
of pamphlets, I took the road back to St Laurent. On one
side was the forest, on the other the marshes from which
tufts of rushes emerged from the green water. Between the
trees I saw a curl of smoke a charcoal fire. Near it was a
cabin made of branches (somewhat like the native huts in
Algeria) where squatted an Arab, playing a melancholy
air on a reed pipe. He was awaiting the hour of prayer and
surrounded himself with everything which could recall his
African village. The music was as plaintive as the sobbing
of a soul in distress.
My way back took me past the St Laurent cemetery -
not very different from those in Europe. On the farther
side of the ground there was a crucifix where, arms out-
stretched towards the flower-decked graves, the Christ died
for the living. Behind the cross tall grasses swamped the
little strips of wood that bore a faded name or a half-visible
number. This was the corner reserved for the convicts of
St Laurent.
Men had neglected these graves, and the Christ they
had set up had His back turned to these human outcasts.
I stayed there awhile, then reverently, and in the name of
their absent families, I slowly made the round of them all.
I finally returned to my lodgings to meet a Malagasy
who had been waiting an hour for me. This poor fellow
had already done nineteen years in the Settlement. Some
three or four years ago he had been converted as a result
of the work of a Protestant pastor.* This prisoner had been
given a life sentence, reduced, two years previously, to
twenty years for good behaviour. That is to say, he had
still eighteen years to do, and after that still the doublage!
The poor man was no longer young and said to me: 'Some-
times I am beside myself with fury. I tear my hair and ask
myself if I shall ever get out of here. Like Job, I curse the
*M. Kuntzel, who left the colony in 1925.
32






A GATEWAY TO HELL
day I was born but', he added, bowing his head, 'I take a
fresh grip on myself and suffer silently.'
He had a concession which he tended during the dry
season. One evening, as he entered his hut, someone shot
at him. He was taken to hospital and it was two months
before he was discharged. When he returned to his little
concession he found his plot laid waste and everything
taken from his cabin. He knew his enemy so he sought
him out, tried to reason with him, and then forgave
him, for he remembered the words of the gospel: 'Love
your enemies.' Nor did he make any complaint to the
authorities.
For some time he had gathered around him others,
believers like himself, to whom he spoke about the gospel.
When one of them died they sent for this Malagasy to
utter a prayer of committal. The Word was not without
power even in the Bagne.


The heat was overpowering as I left by trolley for St Jean,
some twenty kilometres from St Laurent. After a few kilo-
metres we entered the banishment or relegation area, of
which St Jean was the unhappy centre. Here were two
further camps for the housing of the religuis.
My trolleymen made rapid progress as we passed through
beautiful forest land, leaving on one side St Louis (depar-
ture point for the boat which carried supplies to Lepers'
Island). Between the track and the Maroni River we
sighted, after an hour's run, the New Relegation Camp,
whose white thatched huts crowned a rounded and vividly
green hill. My trolley set me down at the foot of the path
which climbed the hill. Arriving at the camp I found the
commandant, who did me the honours of his kingdom -
ten huts and two hundred and sixty-three men, but what
huts and what men!







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
This camp was not unlike the Transport Camp I had
visited a few days before. Here the seriously ill, the epilep-
tics and the imbeciles lived without hope in a misery that
beggars description. Nevertheless, a few young men clung
to the remnant of an illusion that by some miracle they
would get out of this place. Alas, one knew full well that
the miracle would never take place! If the Penal Settle-
ment was an oubliette,* this camp was the oubliette of the
Settlement. When a poor wretch was at the point of death
(and this often happened, as may well be imagined) he
was loaded on a trolley and sent to St Jean. Having once
reached St Jean nothing more would be heard of him ex-
cept the notice of his passing. That made one less!
A turn of the track brought me in sight of the place. It
was a large village at least that was my impression but
apart from the twelve or thirteen hundred convicts who lived
there, together with those who looked after them, there was
no one else in this capital city of the thieves' kingdom.
Just as slime is one form of mud, so the reldgud was one
variety of convict. He was not necessarily a murderer, but
what marked him out was the terrifying number of his
convictions. He was a hardened offender, a recidivist. He
had stolen often, stolen repeatedly, be it little or much.
Once in the Settlement, he continued to steal; it was his
passion. Some had had ten, fifteen, twenty convictions;
others thirty or even more.
The routine in the Relegation Camp did not differ
greatly from that endured by other convicts. What made
the plight of these men more painful than that of the
transports at St Laurent, who might have been guilty of
far worse crimes, was that they were all there for life. Only
about two per cent obtained a pardon. Any of the others
who desired to enjoy again the free life of ordinary men
must contrive to escape.
*An old-time dungeon from which a prisoner never emerged.
34







A GATEWAY TO HELL
Sometimes a relgut would commit a serious crime; he
was then sentenced to hard labour and passed from banish-
ment to transportation, i.e. from St Jean to St Laurent.
The opposite might also happen. When a libdrl sen-
tenced to forced labour was arrested, say, for vagabondage
and received a third or fourth sentence, he was sentenced
to banishment and would end his days at St Jean. The
various sections of the Settlement thus exchanged their
miserable clients and there were very few who contrived
to escape the meshes of this net.
I noted certain figures when studying the camp registers.
In 1927 there were 2,193 reldgues. Of this number only 47
were reinstated;* 178 were marked dead; 402 escaped; one
only received a full pardon. At the time of my visit there
were 1,651 on the rolls.
Accompanied by the commandant I made a tour of this
kingdom of crooks. We began with the punishment blocks,
where in cells and blockhouses the men were chained like
wild beasts in cages. From there we went on to the huts,
which looked as if they would fall to pieces.
As always, I talked with as many of these men as I
could. Some asked me to visit their relatives in France;
others begged me to obtain their pardon. Said one: 'We
need not be so unhappy here. What is worst is that we
quarrel among ourselves. Then we try to hurt each other
as much as possible. We start killing, and then it is hell let
loose.'
The speaker was a young man of twenty-two who came
from a good family. He had had a religious upbringing,
but an infatuation for a young woman was his downfall.
His repentance was unhappily too late.
A short halt at St Louis with its two hundred convicts
rounded off the day and brought me home.
*A legal provision which allowed the reldgud to work wherever he wished
and was tantamount to liberation.







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
At three o'clock on Sunday I went to the Central Camp
of St Laurent where the chief warder met me and took me
to the place where a meeting was to be held. All the con-
victs were present.
They passed the twelve hours of this day of rest (for
them quite without any sacred interest) mostly in playing
for a few copper coins or in trying to make up some arrears
of sleep. On my right I noticed two who were doing their
washing while a third was bathing himself. On my left
several Arabs were huddled in a circle preparing Moorish
coffee.
On the steps of one of the huts a tall, fair boy with a
very youthful face was stretched out in the sunshine. His
limbs, frightful to see, were enormously swollen for he was
suffering from ankylostomiasis.* The escorting warder told
me that the convicts catch this by going barefoot along the
forest paths. I went up to this poor sick lad of gentle
appearance and found he was an Alsatian who could not
speak French. I pointed to the 'S's' on my collar and a
pale smile lit up his face for a moment as he whispered,
'Heilsarmee.'
Once at the blockhouse where the meeting was to be
held, the prisoners flocked in. Behind us came the punish-
ment cases, accompanied by their warders who were armed
with revolvers. At least fifty of these men had expressed a
wish to hear a Salvation Army officer, and they occupied
the front rows with their guards on the alert encircling
them. Farther behind were several hundred convicts
massed in two tightly packed groups, leaving a central aisle
between them. Those who could not find a place on the
floor hoisted themselves up on the grilled windows and
hung there like so many bunches of human grapes. In
*An intestinal complaint caused by a small worm which causes wasting
and swelling.
t'Salvation Army' in German.







A GATEWAY TO HELL
addition, a number who had seen me crossing the camp
ran forward and formed a compact circle all around the
hut outside. All these men were half-clothed, their heads
clean-shaven, their cheeks sunken, and I could not tell
whether their eyes carried a question, a reproach, or a
threat. Each man had a story. Each had been the cause of
suffering and had suffered. Each one had received the
wages of his sin.
I knew some of them, and recognized the hospital cook,
a young man of twenty-six years who, in the course of a
rough-house, killed a man of dubious calling in a low caf6
in Lyons. On the other side of the room was the horti-
culturist a young student who, returning in a state of
intoxication to barracks one evening during his military
service, killed one of his comrades who was also drunk
I also noticed Said, my poor Arab. No one could look at
these men mostly young in years, for no one lived long
enough in the Settlement to be old without being sorry
for them.
I spoke for about half an hour and I could see their ex-
pressions change and their faces strain as they tried to
grasp the meaning of a language so alien to their ears. But
I felt that they understood somewhat as I spoke of Jesus,
the Saviour of the world. A few eyes seemed to light up
with hope.
As I left the hut at the conclusion of the meeting a man
came across and said that he wanted to speak to me pri-
vately. Another immediately expressed the same desire,
then a third, and a fourth. Soon forty men were gathered
around me asking that I would spare them a few moments.
I stayed talking with them until night fell and several
appeared to be very moved.
On the Monday I went to Albina, a pretty little village
of about five hundred inhabitants in Dutch Guiana on the
other side of the Maroni, opposite to St Laurent. A number







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
of white houses in colonial style gave the place quite a gay
look.
The following day I left for the Isle of Salvation.
Dispatches arriving this morning from Cayenne stated
that some kind of revolution had broken out. Certain
officials were reported to have been killed and the atmo-
sphere at St Laurent was consequently tense.*
Other telegrams came in later confirming those of the
morning. There had been something of a massacre at
Cayenne and the names of fresh victims were being
mentioned.
My last visit was to the hospital a large building and
in good repair. In the large wards were patients who were
ill with fever and subject to fits of one kind or another
which sometimes killed them off in a few hours. In a small
isolation ward was a leper, solitary and shivering, who
asked me for a blanket. The doctor who showed me round
tried to comfort the man by promising that in a few days'
time he would be sent to the Isle of St Louis, where such
unfortunates were housed.
On my way back to my lodgings I was stopped by
several convicts who had learned of my impending depar-
ture. One of them asked for a gospel, another for money,
a third begged me to intercede with the responsible
Minister on his behalf. 'Come back soon, for we have
great need of you,' a little old man called out.
Then just as I was about to step indoors another rushed
forward and besought me to obtain his pardon. 'I am due
for freedom in five months' time, but what can I do ? I am
only thirty-five and if I could only get back to France I
could set myself up again for life. Here, as you well know,
*Doctor Galmot, Deputy for Guiana, died in mysterious circumstances on
6th August 1928, and a series of incidents followed in which seven people
were killed and numerous houses looted, belonging, it is alleged, to political
enemies of M. Galmot. The hearing of the Affaire Galmot, which involved
no less than forty-five defendants, took place at Nantes.
38







A GATEWAY TO HELL
there is nothing to live for, and if I stay I shall die of
hunger. If I go up to the gold mines, I shall soon die of
fever. Am I to be like that chap who couldn't find work,
and threw a paving stone through the window of a shop
so as to be put back in prison and get something to eat?'
Since then he has had his fourth 'second'* but he is
finished.




























*4th section, 2nd category the term by which libdrds who have completed
their doublage were described.










-- ;----
r. ~ --

-..-- .. - -- .-





4. 'PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES'


At four o'clock my house-boy wakened me to say that my
boat was due to leave at five. I hastily finished packing
and, as he fastened the straps of my bag, wrote a few words
in a gospel he had asked me to give him as a souvenir of
my stay in St Laurent.
At the landing stage the light from several feeble lan-
terns could hardly pierce the warm mist that shrouded the
Oyapoc, a coasting vessel of about eight hundred tons, on
which I was to make the thirty hours' crossing. The deck
was littered with a variety of indistinguishable objects and
a clanging of metal warned me that I had put my foot into
some saucepans. A metallic sound of different timbre told
me that I was about to fall into a tin bath. I managed to
regain my balance only to tread on something soft that
gently rose and fell. By the pressure of my knee I tried to
find out what this was when an anguished bellow made me
start. I had been walking over a stout Negro woman and
she rightly found my unintentional clumsiness somewhat
brutal.
I finished up by falling against a greasy windlass and
did not dare move further. Heavy breathing told me that
there were others close at hand, but their colour was one







'PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES'
with the shadows of the night. From time to time dim
figures flitted up the gangway, but the ship came alive as
the captain's white cap and jacket appeared on the bridge.
At the same moment the jangle of arms announced the
arrival of a company of warders who were being sent to
Cayenne because of the revolt; they had some fifteen con-
victs, who were leaving for the Salvation Islands, in their
charge as well.
Then followed a shocking uproar as everyone tried to
settle down. The sheaths of bayonets knocked against the
butts of rifles and the soldiers' boots played a kind of foot-
ball with the kitchen utensils of some little black girl,
frightened out of her wits by this unexpected invasion. At
length this racket, above which could be heard all manner
of profane remarks, subsided and the ship cast off.
For two hours we steamed down the Maroni River,
sometimes nearly a mile from the bank, at other times a
few yards only. Parallel with the Hattes lighthouse is a
former convict camp now closed down. Two convicts still
live there to attend to the lamp, and for warders they have
on one side the vast forest and the other the sea.
The Oyapoc tacked to starboard and, having travelled
some ten miles, slowly entered the River Mana up which
she sailed for two hours. At ten o'clock we reached the
town of Mana and convicts made fast the cables as we
drew alongside. With the exception of the convicts, who
were guarded by armed warders, everyone went ashore as
we were not to leave again until eight o'clock in the
evening.
At dawn next morning we saw the coast of Sinamary
and a little after two o'clock in the afternoon sighted the
Isles of Salvation. The steamer's siren announced our
arrival to the five hundred convicts who lived in this archi-
pelago, and I gazed with wonder at the giant wreath of
greenery from which emerged roofs of a vivid red.
41







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
The Isles of Salvation are three rocky islets, some five
miles from the coast, opposite to Kourou and twenty miles
from Cayenne. The Penal Administration set up three
prison camps, one on each island, with a total convict
population of about a thousand men.
Nothing but coconut trees grow on these rocky hillocks,
which owe their name to an eighteenth-century colonial
expedition organized by the French statesman Choiseul.
Fourteen thousand Parisians, men, women and children,
set sail for Kourou but, lightheartedly disembarking with-
out taking the necessary precautions, soon succumbed to
fever and dysentery. Within a few months all had perished
save for a score or so who managed to reach the Isles of
Salvation, where the climate was more healthy hence
their name.
We dropped anchor several cable-lengths from the
shore and a lighter and two whalers came to meet us. The
Oyapoc remained only long enough to allow the convicts
to load their lighter with the goods and cases intended for
the Penal Administration. Those who embarked yesterday
were ordered into one of the whalers while I was helped
down a rope ladder into the other. Convicts plied the oars;
their naked torsos, burnt by the sun and covered with
tattoo-marks, seemed to be twisted out of shape by the
force of the current. It was a struggle to reach the land,
and in spite of its weight our small craft rose and fell in
the strong swell. A gleaming fin betrayed an escorting
shark in our wake.
At Royal Island, the most important of the three, the
superintendent and his subordinates received me in
friendly fashion and, on my way to the hospital on the
other side of the island, the doctor and those with him
gave me all the information I wanted. We passed the
offices of the Penal Administration on one side and, on the
other, the workshops and the garden where work the four
42






'PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES'
hundred and fifty Incos of whom even the settlement
authorities themselves are at times frightened. On the right
from the hospital can be seen Devil's Island itself, the
smallest of the three, covered with coconut trees.
'The little roof that you can see over there', said the
superintendent, 'is the hut occupied by Dreyfus. There are
at present twenty-seven convicts on the "Devil". Several
have asked to see you, having heard of your visit.' A warder
showed me the steel wire that links Devil's Island and
Royal Island. 'Every morning food is sent across by that
cable,' he added. 'The men make their own arrangements
for cooking it.'
Devil's Island was traditionally reserved for traitors;
only those deported for political offences and sentenced
to life imprisonment were sent there. If after eight, ten or
fifteen years they had not incurred any additional punish-
ment or had not lost their reason they were permitted by
way of reward to live in Cayenne.
As we toured the island I could see, some few hundred
metres away, St Joseph's Island. An inviting exterior hid
an appalling amount of suffering. All cries of despair were
drowned within its cells, for in this dungeon of dungeons
were found the black lock-ups used for men undergoing
solitary confinement. Anyone found guilty of acts of in-
discipline, attempted escape or other serious offences had
to spend two to five years of his convict term there. Yelling
and shrieking sometimes attracted the attention of those
who passed near this settlement, for the island also housed
the lunatics. One of these men believed himself to be a
prophet of the Most High; quite naked he would deliver
interminable discourses on the way criminals should be
treated. Another would imitate the noise made by the
waves, and a third imagined he was surrounded by sharks.
Only a partition separated those who had lost their reason
from those in solitary confinement.







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
Later I returned to the Oyapoc and, during the five hours'
voyage to Cayenne where we were due to arrive at night-
fall, could only wonder what I was going to find there.
At Cayenne I found the inhabitants greatly agitated,
troubled in mind as well as speech. Over the capital hung
an air of disquietude and at intervals my ear caught odd
scraps of conversation. 'The Governor has asked for rein-
forcements.' 'The doctor has hid himself in the hospital
but a price has been set on his head.' 'This will pass as did
previous troubles.'
A great crowd had gathered in front of the Town Hall
and voices rose and fell in the darkness which brought to a
close a tragic day.
'That makes six dead.' 'The last is Jean.* He hid him-
self in the hospital, with his wife and four children, but as
the crowd threatened to burn the place down, they gave
him up.'
Passionate charges and counter-charges rang out but
the voice continued, 'It is just as if they had betrayed him.
He had an escort of soldiers, but when they reached the
corner of the street, the crowd threw themselves upon him
and butchered him.'
'He wasn't quite dead,' said another. 'The proof is that
they picked him up and took him off to prison.'
'That may be so,' was the answer, 'but when the mob
learned that he was still alive, they broke down the prison
door, pulled him out into the street and there the women
and children finished him off.'
A long silence followed and then a halting voice began
afresh. 'And Borant! They looked for him for two hours
and finally found him hidden between two mattresses.
Then they beat him up and threw him out of a second-
floor window to the yelling crowd.'
*Doctor Jean, Director of Public Instruction. His widow and children
returned to France by the same boat as the author.
44






'PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES'


I stood stock still while the invisible story-teller added:
'He was more than seventy years old, poor wretch!'
Next morning I read Psalm 121, the traveller's psalm.
When I was leaving Paris more than a month before, this
psalm was given me in the station waiting-room for my
journey. After that I repeated to myself almost every day,
'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills' but they were hills
of difficulty and of obstacles whose height frightened me.
'From whence cometh my help?' was the inevitable
question, and then the voice of the Spirit would reply to
my anxious heart: 'Help cometh from the Lord.'
While in St Laurent, where more than six hundred
lib&res used to wander round without work and without
resources, I stayed in a room with seven french windows,
none of which could be locked. I was alone with a criminal
as attendant, but this psalm said to me then: 'The Lord
is thy keeper.' Now, in a city full of convicts, in prison and
out of prison, who alone profited by the unsettled con-
ditions, the psalm said to me again: 'He that keepeth thee
will not slumber.'
The Governor of Guiana received me very cordially
and later, at the Town Hall, I gathered a good deal of
information about the place. Cayenne is the most impor-
tant town in the colony, in fact the only town, for the other
centres of population are little more than villages. Inhabi-
ted by about thirteen thousand people, of whom half were
aliens, the place was like most other colonial cities with its
ruler-straight streets and its timbered houses in the shade
of coconut trees. Except for the officials and a few mer-
chants, the population was coloured. The law separating
church and state was not in force there, and the priests
ranked as officials; nor did they minister to the criminal
population who, more than the others, had need of them.
The following day the head doctor took me to see the
hospital. 'I love The Salvation Army,' he said, 'and if I
45







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
am still here when you begin your work, I will give you
my full support.'
We went through the large wards of this colonial hos-
pital where, on rickety pallets, lay the unhappy victims of
all manner of diseases. Most of them came from Kourou,
the town from which convicts were sent to work on the
colonial road. As this route crossed numerous swamps, the
ranks of the workers were soon thinned out. When the
supply of men ran short, work had to be stopped until the
next convoy arrived with more.
'And here are the librers,' said one of the doctors leading
me into an adjacent ward. 'Many are under the residence
ban, which means that they must find work elsewhere than
in Cayenne, nor can they cross kilometree 12" unless it
be to go to the cemetery. These poor devils live in the bush
or try to find work in the gold mines; they have little or
nothing to eat, are exposed to all weathers, fall sick and
come here to die.'
'A European', explained the head of the health service,
'cannot live here without preventive quinine and mos-
quito net. Neither the convicts nor the liberes are given any,
and as for mosquito nets, we haven't even got them for
the sick! The result is that these men are doomed to die.'
Before my departure I left a number of gospels and
booklets. I talked for a long time with the doctors, who
knew these convicts well. They saw them, in most instances
at least, as sick men who needed their care. In hospital
they tried to give remedial treatment, in the place of
punishment with its disastrous effects.
At ten o'clock next day a libdrd called to take me to his
club. He was unlike all the others I had previously met.
Dressed in a white suit, a cane in one hand and a leather
dispatch case in the other, he was perfectly self-possessed
and, as we walked together through the muddy streets of
the town, he explained his particular situation.
46






PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES'
'We have founded a club "The Club of the expatri-
ated Libdres". As you will have noticed, a man can regain
his liberty and prove his worth by hard work and good
conduct. He can even enjoy his civic rights once again,
but none the less he will continue to be ostracized by the
civil population. It is almost unbelievable, but we are not
allowed to sit down in the cafes, and in the cinema we
have to occupy special places. We are called Old Whites "
or "Popotes" and are humiliated in a dozen different ways.'
The club was on the first floor of a clean but empty
house. Papers and magazines were set out on several tables
and a list of members and the rules of the club was pinned
to the wall.
'We are not too badly fixed up,' said my new friend.
'We have done our best, and here at least we do feel at
home.'
Then he introduced me to the members of the club, of
which he was the president and founder. They numbered
about fifteen, all in the prime of life and correctly dressed.
Their faces, though lined, showed energy and determina-
tion, and all had managed to find an honest living.
As they gathered round me, I explained who I was,
what I had seen and my plans. They listened to me with
every attention and, when I finished, several of them were
in tears. Shaking my hand, one of them said, 'No one has
ever spoken to us as you have done.'
'You are God's messenger to us,' said another.
'We are most anxious to improve ourselves,' cried a
third, 'but here it is impossible, or nearly so, because no
one will lend us a hand. If you only knew the trouble we
have had to organize our club!'
'For fifteen years,' said an older man in a broken voice,
'my wife and daughter have been awaiting my return. I
was unjustly sentenced during the war; I am now sixty-
five years of age. Do you think I shall ever see them again ?'







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
Said a mechanic, 'We shall not be working on the
fifteenth. Come then and speak to us again. It will do us a
world of good and give us a good deal of pleasure as well.'
The promise made, we separated, but five of them asked
if they could accompany me back and, as we walked along,
the sad and intimate conversation continued.
'We are privileged,' remarked one, 'for all of us have
learned a good trade and that enables us to find work
without much difficulty but the others! Some go for days
without eating. Have you not seen some of them sheltering
at night under the market buildings?'
Indeed, although it was only midday and the heat was
intense, there were numbers of libere's sitting on the kerb
in the shadow of the market, lined up like swallows on a
telegraph wire. They looked a picture of misery, their faces
emaciated and their bodies hung with rags. Neither in
their expression nor their attitude was there the slightest
hint of any will-power or energy. I hardly dared look at
them for their silent presence seemed a reproach to my
own well-being. My good fortune must surely anger them!
One of them stirred in his torpor and called out, 'You
would do better to give us a crust than to stare at us as we
rot away!'
My companions began to take up my defence, but I
stopped them by saying to the unhappy man, 'I hope to
come back one day.' What irony to call these men libedrs.
A convict's worst troubles begin when he has finished his
sentence. He becomes, in effect, a prisoner who is denied
food and bed and the shelter of prison as well.
Towards evening a breeze sprang up from the sea and
I went for a walk along the seashore by way of relief. But
the sight of the red fire of I'Enfantperdu (a rock some three
miles out) on the horizon did not help matters, for it has
an odd history. At one time two convicts were left on the
rock to give attention to the light, but one day there was







PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES'
a tempest and one of them, going suddenly mad, threw
himself on the other, trying to strangle him and crying out,
'The sharks, the sharks!' The other seized a bar of iron
and knocked out the poor lunatic, who was in fact eaten
by the sharks. After that there were three convicts on the
rock. One week their supplies were overlooked and, when
the launch arrived seven days later, one was dead of hun-
ger, another had lost his reason, and the third had to be
taken to hospital where he died shortly afterwards. Lost
children indeed!
In the opposite direction rose the sombre walls of the
Penitentiary, a reminder of the plight of the thousand men
lodged there. But the thought of the liberds outweighed all
else those 2,393 libdrls the greater number of whom
wandered in the bush, no one knew where, perhaps to
meet death there, without anyone bothering about them.
319 were at Cayenne, 600 at St Laurent, others in the
coastal villages; nine-tenths of them without work and
without any prospect of obtaining any like those I met
in the market place. Their lot was the most unjust; their
need plainly the greatest.
For my reading the following morning I turned to
Chapter 37 of the prophet Ezekiel the story of the valley
of dry bones.

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me
out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the
midst of the valley which was full of bones,
And caused me to pass by them round about: and,
behold, there were very many in the open valley; and,
lo, they were very dry.
And he said unto me, Son of mancan these bones
live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.
Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones,
and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of
the Lord.







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I
will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:
And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh
upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in
you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the
Lord.
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I pro-
phesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and
the bones came together, bone to his bone.
And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came
up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but
there was no breath in them.
Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, pro-
phesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the
Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and
breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath
came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their
feet, an exceeding great army.
The familiar verses appeared to me in an entirely new
light that morning. The sight of these men, their bones
dried up, in this infernal settlement had for a while crushed
me. But God gave me new light and new faith and I saw
the multitude of unfortunates rise up, 'an exceeding great
army'. In the dawning light of a new day I came to believe
in that miracle. I had faith that it would come to pass in
Guiana.
I left my room to see the delegate of the Penal Admini-
stration at the Governor's house. Said he, 'I hope your
projected work will not be limited to the reforms we have
discussed, but that you will also be able to have the
doublage abolished and also the residence for life. So far as
the liberds are concerned, believe me, you will not be able
to meet their needs in spite of all your efforts. Most cer-
tainly the best thing will be to have this iniquitous law of
doublage abolished.'







'PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES'
Afterwards I called on the Director of the Penal Admini-
stration, who professed great interest in my schemes for
the benefit of the convicts and the liberds. 'It would be a
great step forward if your ideas came to pass,' he remarked,
'but it would remedy only part of so great an evil. The
doublage and the residence for life must be altogether
abolished.'
Everywhere the same refrain was heard.


On returning to my room I found a poorly but cleanly
dressed man of about thirty waiting for me. He was a
lib6rd whose name had been mentioned to me before I left
Paris and, as we talked together, I heard once more the
sad story of a wasted life. In Cayenne this is an all too
familiar tale: a life of careless gaiety, mounting expenses,
at last a final orgy, theft, murder and then the Penal
Settlement for life.
This poor lad was converted some little time ago; the
grace of God had changed his life, and his actions proved
this to be true. One day he found a pocket-book full of
money in the street and took it at once to the Commis-
sioner of Police.
As we walked up and down the seashore talking of the
Christian faith, I was accosted by another libdrd, seedy and
broken down in appearance, who asked me to obtain per-
mission for him to return to France. 'I had only a year to
do,' he continued. 'I escaped and got away to Spain where
I lived for seven years without doing anything wrong, but
one day I crossed the frontier and was arrested. Get me
out of here, I beg of you!'
Suddenly, without waiting for a reply but almost in the
same breath, he began to insult me and we simply could
not calm him. Probably his nerves had given way and his
exasperation was understandable.
51







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
The lot of the libdrds was so much in my mind that I
made another tour of their district. At once I was stopped
by a man who, though under sixty, looked much more
through privations, fever and despair. In a trembling
voice and with a strange light in his eyes he told me of his
tragic past. He had been in the settlement eight years and
no doubt doublage would keep him here for the rest of his
life. He showed me an old photograph and I could just
make out the picture of a woman who was still beautiful -
his wife.
Later that day the president of the club called to take
me to the restaurant where a number of libdrds had
gathered in order to meet me. These poor men were
delighted that anyone should show an interest in them at
all! An unpleasant odour hung over the large hall where a
hundred of them were packed on backless forms, each with
a plate in front of him. They were objects of envy on the
part of those who sat on the entrance steps and on the
pavement outside; they could only dine on the smell!
Actually this was a cheap eating-house run by two liberals,
but everyone stopped talking as I came in, and this gave
me an opportunity not only of saying something of our
hopes and plans for them but above all of the Christian
faith.
Afterwards I spoke to several of them privately and then
to a blind man who earned a daily pittance by washing up.
He was fifty-two years old and had been in Guiana nearly
thirty years. When he was sentenced (for the theft of
several hundred francs) he was a sergeant-major in the
colonial army. He had to pay dearly for his petty theft.
The following afternoon I went along again to the club
of the libdrds in order to hold a meeting. The attendance
was large and for two hours I said something to these
troubled hearts about The Salvation Army, but mostly of
the Saviour whose power I myself had experienced. Several
52






'PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES'
consciences seemed to be stirred and at the close they asked
questions which showed that some good desires still burned
within them. I left them a number of books about the
work of The Salvation Army and also some gospels.
When I returned home I found an interesting fellow
waiting for me, with whom I had so long a conversation
that I asked him to come back the following day. Though
an old inmate of Devil's Island, where he had lived for
ten years, he still carried himself with courage and dignity.
Last month he was overjoyed to receive his pardon. His
crime was not serious but he had left his mother destitute
in the north of France. More than once his eyes filled with
tears as he spoke of her.
'Anyway,' he said, 'when I get back to France I shall be
able to work. For two years I have been earning two hun-
dred and fifty francs a month. I take only one meal a day
in order to be able to dress myself properly and to save the
two thousand francs required for the voyage. It is an enor-
mous sum for me, but I shall get it.'
When I suggested I might be able to help him, his eyes
shone with joy. 'But no,' he replied, 'I shall get it myself.
If you would do me a service, help me to find work when
I get back. That won't be before the spring, however, as I
have no winter clothing, for if I were to go home next
month I would suffer through not being used to the cold.
I have but one thought, you see to help my old mother
so that she will forget all the sorrow I have caused her.'
The same evening I said farewell to my room and went
to stay with a friendly government official, for I was
literally besieged by libgrds who were anxious that I should
give them the whole of my time. They knew that my depar-
ture was drawing near and each had something more to
tell me.
Next day I was weak because of an attack of fever but
managed to keep my appointment punctually with the







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
Mayor. 'A man is not really badly off in the settlement,'
he repeated like the others. 'It is after his discharge that
he suffers.' Again I was besought to represent in respon-
sible quarters in Paris the necessity for abolishing doublage
and the residence for life. 'These measures', went on the
Mayor with great emphasis, 'ruin the life of the colony.
Your plan of coming to the help of the liberds is excellent,
but if you really want to help us, then work for the repeal
of this unjust law.'

As I had been in bed for three days with the fever, my last
hours in Cayenne were very crowded. On the Sunday a
number of liberds who had heard of my illness came several
times to the house but, not daring to ask permission to
enter, they waylaid the two convicts who were looking
after me and asked them for news.
On the morning before I left, while Henri, the younger
of my attendants, helped me to dress, he told me that he
was brought up as a Protestant in Havre and spoke about
several people who had tried to help him. 'You cannot
understand', he went on, 'how much I regret my mis-
deeds; I often wonder whether I am to pass my whole life
here. I am only twenty-two years old!'
The pity with Henri, however, was that he could not be
kept away from the other convicts who, alas, did not hesi-
tate to corrupt any who seemed to be better than they were
themselves.
When later in the day I saw the Governor, he said to
me forthrightly, 'I ask you to use all your influence to have
the Penal Settlement abolished.' But this is said by every-
one who knows anything about the subject.
At the Town Hall I found the local councillors gathered
round a big table covered with the customary green cloth.
After having introduced me, the Mayor called on me to
speak and I was heard with close attention for forty minutes
54






'PROPHESY UPON THESE BONES'
as I tried to explain to my audience all persons of
influence in Guiana -just what The Salvation Army
was, and what we had in mind to do for the libd6rs of the
settlement.
I left the Town Hall about six o'clock with a rising tem-
perature. Fortunately I met the chief of the postal services
on the road and he, seeing me staggering about, helped me
back to my lodgings. I had hardly lain down on my bed
when the town bells rang out to announce the arrival of
the mail-boat, and I saw through the window my old
friend the Biskra coming round the lighthouse of l'Enfant
perdu.
The arrival of the packet was quite an event in those
parts. Remember, it came only twelve times a year, bring-
ing and taking away the colony's mail. The world seems
far enough away when the postman calls only once a
month.
Georges, one of the libdres who had made good, came to
tell me once more how sad he and his friends were that I
was leaving and assured me that they would see me to the
boat. 'Don't you worry about anything,' were his words.
'We will call for you. We will look after your luggage and
do all that is necessary.'
My last day was a heavy one. I was too exhausted to do
more than a few essential errands and by four o'clock was
obliged to lie down while Henri got my baggage ready.
Georges and his two friends turned up as promised and
even secured a car to take me down to the quay. I said
au revoir to the two young convicts who had looked after
me with such genuine affection, but had hardly reached
the quay before I was surrounded by another twenty
librds. They apologized, poor fellows, for having dared to
come and see me again and they all wanted to talk at the
same time.
'When will you be back?' was their main question.
55






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
I could not give a definite reply for I did not know my-
self. 'Perhaps in a year,' I answered.
The president of the club then said in a shaky voice,
'Thanks, thanks, on behalf of all of us.'
'Here is a letter,' said Richard, who had elbowed his
way to the front. 'Don't read it until you get on board.'
Then another interrupted with, 'Don't forget to go and
see my mother.'
Said a third, 'I hope you will succeed in your plans,
otherwise I shall have no hope at all of ever seeing my
family again. Do come back soon, for if things continue as
they are I don't know what will become of us.'
This particular man was anxious, like the rest, because
the economic crisis through which the colony was passing
made the lot of the liberd more difficult than ever before.
Then a warder of the Penal Administration told me the
whaler was ready to take me on board, and the news
seemed to take the heart out of the men pressing around
me. They turned their thin, withered faces towards the
Biskra, anchored about a mile off-shore. It was not the
first time they had seen her, but the thought that they
would never board her became more saddening each time.
I shook hands with them silently for none of us could say
a word.
At a peremptory order from the guard the naked backs
of the convicts bent over the long oars, and as the boat
pulled out a great cry rose from the quay: 'Come back!
Come back!' I waved my hand to them and, in answer,
they waved their hats. As the group on shore became
smaller and smaller they still continued to call: 'Come
back! Come back quickly!'
It was the cry of a forgotten people.





















5. A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN


Homeward bound on board the P6rou I was able to prepare
a memorandum on the Penal Settlement in Guiana.

The convicts, I wrote, can be divided into two main cate-
gories: those who are maintained by the Penal Admini-
stration, and those who maintain themselves. Among the
former are the transports, the reldguds and the diportes. The
law clearly distinguishes between these three groups by
means of different regulations for each, e.g. more or less
liberty, the necessity for working or not, the possibility or
otherwise of being paid for work done. In practice, how-
ever, local conditions have made the mode of life for all
the convicts very much the same. The difference which
exists between one group of convicts and another is more
in the mentality of the men themselves than in the differing
systems imposed upon them.
With the exception of St Laurent and Cayenne, these
three groups of convicts live in penal establishments which






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
are more like camps (with huts, interior courtyards, some-
times with flower gardens and surrounded with fencing)
than prisons. There are prisons in the colony, but these are
known as punishment blocks and reserved for men who
have incurred some additional penalty.
The second category covers six different types of con-
victs; these are distinguished from the first by the fact that
they enjoy relative liberty but must themselves meet their
own living expenses. Nevertheless they are still prisoners
and their prison, being much larger, becomes a place of
internment.
Under this heading are the transports who can hire them-
selves out to private employers and become house-boys;
that is to say, they can act as cook, errand boy, chamber
boy, book-keeper, even children's nurse, hall-porter or
confidential clerk. Some of them must return to their
camp when their daily work is done; others, to their great
satisfaction, need not do so. These are called assigns or
concessionnaires.
Then there are the transports who have finished their
sentence and completed their years in the settlement, but
are subject to the residence law. Above all others, these
libdres are the men who live most miserably. Their criminal
records, their physical weakness, their moral defects do not
encourage employers (who are few and far between) to
engage them.
Some of the transports have completed the cycle of their
sentence, that is to say, the principal and the additional,
but are prevented from returning home solely by lack of
sufficient funds. There are a few rare cases where a local
liaison holds them to Guiana. At the moment the number
of libdres subject to doublage is about two thousand, seven
hundred and seventy-five.
Among the reldgues there are a number who profit by the
release measures provided for them by law and go to work






A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
outside their camp. They are known as individual redguds
and roughly share the lot of the libdrds described above. So
with the ddportis who are allowed to leave Devil's Island
and take up residence in Cayenne; these number only
about a score.
Finally, there are the several hundred men who have
escaped and live as outlaws. These are to be seen furtively
preparing to depart for other shores which they trust will
be more hospitable. Few are successful.
Side by side with this classification for administrative
purposes must be considered classification by race and
nationality. Here there are two principal categories.
The Europeans number about four thousand, for the
most part French. There are also a number of French
colonials, Malagasies (coming from Reunion), a very few
Englishmen and a sprinkling of Central Europeans.
There are also about two thousand North Africans and
their presence strongly influences the mentality of the
settlement. These Arabs and Berbers have not the western
conception of justice. They do not readily see the link
between the past fault committed and the present punish-
ment suffered. Should the 'crime' concern a vendetta or a
foray for a few camels in the desert, the convict retains his
self-respect as a man for he does not in any way consider
himself guilty. A fatalist, he accepts his lot and becomes a
kind of auxiliary of the Penal Administration which art-
fully and unethically makes use of him as an informer. He
is able to withstand the climate and in the end to do
reasonably well for himself. He regards the pseudo-
authority which the Penal Administration confers on
him as a kind of poetic justice. The colonized of 1830 is
revenged on the fallen colonizer, the underdog on his
master.
Differences of religion are less clearly defined, and are
more formal than real.






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
Are there any Christians in Guiana? God knows those
who are His, but we have found a few living witnesses to
the reality of the Christian faith.
Most of them are registered as Roman Catholics whether
they are actually practising Catholics or not. But what
must be said is that apart from a few unhappy ecclesiastics
who have exchanged the shovel hat for the convict's cap,
or certain vestrymen who have robbed the sacristy, the
majority of the convicts have completely forgotten, if ever
they knew, the Christian religion.
Convicts belonging to the Protestant creed are very few
in number. After making an inquiry the Penal Admini-
stration reckon to have found about twenty-four, in addi-
tion to which a certain number scenting in the census
some possible material advantage quickly discovered
some attachment to the principles of the Reformation. To
estimate the number of Protestants at one per cent is to
be over-generous. Certainly I did not find more than ten
men who had been members of a Protestant parish.
The Moslems form a definitely homogeneous body.
They remain true to their religion, and I could not but
observe their perseverance in their faith and the witness
they gave. Seemingly impervious to the Christian gospel,
they put Christians to shame by their loyalty to their creed.
A division is also necessary between those who are
literally alone in the world and those who have some
relatives.
The former have neither wife nor child, and possibly
never knew father or mother. This absolute loneliness is
aggravated by banishment. A large number were 'aban-
doned children' and such men live in another world than
ours. On many points we do not speak the same language.
There are also those who are alone because they have been
deserted by wife or a near relative. Their number is con-
siderable and they never forget that they have been







A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
deserted, though an onlooker may realize it was inevitable,
even understandable.
The second group have relatives, and this link is strong
though often greatly strained. Some of these men have
children of whom they are always thinking. So with those
who have relatives and remain in contact with them. They
measure the length of their punishment against their long-
ing to see once more the old folk, who themselves are
growing still older.
In addition to this, the mentality of these men varies
according to the place of their residence. This distinction
must be made whatever the administrative category to
which they belong. For example, there is the hospital for
those who are sick but the prison for those undergoing
punishment. The difference between these two groups is of
great importance as much on account of the idleness of the
men found there as their more direct contact with death.
There is yet a further distinction between these convicts
- the simple yet profound difference between one man and
another. The distinction between the murderer and the
thief is of greater importance than that between the trans-
portd and the relgud, for there are murderers among the
relguds who are mostly thieves, and thieves among the
transports who are mostly criminals.
The murderers can be sub-divided into several cate-
gories. One group is made up of those guilty of crimes of
violence or of manslaughter, or of assault while under the
influence of drink. For example, one young man, in an
affray at a country dance, fatally wounded his rival with
a small penknife which under ordinary circumstances
would hardly have scratched him. Not dissimilar are those
who, in a family squabble, become exasperated and in a
moment of anger strike a fatal blow at father, mother or
near relative. For instance; young X. could no longer bear
to see his father knock his mother about, and sent him to
61







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
'sleep himself sober' in a less barbarous world. Neverthe-
less, the unhappy young man has to end his days in the
convict settlement, bearing the censure of society which, to
him, is undeserved and incomprehensible.
The weak ones are by far the more numerous, most of
them have fallen foul of their wives or their mistresses.
They often remain inconsolable, for their fault has not
lessened their moral sense and their consciences are still
tender. For neighbours such men may have thepervert, the
paranoiac, the half-mad or the sadist, who are not only
without the slightest regret for their crimes but are ready
to repeat them should opportunity come their way.
In another class are those sentenced for sexual offences,
and yet another section is made up of men who appear to
be devoid of any moral sense at all. Periodically they seem
to be possessed by a terrible power which leads them to
commit anti-social crimes of the most shocking character.
Once the crime has been committed, and even faced with
their handiwork, they remain completely indifferent.
In the inverted values of a Penal Settlement these mur-
derers form a kind of aristocracy. The man who has carried
through an attack on the life of another human being is,
by reason of that fact, elevated above his fellows. He has
placed himself on the plane which belongs alone to God,
and this confers on him a measure of superiority over the
rest. He has dared to kill, and around him gravitate many
convicts who have had the desire and the intention so to
do, but have lacked the sorry daring. All this feeds the
killer's vanity.
Altogether different is the mentality of the thief. There
is the common thief, the old offender, who has exhausted
the patience of his judges because, by reason of a number
of small robberies, there appear on his record fifteen,
twenty, thirty, even fifty convictions, and sometimes more!
Truthfulness and lying, honesty and thieving lack any
62







A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
clearly defined frontiers in his life and sincerity is not
generally his characteristic quality. Yet he has often a
good heart, and is really a pathetic figure.
By contrast there is the clever thief, the artist in wicked-
ness, so to speak. He is one who enjoys combining an affair
of swindling or theft with armed house-breaking. Such a
man is no ignoramus. Blessed with initiative, perseverance,
foresight and often courage, he and his kind constitute an
important group in the settlement, to be found among
the relguds and the transports alike.
Two more categories call for mention. The first is the
innocent. There are men in the Bagne who, though in-
volved in some misdemeanor, were not the principal cul-
prits, but have been sentenced as if they were. Their
punishment is altogether disproportionate to the alleged
crime, and this breeds a particular mentality which has
to be taken into account.
The second includes the very few who acknowledge their
guilt and suffer accordingly. These men mostly belong to
social strata superior to the average.
Those condemned to death are kept at St Laurent from
the time sentence is pronounced until its execution. This
may run to several months if the condemned man makes
an appeal for mercy to the President of the French Repub-
lic. Here again the time-lag gives rise to a mood which
calls for special treatment.
Lastly there are the Isles of Salvation, where are found
the headline cases of the French criminal courts. Here
again the publicity given by the press to sensational escapes
lowers the standing of the Penal Administration. The man
undergoing punishment, like the sick man, must be
approached with prudence. He is hyper-sensitive, with a
twisted sense of justice; he is alive but cannot enjoy life.
He is a man on his own. How can the needs of these varied
groups be met?







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
Let us consider what has been done up to the moment
on behalf of these men.
As the Concordat has not been repudiated in the colony,
Catholic priests are government officials. They receive a
stipend from the State and are nominated to their positions
by the decree of the Governor. They number between
fifteen and twenty and are stationed at Cayenne and St
Laurent-du-Maroni. Theoretically they are chaplains to the
penal establishments, but in practice their time is almost
entirely taken up with shepherding their native flock.
In fact, neither the convicts nor the libdrds ever enter a
church as it is forbidden ground to them. Should one die
who has been religiously inclined, the cart which serves
him as a hearse will be halted at the church door from
whence the priest will give the liturgical blessing to the
remains of the penitent outcast along with the sprinkling
of holy water.
From the Protestant point of view there is no trace of
any work in the colony before the mission carried out by
Pastor Paul Richard from June 1904 to January 1905.
The Society for the Welfare of Liberated Protestant Pri-
soners then assumed responsibility for supplying Guiana
with Protestant chaplains. Thus pastors went out to Guiana
from 1905 to 1925, but none since.
Nor does any charitable work of any kind exist. In 1925
a Society for the Welfare of Libdrds at Cayenne was set up
but has never really functioned, lacking both staff and
money. Thus to a large extent the settlement has become
a school of laziness and vice, where men are obliged to
live for anything from five to twenty-five years with never
a hand outstretched to help them.
Certain initial objectives must be realized first of all.
The long-term goal is the total abolition of the Penal
Settlement. Meanwhile the convicts must be classified and
theprimaires and the young separated from the rest. Indivi-
64







A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
dual cells at night must be substituted for the collective
barrack-room. The system of pardons must be reformed
and, above all, doublage must be abolished.
The colony should also possess such social activities as
would alleviate the idle misery of the liberds and also serve
the personal needs of the men undergoing punishment.
Along with this would go the proclamation of the Christian
gospel of salvation.
A repatriation service should be created as well. The
proposed social activities could comprise a hostel for the
libdris at Cayenne and at St Laurent. Such a hostel would
have beds in cubicles, a public restaurant, a common room
where the libe'r could buy soft drinks, find good reading
material and, above all, experience the atmosphere of
kindness and hope so necessary for the growth of good
desires. As might be arranged of an evening, the common
room could become a meeting-hall where the liberls could
hear the gospel message. The public restaurant should be
organized so as not to encourage laziness, and also not to
compete with the libdrds who have already established
themselves as restaurant keepers in a small way. Some
kind of workshop should be added to the hostel so that
men could begin to earn a little money. This could be des-
cribed as a self-help scheme. The liberds could work at their
various trades, assisted at the beginning by tools placed at
their disposal. The libdre needs, above all, a place where
he can shelter from burning sun and violent rain and be
away from the evil influence of bad companions.
Along with these workshops could be organized the
manufacture of jams and preserves from the fruits of the
country for example, lemons, guavas, pineapples which
can be bought very cheaply. Use should also be made of
certain textile plants whose fibres can be made into rope,
and of others from which oil can be extracted. Several
acres of land could be turned into a kitchen-garden in order
S65







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
to grow the vegetables required for the restaurant and per-
haps also for sale in the town. A brickfield might also be
rented at a low figure which could employ fifteen men.
Nor would it be impossible to get a tannery going. The
libdrs could be supplied with the skins of wild animals and
reptiles and be taught how to tan them. It might also be
fairly easy to set up a soap factory which could begin in a
modest and inexpensive way. Coconuts could be bought,
for these form the basis of numerous industries. While the
export of merchandise would be difficult, its sale within
the colony should not be impossible.
A Labour Exchange is essential and this should be
located in the hostel. Employers and merchants in the
colony offer work from time to time, but they are not dis-
posed to accept the services of the first lib6rd who presents
himself; he must be recommended by someone. On the
other hand, the libdrd is not in a position to know what
situations are vacant. Such a bureau would become a
valuable link between a prospective employer and the
libdrI seeking work.
A Repatriation Service is a prime necessity as well. The
libdrds permitted to return to France must themselves find
the two thousand francs passage money. The funds of the
Society for the Welfare of Libdrs are subsidized to the tune
of six thousand francs per year. Unfortunately this society
functions only theoretically, but we could collaborate with
it in order to help the more fortunate libdrds (see note on
page 39) to save that sum and, in cases of need, to com-
plete it, for very rarely can they manage to do this on
their own.
Then our Salvation Army officers could meet these re-
patriated men as they land in France, furnishing them
with warm clothing (the liberes would not be acclimatized
to Europe after their long spell in Guiana) and also helping
them find work. This would be imperative, for reference
66







A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
to their last employer, the Penal Settlement, would effec-
tively prevent these men from finding any employment in
their homeland.
Last of all, we could also act in Guiana as a link between
the libdrds and their families.
The realization of these ideas calls for adequate build-
ings, the services of a number of officers, and sufficient
financial resources.
At Cayenne there are one or two houses which could be
placed at our disposal. At St Laurent a night shelter which
is falling into ruins could be handed over to us by the
Ministry and, with certain alterations, could be trans-
formed into a convenient hostel. Around this particular
building are unoccupied sites on which huts could be put
up as workshops for the self-help scheme. In the govern-
ment area there is also a brick-built house which would
serve admirably as headquarters and living quarters for
the officer in charge of these operations and his helpers.
The building itself would require adaptation but, as it
belongs to the Administration, it might well be placed at
our disposal free of charge.
At least three officers would be required as a beginning,
and they could be joined by two others as soon as the
hostels at Cayenne and St Laurent were both functioning.
It is not easy to estimate the cost of such an opening,
but four hundred thousand francs seems the minimum.

This report was finished on 12th September, 1928, the day
before landing at Havre. Its practical fulfilment can be
read in what now follows.


Dreams rarely come true at once. On my return to France
the rumour spread that, as Le Petit Journal said, 'the Isles
of Salvation were to be invaded by The Salvation Army'.
67







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
The rest of the press of metropolitan France both secular
and religious took up the chorus, and once again public
opinion began to make itself felt. Pierre Hamp wrote that
as, in other days, Vincent de Paul went into the galleys,
so The Salvation Army would go to Guiana.
In June 1929, Commissioner Albin Peyron called to-
gether the National Committee associated with the social
work of The Salvation Army, and this distinguished body
gave their blessing to the proposed enterprise in Guiana.
On 3rd July, 1929, supported by a group of influential
members of parliament, the Commissioner presented a
report to the Minister for the Colonies, asking for the per-
mission and support of the Government for the proposed
work in the Penal Settlement.
Meanwhile, M. Maurice Sybille, doyen of the Chamber
of Deputies, proposed an amendment in law to modify the
conditions of penal servitude by dispensing with the trans-
portation of prisoners not subject to banishment, and by
abolishing the compulsory residence of the liberds in Guiana.
The proposal was voted without debate in the Chamber,
but a senator, doubtless opposed to any kind of reform,
had it buried without any legislative action being taken.
So the months passed and letters from Guiana spurred
us on to further effort. Loriot, the libdrd from Devil's
Island, wrote:
Sir officer, I have read, with great interest, the pam-
phlets that you gave me before you left. I have thus seen
all the activities undertaken by The Salvation Army. In
coming to Guiana to establish a hostel for the libiris,
you will be coming to grips with a most thankless task.
All honour to you for trying...
As Guiana is passing through an economic crisis at
the moment there is no work for many civilians, less still
for the libires. Thus young S., aged 29 years, who was
earning only thirteen francs per day as a shop boy
and was anxious to put some money aside in view of a
68






A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
possible return to France, went into the woods to work.
He died six months later at Cony creek.
C., 28 years of age, who could not find work in
Cayenne, went off to work for a gold-mining company.
That was four months ago. A month later he died of a
bout of pernicious fever. For a year I myself earned only
eighty francs a month, although the manufactured goods
imported into Guiana are sold at nearly double their
Paris price.
When you come out here I think you will see that to
open a hostel for the libiris can be but a temporary
measure. The only real solution is the abolition of resi-
dence for life and of doublage while awaiting the dissolu-
tion of the Settlement. One cannot mend the Settlement;
it must be ended.
Carlier had not forgotten my visit and wrote from St
Laurent:
It is with great pleasure that I thank you, for I have
received a letter from my sister saying that my family
has had news of me from the ladies of The Salvation
Army. That has been a comfort to their hearts. How
grateful I am to you! But how can I show my gratitude ?
I wish that you could be back in Guiana tomorrow; the
thought that you were coming would give me courage
in my difficult situation. I have confidence in you. I am
certain you will not forget a poor prisoner like myself...
LUonce was back at St Laurent working as house-boy
for the Director.
I thank you ever so much for having been to see my
aunt. I have just received from her a most touching
letter. How good it is to be honest! Why did I commit
such a grievous sin? God has punished me, but He is
just and merciful, supporting me in my severe ordeal. I
have learned to love Him and to thank Him. Sir officer,
could you send me a Bible?
His friend Belbenoit scribbled his note from his cell on
the Isles of Salvation:






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
I have just received permission from the Comman-
dant to write and thank you for what you have done for
me since your visit to the Penal Settlement last year. I
shall soon be free. My last year in the Settlement has
commenced, but unhappily I am tied to residence for
life and thus must stay in the colony.
I am young, aged 30 years and on the army reserve.
What will be my position when I am liberated ? Coming
under the residence law I shall be obliged to live in St
Laurent or Mana or in the bush. I cannot be anything
else but a book-keeper. Will there be employment of
this sort in these places? It is very unlikely. Nine years
of the Settlement and of suffering have not got me down.
By work I could once more become a man. But if fate
and mischance fight against me, must I again become a
criminal?
Richard also wrote:
I am happy to have met you and to have understood
the object of your visit to Guiana. It is a thankless task
that The Salvation Army has taken on, but all the same
a most necessary task. I earnestly believe that you will
succeed and I want you to know that I have decided to
place myself entirely at your service to assist you in any
way I can. I very much desire to become a soldier of
The Salvation Army and I am quite ready to give my
whole life joyfully to its service, for I desire not only to
be redeemed in the eyes of men, but also in the eyes of
Him who died for me.
The following month came a further letter:
I feel that God is asking me to work for Him. There-
fore, if the Army considers me worthy to become a sol-
dier in its ranks, I will consecrate myself entirely to its
service, and will place myself at your disposal in order
to help you here in Guiana in the work that you desire
to undertake.






A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
Nearly all the buildings in Cayenne are made of wood,
and during the course of a terrible fire that spread over a
wide area of the town, Richard distinguished himself by
his courage. He saved the lives of several people trapped
by the fire and was going to enter a burning building once
again when it collapsed. Richard was seriously hurt and
was taken to hospital. While he was slowly recovering the
Governor secured his pardon.
Meanwhile, convicts continued to be sent to the settle-
ment and the libdres must have despaired of ever seeing
us arrive.
On 8th February, 1933, the Minister for the Colonies
received a delegation from The Salvation Army and
announced his willingness that work should be begun in
the Penal Settlement.
Confirmation of this was given in writing on Ioth May.
'I duly accredit you to the Governor of Guiana. I am
saying to him as well that I want your work to be facili-
tated in every way, both with the convicts and the
librds.'
This date marked the establishment of a Bureau du Bagne
at the Army Headquarters in Paris. This was the secre-
tariat for the work in Guiana.
Our objective was threefold. First of all, to organize a
consultative committee on the proposed work in Guiana
which would bring together, under the joint chairmanship
of the Ministers of Justice, of the Colonies and of the
Interior, all who were interested in colonial enterprises,
whether voluntary or government workers. Next, to stir
up public opinion on behalf of such plans as were proposed
so as to secure adequate financial support.
To do this the secretariat publicized the scheme among
our many friends and offered to arrange lectures. Within
a fortnight more than six hundred requests came in and I






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
began to tour the country speaking on 'What I saw in the
Bagne'.
The public flocked to these gatherings, held sometimes
in a village kitchen where a score or so of peasants crowd
together, at other times in religious buildings the Oratory
at Nimes, the Temple of Marseilles, the church of St Paul
at Strasbourg or in the halls of the universities at Rennes,
Caen, Montpellier. Frequently we were offered large
public halls which proved too small for the great audiences
that gathered the Wagram Hall in Paris, the Alhambra
at Bordeaux, the Rameau Hall at Lyons and the Circus of
Limoges. Prefects, mayors, magistrates, members of the
legislature, men of letters presided at these gatherings, and
so several hundreds of thousands of persons were reached
and made to understand the necessity for helping our
effort. Freewill offerings, charges for admission, donations
were gathered in. Sympathizers formed a Ligue des Amis
du Bagnard libdrd. Best of all, the meetings were followed by
press reports which reached an even wider public.
These meetings were also a Christian witness. Given
under the Army flag, they showed that the mainspring of
all redemptive work is in Jesus Christ. Many listeners were
greatly moved by the revelation of a form of Christianity
which they did not dream existed.
Finally, the secretariat had to prepare the expedition.
The Commissioner chose seven officers from among the
many volunteers and fixed the date of departure as the
beginning of July 1933. Essential material sets of tools,
camping outfits, colonial clothing, medicines, hostel equip-
ment was also bought.
A month before the departure a farewell meeting was
held in the great amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, which
was packed to the doors. On the platform were M. Justin
Godart, senator and former Minister; Governor-General
Olivier; Pierre Hamp; J. H. Julien, Honorary Governor
72






A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN
of the Colonies; Lalande of the Colonial Union; Ernest
Mallet, Director of the Bank of France, our treasurer;
Etienne Matter, our faithful supporter; Julien Reinach,
master of petitions to the Council of State; Andre You,
honorary director at the Ministry for the Colonies; and
other outstanding figures in the life of France. In the
centre, wearing their white uniforms, were the chosen
seven soon to leave for the Bagne.
On 5th July, the eve of the departure, a final ceremony
of consecration was held in the Central Hall and the flag to
be unfurled in Cayenne was presented to the officers.
The day was Founder's Day, happy symbol of the fact
that this latest enterprise was one after William Booth's
own heart. The songs sung were those of victory and joy.
The prayers offered besought God to bestow His love in
abundant measure upon the chosen seven, for only divine
compassion would be sufficient for the human sin and
suffering of the Bagne. The Scripture reading included the
words, 'The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord
make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee
peace.'
The new flag, surrounded by the flags of the Army
corps in Paris, was dedicated to God. As the seven knelt
beneath its folds, their comrade officers encircled them
and, with uplifted hand, pledged their own loyalty to
The flag with the star in the centre,
The yellow, the red and the blue.





















6. 'THE ARMY IS HERE!'


The uneventful sea journey gave us time to study our
forthcoming plan of campaign in detail. We were deter-
mined to allow no grass to grow under our feet once we
arrived at the Bagne. Within twelve days we reached
Guadeloupe; by dawn the following morning we sighted
the irregular outline of Martinique. Here we changed
boats and boarded the Antille, successor to the Biskra.
Within twenty-four hours we had called at Barbados and
at Trinidad and struck once again the trail that led to
the Bagne.
The officer in charge of the Army home there showed
us the sleeping-quarters for the escapees who managed to
reach Trinidad by boat. These men were arrested on
arrival, but such was their exhaustion and distress that
they were handed over to the care of The Salvation Army
instead of being clapped once more into prison.
Those who reached the island had fought desperately
for anything from ten to thirty days against wind and wave






'THE ARMY IS HERE!'
in a frail dug-out canoe. (The packet-boat does thejourney
in five days.) They used to arrive in such a state of weak-
ness that even official hearts were moved to pity.
'How do you look upon these men?' I asked the officer.
'We have a different point of view,' he replied. 'The
French administration must take account of the past and
the reason why they were transported to Cayenne. We
only see sick and neglected men whom suffering has
reduced to a state of collapse. So we welcome them at the
request of the authorities, who repay later whatever ex-
penses we may have had on their behalf.'
'You take them in as you would anyone else?'
'Certainly; a man is .always a man. Besides, how many
are there among the inmates of our institutions whose
pasts are beyond reproach? If all the guilty people were
punished, half the world would go to Cayenne,' added my
colleague, half in jest, half in earnest, as we went down-
stairs together. 'These escapees have more courage, per-
severance and hardihood than any other men I know.'
'How many of them have you had through the home?'
I asked.
'One hundred and eighty since the beginning of the
year. They are always very well behaved.'
The siren of the Antille ended our discussion and the
problem of the escapees in Trinidad had to remain un-
solved.
If Trinidad was 'hospitable' towards the escapees,
British Guiana was not. The police arrested them and
returned them to the Bagne. During the past six months
one hundred and eight escapees had passed through the
Army home in Georgetown, and all were grateful for the
care shown to them before they were sent back to Cayenne.
'Some of them know you,' said the officer, and his wife
described the frightening appearance of those who reached
Georgetown more dead than alive.






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
As she brought out several photographs I recognized a
face. 'Do you know that skinny little one, ever so young?'
she asked. 'He was so sick that the police left him alone.'
Carefully the officer eased up a corner of the picture and
bending over I made out a name Gaudron.
'What! Gaudron? Why yes, it is certainly him, he's
Lablat's friend. I last saw Gaudron at the camp of the
Malagasies. Where is he now?'
'As an exceptional favour the Consul gave him papers,
and he took a boat for Spain,' answered the officer. 'Since
then we don't know what has happened to him.'
'Just a Christmas card, eighteen months ago, to thank
us,' said the wife. 'You know him, then?'
'A little. Did he come from St Laurent?'
'No, he passed through Paramaribo where a Dutch
comrade helped him.'
At Paramaribo I raised the same question with the
Captain.
'Don't talk to me about escapees,' he replied. 'What a
headache! They reach here half-dead and come straight
to me. If I shelter them the police arrest them and then
upbraid me for not having reported their arrival. But if I
turn them out they are so exhausted that they die on my
doorstep.'
'Well?'
'Well, I take them in. What else can I do? I haven't the
heart to refuse them. It is hard to know what to do for the
best. What are you going to say when you get to the Bagne?'
'Advise them not to escape, I think.'
'Obviously, but once they have got away, I can't do
anything else but receive them. I quite understand that
this makes for bad feeling between your folk and us, but
what else can we do?'
'Have you had through your hands a skinny-looking
escapee by the name of Andre Gaudron?'







'THE ARMY IS HERE!'
'Gaudron why, yes! That was several years ago. He
said he had met you in 1928. I found him in the prison
when my wife and I went to pay our weekly visit. When
the warder opened the cell door and said "French es-
capee", I saw in a dark corner a creature so thin and pale
that I thought I was looking at a skeleton which had been
forgotten. His eyes were lifeless, his half-open mouth
showed he had no teeth. His feet and his ankles were ban-
daged up and he was making unintelligible sounds. My
wife said to him in broken French: "You are very young
to have already been to the Bagne. Can I do anything for
you? We are The Salvation Army and I can see that you
are hurt."
'The poor fellow was almost too weak to speak. At last
he said, "I walked for twenty-two days through the forest
- and to think it is all for nothing!"
'We did what we could for him. My wife spoke to him
about God and we knelt down to pray. He was in tears.
After that we went to see him every week. He could neither
read nor write so we taught him Dutch, but six months
later the police handed him back to the French.'
'That was long ago?' I asked.
'Wait; that is not the end. One evening I had returned
from the meeting and was going to bed when someone
knocked. When I went to the door, who should be there
but Gaudron! He had escaped for the second time.
'In the morning I got into touch with the magistrate,
who could hardly believe that Gaudron, extradited a year
before, had already returned, but as he had no cause to
re-arrest him, he gave him permission to stay here for a
month. Clothing was found for him, he took his food in
the hostel here and, on his last Sunday with us, he pro-
fessed conversion. He went away without telling us where
he was going, but I found out that he went to Georgetown.'
'Yes, and from there he left for Spain.'







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
'What an odyssey!'
On that note we left for the last stage of the journey to
the Bagne.


At a very early hour on the morning of 3oth July 1933,
an almost imperceptible greyish line appeared on the
horizon. It was Cape Galibi at the mouth of the Maroni.
As the Antille rounded the northern buoy the launch
belonging to the Penal Administration approached with
the pilot. A guard was on the bridge and another stood
watch over the four convicts who, naked to the waist, were
doing duty as the crew. With the pilot at the ship's tele-
graph, we moved steadily and at last, after an interval of
five years, I saw again the houses of St Laurent. Another
hour passed and we were at the worm-eaten jetty with the
uniformed officials and their families waiting and, further
back on the bank, a group of liberes, several convicts and
some Negroes. As the Antille lowered her gangway my
head began to swim. It was not the strong tropical sun nor
any end of the voyage weariness. The unbelievable had
come true. What looked impossible had come to pass. The
Salvation Army was in the Bagne. The era of projects and
plans was over. Now was the time for action.
Most moving of all was to see once again these people
who were to be our people. Their emaciated faces, sunken
eyes, naked feet, toes eaten by chiques, would be our care.
It is true that I had never ceased to think of these convicts
in pyjamass', but I had forgotten that they were so
numerous, looked so miserable and were so abandoned.
The news soon ran round that we had arrived.
'Lucien! I say! Lucien!' A grocer called from his door-
way to a libdrd who was running past. 'A reporter is looking
for you.'
'Hang the reporter!' replied Lucien without stopping.







'THE ARMY IS HERE!'
'The Salvation Army's here!' With a derisive gesture he
dismissed the journalist.
'Is it true that you have press men?' I asked the grocer
with some amusement.
'Well, everyone must earn his living.' And then, after
a silence, he added, 'If you were the Messiah these libirds
could not make more fuss of you.'
'Anything new after these five years?'
'Oh, nothing much. The Bagne is still here; the libirds
are still as vicious; men are still as thirsty. Happily,' he
continued, 'it is good for business.'
We interviewed the Director, who promised to give us
a large hall for our work and a small house called 'The
Presbytery' where the officers could live. I met again a
number of folk whom I knew as well, so this all increased
my confidence.
Then the siren of the Antille sounded again and we had
to leave for Cayenne. In a month's time work would have
begun at St Laurent.














Ui _. II lilJ li--- '
-- -


7. THE DOORS ARE OPENING


The Antille reached Cayenne in brilliant sunshine on Ist
August. The capital was now blessed with a landing stage
and the mail-boat was able to draw alongside. As soon as
the gangway was lowered the authorities came aboard -
the police and health officers, the agent of the Compagnie
Gdndrale Transatlantique and his servant, a formidable con-
vict in red and white pyjamas (the uniform of his category).
Plainly we were back in Cayenne.
These four were followed by a crowd of visitors who
rushed pell-mell on board. The gangway was too small to
take such an onrush, and some of them climbed over the
bulwarks to invade the first-class smoking-room and the
saloon, under the astonished eye of the deck boy. The bar
was well patronized and the head waiter soon sold off all
the camembert left by the passengers. The fact is that all
who can come aboard do so just to breathe or touch or
smell something which has come from France.
We ourselves made quite a stir. The unloading of our
numerous boxes made us appear to be people of conse-
quence in the eyes of the customs officials, and temporary
accommodation was soon found in the local hotel.






THE DOORS ARE OPENING
The news of our coming spread like wildfire among the
libre's as well. Within an hour of our arrival, and to the
despair of the hotel manager, a number of callers were
waiting at the door, hoping that we would receive them.
Since that first day we were unable to have a single meal
without some disturbance.
Every morning we reviewed the situation and briefed
ourselves for the day's programme. A shed was hired on
the quayside as a store for our goods and there we set up
a carpenter's shop. Two libirbs began immediately to make
some furnishings. A fortnight later we ran up the Salvation
Army flag. We also leased the peninsula ofMontjoly, about
eight miles distant from Cayenne, where we planned to
set up a farm as a work camp. The Lieutenant with us
was installed there with twenty libdrds, and within three
weeks we were selling the first fruits of our labour in
the town.
At Cayenne we opened our hostel for liberds in the Rue
Malouet, between the Place des Palmistes and the Laussat
canal, which is the quarter where they gather. This was a
building with three large rooms on the ground floor and
ten on the first floor. On one side was a courtyard with
the usual domestic offices and on the other a garden. Im-
mediately opposite was a park, and all this ensured plenty
of fresh air. The Captain, with the aid of a dozen libdrds,
cleaned up the rooms. Thus within a month we were tack-
ling the work which we had set out to do to furnish the
libdrds with the means of earning a living and to offer them
some chance of rehabilitation. There were fewer libdrds at
Cayenne than at St Laurent, but even so the number ran
to several hundreds.
Very much in my thoughts was Vignon who, five years
previously, had founded the Cercle des Liberds. He had then
had a good situation in an important business house and
was not more than forty years old. I looked for him in vain






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
for several days, until one morning a letter reached me in
his copperplate handwriting.
It is a wonderful surprise to me to hear of your return
here. I no longer believed it possible. I am unable to
get out and I beg you to call and see me....
Without delay I went along to the address which he
gave and, directed by a Negro woman, made my way up
a rickety stairway and along a dismal corridor to his room.
For a moment we stared at each other. He was deaf, aged,
sick and feverish. A ragged jacket, worn out at the collar,
barely covered him; he had no shirt and his feet were
shoeless.
'You remember me, don't you?' he began apologeti-
cally. 'All was going well when you left here in 1928. I had
a situation which enabled me to live honestly and to await
what all of us here wait for. My relatives even came to see
me. Then came the crisis. The firm where I worked closed
down and I found myself out of work. So I went to the
forest for eighteen months on a gold-mining job. But I was
stricken with fever and taken to hospital me, who till
then had never known a day's illness. I couldn't work any
more, and since you were here last the libdrd finds it more
difficult than ever to make ends meet. I have gone into
debt just to keep myself from starving.'
'But what about your family?' I asked.
'Business in Indo-China is at a standstill. They are
ruined and I can no longer count on them. As you can see,
I have lost everything.'
'No pardon?' I inquired, referring to the administra-
tive steps taken on his behalf.
'Not a word!'
Come and see me tomorrow,' I said finally, shaking his
hand.
'I cannot go out,' he answered pointing to his rags and







THE DOORS ARE OPENING
his bare feet. Holding me back he asked, 'What about
your plans?'
'You can help us, Vignon. I want your help.'
His face brightened up as he went on, 'I no longer
believed in it, you know. I thought you would never come
back.'
'What about Benoit and the others?' I asked. 'What
happened to them?'
'Benoit tried to escape and was captured.'
'I know, but then I intervened on his behalf.'
'He got six months' solitary confinement at St Joseph.
Then he was liberated and escaped once more.'
'Where is he now?'
'I have heard he was arrested again in France.'
'We shall know soon, for a shipload is coming at
Christmas.'
'A good present for the colony,' muttered Vignon.
Of all those of the Cercle that I met in 1928, I could find
only Vignon. Richard had left more than a year ago, free;
no one seemed to know whether he had arrived in France
or not. Leonce was dead, as well as Georges and his friend.
Loriot had gone back to France and should have arrived
there. The others were dead or had escaped. The Bagne
was a devourer of men.
At first we were often stopped in the street by libdr6s who
told us their stories and asked for help. We dared not refuse
them, though we feared they would only waste the money
in drink. But we cheered ourselves with the thought that
the hostel would soon be ready.
Towards the end of the month Commissioner Peyron
came out accompanied by his daughter Irene* and by
another Captain who was to remain with us. The Com-
missioner stayed for a month, glad to see that the Army
*Commissioner Irene Peyron, at present in charge of the work of The
Salvation Army in France.







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
flag which he had given us in Paris was flying now in
Cayenne. He was able to help us on certain debatable
points raised by the plans we had formulated in order to
help prisoners still undergoing sentence. By interviews with
the Director of the Penal Administration and the Governor
at Cayenne, he was also able to delimit our work so as to
avoid any difficulties with the Administration.
From St Laurent he wrote to Paris.
Sunday was an unforgettable day with meetings in
the convicts' quarters, the transportation camp, a visit
to men under sentence of death in their cells, and a talk
to the libirds in a room of the hostel. I spoke from a plat-
form decorated with palms with the Army flag over my
head. When it was placed there the men applauded
spontaneously, and the meeting finished with the cry
Vive Jesus Christ!' raised by one of them...
Next Sunday I am to visit St Jean where there are
nine hundred relgues. .. Certainly the doors are open-
ing here but we need the wisdom of the serpent and the
gentleness of a dove.
And from Cayenne the Commissioner wrote:
A very cordial interview with the Governor, and a
visit to our colony of Montjoly, a charming site. I believe
we shall be able to restore its former fruitfulness. Then
a journey by sea, in a canoe with oars and sails over
rather rough water, to the island of La Mire, where we
were received by the widow of a former official, sen-
tenced to the Bagne for having embezzled the proceeds
of a sale of ecclesiastical property. This extraordinarily
energetic woman works with six convicts; she raises
cattle and pigs and is completely self-supporting on her
island....
Yesterday afternoon we went to the camp of the trans-
portts for a meeting at which there were nearly a hundred
convicts under sentence and guarded by a dozen war-
ders. I was accompanied' by the chief commandant of
the camp and by all the officers with the exception of






THE DOORS ARE OPENING
the Lieutenant who was at Montjoly. Our message was
simply the good news of salvation. As we came out the
commandant said to me, 'I saw tears in many eyes.'...
The officers are well. The Captain was stung by a
vampire which slid in under his mosquito net and left
him with a running sore. The Lieutenant had a battle
with a snake. About twenty labourers are working on
the property repairing the house, which is built on
piles, clearing up the old gardens and making wood
charcoal. Two labourers are busy in the workshop. We
hope soon to complete the furnishings of La Maison de
France (as we have decided to call it), which will provide
us with our headquarters, the officers with rooms, the
librds and the coloured people with a restaurant and a
hall for meetings.
We pressed on with the work at La Maison de France, for
we wanted to remind the liberds of the atmosphere of their
homeland. The meeting hall looked well; four French
windows on either side let in plenty of light.
In September the restaurant was opened. The libdrds
could eat there or, if they wished, take their food out. It
was well patronized from the start. Some paid for their
meals; others bought food by means of meal tickets given
them by generous donors; others were fed at our expense.
Vignon became our book-keeper. From this point on-
wards we no longer gave help in money, only in food.
The carpenter's shop was working at full pressure.
Having finished making folding beds (somewhat like camp
beds), we set up three dormitories of ten to twelve beds
each. Each bed had its own mosquito net and the price
was fixed at from fifty centimes to one franc per night.


From the Orinoco to the Amazon the coast of Guiana is
depressingly flat. Only a few miles offshore and the land
is lost to sight. As there are no landmarks, nothing but a






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
forest of mangroves from Venezuela to Brazil, sailors have
to be particularly skilful in order to avoid the sandbanks.
The muddy water indicates the shallowness of the sea or
the nearness of the estuary of a river. Cayenne is the one
exception. The hills which surround the town, and the
chaplet of islands which protect the approach, are in-
valuable for navigation. From the north can be seen the
Isles of Salvation, then l'Enfant perdu. Approaching from
the south there is the dangerous Connetable reef, then the
Father and Mother Islands, outposts of the continent.
From a tall mast on one of these hills, called Montjoly,
the flag of The Salvation Army flew since 25th August,
1933. The headland is a spur from the Rorota mountain,
which holds two or three lakes that supply drinking water
to Cayenne. Montjoly ('Mount Beautiful') is well-named
and looks out towards France. That has significance
enough for us. Linked to the mainland by an isthmus some
three hundred yards long, the peninsula presents to the
fury of the waves a mass of enormous rocks which overhang
the sea at a height of about two hundred feet and then
slope down in a descent which is covered with impenetrable
vegetation. To the south there is the bay of Remire with
its golden beach; to the west, a long ribbon of fine sand
links up with Bourda, the summer residence of the Gover-
nor. The trade winds and the sea breezes sweep the hill
throughout the day and drive back the fever-ridden mists
from the swamps which lie on the other side of the isthmus.
The Lieutenant began by gathering around him some
twenty libdres and, after three days' work, a carriage road
was completed to link the settlement with the main road
that circles the island. Huts were also erected on the top of
the hill and simply furnished. One of the libdrds was made
chief cook and used to concoct a soup which was often
beyond human description. In his favour it should be men-
tioned that for kitchen range he had only a few old petrol







THE DOORS ARE OPENING
cans, and for saucepans a collection of jam or fruit tins.
While waiting for the huts to be finished we lived in the
open under an enormous breadfruit tree laden with fruit.
Two of the librds built a bread oven and a kitchen.
Others started to cut away the undergrowth and clear the
land, while those working in our workshop at Cayenne
made us tables, forms and folding beds. By the end of a
month we had doubled our roll of workers and, thanks to
our light van, could send into town the products of our
farm fruit, vegetables, wood charcoal and even fish, for
we set up a fishery. The Lieutenant made a trench about
a mile and a half long and, by an ingenious irrigation
system, brought the water of Rorota into the farm, even
as far as the kitchen sink!
Within a few weeks Montjoly was a sight to gladden
the heart. The kitchen-garden was in full production, the
banana plantations looked delightful, and the raising of
pigs and other farm stock was satisfactory.
But the road to Cayenne was unworthy of the name.
With our ancient Ford we dared not ever travel at speed
and at any time we were likely to be jolted to pieces.
Plainly the van could not stand up to it, though of the two
or three roads around Cayenne the one we followed was
the best; the others beggared description. There were
quagmires on every side. How could roads be kept in good
condition in a country where stones were rare and which
is swept by torrential rain almost every day?
The little hamlet of Montjoly, originally founded by
refugees from Martinique who fled from the eruption of
Mont Peld in 1902, was the settlement's nearest neighbour.
A few Antillians also worked small farms in the neighbour-
hood, but there were almost as many Arab liberds as settlers
from Martinique.
Soon the settlement prospered. The surroundings at
Montjoly were peaceful and this made for good work. At
87







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
dawn every morning the Lieutenant would call together
the men. He now had thirty former convicts, whose tattoo-
ings recalled their old life and whose strange mentality
would express itself at times in looks which could be some-
what disconcerting. He would give them their work for the
day, then read to them a passage of Scripture and all
would sing a verse of a hymn. On Sunday mornings these
men gathered around the Bible in real meeting fashion.
More than anything else, the officer's example was an
irrefutable argument for the gospel.
By October 1933 we were established in the heart of the
Bagne at St Laurent-du-Maroni, one hundred and fifty
miles from Cayenne. Two officers remained at Cayenne
and two at Montjoly, while another Captain and myself
set up the home at St Laurent.
That day the Antille left again. 'If you have any letters
for the post', said the Captain, 'better let me have them.'
Now there was no returning!
First we made up a list of the articles we needed for
working, eating and sleeping. The director of the Galeries
supplied us with plates, glasses, dishes and cutlery; an
Indian on the corer sold us tins of preserves, and
Frederick, a libe&r, brought us bread, wood charcoal and
sold us a typewriter. (We did not know until two years
later that he had stolen it from some source unknown.)
We needed staff, but what embarrassed us was how to
make a choice. Soon a group of libidrs had gathered at the
door and one of them stole round the back of our lodgings
and climbed in by a window.
'Sir!' he called from behind me.
'I know you,' I replied, turning round. A pale smile lit
up the features of a man, short of stature and with a face
prematurely aged. 'Why, it is Lablat, Gaudron's pal!'
'Yes; you saw us at the Malagasies' camp. I am now a
librJ.' In the same tones he added, 'I know how to cook!'
88







THE DOORS ARE OPENING
'All right, fix yourself up,' I answered.
Little Lablat made his way through the waiting crowd,
saying that a man's quality does not depend on his inches.
In the kitchen he 'dropped his jacket' as they say in Mar-
seilles, his native town, but it was too late to cook and his
services for the day consisted in sharing with us a tin of
sardines and a piece of cheese.
'Haven't you got a key to the door?' asked Lablat. 'I
can't stop people coming in, and they all want to chat
with you. There are thieves around as well, you know.'
One of the liberds insisted so strongly on seeing us that at
last we had to let him in. He was an old man with a
wizened face, trembling and weeping with emotion.
'At last you are here!' he said. 'Don't you remember
your old house-boy Carlier?'
I could not believe my eyes. This emaciated old fellow,
dirty, beard unkempt, eyes glassy, feet bare, his legs
covered with ulcers, a sack serving him as an apron, his
trousers all torn and tattered, this Carlier!
'You see,' he explained, 'since you saw me last I have
been liberated. Now I cannot even find enough to keep
body and soul together.'
His naked chest was tattooed with two palms which
framed a date 1917, the year of his crime. So we took
on Carlier as well.
The Captain, however, was not very happy, and felt
that if we engaged only such hungry-looking skeletons as
these we should never be able to carry through our plans.
The fact that we hired five or six that first evening made
trouble for us. Several hours later one was drunk with joy;
two others fought out of jealousy; Carlier, from sheer
emotion, was taken with a bout of fever and had to be
removed to hospital. Lablat alone held the fort; in his
frightful accent but with his superior smile, he said, 'This
is nothing to what is coming. Men of this type are not so
89






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
easy to handle!' We began to suspect that charity was not
entirely an unmixed blessing when bestowed upon ex-
prisoners.
As we passed the doorway of a little shop an old man
greeted us. 'Can't you place me?' he asked. 'No? I am
Blanco. I saw you at St Jean five years ago.'
'That's true; you've got a better memory than I.'
'Oh, but there's every excuse for your not knowing me.
A man ages so quickly in this country.'
'What has happened to you?'
'As you can see, I have set up a little business in
souvenirs of Guiana.' His little shop was furnished with
caskets in sculptured wood, paper-knives, miniature guil-
lotines, articles in balata-wood, whips and all manner of
decorative designs.
'How's everything going?' I asked.
'Not so well, but I am on my own and can live on little.
Since coming here one has grown used to being on short
commons.'
'How long is that?' I asked.
'You mean since coming to Guiana?'
'Yes.'
'That would be nineteen years. I have asked for a par-
don. Perhaps one day I shall be able to return.'
Blanco spoke quietly and politely. He had been a butler
and retained his former bearing and speech. We bought
several articles and promised to see him again.
That first night was a bad one. It was very hot and we
had left the doors open in the hope of getting a current of
air through the house. But as the place was formerly un-
occupied save for a variety of animals ranging from ticks
to reptiles and from ants to vampires, this menagerie
visited us en masse.
Situated at the angle of Rue Melinon and Prevel
Square, 'Le Presbytdre' as our house was called consisted






THE DOORS ARE OPENING
of a raised ground floor, with five rooms looking on to
the street, the square and the garden, from which there
was access to the domestic offices. In the centre there was
a well and, at the entrance, a fine citron tree whose
branches hung over the wall into the street, to the profit
of prowlers.
On the other side of the square was the house of the
Mayor-Commandant, for here the Mayor was also a
commandant of the penitentiary. In front of the church,
in a sentry-box, an Arab guard sat day and night.
Armed with a stout cudgel, the hardness of which was
known to drunk or disorderly libre's, it was his duty to
bar all undesirables from the church and the official
quarter.
Once more out of hospital, Carlier resumed his duties.
He was washing some crockery by the well, when suddenly
he waved his long, skinny arms, broke a plate and dis-
appeared! We rushed to extricate him from the bottom of
an ants' nest which had swallowed him up. Only with
great difficulty could we get him out, and then found that
the ants had constructed a fantastic subterranean network
of tunnels and that one of their galleries ran under the
house of a neighbour, twenty yards away or more. Poor
Carlier was white as a sheet and said: 'I thought I had
fallen into Hell!'
Lablat broke out with his peculiar laugh and, conscious
of his lack of inches, added, 'If it had been me, they would
never have found me.'
Every day dozens of liberds would wait at the door for
attention. They expected that we could deal with their
affairs offhand. But this was impossible for, in order to
help usefully, one must know the man, listen to his story,
verify his statements, think over his problems and then try
to find a solution. All this took time, besides which, in
recounting their life-stories, they would often go back to






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
their grandparents and lose themselves in a mass of detail.
Others could tell a good tale and dramatize their stories
at will. The individualism of the Frenchman lost nothing
in this setting, as each tried to distinguish himself from his
fellows by a more picturesque yarn. Further, some of these
men had become completely self-deceived. They could not
distinguish between truth and imagination. What made
our task more complicated still was the fact that there was
no one universal remedy. Each individual case demanded
individual treatment.
Under the direction of the Captain a dozen libdrds soon
put the former warders' workshop into good repair. This
was a large, single-storied building, surrounded by a
veranda and divided up into spacious rooms. Disused for a
number of years, it was situated on the outskirts of the
town near the edge of the forest. It had been built by
military engineers, with double walls, made of brick, on a
metal framework, and with a double vaulted ceiling and
a cement floor so that the inside temperature was not so
high as in other buildings in the town.
We gave the place a thorough clean-up and its appear-
ance changed for the better every day. We dug a kitchen
and fruit garden around it and marked this off by a fence.
At the entrance we put up two tall flag-poles for the French
and Salvation Army flags. On the north wall a big inscrip-
tion could be read at a distance The Salvation Army
Home'. Electricity was installed, the well cleaned, the gut-
ters cleared out and the sanitary fittings put in order. The
office, storeroom, kitchen, pantry and dining-hall occupied
a third of the building. At the far end were a dormitory
and several small rooms with two or three beds. Finally,
in the centre was the meeting-hall, which also served as a
recreation room. Underneath for the building was raised
some six feet from the ground were the general store room,
the carpenter's shop and the gardener's and night watch-







THE DOORS ARE OPENING
man's rooms. We ran up an interior stairway for the staff
and an exterior one for our lodgers. One libdrd, who was a
decorator, brightened up the rooms by painting scriptural
texts on the walls, and another fixed up a bowling alley
against the house.
At first we had many worries with the staff. In the first
few weeks we changed the whole lot three times over.
These rascals asked us, on the second or third day, for an
advance on their meagre wages. Knowing they had
nothing, we used to oblige them. Alas! we would not see
them again for another two or three days when they would
come back and ask to be forgiven and reinstated. They
got drunk on the strength of their new importance. Nearly
everyone got drunk in the colony, either in private or in
public. Because we did not do so, and had no desire to, we
were taken for peculiar folk who wanted to be different,
and our moral authority was considerably diminished in
the eyes of these drink addicts. Not to act like them seemed
to be either a kind of provocation or a silent protest against
their ways. To offer a hand to a libdrd and to talk with him
gained his confidence but tended to alienate us from the
rest of the population and the Penal Administration.
Three weeks after our arrival at St Laurent the hostel
was opened.We had a house-warming at which we received
all the important people of the colony, administration
officials, doctors, engineers and so on. The Director of the
Penal Settlement presided, and the Mayor-Commandant
made a speech. As it was very hot we served soft drinks in
champagne glasses loaned by a shopkeeper. Five convicts
toiled for two hours in order to keep the drinks ice-cold.
The building was suitably decorated and, in honour of the
event, the libdrds had a meal on the house.
The cook marked this day of glory by getting up-
roariously drunk and we had to bail him out of prison
next morning. The two house-boys also toasted this unique
93







THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
occasion more well than wisely and we found one of them
under the stairs and the other in the bread trough. Those
who availed themselves of the night shelter, paying a franc
for their supper and sleeping free, decided to use the franc
left to them by our liberality by taking it to the Chinaman
on the corner, who doubtless gave thanks to his ancestral
gods for having inspired us with such generous thoughts.
He was thus able to decant his stock of rum into the
stomachs of our lodgers and by ten o'clock half the libdrds
were so drunk that they could not find the door of the
hostel but were stumbling along the garden fence.
Then the Captain went down with jaundice and I with
fever. Thus everyone, after his own fashion, marked the
opening of the home as a red-letter day. In the morning
we found that someone had stolen the cords of the flag,
half the tools in the workshop, three sacks of wood char-
coal, all the cutlery from the restaurant, the reserve of
meat and the chef's cap!
The commissioner of police, crippled with rheumatism,
did not put himself out for such a trifle, but he sent his
chief assistant a coloured man to take our statement.
The suspected thieves were very proud of their deed for,
thanks to them, the sale of rum flourished to the gratifi-
cation of all. From the municipality which distilled and
sold it, to the assistant police officer who usually turned a
blind eye to those who drank it, secretly or openly, every-
one save ourselves was perfectly happy!
By November 1933 La Maison de France at Cayenne was
finished and was opened by a wedding.
The Captain's fiancee, herself an officer of The Salvation
Army, arrived by mail-boat in the early hours of the
morning. (This brought our number up to six officers.)
The ceremony at the Town Hall was at eleven o'clock and,
resplendent in our white uniforms, we accompanied the
bridal pair. M. le Maire, who was accompanied by two
94






THE DOORS ARE OPENING
councillors (men of colour like himself) officiated with
great friendliness and charm. His tri-coloured scarf was
girded over his spotless morning jacket. Except for shirt-
fronts, cuffs, teeth and the whites of their eyes, everything
about these three honourable magistrates was jet black.
The contrast was the greater because, with the bridal pair
and their friends, everything was immaculately white.
The marriage itself was an event, and so invitations
were sent to the European colony and to all other impor-
tant people.
The religious ceremony was in the afternoon and by
four o'clock the hall was full. The Governor, in full uni-
form, occupied the front row with his family; the secretary-
general and all the service chiefs were also present. The
local officials likewise showed their desire to express their
good wishes to The Salvation Army and the young married
couple.
Crowded together at the back of the hall a group of
libdrds tried to make themselves less conspicuous so that
their presence should not offend so distinguished an
audience.
As we had neither band nor piano we had hidden a
gramophone pick-up under the green plants, and the plan
was that we should enter in procession to the strains of the
Bridal March. At a given signal the Captain set the ampli-
fier going and took his place in the procession. The congre-
gation rose, but a fearful racket deafened the assembly.
The loudspeakers were badly adjusted and the record was
warped by the heat so that there was such a row that we
might have been at a circus rather than hearing an organ
recital. We could not retreat. We must advance, so we
mounted the platform to the accompaniment of this noise,
trying to look unperturbed. Inwardly I blessed the seem-
ingly endless howlings of that record. When at last it
ended it was as if peace had been signed. But the ceremony






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
went through happily in an atmosphere of serenity and,
after the exchange of vows and rings, our two comrades
knelt beneath the Army flag. These two young people, far
from their families and their country, had come together
to serve God and the outcasts of society. After their short
but touching testimonies and the reading of messages from
France, a Bible address brought the ceremony to a close.
But suddenly darkness fell. There is no twilight in this
country and we had forgotten it. There was an electricity
plant, but the generators were never started up until sun-
set that is if the liberd in charge was at his post. If not, he
had to be sent for, which was what happened that evening.
The congregation looked like an assembly of ghosts in a
cave, and so we hurriedly set in motion an electric unit we
ourselves had installed to cover any breakdowns in the
current. Immediately the hall was flooded with light, but
the motor made a noise like a machine-gun, drowning the
voice of the speaker, and amid this deafening row this
rather noisy gathering came to an end. Happily the cur-
rent from the town came through shortly afterwards, so
that the newly married couple received the good wishes of
the visitors in peace. When they had all gone the liberds
came forward, for they also wanted to wish happiness and
long life to our comrades. They presented them with a
lovely bouquet of flowers and thanked the bride and bride-
groom in moving terms for having come out to them.
Several had tears in their eyes as the young bride offered
them her hand and said how greatly she would treasure
the flowers. At seven o'clock the boat left for St Laurent
with the bride and bridegroom on board.
We were glad to notice that there were fewer half-naked
libdrds wandering through the town. Those who were fit
were working, for at the moment there was plenty of work.
Those who were sick and the elderly were looked after at
our hostel; the lazy and the awkward were sent back to






THE DOORS ARE OPENING
St Laurent. That is not to say that Cayenne had been
cleaned up of those whom the inhabitants used to call
'this plague', for some three hundred libres still lived there.
Though most of them were well behaved it only needed a
few good-for-nothings to bring the presence of these
pariahs back to public notice.
La Maison de France was a kind of moral and spiritual
clinic directed by the Captain and his wife, out of which
would come every now and then several thoroughly
changed men broken vessels repaired by the grace of
God. A hundred libdrds were constantly under our care at
this time, though our worst enemy was the absence of hope
among those who could not see themselves returning to
ordinary life again.

Montjoly became a source of great encouragement to us.
We set up a good service between La Maison de France and
the farm, and when we went there it was as much a red-
letter day for the Lieutenant as for the libdrs. The journey
was not long. Seven miles along the main road a trail,
barely the width of the van, bore off to the left. The lane,
between the two hedges of high bushes, was so narrow that
the driver had to be very skilful to avoid being hit by an
overhanging branch. Then the track widened and a fine
avenue, bordered by coconut-palms and banana trees, led
to our property.
The tidiness and beauty of the crops spoke for them-
selves. On the right was a plantation of pineapples and
further on a field of maize. On the left a great plantation
of bananas stretched from the summit of the hill like a
thick green carpet and, higher up, standing out from the
clumps of mangroves, sapodillas and avocados, rose the
luxuriant plumage of a tall palm tree. Finally, waving
proudly from the top of the flag-pole, was the flag of The
Salvation Army.






THE CONQUEST OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
Between the kitchen-gardens, which had been cleared
of weeds and whose well laid-out beds contained some
splendid vegetables, was an avenue lined with citron
trees, and further round the curve that led to the farm
the leaves of the banana trees met overhead. On the left
were some barns which were being filled up with fruit
ready for packing. On the right a wide road ran down to
the sea and on both sides, as far as the boundaries of the
property, were banana plantations. The farm buildings
themselves stood on the top of the hill. On all sides the
view was magnificent.
The results of our brief labours were truly astonishing.
Six months ago the place had been impenetrable bush
through which we had to hack our way. But the soil was
rich, and if it called for constant effort to keep the weeds
down, the garden produce and bananas sprang up with a
rapidity and vigour the like of which we had never seen
in Europe.
The Lieutenant proudly showed me his quarters; a little
four-roomed bungalow built on cement blocks, with a
large veranda commanding an extensive view of the plan-
tations, the gardens, the harmonious lines of the Rorota
mountains on the horizon, and the wide ocean from out
of which the islands rise. The house was built throughout
by the libirds and the officers, who tried to make it as com-
fortable as possible. As at the farm, there were showers
and running water. A little flower garden surrounded the
place and Black, the dog, would make a furious noise
whenever a duck dared to come into his territory.
Twenty yards away was the main building with some
twenty small bedrooms, each with its own door and win-
dow, furnished with a bed, a set of shelves and a table, thus
enabling the men to have their own things about them.
A little distance away was the hen house, where the broody
hens clucked peevishly at us when we visited them. Behind




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