Devil's Island

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Devil's Island
Île du Diable
—  Island  —
Devil's Island
Map of Devil's Island, or île du Diable
Devil's Island is located in French Guiana
Located 6 nmi (11 km; 6.9 mi) off the coast of French Guiana
Coordinates: 5°17′38″N 52°35′0″W / 5.29389°N 52.583333°W / 5.29389; -52.583333
Country France
Overseas departmentFrench Guiana
Island chainÎles du Salut
Area
 • Land0.140 km2 (0.0540 sq mi)
 
Jump to: navigation, search

Coordinates: 5°17′38″N 52°35′0″W / 5.29389°N 52.583333°W / 5.29389; -52.583333

Devil's Island
Île du Diable
—  Island  —
Devil's Island
Map of Devil's Island, or île du Diable
Devil's Island is located in French Guiana
Located 6 nmi (11 km; 6.9 mi) off the coast of French Guiana
Coordinates: 5°17′38″N 52°35′0″W / 5.29389°N 52.583333°W / 5.29389; -52.583333
Country France
Overseas departmentFrench Guiana
Island chainÎles du Salut
Area
 • Land0.140 km2 (0.0540 sq mi)

Devil's Island (French: île du Diable) is the third largest island of the Îles du Salut island group in the Atlantic Ocean. It is located approximately 14 km (9 mi) off the coast of French Guiana in South America just north of the town of Kourou. It has an area of 14 ha (34.6 acres). The island was a part of the notorious French penal colony of French Guiana for 101 years, from 1852 to 1953.[1] The island was used primarily to house political prisoners.

English speakers have come to use the island's name to refer to the entire former prison system of French Guyana; however, French speakers refer to it as the Bagne de Cayenne (Cayennes penal colony).

Contents

Use as penal colony

The rocky, palm-covered island rises 40 m (130 ft) above sea level. The island's use as a penitentiary was begun in 1852 by the government of Emperor Napoleon III. The island is surrounded by rocky promontories and shoals, strong cross-currents and shark-infested waters. Landing on the island by boat is so treacherous that prison officials constructed a cable car system to connect the island to the nearby Île Royale, and used it for years to travel the 600'-wide channel between the two islands.[2]

Devil's island was first used to house the prison system's leper colony.[3] With no understanding of the cause of leprosy (known as Hansen's disease), nor means of treatment, societies isolated its sufferers. Well before 1895, the island was converted to primarily housing political prisoners.

Devil's Island and associated prisons eventually became one of the most infamous prison systems in history. In addition to the prisons on each of the three islands in the Salut island group, the French constructed three related prison facilities on the South American mainland, just across the straits at Kourou; 30 miles east in Cayenne, which later became the capital of French Guyana; and a hundred miles west at the St. Laurent.

While the prison system was in use (1852–1953)[1], inmates included political prisoners (such as 239 republicans who opposed Napoleon III's coup d'état in 1851) and the most hardened of thieves and murderers. The vast majority of the more than 80,000 prisoners sent to the Devil's Island Prison System never made it back to France. Many died due to disease and harsh conditions. Sanitary systems were limited, and the region was mosquito-infested, with endemic tropical diseases. The only exit from the island prisons was by water, and few convicts escaped.

On 30 May 1854, France passed a new law of forced residency; it required convicts to stay in French Guiana after completion of sentence for a time equal to their forced labour time. If the original sentence exceeded eight years, they were forced to stay as residents for the remainder of their lives and were provided land to settle on. In time, a variety of penal regimes emerged, as convicts were divided into categories according to the severity of their crimes and the terms of their imprisonment or "forced residence" regime.[4]

An 1885 law provided for repeat offenders for minor crimes to be sent to the French Guiana prison system, previously reserved for serious offenders and political prisoners. A limited number of convicted women were also sent to French Guiana, with the intent that they marry freed male inmates to aid in settlement and development of the colony. As the results were poor, the government discontinued the practice in 1907.[4] On Devil's island, the small prison facility did not usually house more than 12 persons.[1].

The horrors of the penal settlement were publicized during the Dreyfus Case, as the French army captain Alfred Dreyfus was unjustly convicted of treason and sent to Devil's Island on 5 January 1895.[5] In 1938 the penal system was strongly criticized in Rene Belbenoit's book Dry Guillotine.

Shortly after the release of Belbenoit's book, which aroused public outrage about the conditions, the French government announced plans to close the bagne de Cayennes. The outbreak of World War II delayed this operation but, from 1946 until 1953, one by one the prisons were closed. The Devil Island facility was the last to be closed.

The cable car system deteriorated and the island is closed to public access. It can be viewed from off shore by use of charter boats. The two larger islands in the Salut island group are open to the public; with some of the old prison buildings restored as museums, they have become tourist destinations.

Attempted escapes

Clément Duval

Clément Duval, an anarchist, was sent to Devil's Island in 1886. Originally sentenced to death, he later received a commuted sentence of hard labour for life. He contracted smallpox while on the island. He escaped in April 1901 and fled to New York City, where he remained for the rest of his life. He eventually wrote a book about his imprisonment called Revolte.

Francois Frean, Paul Renuci, Raymond Vaude, and Giovanni Batistoti

Four escapers from Devil's Island arrived in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands on 18 October 1936. Their native boat was nearly wrecked on the reef and the convicts were initially entertained as guests and treated for injuries at the Municipal Hospital. The fugitives, Francois Frean, 37, Paul Renuci, 32, Raymond Vaude, 35, all French and Giovanni Batistoti, 35, an Italian, were reported to have suffered hardships.[6]

Henri Charrière and Sylvain

Henri Charrière's bestselling book Papillon (1968) describes his successful escape from Devil's Island, with a companion, Sylvain. They used two sacks filled with coconuts to act as lifebuoys. According to Charrière, the two men leaped into heavy seas from a cliff and drifted to the mainland over a period of three days. Sylvain died in quicksand a short distance from the shore.

Charrière's account aroused considerable controversy. French authorities disputed it and released penal colony records that contradicted his account. Charrière had never been imprisoned on Devil's Island. He had escaped from a mainland prison. French journalists or prison authorities disputed other elements of his book, and said that he had invented many incidents or appropriated experiences of other prisoners.[7] Critics said he should have admitted his book was fiction.[7]

Aftermath

The hut in which Dreyfus lived

In 1938 the French government stopped sending prisoners to Devil's Island. In 1953 the prison system was finally closed entirely.[1] Most of the prisoners at the time returned to metropolitan France, although some chose to remain in French Guiana.

In 1965 the French government transferred the responsibility for most of the islands to its newly founded Guiana Space Centre. The islands are under the trajectory of the space rockets launched from the Centre eastward, toward the sea (to geostationary orbit). They must be evacuated during each launch. The islands host a variety of measurement apparatus for space launches.[8]

The CNES space agency, in association with other agencies, has restored buildings classified as historical monuments. Since tourism facilities have been added, the islands now receive more than 50,000 tourists each year.[9]

Cultural references

The bestselling memoir by Henri Charrière, Papillon (1969), described the extreme brutality and inhumane treatment of the penal colony. The book was adapted as an American movie of the same name; released in 1973, it starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Over the years, several other books, films and plays have made additional references to this infamous penal colony.

The Danish novel Helvede Hinsides Havet (1933) (Hell beyond the Sea), by Aage Krarup Nielsen, describes the life in the camp.

Devil's Island is featured in the plot of The Dain Curse (1928), a novel by Dashiell Hammett, the American mystery writer.[10]

It is mentioned in a greeting to Enterprise psychologist Dr. Helen Noel by the director of Penal Colony Tantalus V, Dr. Adams, in the original Star Trek episode "Dagger of the Mind" (1966): "Welcome to Devil's Island, Doctor."[citation needed]

In the 2003 episode "Bend Her" of the animated comedy Futurama, Devil's Island is seen to have gained sufficient autonomy to enter the 3004 Olympics; the athletes appear to be wearing striped prison uniforms.[11]

"Devil's Island" is the title of a 1986 song by Megadeth on the LP Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?. The song expresses the thoughts of a prisoner on Devil's Island about to be executed. In the song, the prisoner's life is spared by God just as he is about to be killed, but he is condemned to spend the rest of his life on Devil's Island.[12]

"Devil's Island" is the title of an episode of The Time Tunnel, a 1966–1967 U.S. color science fiction TV series.

References

  1. ^ a b c d "The Last Prisoner on Devil's Island". 1981. http://www.trivia-library.com/b/famous-lasts-the-last-prisoner-on-devil-island.htm. Retrieved 2012-04-28.  Excerpt from the People's Almanac, posted at "trivia-library.com
  2. ^ "Island of Misery: Devil's Island". 2012. http://www.answers.com/topic/devil-s-island. Retrieved 2012-04-28.  Description of former cable-car connection to Île Royale.
  3. ^ "Britannica: Devil's Island Started as Leper Colony". 2012. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/160247/Devils-Island. Retrieved 2012-04-28.  Description of initial purpose of Devil's Island
  4. ^ a b Krakovitch, Odile (1985-01). "Les archives des bagnes de Cayenne et de Nouvelle-Calédonie : la sous-série colonies H aux archives nationales". Revue d'histoire du XIXe siècle 1985-01. http://rh19.revues.org/document4.html. Retrieved 2007-11-15. 
  5. ^ Begley, Louis. Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009, p. 67.
  6. ^ FOUR FUGITIVES FROM DEVIL'S ISLAND HERE, The Daily News, 18 October 1937
  7. ^ a b "Papillon alive and well in a Paris retirement home",Mail & Guardian, 26 June 2005.
  8. ^ "Iles du salut", Dossier de presse Îles du Salut, CNES
  9. ^ "Les Îles du Salut", CNES website
  10. ^ The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett, (1928), Chapter 6, "The Man From Devil's Island".
  11. ^ Devil's Island on Futurama, an external wiki
  12. ^ "The Realms of Deth - Megadeth Lyrics - Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?". Megadeth.rockmetal.art.pl. http://megadeth.rockmetal.art.pl/lyrics_peace.html#Devil. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 

Further reading

External links