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The penal colony in French Guyana 4
By Cloclo l’Intello

  1. 17th century

    The royal galleys

    "The royal galleys were the first system of penitentiary organized on the scale of the French kingdom. With Louis XIV, the galleys-slaves were the political opponents, the deserters, the smugglers, the counterfeiters and even the Protestants after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685."

  2. 1768

    The harbor bagnes

    "Louis XV abolished the galleys because the rowers became useless in the fight against the high-ships. The galley-slaves disembarked (called chiourme) were then assigned to the harbor bagnes to carry out the harbor works of the Navy. They are free labor who developped arsenals and french fleet."

  3. 1848

    The abolition of slavery

    "When slavery was abolished in the colonies in 1848, the plantations closed and the economy collapsed. In French Guyana the slaves flee into the forest, go to the conquest of the territory. The convicts of penal colony were used to provide the free manpower needed to make up for the slave shortage."

  4. 1854

    Creation of the colonial penitentiaries

    "Napoleon III officially created the colonial penitentiaries in 1854. He wished to remove the criminals from France and populate the colonies. The political prisoners of the Second Empire were sent there and after 1885, the small delinquent criminals."

  5. 19-20th century

    Bagnes organization

    "The penal colony consists of 20 penitentiary camps organized in 3 zones : Cayenne, Saint-Laurent and La Montagne d’Or. Saint-Laurent is the penitentiary capital. The convicts arrived there and then divided into the different camps according to their punishment and their home country."

  6. 19-20th century

    The convicts daily life

    "The convicts are employed either in public works (remediation of marshes, maintenance of port facilities, construction of roads), or in the service of private individuals. At the end of a painful day of work, they came back in the penal colony."

  7. 19-20th century

    The convicts life

    "The ocnvicts life expectancy didn’t exceed 5 years. The Bagne nickname was “Dry Guillotine” because the convicts would die of ill treatment, settlement of account or illness. They were indeed severely punished in the slightest breach in the rule."

  8. 19-20th century

    The sentencing system

    "When the convicts finaly served their sentences, they were under house arrest for the same length of time as their detention.If their sentence had been more than 8 years, they had to remain in Guyana for life."

  9. 1894-1906

    The Dreyfus Affair

    "The Captain Albert Dreyfus is condemned officialy for political betrayal. Its defenders denounced an act of anti-Semitism.The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal that divided the Third Republic till 1906, when Dreyfus, after 5 years at the Devil’s Island, was finaly cleared and rehabilited."

  10. 1923

    Au Bagne, Albert Londres

    " Albert Londres, writer and journalist, traveled to Cayenne and Devil’s Islands in 1923, and then published “Au bagne” in which he denounced these inhuman conditions of life of the convicts (forces labour, retention in dark prison for several months, corporal punishment, guillotine...)."

  11. 1931

    One the most famous convict: Henri Charrière

    " Henri Charrière, convicted as a murderer by the French courts in 1931, wrote the famous novel Papillon, a memoir of his incarceration in and escape from the penal colony. In 1973, his book was made into a film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, with Steve McQueen as Henri Charrière."

  12. 1938

    Transportation abolishment

    "The transportation was abolished in 1938 thanks to Gaston Monnerville, However the penal colony was closed only in 1946. Most convicts remained in French Guyana but 145 detainees are repatriated to Marseille with the help of the Salvation Army."

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