The Iles du Salut (Salvation Islands), 10 miles off the coast of French Guiana, are three islands – Ile Royale, Ile Saint-Joseph and Ile du Diable (Devil’s Island). They got their name when early settlers, fleeing disease on the mainland, found refuge here.
Devil’s Island is the most isolated and inaccessible of the three islands. It began as a leper colony, and in 1852 it became part of France’s most notorious prison settlements. Over 80,000 prisoners served time here. Very few returned to France. One of the most infamous scandals in modern French history involved the wrongful conviction for treason of French army captain Alfred Dreyfus. He suffered the torment of heat and insects for 4 years on Devil’s Island before publicity from the French press finally forced the government to release him. Henri Charriere, known as “Papillon”, claimed to be the only convict ever to escape. The last prisoner left the island in 1946. The penal colony was completely closed down in 1953. Visitors are not allowed on Devil’s Island. It now hosts a radar station for space launches.
We visited Ile Royale. It was the headquarters of the penal colony, where the administrators and their families lived.
Monkeys greeted us along with chickens, descendants of those kept to feed the prisoners and guards.
The Governor’s House is a museum but it was closed during our visit.
The chapel has been restored and is decorated with pictures depicting prison life painted by a convict.
This was the hospital.
These were guards’ houses.
It was really hot and humid. Living and working here (before air-conditioning!) couldn’t have been much of a perk. Being a prisoner, of course, was hell.
This is a solitary confinement cell.
The jungle like forest on the island makes for many shady walkways. There is a path that runs around the coastline of the small island but because it was so hot we chose to walk just half of it.
These prisoner-made swimming pools, on the east side of the island, are safe from sharks. Devil’s Island is in the distance.
On the southern end of Royal we could see the 3rd island, St Joseph.
Our “sentence” served, we prepared to return to the ship.