Monday, 10 December 2012

Guillotines and all that

Now that I've started getting sales of the new book - 'The Guadeloupe Guillotine'  I though I might give a bit more background to the story.  The first thing I discovered is that nothing is simple with Caribbean history and digging in to find the truth can be a nightmare.  The period of the French Revolution seems to be mainly glossed over because of more momentous events that took place either side, ie the American War of Independence and then the Napoleonic era.  If it had been anywhere else in the world some of the stories of the time would be well known.  I never found out what the French islands thought they were doing for a start.  The Royalists who controlled them decided to 'declare for Britain' and sent an Ambassador to London.  However, when Britain then sent a fleet to occupy them they fought really hard  to avoid occupation - what on earth were they thinking?  The story of how the Brits took Martinique is quite amazing (and I try to accurately recount it in the book).  The British did really lug twenty four pound cannon to the top of a hill, over river gullies and a slope so steep even donkeys couldn't get up it!  The final assault on Fort de France is also accurate although I had to add one extra ship for my plot.

The windward coast of Martinique is beautiful and not often visited by yachtsmen.  With a permanent on-shore trade wind and loads of reefs you have to be very careful.  However, if you look at a map you will see a long peninsular sticking out from the east coast.  At the end is an old sugar plantation called Chateau Dubuc which looks down over the Baie du Tresor. I visited there some years ago and this is the location for Paul's sugar plantation.

This is part of the remains of the sugar estate.  The ruins of the  large house is out of sight to the left and the view is looking out into the bay over the remains of the slave quarters.

The Islands of the Saintes to the South of Guadeloupe are in contrast, a yachtsman's heaven.  They feature in the book when the crew of a certain yacht get rescued but also feature in one of the real mysteries I discovered when researching the book.  The actual Guillotine blade is now in the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as I mentioned in a previous post.  It was donated by a member of the Scott family and is purported to have been 'liberated' by the Captain of HMS Rose, a certain Captain (later Admiral) Scott.  However, he was only appointed to the ship just before she took part in taking the Saintes in April that year and was wrecked on Rocky Point Jamaica in June.  Scott is never reported as having been on mainland Guadeloupe and why would he rescue a bloody great lump of metal off a sinking ship?  When I spoke to the Museum researchers, they all agreed there must be a lot more to the story.  I was back in the islands last winter but was still unable to unearth anything.  That said, I now have a fan who's uncle lives on the island and is trying to look into it further for me.

The anchorage in front of the Bourg in the Saintes, the hill behind has the fort that is mentioned in the book on the top.  The white monohull yacht in the middle was my home for two years.

 And a close up of the fort.  It's very intact and has an excellent display of Admiral De Grasse's period inside.  De Grasse lost to Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes some years earlier (as mentioned in 'Jacaranda').  Although if you study some of the dioramas and illustrations, you would be easily led into thinking that the French actually won the battle! As an aside, one advantage that the Brits had was that all their ships had their hulls sheathed in copper to cut down weed growth.  The French, without it, were therefor much slower and less manoeuvrable.  Hence the phrase 'Copper Bottomed'.  A useful fact for all those pub quizzes!

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