Salvation Islands Îles du Salut
The Îles du Salut are a group of tropical islands best known for the notoriously brutal penal colony, establish in 1852, which they accommodated.Îles du Salut are comprised of three islands, Île Royale, Île St Joseph, and the Île du Diable, the site of the infamous "Devil's Island" penal colony from 1852 to 1953.Located in choppy, shark-infested waters they supported a convict population of almost 2,000. Today the islands are developed for tourism but for the prisoners (the most famous of whom was Alfred Dreyfus, the French Army officer falsely convicted of treason) it was "a true excursion into hell".
Île du Diable (Devil's Island), the smallest and southernmost of the Îles du Salut, was used largely for political prisoners. The island's name became synonymous with the horrors of the penal system.Devil's Island is approached with difficulty due to its rocky shore. The inmates were often left without guards, since strong currents and sharks made a getaway virtually impossible. Dead convicts were buried at sea.The penal colonies were phased out between 1938 and 1951 and now amid the atmospheric ruins of the island's old prison buildings are an abundant assortment of wildlife and foliage.A restored museum is open for visits and the small hotel, the Auberge Îles du Salut, with a restaurant and gift shop offers modest tourist facilities.The most widely read of Devil's Island's prisoners is the author Henri Charrière, a Frenchman convicted in 1931 of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he spent 12 years on Devil's Island. After eight unsuccessful attempts to escape, he finally got away to Venezuela. The book "Papillon" recounts his ordeals.
Île Royale, the largest of the three Îles du Salut, was the administrative headquarters for the colony. The complex was a self-contained community of houses and offices plus a hospital, bakery, butcher shop and church.There was a guillotine here to execute convicts who committed crimes while incarcerated.These buildings have been converted to hotels and visitors facilities. Cruise ships dock in the harbor where prisoners were once unloaded.