Boats on the Maroni River
SS Edith Cavell Wrecked Boat or Island in the Maroni River
The Maroni River forms the border between French Guyana and Suriname. About 30Km up river from the mouth is the small colonial town of St Laurent du Maroni, formerly known as “ little Paris” it’s a lovely place with many of its old buildings beautifully preserved or currently being restored. Even the old wooden buildings, made of amazon hardwoods are being coaxed back to life, revealing their former glory.
You’ll be pleased to learn it’s all paid for by European funding, as all French colonies are still considered to be France. That aside the town has a lovely feeling to it. It has a certain “Frenchness” and an air of being cared for that we had not witnessed in South America so far.
Edith Cavell the Ship
In front of the town lies the Wreck of the old Steam Cargo ship “Edith Cavell”. The ship was built in 1898 by Bartram and Sons for HE Moss and Co. She was on a voyage from Marseille to Fort de France, with stops in Cayenne and St Laurent du Maroni. Despite having a Pilot on board, she ran aground on a shallow patch. She broke her back and promptly sank, right in front of the town.
It was a bit of a sorry incident. As French Guyana was chiefly a penal colony back then, the Captain, First-mate and Engineer were held in custody over the incident. The Local judiciary refused to release them and the whole affair went on for several years. Finally the UK House of Commons and the French government intervened and the matter was resolved. The Engineer and First -Mate were finally released and returned to England, but the Captain was too sick to travel and sadly died before he could return home.
It is said, that the ship among other cargoes, was carrying seed when it was holed and sank and that the water went into the seed bags and they began to sprout. Today you have to look twice before you can recognize that it is actually a ship as there are giant trees growing out of its deck and it would be easy to mistake it as an island.
Edith Cavell The Heroine
Almost as sad as the fate of the ship is the fate of her names sake Edith Cavell 1865 – 1924. Edith Cavell was a famous nurse during World War 1. Originally from a very religious English family, she spent most of her short life living and working in Belgium. She is recognised as a pioneer of modern nursing.
Because of her religious beliefs she saved lives indiscriminately helping soldiers from both sides of the fight. She was ordered to stop many times but said that she could not while there were lives to be saved. As well as nursing she helped 200 Allied soldiers too escape from German occupied Belgium. For helping these escapes she was court marshaled and convicted of treason. She was executed by German firing squad. She was only 49 years old. Her death received worldwide condemnation and lots of coverage by the press.
On the night before her death she famously said “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” This quote is now inscribed on a memorial to her near Trafalgar Square. A sad tale for both nurse and ship.
Many more Wrecks
There are plenty more sad ships wrecked on the banks of the Maroni river but one a big Turkish Style Gullet lies aground just a couple of miles upstream of where we were anchored. Fortunately it has received a new lease of life and has been turned into the most enchanting restaurant with some of the best food we have eaten since leaving home.
Although the Goelette has been adapted into a nice restaurant, they have tried to keep much of the ship’s old paraphernalia. The Ships old wheel is still at one end of the bar and at the other end is the Ships library with a ton of old books and various specimens in jars. On the top shelf are all the local snakes preserved in formaldehyde.
I’m not sure the snakes really helped our dinner go down, but maybe its better to meet them in jars rather than in person. I thought it was a nice touch though as theme bars go. A nod to Darwin who traveled the world as a ships doctor/surgeon collecting samples of all the new species he encountered. He sent them home to England for cataloging and scientific study. They now form a substancial part of the Natural History Archive.