French Guiana Penal Colonies: A Piece of History Rediscovered
The city of Saint-Laurent-le-Maroni has just acquired the rights to a collection of photographs of Guyana penal colonies taken between 1906 and 1911 by Dr. Léon Collin. His grandson, Philippe Collin, recently discovered the photographs in the attic of the family home in Saône-et-Loire. Thinking that he would find “medical” photographs, he instead came across thousands of glass plates and manuscripts preserved in boxes, illustrating and describing the daily lives of prisoners beginning with their departure from the Île de Ré to their imprisonment in French Guiana or New Caledonia.
In the early 20th century, Léon Collin was a doctor for colonial troops. At 26, he embarked on the ship Le Loire that transported prisoners. Scandalized by their treatment, Collin decided to document their condition, photographing their daily lives over the course of five years. Most of the photographs were taken during the crossing of the ocean, but he also captured the harsh reality of the different penal colonies once they reached land. Collin anonymously submitted his photographs to Le Petit Journal Illustré to denounce the abominable conditions of their imprisonment.
Dr. Collin rarely spoke to his relatively about his past on the ships and in the French colonies. Today Philippe Colin relies of manuscripts in order to clarify many of the details surrounding his grandfather’s movements between camps. He is currently preparing two books for publication on Guiana and New Caledonia based on Dr. Collin’s notebooks.
Having donated the glass plates to the Musée Nicéphore Niépce de Châlon-sur-Saône, who proceeded to digitize them, Philippe Collin sold the rights to the city of Saint-Laurent. So far, nearly 150 photographs of Guiana prison camps have been gathered and will be the subject of an upcoming exhibition at the future Centre d’interprétation de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (CIAP), which will be built on the site of the former transit camp.
Centre d’interprétation de l’architecture et du patrimoine (CIAP)
Camp de la transportation Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, Guyane française.
Responsable : Marie Bourdeau. Secrétariat : 0594 27 85 96 [email protected]
Musée Nicéphore Niépce
28, quai des Messageries
+ 33 126.96.36.199.98 / tel + 33 188.8.131.52.20