Girier, Anthelme, 1869-1898

Le Bandit du Nord cover
Le Bandit du Nord cover

A short biography of French anarchist orator Anthelme Girier, who was imprisoned and involved in the revolt at the Iles du Salut penal colony.

Submitted by Steven. on November 15, 2006

Anthelme Girier
aka Jean Baptiste Lorion, born 1869 - France, died 16 November 1898 - French Guyana

“Renewers! Light the conflagration of the bourgeois world. That all the tyrannies, all the iniquities, all the authorities are consumed in this immense brazier and that the peoples come singing around this splendid fire of joy, which must light the universal banquet where there will be places set for everyone.”
- Girier in Le Bandit du Nord, No. 1

Anthelme Girier was born into a working class family in a impoverished situation. As a child he was very unhappy and decided at thirteen to leave home. This turned out bad. He encountered a policeman who offered him hospitality and then sexually propositioned him.

As a vagrant, he was arrested and imprisoned. He came out of prison a rebel having entered it in distress. At the age of fourteen (1883) he became one of the most listened to orators and the most violent in the Lyons region. There was a police observer at a meeting at all meetings. One evening he clashed with one of these. He was arrested, sentenced, put in a house of correction till the middle of 1886 and came out at eighteen.

He got a job in Lyons. He was pointed out to his employer by the police as an anarchist and was sacked. This increased his ardour. He moved up to Paris and served one year in prison for a subversive speech. He went to Northern France after his sentence. Here he fell out with the authorities at Roubaix, editing Le Bandit du Nord –organe anarchiste, of which only 2 issues appeared. He went to Le Havre, and there was sentenced to contempt and served another year in prison.

His new existence distanced him from meetings which were his reason for being. In his retreat, he got hold of a Guesdist (state socialist) sheet with an article from the socialist deputy Delory which denounced him as a police agent. He returned to Roubaix where he organised a meeting to refute this. The police knew about this and arrested him. To be arrested without resistance would furnish Guesdists with further proof of his being a police agent. Girier, known as Jean Baptiste Lorion when he wrote propaganda, fired a revolver and wounded a policeman. He fled to the border and was caught 500 metres from it. The Guesdists continued their slanders. He conducted a spirited defence at his trial. He received ten years hard labour. He was sent to the prison islands off the coast of Cayenne, South America, the Iles du Salut, at the age of 22.

Here Girier was caught up in the Cayenne prisoners’ revolt of 1893. After the murder of other anarchists, Girier and another comrade, Mamaire, were among those sent to a special maritime tribunal. They suffered seven months solitary in unimaginable conditions before being transported to Cayenne. There they were hospitalised despite orders of the administration They were defended by lawyers of Cayenne, disgusted to see executioners made judges of their own victims. Six of the accused were acquitted. But they were sent again to the special maritime tribunal. One died of mistreatment, two others, Mamaire and Girier (who had attempted to avoid being implicated because he saw the nature of the provocation) condemned to death.

Mamaire soon died because of mental and physical tortures. Girier suffered eight long months in solitary after his sentence was commuted to five years in cell. Eight months of torture in a narrow cell without air or light, manacled hand and foot. No cruelty was spared him. He was interned as mad, but a doctor declared him sane. He was returned to solitary, in a lamentable state. He went back between the 2 cells of prison and hospital. He died before he had completed his sentence on 16th November 1898.

“Goodbye for the last time, no one is as unfortunate as I am, it’s odious…get me out of this jail where my agony will be atrocious and my death horrible. Don’t forget me.”

See also Paul Roussenq.
Nick Heath