The International Steam Pages

The Distilleries of Martinique 2013 - North

Thomas Kautzor has been to several Caribbean islands to check out what is left of their railways and industrial heritage.

For the full general index, see Railway Relics (and more) in the Caribbean, Other report for the eastern islands in this series comprise:

Mainly or exclusively railways

Railways and Sugar Mills

Sugar Mills and Distilleries

Martinique has one modern sugar factory which produces both sugar and industrial rum from molasses, as well as seven distilleries producing a total of 14 brands of rum which benefit from the “Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)” label (Protected Designations of Origin). Most of the distilleries are open to the public, including inside the mills, mostly no admission is charged (except where noted below), and free samplings of rum are on offer inside the shops. A total of 3,600 hectares are planted with sugar cane. The cane cutting season runs from February to June and due to the hilly nature a high proportion of the cane is still cut by hand. The mills in five of the seven active distilleries are powered by stationary steam engines.

Click on a thumbnail to see an image full size.

Updates are available:

From Fort-de-France to the North Atlantic Coast:

Distillerie Dillon, 9 Route de Châteauboeuf, 97200 Fort-de-France:

Dillon rum is nowadays produced at Distillerie Depaz. The plant is used to bottle Dillon, Old Nick, Maniba, and Depaz rums and belongs to the Bardinet/La Martiniquaise group. The Corliss stationary steam engine was sent to Distillerie Depaz after the mill closed. The visitor’s centre/shop is open Mo-Fr 09.00-18.00, Sa 10.00-13.00.

Distillerie La Favorite, km 5.5 route du Lamentin, Quartier Gondeau, 97232 Le Lamentin: (Link broken by January 2024. RD)

La Favorite is independently owned by the Dormoy family and produces La Favorite rum. The mill is powered by a 360 h.p. steam engine built by Henri Marriol, St-Quentin, in 1905. There are a few smaller engines and pumps, including a Tangye. The distillery is open to the public Mo-Fr 08.00-16.00.


Habitation Saint-Etienne (HSE), N4, 97213 Gros-Morne: (Link broken by January 2024. RD)

HSE is only used for bottling rum produced at Distillerie Simon, the distillery was in use into the 1980s. The old drop valve steam mill engine is still in place, while a pair of Burton steam pumps (9646 and 9647) are on display outside the visitor centre (open Mo-Fr 09.00-12.30/13.00-16.00).

Usine Sucrière du Galion, SAEM PSRM, N1, Quartier Desmarinières, 97220 La Trinité:

Usine du Galion was opened in 1861 and is the last factory to produce sugar in Martinique, as well as industrial alcohol and rum from molasses. The mill is powered by steam turbines. Public tours are given only during the cutting season (February-June) Tu-Fr 09.00-17.00 and Sa 09.00-12.00, they last 1h30 and cost EUR 5.

Distillerie Hardy, D2, Tartane (Presqu’île de la Caravelle), 97220 La Trinité:

This small distillery stopped producing rum in 1996, it is still family-owned, but the rum is bought from another distillery. The 1946 Cie. de Fives-Lille steam engine as well as some pumps are still in place (one of the duplex pumps - next to the yellow tank - is a Scranton, not one of the common manufacturers of such kit). The older engine it replaced is also still in the grounds, it is very old as it has its valves above the cylinder (a rare arrangement seen in a very few engines surviving in Burma RD). The visitor centre/shop is open Mo-Fr 08.30-12.30/14.30-19.00. The distillery buildings now also house a coffee roastery and a craft shop.

Distillerie Saint James & Musée du Rhum Saint James, D24, 97230 Sainte-Marie:

The Saint James brand was created in 1765 to appeal to customers in New England. The original Saint James distillery was located near St-Pierre (on the North Caribbean Coast), but was only partially destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Pelée in 1902. Until 1970 Saint James rum was produced at Trouvaillant and Acajou. In 1974, all of the production was moved to Usine Sainte-Marie, which had by then stopped sugar production. Since that time the brand is owned by the Cointreau group. A steam engine was in use here until after 2000, when due to a crack in the cylinder it was replaced by steam turbines imported from Brazil. Today, apart from Saint James rum the distillery also produces Maniba and Bally rums. In 1979, a rum museum opened on the grounds of the distillery, and various steam engines and pumps are on display outside in the park, including the last one to power the mills (first two pictures ) another huge Filer and Stowell Corliss engine and a very old 'Watt' beam engine. Distillery tours are only given during the cutting season (February to June, 45 min. tours departing Mo-Fr at 10.00, 11.30 and 13.30, Eur. 5). The museum/shop is open daily all year 09.00-17.00. The “Rails de la Canne à Sucre (RCS)” society operates a tourist train (“Le Train des Plantations”) from the museum (30-45 min. roundtrips, Tu/Th 09.30-13.30, Sa 14.00-16.00, Eur. 5/3).

The beam engine is described as a Watt Engine 1815-1820, but Lawrence Ince comments: "In the 1970s I was shown a picture of a beam sugar mill engine lying derelict on a roundabout on the island of Martinique. This looks exactly the same perhaps it is the same one. The cylinder sunk into the boiler shows me that this is a product of the Phoenix Foundry of Liverpool run by Fawcett and Preston. The design is a hybrid from their production of Trevithick patent engines in the early 1800s. This design was later modified to produce compact sugar mill engines, as with the Trevithick engines the cylinder was kept hot by being sunk into the boiler. Fawcett and Preston appear to have been still making sugar mill engines of this type till the mid-1830s. An engraving of one of these sugar mill engines can be seen on page 34 of the company history (Horace White, Fossets, 1959, published by Fawcett Preston & Company Limited, Bromborough, Cheshire)." 

Filer and Stowell's Wikipedia entry is here, the company still exists and at the time of this report is up for sale (link dead by April 2015). They certainly made Corliss engines, I cannot trace the origin of Farrell. The twin horizontal pumps in the bottom row are Burton 6558 and 6559. RD

Distillerie J.M. Crassous de Médeuil, Fonds-Préville, 97218 Macouba:

This distillery is located at the bottom of a green and lush valley at the northern tip of the island. Sugar cane used to be brought to the distillery from the Bellevue plateau via a chute. It produces J.M. rum and is nowadays owned by Groupe Bernard Hayot (GBH). A Corliss steam engine from 1945 powers the mill. The visitor centre/shop is open Mo-Fr 09.00-16.30, Sa 09.00-14.00. Since this original report was published, the engine had been taken out of use and replaced by an 'electric turbine',

North Caribbean Coast:

Distillerie Neisson, Domaine Thieubert, N2, Le Coin, 97221 Le Carbet: (Link broken by 1st November 2018)

Opened in 1931, this small distillery is still independently owned by the Neisson family. The mills are powered by a steam engine. Burton steam pump No. 11822 is on display near the entrance. The visitor centre/shop is open Mo-Fr 08.00-17.00, Sa 08.30-12.00.

Distillerie Bally, Habitation Lajus, D20, 97221 Le Carbet:

This was the site of a sugar factory from 1774 until 1923 and of a distillery until 1974, when the steam engine was sold to Haiti and the distilling equipment to Distillerie Saint James. The residence is still inhabited and an old steam engine (Ame. Mon. Rouffet, Vizet Fils & Cie. Srs., Plaine St. Denis) and Burton pump No. 11645 are still in the grounds.

Distillerie Depaz, Plantation de la Montagne Pelée, off N2, 97250 Saint-Pierre:

In the late 19th century, a dozen distilleries took advantage of the rich cane grown on the slopes of Mount Pelée’s nutritious soil. During the volcano’s outbreak in 1902, all were destroyed, together with the prosperous city of Saint-Pierre and all of its inhabitants (ca. 30,000). Victor Depaz, whose entire family died during the eruption while he was in away studying in France, later returned to St-Pierre and in 1917 opened today’s only distillery on the flanks of the volcano. Today Distillerie Depaz is owned by the Bardinet/La Martiniquaise group and also produces Dillon rum. The 350 h.p. Corliss steam engine in use to power the three mills was built in 1922 and came here from Distillerie Dillon after milling ended there. The engine that it replaced, and which I was told is dismantled and stored in a shed, is said to be 150 years old and to have started life powering the fountains in Versailles castle’s park near Paris. In the grounds is a working waterwheel, as well as an outside steam museum with three steam engines and a Burton steam pump on display. The distillery is open to the public Mo-Fr 10.00-17.00, Sa 09.00-16.00.

Rob and Yuehong  Dickinson