INGENU MARGRAS’ INTER OCEANS MUSEUM – ST. BARTHS
By – Nancy Terrell for All At Sea Publications
One of the most interesting aspects of cruising is that one never knows what is just over the next wave. I have always loved St. Barths, with its pretty harbor and sophisticated shopping, but nothing prepared me for one of the most fascinating museums in the world – The Inter Oceans Museum in Corossol. Facing the Caribbean Sea, founder Ingenu Margras, who is 86 years young, has spent his entire life collecting shells and sand from over the world, building boats and model boats and living a rich life involved with his large family and the sea. The museum itself houses some 4,000 varieties of seashells, labeled and encased in glass. Margras politely informs me that it takes 3,000 to have your museum in the famed Museum Book of Paris then humbly mentions that “I just continued collecting because I love doing it.” His shells are from every country, each of the seven seas and every ocean, worldwide.
The science of the shell is known as Conchology - the scientific study of shells of mollusks, a branch of malacology. Conchologists may study animal shells to gain an understanding of the diverse and complex taxonomy of mollusks, or simply appreciate them for their aesthetic value. The group of Mollusc (Mollusaca Phylum), of which the museum has many, is the broadest group of animals after that of the insects. It is estimated that there are some 100.000 species distributed within the oceans of the world.
This incredible hobby began in 1925, when Ingenu was only four. Coming from a long line of fishermen he would wait for his father’s boat on the beach in front of his house and he started saving the shells that he picked up. When he was 25, Ingenu took his first trip to Guadeloupe where he met a French collector who taught him how to trade the many shells, that he had cleaned and boxed during his youth, to those in other lands. Everyone wanted shells from the Caribbean so he would trade his shells for those in other countries. This trading of shells became a massive hobby that has turned into the world’s most unique shell museum.
After building his own fishing boat, Pourquoi – Pas (Why Not) he began travelling within the Caribbean and added shells from each country/island that he visited. He now holds the recognized World Record (see sidebar) for the largest shells in several varieties. He tells me, “I sailed from Puerto Rico to Martinique and from St. Barths to St. Thomas collecting shells. It is a good thing that I did it then because the new laws forbid selling and shipping shells. I have not been able to get any in the last four years.” My favorites were what are known as “Old Collectors Shell”; these are shells that have other shells attached to them, as a sort of covering. One such large shell had 15 smaller shells attached to it.
Ingénu enjoys a well deserved retirement today, and lives with his son and daughter in the house in which he was born. His museum is filled with the manufacture of models of goélettes, dugouts, dory and other wooden boats that he has made in model form. A picture of the restaurant that the family ran hangs in the portion of the museum that has replaced it. Ingenu has received many awards in his life but the one of which he is the proudest is when Keith Daley, of the International Rotary Drill came to Corossol to present to Mr. Margras with the highest medal of distinction “The Paul Harris Fellow”
I can truthfully say that the morning that I spent with Ingenu at his museum was one of the most memorable of my cruising and it was a pleasure to meet members of his family who assured me that they will continue the tradition that he has started.
INGENU MAGRAS’ WORLD RECORDS
1. Pugilima Morio 215 mm
2. Cymatune Rderi 240 mm
3. Casque Royal 322 mm (found in St. Barths)
4. Bursa Lampas 310 mm (Africa)
5. Porcelaine Valencia 102 mm (Philippines)
6. Cardium Pseudolima 160 mm (Kenya)
7. Casque Porcelaine 72 mm (St. Barths)