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French officer of La Duchess de Noilles, Sieur Robert—1730

Depositions – French officer Sieur Robert—1730

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Grandidier, Alfred (19031907). Collection des ouvrages anciens concernant Madagascar. Paris: Comité de Madagascar.t.. to which are added notes by Allfred Grandidier.


Original: “Description, en général et en détail, de l'isle de Madagascar, faite sur les meilleurs mémoires des anciens officiers qui ont habitéz dans cette isle le Port Dauphin ; le tout vériffié exactement sur les lieux par le sieur ROBERT » (1730), No. 196, Manuscript 3755, Bibliothèque du Dépôt de la Marine of France, ff. 109-117.




————— skipping portion drawn from Johnson, A General History…


Relation [Deposition] of [Sieur] Robert, 1730. No one doubts that there are in several parts of Madagascar a number of pirates, which are there ablaze and established, especially on the east coast, in the province of Mangabe [Antongil]8 some for a considerable time, others for ten or twelve years.9 They do not all live in the same township, being at some distance from one another; the land they occupy between all may contain twenty leagues of coast. It is true that most of them are regarded as little sovereigns, each having under their own dominion two or three villages; This authority came to them only because they took as their wives the principal negresses [Malagasy], those who were the most in dignity of the country and who were already almost all rich by the frequentation of pirates through time.

Their houses are situated in the middle of a large courtyard; They are raised on several wooden posts, and can only be entered by a ladder; The courtyard is surrounded by a strong palisade made of large stakes, in which are generally arranged maneuvers of loopholes, where some have placed small pieces of cannon.10 The wealth of these forbearers, combined with that of their wives, has made these places and their surroundings abundant in gold, silver, diamonds, and other effects, which has greatly increased.

By the opportunity which will be seen hereafter, the author [Robert], who knows a part of it, insures that they are in a position to supply several cargoes of negroes, but that all their power does not prevent them To lead a very disgraceful life there. Their conscience continually reproaches them with their past conduct and disorder; they have neither wine nor brandy, nor shoes, nor hats, and they need many other things. They promise to pay largely what they would get, and that is certain, for they have no more conscience to spend their money than they have to earn it.

The island of Sainte-Marie, which is situated by the southern latitude of 16 ° and a few minutes in the east of Madagascar, at the distance of about a league, has on its west coast a small port capable of containing four or five large ships, which has been the most assured and most frequent retreat of the pirates. Those who carried off a large Portuguese vessel [Geulderland] in 1721, which had been released from it after being dismasted, and in which were the Count de Riceira [of Ericeira], who came from the Viceroyalty of Goa, and the archbishop of that city, which was returning to Lisbon, again took in the same day an Ostend ship [City of Ostend] of thirty pieces of cannon, returning from the Indies. These wretched pirates led their capture to this port of the island of St. Mary, and remained there about ten months to mend the large Portuguese ship; the work which they were obliged to do during their stay in that place, and the provisions which they were obliged to purchase, caused them a great expense, having paid for all they needed in money and in books twenty times more than the value. When they arrived there, they each made a box on the ground to lodge in particular, and on all these huts they wore a colored silk banderolle and, besides, their special mark to know them. A negro [Malagasy] to serve them, the wife, and there during the long stay there they live a life of bandits and villains, many of these species of women were given considerable presents; others inherited from some who gave them good will by dying; others in greater numbers. Having been mistreated and threatened with being sent away to take others in their stead, used poison through jealousy or revenge, caused them to die, and carried away all that belonged to these unfortunates, escaping with canoes on the island of Madagascar, so that the misconduct of these pirates in this place was the only reason for the loss of more than 80 of their best men. All this, together with other pirates who had already passed in this place to shelter themselves in the hurricane season, and to make various provisions, has rendered this place and its environs very rich; also, there are the negresses [Malagasy] covered with the finest Indian stuffs with embroideries of gold and silver, and many carry chains, buckles, rings and shackles of gold, even diamonds of a considerable price, which would make it a very good trade, for the natives would exchange everything they had for little, unable to dispense with arms, powder, or other goods that they need and that hackers cannot provide them.

These same pirates, having left the island of St. Mary's with the large Portuguese vessel which they had set from three bridges to two and a half bridges and reduced to 60 guns, commanded by the English captain Thelert [Taylor], skillful navigator, having been formerly lieutenant of the vessels of the King of England, and with a second vessel of forty guns commanded by Captain Labuze, a native of France, with the intention of continuing their brigandage, ran the coasts of Madagascar, [South] to go to the west coast, where they took the author of this description [Robert] who awaited, while his ship was at anchor, the return of a king of the country who had gone to war to make him slaves. This accident happened by the bad faith and betrayal of an unhappy man who commanded a boat, which the author sent to the Isle of Bourbon, to carry a few negroes [Malgaches], who, having met with the pirate ships he might have avoided, giving themselves up to them, took part in their unworthy company, declared to them where the ship of the author [Robert], The Duchess La Noailles11 was anchored, and led them there. They took it away on the eve of having a good cargo of slaves. As the author [Robert] does not write the story of what happened to him, he will not go into detail about the particulars of his capture or the consequences of it. Since this unfortunate adventure, having arisen between the pirates a few discussions, after having tried several times in vain, to cross the northern tip of Madagascar to return to the island of St. Mary, but the currents and contrary winds having always prevented them from being able to execute their designs, the discord between them. They purposely landed the great ship to the coast in a place not frequented, and withdrew what they could and divided their booty. Then most of these unfortunates passed on to the second ship and returned to sea under Captain Telert [Taylor]; Captain Labuse having been deposed, they set off for the coast of Safolla [Sofala]. The others, in a very small number, almost all Englishmen and few Frenchmen, finding themselves rich enough, especially in diamonds, resolved to quit their society, and not to run the risk that so infamous a craft dragged everywhere with them; Remained in this place under the protection of the king of that country, hoping to await amnesties from our King, His Most Christian Majesty, on the word which the author had given them to bring, but, afterwards, those drunkards accustomed to libertinage, regardless of the kindnesses which the islanders had for them, had the right to take their wives by force and to abuse those who did not wish to consent to their infamous inclination; The king of that province, stung by such a bad procedure, and over the complaints made to him by his subjects, had the number of forty, all Englishmen, punished by punishment, without having done any harm to the French, because the latter were in another separate canton, where they lived Perhaps more wisely than the English.12 All effects of those who were included in this punishment remained in the hands of the Islanders; We are persuaded that, for a very small reason, they would be withdrawn, since it was not for their own use, since they could not use the rough diamonds as they do with the beads, that is what the author [Robert] is Well informed by people who were on the scene of the time of this massacre, as well as to something close to the quantity of diamonds that can be found there, of which there is a very considerable price : First, there is one that is said to weigh 64 karats, many between 30 and 40, between 20 and 30, between 10 and 20 and from 3 to 10. We know the king, who is powerful in this place, knows how to deal with him, what he has to carry, and is assured that he would be glad to open a trade, and the goods he would buy, It would be indifferent to him to pay them in gold or in slaves.

All that is written before is truth itself; the author thus dares to assure us that, by means of two small frigates, each of about 150 tons or so, mounted with 16 or 18 guns, with 30 crew, destined to be at present serving the colony, They could be traded in the distant places of Fort Dauphin, and that during the fine weather which prevails in this climate from the 10th of April to the end of December, all this time is pacific and without fear of hurricanes, they would easily make three trips every year along the coasts of Madagascar; one of these frigates would go to. That of the East, and the other to that of the West, from which they would certainly return without having traded more than 20 to 1 of gold, silver, diamonds, silk, wax and many other things Very useful ones that meet there. They might even be sent to Sofala and other parts of the coast of Mozambique, which belongs to the Portuguese, and where cattle are very rare, very dear and very thin; It would be a great pleasure for them to carry to them salted beef, which would be made at Fort Dauphin, and on which there would be considerable profits on the gold which would be brought from all these places.

But it is well to remark, that if Fort Dauphin was re-established with the intention of forming a powerful colony,13 it would be a consequence of obtaining from His Majesty in favor of this colony the letters of friendship for the pirates, with power to the governor and the directors to renew them in case of occasion. It is certain that all those who have retired and settled in different parts of Madagascar would be delighted to find this occasion to free themselves of the anxieties in which they now live, and to have the necessary assistance in their way of life; for, with their opulence, they lack the greater part of their wants, and are always in the fear of being surprised by some hidden enemy. Thus they would accept His Majesty's graces; a part of these refugees even assured the author of this description [Robert] that in recognition of such a great blessing they would make gifts and considerable donations. By this alone they would surely all come to make themselves inhabitants in the colony under the protection of the Company and the authority of its flag, which would strengthen it and procure great advantages for it by the riches they would bring to it; they would bring their wives and children there; those who were not married, would marry there with negresses of the country [Malagasy], and the colony would populate in a short time; Each person, in particular, would endeavor to cultivate coffee, tobacco, cotton, rice, peas, and other vegetables in his own land; they would also raise cattle of all kinds. They would be obliged to send or bring into the stores of the Company all the provisions and commodities which they could not consume, in order to have in exchange the prices which would be paid for each thing, the goods proper for their use, as cloth, stockings, shoes, hats, brandy, wine, rifles, powder, balls, stones, and several other effects which would be necessary to them, and, They could not dispense with paying such goods in gold, silver, diamonds, or other suitable articles, as they would be expressly forbidden to do so, under penalty of confiscation of their property and a fine with punishment in case of recurrence, of making any trade directly or indirectly with the vessels of the Company, or with any other who could release to the coast, being unable even to go on board any under any pretext whatsoever without the permit The direct authority of two directors for unforeseen or necessary cases, upon whom directors the general authority and the support of commerce must roll, as well as to hold the hand that no one person of the ships, whatever this may be, can cause to bring down or send goods or shoddy goods to the ground to sell them fraudulently among the negroes and the inhabitants; For this purpose, at the place of the descent of canoes and rowboats, a guard-house would be set up day and night to make the visit, with loss of effects and such punishment as would please the Company to order For the purpose of avoiding, by this regularity and conduct, the secret and clandestine trade which might be effected without these precautions, and which would not only diminish the value of the effects in the country, but in any case would cause Great prejudice to the interests of the Company.

According to this regulation, in proportion as the colony grew, it would become more and more absolute and most glorious by the abundance of all things, and gradually it would withdraw all the superfluous wealth of its new inhabitants (the pirates); the children who came from them, being brought up in this government, would know of no other felicity than the revenues of their labors. Fort Dauphin would not be rather on the (reconstructed and fortified) footing than the clemency of His Majesty And the privileges granted to the colony would soon be spread among the pirates who are still at sea; all those who had made their fortune would undoubtedly seek their forgiveness, and they might receive a certain amount of it. But as the colony was considerably populated, if it were deemed expedient, Her Majesty's graces would be discontinued, with a view of destroying their bandits, and of ensuring the navigation of all nations, and for the fear of authorizing the evil and give them the opportunity to do so. (Robert, Description in general and in detail of the island of Madagascar, 1730, manuscript No. 3755 of the Bibliothèque du Dépôt de la Marine of France, pp. 109-117, and a copy of the Grandidier Library, p. 214-229).

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8 Mangabe (also called Marosy) is the name of the main island of the Bay of Antongil, the one sheltered from which the ships that release in this hedge anchor.


9 On the 14th of November, 1723, Monsieur Benard wrote to the Minister the Comte de Maurepas: "I know I can not doubt that there are 40 to 50 pirates in a district of Madagascar, most of whom are English, Having only one Frenchman, one Portuguese, and very few of the other nations, who have become accustomed to it, and who have, according to the report which has been made to me, immense riches, having disembarked all their pillages. With Captain Le Bourg of Dunkirk, who was confiscated at Cape Santo Domingo, treated the 550 blacks he had sold to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Santo Domingo for almost nothing. The pirates continued their piracy, having a brigantine, which Le Bourg had built for them during the four months he had remained in their roadstead, and they had already taken a prize before he had done so. Le Bourg, who knows several of the said pirates, may be questioned and Berlamont, his master, to know other circumstances which would be deemed necessary. They must be in the prisons of Nantes. I think it would be the greatness of the King to send a frigate of 40 guns and 250 crewmen to destroy those pirates who have an inalienable evil to all the nations, why 150 men of disembarkation, supported of canons, will suffice. The advance could be largely paid for by the value of the booty " (Colonial Archives, General Correspondence, Madagascar, Carton 1, p. 33).


10 De Valgny relates that 'during his stay at Sainte-Marie, a chief of the North told him that in his country. In the midst of a vast plain, there was a large palisade surrounded by stones, in the middle of which were large piles of stones (ruins of the buildings), and where there were holes where one descended by ladders Of stones, and they came underground in huts covered with stones and often vaulted (like those where the whites put the powder at Sainte-Marie). He proposed to go and see this monument, but, being obliged to leave Sainte-Marie, which the French abandoned then, he could not (De Valgny, manuscript of 1768).


11 The Duchess La Noailles was a ship of the French Company of the Indies. "We are sending this year [1730] the Medusa ship, commanded by the Sieur d’Hermitte, entirely loaded with 1,770 bales weighing 3,600 pounds, of the vintage of this island, and we still have in store a part which could not be embarked.” The Sieur d'Hermitte, on the last voyage he made to Madagascar, having arrested and brought here the name of Olivier Le Vasseur, called the famous Buzzard, pirate captain. By motion of the Attorney General was hanged by a decision of the Council of 17 July last [1730]. This pirate made two captures in 1721, in the harbor of this island, one of a vessel of the King of Portugal of 60 pieces of cannon, which he landed, and the other of a vessel called La Ville d’Ostend, belonging to the Company of that city. He also took and burned at about the same time the ship of the Compagnie de France, La Duchesse de Noailles, commanded by the Sieur Grave of Saint Malo; The Buzzard was then riding the Left Bank, and had with it another ship called La Defense, commanded by an Englishman called Taÿler” (Taylor) (a). (Letter from Dumas, Governor of Bourbon, to the Minister of Maurepas, dated December 20th, 1730, Colonial Archives, Correspondance générale de Bourbon, V. 1727-1731.)


A) Version of M. Guët: “In 1721 [1722?], the pirate Olivier Le Vasseur, known as La Buse, surprised in the harbor of Saint-Denis with his ship Le Victorieux a Portuguese ship armed with 60 cannons, coming from Goa and having on board the Viceroy of India and He went to Goa, where he landed as soon as he was examined, and taken to Lisbon by Commandant Garnier de Fougerav. Bourbon, a Dutch ship, La Ville d'Ode, and in May of the same year (1721), still in sight, the pirate took possession of a vessel of the French Indies, La Duchesse de Noailles, which he plundered and burnt, the last catch of which the inhabitants of Bourbon awaited the cargo with impatience, to put an end to their fury.” It was granted by a resolution of the Superior Council of Bourbon dated January 26, 1724 (On 4 November 1724, amnesty was also granted to several pirates who embarked on the Royal Philip to return to France), as well as John Cleyton, but with the condition that they would no longer commit any act of piracy. Le Vasseur, who was too eager, preferred not to profit by it, and continued his fruitful trade. But La Medusa, commanded by d'Hermitte, and sent to ensure the navigation between Bourbon and Madagascar, surprised La Buse in the neighborhood of Fort-Dauphin, where he had established his retreat, and brought him chained to Bourbon. In vain did he avail himself of the amnesty, and it was proved to him by the arrest of the 17th of July, 1730, that as soon as he had continued his life as a pirate he had excluded himself, and was hanged on the beach of Saint- Denis applauded the populace (Guet, Les Origines de I'Ile Bourbon and French colonization in Madagascar, 1886, pp. 218). On the other hand, Valgny, who had so long resided in Madagascar, said: "I notice that an [d'Hermitte] officer was rewarded for having arrested under the veil of friendship and good faith the pirate La Buse, which was removed alone and defenseless in Marosy Island (or Mangabe ', at the bottom of Antongil Bay), where it served the ships that went there to trade - (De Valgny, manuscript of the Library Grandidier [copy of the ms. of the Natural History Museum] 1741, p. 54). Bernardin de Saint-Pierre said: "We know that the first inhabitants of Bourbon were pirates who allied themselves with the negresses of Madagascar. They settled there about 1657 (1). The Company of the Indies also had a trading post and a governor who lived with them in great circumspection. One day the Viceroy of Goa came to anchor in the roadstead of St. Denis, and was dined at the Government. No sooner had he landed than a pirate ship of fifty pieces of cannon came to anchor near his own, and took possession of it. The captain then went down and asked the governor to dine; He sat at table between him and the Portuguese, to whom he declared that he was his prisoner. When wine and good food had put the sailor in a good mood, M. Desforges (the Governor) asked him how much he had set the ransom for the Viceroy. "It is too little," replied M. Desforges, "for a good man like you and a great lord like him. Ask a lot or nothing --- He’s well! Let him be free!” said the generous corsair. The Viceroy re-embarked on the spot, and set sail, very glad of it (2). The pirate then established himself in the island with all his family, and was hanged long after the amnesty which had been published in their wasteland. This injustice was committed by a councilor who wished to appropriate his remains to himself (Bernardin de Saint-Pierre), Journey to the Isle of France, tl l, letter XIX: Arrival at Bourbon in 1770, pp. 12-13) .


(1) According to the Colonial Archives of Bourbon, the pirates, who numbered 2 in 1687, 9 in 1695, and 3 in 1702 (out of 308 inhabitants and 11 in 1705, 7 in 1706 and 135 in 1720 out of 734 inhabitants, a total of 167 in thirty-three years, but it is probable that the 135 pirates who came in 1720, who belonged to the same ship, have not all remained.

(2) Magon de Saint-Elier, in his paintings, relates the same story, adding that the King of Portugal retained the memory of M. Desforges's service, which was rewarded in the person of his son, who received the decoration Commander of the great cross of the order of Christ. He was appointed to the general government of the islands of France and Bourbon in 1759. The Origins of Mauritius, chap. v.


12 “The Captain of the Compton, who has just arrived from Bombay, reports that the pirates established in Madagascar have so cruelly treated the natives that they have risen and made a real carnage; there are only twelve remaining, who have been refuges in the woods where they perished miserably " (La Gazette de France, 4 May 1726).

13 The author [Robert] knows a place on the coast of Madagascar where 60 pieces of iron guns of different calibers, namely 18 pounds of bullets, 12 and smaller, are to be found at the seashore; During the work of the reconstruction of Fort Dauphin, which Robert advocates, he should send a frigate to take them; They would cost little or nothing, because they came from a large pirate vessel which was purposely grounded in 1722, and that they were of no use to the islanders of that country. General and in detail of the island of Madagascar, 1730, Library of the Iepot (the Navy at Paris, ms., No. 755, pp. 104, Copy of the Bibliotheque Grandidier, p. 204.

In 1730 another project of the same kind was proposed to the king, which consisted in granting to the forbearers who inhabited the island of Santa Marie Madagascar a general amnesty, with the burden of serving the State for three years, and to marry them to the Frenchwomen brought from the hospitals for this purpose, in order to prevent them from contracting on the island unions with blacks who had held them beyond three years and from which May have resulted from revolts. This advice was given for the purpose of using them to seize the twelve principal ports of Madagascar and to establish themselves there firmly. These pirates numbered at least 6,000, living in the debauchery of the fruits of their rapines, by which they have amassed goods and bury them wherever they are (Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, East Indies, pp. 127, pp. 465467 and verso, pp. 471).