I should mention that there’s another André Nageon lurking in a gap in the Nageon de l’Estang timeline (slightly after the others that I covered in parts one to four): and he actually has quite a funky story attached to him. 🙂

André Nageon vs the Monster

There are a number of fleeting mentions of André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang‘s time in the Seychelles in “Population et vie quotidienne aux Seychelles sous le premier empire” by Joël Eymeret, in “Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer” Année 1984, Volume 71, Numéro 262, pp. 5-29.

But given that André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang died in 1798, it must surely be his son about whom a particular anecdote was told. Eymeret repeats the tale, but it actually first appeared in “FRAPPAZ, Les voyages du lieutenant de vaisseau Téophile Frappasz dans les mers des Indes”, texte publié et annoté par Raymond Decary, in-8°, Tananarive, 1939, pp.108-109:

C’est ainsi qu’André Nageon passe dans la légende : Créole de haute stature et d’une force prodigieuse, faisant défricher les terres il y a environ quinze ans [c’est-à-dire en 1803] il s’éloigna un peu des travailleurs pour sonder un marais. A peine eut-il commencé son opération qu’un gros cayman, caché dans les roseaux se dressa sur sa queue, pour s’élancer sur lui. L’apercevoir, deviner son intention et le saisir à bras le corps fut pour l’intrépide M. Nageon l’affaire d’une seconde : et luttant ainsi avec son terrible adversaire, il sut maintenir l’égalité du combat jusqu’à ce que des noirs accourus à ses cris, l’eussent aidé à terrasser le monstre qu’il avait combattu avec tant de courage

…i.e. (my free translation)…

It is thus that André Nageon passes into legend: a tall [white] Creole of prodigious strength, while clearing land there about fifteen years ago [i.e. in 1803] he went a small way away from the other workers to survey a marsh. As soon as he started his work, a big cayman, hidden in the reeds, lifted itself by its tail to jump on him. Noticing it, guessing its intention and wrapping his arms around its body took the intrepid Mr. Nageon no more than a second: and it was in this manner, struggling with his terrible opponent, that he managed to keep it at bay until the blacks, having flocked to his cries, helped defeat the monster he had fought against so bravely.

But this is surely the same André Nageon de l’Estang who is mentioned as selling some land in 1815 on Henri Maurel’s site (through which all manner of genealogical goodness flows):

Le 5 Octobre 1815, Antoine [Maurel] fait l’acquisition de André NAGEON DE l’ETANG de deux parcelles de terrain à Victoria.

And so the Seychellois Nageon de l’Estang family marched forward from there to the modern day, one can only presume. 😉

One of the intriguing (yet annoyingly hard to pin down) parts about the third Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang letter BN3 (that I have argued was probably written by an as-yet-unidentified French corsair some 60 years after BN1 and BN2) is the claimed link to Napoleon Bonaparte.

As the letter-writer puts it:

Avec la bienveillance que le Premier Consul m’a témoigné après un fait d’armes glorieux, je serais parvenu

…which is to say (in English)…

With the benevolence the First Consul showed me after a glorious feat of arms, I had hoped to return [to France].

There’s actually a lot of historical timing data implicit here. Napoleon Bonaparte was Premier Consul during the period of the French Consulate (from 12th December 1799 to 18th May 1804): and it was during this period that he instituted various ways of rewarding the brave. Hence the most straightforward inference from the line in the BN3 letter would indicate that the letter-writer was honoured by Napoleon during this period (when he was Premier Consul).

However, we also know that the letter-writer was a seaman: and it wasn’t until 9th August 1801 that Napoleon started to honour bravery at sea, specifically by giving haches d’abordage d’honneur (‘boarding axes of honour’). The last ever three haches were awarded on 24th September 1803, after which date the nation’s bravest seamen were instead inducted in the Légion d’honneur by way of a thank-you-for-not-quite-dying-on-our-collective-behalf.

Just so you know, the haches themselves looked like this, and were engraved with the recipient’s personal details:

Recently, I spent some time trying to work out if the letter-writer might have been in the état-major of Capitaine Jacques Perroud (one of the last three hache d’abordage recipients – and, for what it’s worth, I’m now almost certain that he wasn’t).

But while doing so, it struck me that we might instead be able to tackle this whole problem backwards. That is, I wondered if we could build up a list of all the people who received a hache d’abordage d’honneur, because this unknown person’s name might well be on that list, right in front of us.

The 53 haches d’abordage d’honneur

And so that’s exactly what I did: and have just now posted my list of all the hache d’abordage d’honneur recipients I could find to the Cipher Foundation website. However, of the 53 supposed recipients, I was only able to find 50, despite painstakingly cross-referencing my list against several other lists.

Usefully, though, short biographies of almost all the recipients appear in the historical record (the published Fastes, etc): which means that we can eliminate as candidates all these heroic French seamen whose marine resumes fail to match other details we know about the letter-writer.

And yet… now that I’ve ground my way through the biographies of the fifty listed recipients, I can honestly say that I don’t think the corsair who wrote BN3 is included there.

I’ve also gone through many more biographies of seamen inducted into the Légion d’honneur between 24th September 1803 (the date when the final three haches were awarded) and 18th May 1804 (when Napoleon ceased to be Premier Consul), and haven’t found anything. In fact, it’s hard not to notice that nobody (apart from Capitaine Jacques Perroud) who sailed in the Indian Ocean seems to have been honoured for their bravery during this period.

So this whole research avenue is, unfortunately, starting to look like a bit of a cul-de-sac: if the letter-writer was indeed rewarded by the “Premier Consul”, then unless he was one of the supposed missing three recipients (whose names I haven’t yet identified), I can’t obviously see who he was. Which is a huge shame, but it is what it is.

Because the Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang papers manage to combine specificity and vagueness in such a frustrating way, some people like to conclude that they must be outright fakes, or (at best) false elaborations woven from fragments of real events – and that we therefore stand no chance of ever getting to the truth, because whatever truth there is to be had is merely ethereal. Chasing this, then, would be not unlike trying to grasp a cloud.

Personally, I’m not even slightly convinced by this kind of reasoning, no matter how often I see it floated. The flaw in the argument is that historical evidence is rarely as neat and tidy as novelists would like: people don’t leave unambiguous digital trails behind them, real life is messy. And the more you work with the random evidential slurry to be found in archives, the more you’ll hold this to be axiomatically true.

The most genuinely productive stance to take is to instead assume that there is some ordering principle – some tangled, confounded rationality – in play, but that it just happens to sit beyond our current reach.

And so the best response is a combination of humility and patience, two hugely unfashionable qualities in these brash, attention-deficient days: persist with the specifics and keep on keeping on.

The Dying Captain

So: who was the unnamed corsair captain who handed the Missing Corsair the documents describing the location of the pirate treasure from his deathbed? The third (BN3) letter reads:

In my adventurous life before embarking on the Apollon, I was one of those pirates who did so much harm to our enemies Spain and England. We made many splendid captures from them, but at our last battle with a large British frigate on the shores of Hindustan, the captain was wounded and on his deathbed confided to me his secrets and his papers to retrieve considerable treasure buried in the Indian Ocean; and, having first made sure that I was a Freemason, asked me to use it to arm privateers against the English.

Until recently, the best candidate I had was Malroux, a corsair captain who died in a sea battle in the Indian Ocean at the right kind of time: but I had to admit that there were plenty of problems with him as a proposed match. For a start, the sea-battle where he died wasn’t really off the coast of India; and the ship Malroux faced (though English) wasn’t really a “large […] frigate”.

But perhaps I now have a better candidate…

François-Thomas Le Même

Because I’ve been reading Charles Cunat’s mentions of Joachim Vieillard in the last few days, I also took a look through his book on St Malo seamen’s derring do: “St. Malo, illustré par ses Marins”. And there I found a corsair whose story echoes that of the Dying Captain. And then immediately wondered why I hadn’t considered him before, despite having read about him in H.C.M.Austen’s “Sea Fights and Corsairs of the Indian Ocean”. 😮

Though François-Thomas Le Même had made a fortune as an effective corsair, he then managed to lose the lot as an ineffective businessman. Which is why 1804 found him back as the captain of La Fortune (“18 guns of 8, and six carronades of 12”, says Austen), picking off a long series of easy prizes in the Indian Ocean. However, his ship was then run down off the coast of Gujarat by the large British frigate HMS Concorde (Captain Wood, 48 guns), and forced to lower its flag after one (Austen) or ten (Cunat) hours’ battle. The ship and its crew were taken to Bombay, arriving on 13th November 1804.

Incidentally, here’s a Mauritian stamp depicting him:

le-meme-stamp

Austen continues (p.106):

“Lemême and all his principal officers were dispatched in the [East Indiaman] Walthamstow on 15th February, 1805, to England, under the escort of the frigates Concord[e] and Phaeton. Lemême’s career, however, was over. He died at sea on 30th March, in latitude 10 south and longitude 77 east.”

Cunat colourfully describes Le Même’s death throes (p.410):

“Appelant aussitôt près de lui ses intimes d’entre ses compagnons de captivité, il les entretint de sa famille, de deux filles chéries qu’il ne devait plus revoir, de celle surout qui devint plus tard l’épouse de capitaine de vaisseau [Vincent] Moulac. Il exprima ses regrets à quitter la vie avant d’avoir pu rétablir sa fortune, dans l’intérêt de ses enfants, puis, interrompu par une crise affreuse, il cessa de parler et perdit connaissance. On le crut mort… Il revint cependant à lui, assez de temps pour faire ses adieux à ceux qui l’entouraient, et rendit le dernier soupir avec le courage et la résignation d’un homme de bien.”

Gallois adds that Le Même’s officers also being taken to England on the Walthamstow were “Charpentier, Froussart, Bourdais et Baudot”: all of which pretty much concludes our romp through what is a fairly sparse evidential landscape.

Interestingly, though, La Fortune‘s prize papers are in the National Archives (HCA 32/1026/1859), as is HMS Concorde’s captain’s log covering the action (ADM 51/1529). In addition, the East Indiaman Walthamstow’s papers are in the British Library (L/MAR/B/196), so there’s still plenty of room for exploration of this research lead just yet…

“AFAHMAEP”, perhaps?

Perhaps you’ve already figured out where I’m going with this.

What I’m wondering is that whereas the Voynich Manuscript needed an Emperor-sized fool to buy it to ensure its survival against the inquietudes of Time and Space, might it be that Le Même performed the same function for the Nageon de l’Estang papers?

That is, might someone have sold Le Même – during the couple of years in Mauritius when he was unbelievably flush with cash – the original set of Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang papers? Austen notes (p.104):

“Equipped with money [1,400,000 francs], but unfortunately without experience, he set up as a merchant-banker in Port-Louis. He very quickly discovered that he was no match for the local sychophants [sic] and sharpers who quickly surrounded him. In the year or two he had practically lost all his savings.”

The notion that a Mauritian sharper saw his chance to unload a “treasure map” on Mr Did-You-Hear-They’ve-Taken-Gullible-Out-Of-The-Dictionary does have an awful ring of truth to it. Which is not to say that the other BN documents are necessarily genuine or necessarily false, but rather that this might well have been the point when someone sold them to Le Même as if they were genuine.

Acronymically, “A Fool And His Money Are Easily Parted”, indeed.

Sources on Le Même

Austen’s account (pp.102-106) “is drawn up from the following sources : M. Gallois, Col. Malleson, St. Elme le Duc and [Charles] Cunat, and is believed to be as accurate as the lack of authentic information and variety of authorities permit it to be.”

* Charles Cunat. “St. Malo, illustré par ses Marins” (1857) [pp.403-410]
* St Elme le Duc. “Ile de France : Documents pour servir à son histoire civile et militaire” (reprinted 1925)
* Colonel G.B. Malleson. “Final French Struggles in India and on the Indian Seas” (1884) [pp.101-106]
* Gallois, Napoléon. “Les Corsaires français sous la République et l’Empire [Volume 2]” (1847) [pp.325-332]

I don’t believe that le Duc’s account is available anywhere online, but perhaps someone will point me to it behind a Geneanet paywall etc. 🙂

Cipher mysteries usually offer us multiple bubbles of probability to work with, e.g. whether the Somerton Man was Charles Mikkelsen (close but no cigar, despite the former’s nicotine-stained fingers), or even poor old H. C. Reynolds (and what a waste of time that bubble was, eh?). Yet these bubbles tend to be fragile and elusive, and we catch only indirect glimpses of them through the cracked mirrors of historical archives. For would not future historians also struggle to pin down and reconcile the vagaries and scattered events of our own tangled lives?

And so it was that while trying to reconstruct the history of Joachim Vieillard before his time on Robert Surcouf’s La Confiance, I took another look at Lhermitte’s ship La Preneuse, because Louis Garneray said that Vieillard had been on it. (Of course, though we can’t take anything attributed to Garneray as a fact in and of itself, we can use it as a stepping stone to point us in a plausible direction to look for genuinely verifiable evidence.)

In case you’re still not sufficiently steeped in Indian Ocean maritime history, La Preneuse sank in the Battle of Port Louis on 11th December 1799: you can buy a halfway-decent print of Garneray’s painting here:

la-preneuse

Anyway, while going through all that, it struck me that BN3’s Captain “Hamon” / “Harmon” could feasibly have been not Captain Hamelin (as I have long suspected, and which lead pointed me in the direction of Vieillard) but instead Captain Lhermitte. And I thought I ought to look a little closer…

Jean-Marthe-Adrien Lhermitte

Though the linguistic match is admittedly a little worse, the timing is better – for by the time Hamelin and the others were inducted into the Légion d’Honneur in 1810, Napoleon was no longer the “Premier Consul” but “Sa Majesté” or “l’Empereur”.

After being defeated at the Battle of Port Louis, Lhermitte was (along with a good number of his men) captured by the British and returned to France. Subsequently, Lhermitte was brought to the Tuileries in October 1801 and honoured in the highest terms by Napoleon. Henceforth he would be referred to as “Lhermitte le Brave“. Which is nice.

So… might someone sailing under Lhermitte have also been honoured by Premier Consul for his part in the same naval action, in the same way that Joachim Vieillard and various other valiant enseignes de vaisseau were made Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in December 1810? It’s certainly possible, though I have to say that there’s a distinct lack of external documentation to be found.

Further, one might possibly try to reason (from the lack of reference to “Chevalier” etc in BN3, though I admit that this is still a little bit of a stretch) that whatever event was being referred to, it happened after the position of Premier Consul was put in place (17 November 1799) and also probably after when weapons of honour were first “awarded as military awards for feats of arms” (25 December 1799), and yet before the Légion d’Honneur itself was founded (in 1802, replacing weapons of honour). Which is quite a narrow window. 🙂

Remember that BN3 says:

“Avec la bienveillance que le premier consul m’a témoigné, après un fait d’armes glorieux, je serais parvenu.”

Hence I think it is entirely possible that the person who wrote BN3 received a weapon of honour from Napoleon, and was thus made a légionnaire (though not yet a Chevalier, because that naming style only began in 1802).

Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on weapons of honour says that “recipients […] automatically received the Legion of Honour after its inception”. For example, Lhermitte was made an early member of the Légion d’Honneur for that specific reason.

Lhermitte’s record there is LH/1632/62 (his date of birth is 1766/09/29), which says that he was upgraded to Chevalier on 5th February 1804, and then swiftly to Officier on 14th June 1804.

So… we have a date to look for, it would seem.

5th February 1804

On a webpage entitled “Pierre Callens, Le dernier Corsaire Dunkerquois“, we find a corsair “Qui fut décoré de la Légion d’Honneur sous le numéro 280 le 5 Février 1804, 15 Pluviôse An XII de la République” listed by Pierre Van Eccloo in 1996:

L’HERMIT[T]E qui commande à bord a pour second DEHAU, Pierre PLUCKET Lieutenant de Vaisseau, Pierre CALLENS Enseigne de Vaisseau, Pierre AUDIBERT Aspirant. Ce sont des “durs”. Une grande aventure commence.

(Though note Pierre Callens was listed with a later date in the Leonore database, which is a little confusing.) However, if you look a little more closely, you’ll see that these people were on le Tigre under Lhermitte, and that they seem not to have sailed to the Indian Ocean with him.

What’s more, if you do a websearch for “15 pluviôse an XII” or “5 fevrier 1804” with related keywords, you’ll rapidly find plenty of other French mariners people who were made Chevaliers on that same day, e.g.
* Louis-Antoine-Cyprien Infernet (1757–1815)
* André Jules François de Martineng (1776-1860)
* Yves Marie Gabriel Pierre LE COAT, baron de SAINT-HAOUEN (1756-1826)
* Guy Pierre de Coëtnempren, comte de Kersaint (1747-1822)
* Claude Vincent Polony (1756/1828)
* Pierre-François Violette (1759-1836)
* Pierre-Paulin Gourrege (1749–1805)
* Jacques Épron des Jardins
* Théodat Jean-Baptiste Le Bastier de Rivry (1785-1829)

…none of whom seems to have served with Lhermitte, unfortunately. So we still have plenty to look at here before we can properly evaluate whether or not this is a workable bubble to be examining (or indeed popping). Oh well!

For a few weeks, I’ve been trying to reconcile the reference in BN3 (the third of the papers associated with Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang, but which I firmly believe was written much later by someone I call the Missing Corsair) to the “Apollon” with any of the Legionnaires d’Honneur who fit the reference to being honoured for a “glorious feat of arms” (also in BN3).

The issue is that none of these men is also in the crew list for the Apollon’s final journey in 1798: I’ve gone over it numerous times, but there is simply no overlap. It seems to be an intractable problem that might even – in the worst case – point away from the whole Missing Corsair narrative.

Yet, of all the Indian Ocean Legionnaires d’Honneur honoured on 20th December 1810, the best candidate by far for our Missing Corsair is Joachim Vieillard. Vieillard was, without any real doubt, a corsair: and there is documentary evidence (in Charles Cunat’s account, which I’ve seen quoted but have yet to read for myself) that Vieillard served under the famous corsair captain Robert Surcouf on La Confiance.

Here’s the famous picture of La Confiance as painted by Louis Garneray:

confiance_kent_fight

Garneray – for all his wobbliness and unreliability – does also mention Vieillard as having been on La Confiance in his (1851) Voyages (p.101):

Je restai assez intimidé en me trouvant dans un grand salon rempli de monde ; mais je me remis bientôt en reconnaissant parmi les personnes présentes plusieurs de mes connaissances, entre autres les enseignes Roux, Fournier et Viellard, et le contremaître Gilbert, qui tous avaient navigué avec moi sur la Preneuse.

(Note that Garneray spells Vieillard’s surname “Viellard”, which is why I didn’t spot it first time round. Garneray mentions Vieillard at least four more times.)

So: even if (heeding Auguste Toussaint’s warning) we keep our reliance on Garneray’s account to a minimum, I’d still say that we have enough other evidence to firmly place Vieillard on La Confiance under Robert Surcouf.

The Crew List for La Confiance

Hence this morning I went looking for a crew list for La Confiance: and the first port of call (as almost always) was H.C.M.Austen’s “Sea Fights and Corsairs of the Indian Ocean”. Helpful to a fault, Austen writes (p.85):

The first voyage of the Confiance under Surcouf began in April, 1800. His chief officer on this occasion was Captain Drieu. […] Serving on board as officers were Louvel-Desvaux (lieutenant of the watch), Le Nouvel (surgeon-major) – all three fellow citizens and friends of their captain: ensigns Fournier, Roux, and Vieillard, and Gilbert the boatswain, (formerly boatswain’s mate in the frigate Preneuse) and Le Goff, the pilot […]. Amongst the new officers were the first lieutenant, Dumaine de la Josserie (of St Malo), Millien, the second surgeon, lieutenants Laboire, Plasan, and Puche, ensigns Boarbon, Bléas, and the pilots d’Autichamp and d’Amphernet.

Austen’s account of Surcouf was “mainly abstracted” (p.74) from ‘Robert Surcouf d’après des documents authentiques’, written by Surcouf’s nephew (also called Robert Surcouf) and published in Paris in 1889, though also with ‘assists’ from Louis Garneray’s colourful (but frequently fanciful) memoirs.

The source for this particular part, however, can also be found in “Les marins français : vies et récits dramatiques, d’après les documents originaux” by Bathild Bouniol (which I found behind a geneanet.org paywall, but once again is supposedly in the Internet Archive), pp.284-285:

L’équipage se composait de cent soixante Européens, vingt-cinq volontaires du bataillon de Bourbon, et quelques nègres domestiques, tous de ces hommes trempés d’acier comme il en fallait à Surcouf. L’état-major ne comptait que des officiers d’élite : Drieux, second capitaine, Louvel Desvaux, lieutenant de garde, Lenouvel, chirurgien-major, Fournier, Roux, Vieillard, enseignes; dans la maistrance, maitre Gilbert, ancien contre-maître de La Preneuse; le pilote Le Goff, breton, laissé à l’île de France par l’escadre victorieuse du bailli de Suffren.

Bouniol then immediately recaps the anecdote about Surcouf and the shark as given by Charles Cunat, so there is a fairly high chance that this crew list was directly recapped by Cunat in his book, because it doesn’t seem to appear in Garneray’s account. All the same, I’ll confirm this when my copy of Cunat’s book arrives in a few days’ time.

“L’Apollon des Oceans”?

Much as I hate to rely upon Louis Garneray for anything (Toussaint would surely throw up his hands in disdain at this point), Garneray does proffer one small piece of relevant-sounding information that might tie up many of the loose strands.

In his “Voyages“, Garneray recalls a conversation with Ripeau de Montaudevert (p.104):

— Eh bien, me dit Monteaudevert lorsque nous sortîmes ensemble, êtes-vous content ? Vous voilà attaché en qualité d’aide de camp au seul homme qui puisse et sache dominer la chance et commander au hasard ! Que le diable m’emporte si une seule croisière avec lui ne vous dédommage pas amplement de vos ennuis passés… Mais voulez-vous venir à présent avec moi à la Pointe-aux-Forges, où l’on s’occupe à réespalmer la Confiance, c’est le nom du navire que commande Surcouf… cette vue vous fera plaisir, car je ne connais rien qui approche, pour la perfection des formes, de ce navire, que l’on a surnommé l’Apollon de l’Océan.

So it would seem – reservations about Garneray notwithstanding – that La Confiance was also known as “L’Apollon de l’Océan”. (Note that the French Wikipedia page for La Confiance incorrectly notes this as “l’Apollon des Océans”).

And if this is correct, then it does offer a very satisfying alternative explanation as to what Joachim Vieillard (if, as I suspect, he was indeed the Missing Corsair) was referring to in BN3:

In my adventurous life before embarking on the Apollon, I was one of those pirates who did so much harm to our enemies Spain and England.

According to the only obituary notice we have, Joachim Vieillard was born in 1782, and would have joined La Confiance in 1800 at the age of 18: so could easily have had several years’ worth of piracy under his belt by then. Which would all seem to join up into a sensible narrative.

But the ship he was on immediately before joining La Confiance would seem to be (if we sup with a long enough spoon) La Preneuse, according to Garneray. Which is where we shall go next…

Of all the Légionnaires d’Honneur whose full names first appeared just a few days ago, I have to say that Joachim Vieillard currently seems to me – even though we have no family tree for him, so no tell-tale brother “Etienne” – to be our strongest candidate for the Missing Corsair.

I’ll explain why.

Joachim Vieillard: Life and Death

As previously noted, Joachim Vieillard was an enseigne de vaisseau on La Vénus (famously captained by Jean-Jacques-Emmanuel Hamelin) in 1810. His zeal is described here:

Par la vivacité de ses mouvements, du feu de son artillerie et de sa mousqueterie, l’ennemi paraît mieux armé que la Vénus, car il manœuvre, combat, et fait fusillade en même temps ; tandis qu’Hamelin, malgré le zèle des officiers Longueville, Viellard et Mauclerc, est obligé pour brasser, d’appeler ses canonniers, lesquels se multiplient à force de courage et d’activités.

Moreover, Vieillard was wounded in the Battle of Grand Port (though the punctuation looks a little erratic):

Personnel de Marine venant du Port Napoléon en renfort: l’aspirant Prosper tué, blessé l’enseigne de la frégate La Vénus, Vieillard, les aspirants Fautrel blessé et Descombes tué.

Not too surprisingly, Vieillard had previously served as an enseigne de vaisseau on La Manche (see p.49 of this book, and this report by Duperré from September 1810).

Subsequently, Vieillard was promoted to Lieutenant de Vaisseau on 31st July 1816, according to the Annales maritimes et coloniales, Année 1817, part 1 (p.35).

(Note that the entry immediately above Vieillard is for Auguste-Alexandre Mauclerc, one of his fellow Légionnaires d’Honneur from the Indian Ocean, and who we haven’t yet eliminated.)

Knowing that, I was then able to find a reference to a later edition of Annales maritimes et coloniales (supposedly on archive.org, but I only found it behind a geneanet.org paywall), where a paragraph on p.1066 gave the dates both of his birth and of his death:

Joachim Vieillard, lieutenant de vaisseau en activité, né à i’ile Bourbon le 18 avril 1782, mort à Bordeaux le 21 février 1821.

Given that ‘Bourbon’ is, of course, modern-day Réunion, I then went to the British Library to look at the three volumes (and indeed the 2881 pages) of “Dictionnaire généalogique des familles de l’Ile Bourbon (La Réunion) 1665-1810” by Lucien-Jacques-Camille Ricquebourg. However, I found no trace of any Vieillard family members there, which was a bit disappointing.

So… might Vieillard have instead been born in Mauritius? Henri Maurel cites a reference to a testament left by a ‘Vieillard’ dated 20/08/1787 (with the notarial reference “BELIN 1785 – 1809 – Cote CAOM : MAUR 100”), but that’s as far as I got with that thread.

As a result, it seemed for a while that this whole line of enquiry might turn out to be a dead end. But then…

Might Alexandre Dumas Have Saved The Day?

The Last Cavalier: Being the Adventures of Count Sainte-Hermine in the Age of Napoleon” is a book that was written (and published) in serial form by Alexandre Dumas in the years before his death, though never quite finished: it was recently rediscovered, completed, translated into English, and published as a novel for the first time in 2008.

To a modern book-reading audience, though, it has to be said that the titular protagonist is excessively cartoony (wrestling cayman, sharks, snakes, fencing like a Bond villain, capturing ships, giving his hard-fought winnings away to widows etc). So how it is that Hollywood hasn’t yet snapped it up is arguably a mystery as great as that of any historical cipher. 🙂

In The Last Cavalier, Dumas places Ensign Joachim Vieillard on a pirogue with his captain, the famous corsair Robert Surcouf. When their pirogue is attacked by a huge shark, Surcouf (in Dumas’ story) throws an egg down the monster’s gullet: apparently satisfied, the shark swims off, leaving them in peace.

Moreover, another (somewhat fanciful) piece in the Revue de Paris seems to also link Surcouf to Vieillard… but, unlike Dumas, the author there drops a heavy hint as to one of the sources: the painter Louis Garneray. So: might this link have come from Garneray?

The Louis Garneray Problem

I first encountered Louis Garneray in the context of the 1799 sea-battle between the Iphigénie, Comet, Trincomalee, and Pearl which Garneray’s memoirs claimed he took part in.

The problem is that he simply wasn’t anywhere near any of those ships at the time, and so the account is full of hopeful mistakes which are at odds with the genuine accounts of the battle.

In fact, what almost certainly happened is that some genuine episodes from Garneray’s life at sea that were published in newspapers in the 1840s were picked up by some hack writer(s) and progressively embellished into a book size account until Garneray was (imaginatively) “present” at just about every interesting sea incident of his time. This kind of derring-do sea-faring account was wildly popular in France in the 1860s, which I guess is also probably why Dumas sent his Last Cavalier hero to the Indian Ocean.

All the same, the ever-sober (and ever-reliable) Auguste Toussainte has this to say (in his (1978) “Histoires des Corsaires”, p.113, quoted in Laurent Maneouvre’s “Louis Garneray: 1783-1857: Peintre. Ecrivain. Aventurier”(1997)) about Garneray:

Il y a aussi les mémoires fantaisistes comme ceux d’Edward Trelawny et de Louis Garneray […] De tous les engagements qu’il a décrits, il n’a pu assister qu’à seul, et encore n’est-ce pas certain.

For example, was Garneray on Surcouf’s crew of La Confiance for the battle against the Kent that he so ably painted?

confiance_kent_fight

Possibly yes… but almost certainly not. Perhaps, then, it is just as well that – having dredged my way through Garneray’s three memoirs – the link between Surcouf and Vieillard seems not to have originated from Garneray, or else we could easily dismiss it as 1860s derring-do nonsense.

Vieillard the Corsair

Other authors are convinced that Vieillard was a pirate or privateer. Denis Piat, in his splendidly illustrated “Pirates and Privateers in Mauritius” (2014) lists “Vieillard” (no first name) as the final privateer of a long (alphabetical) list (on p.115), but (I believe) does not mention the name anywhere else.

But it turns out that Alexandre Dumas actually dredged his story from the pages of French marine historian Charles Cunat. Having scoured my library at length, I eventually found this referred to on page 123 of Alain Roman’s “Robert Surcouf et ses frères” (2007), where he is referred to as “Joachim Veillard”.

C’est pendant ce séjour aux Seychelles qu’eut lieu une anecdote apportée par Cunat et qi’il certifie avoir entendue de la bouche d’un des témoins, Joachim Veillard. Après une journée passée chez un ami installé dans l’archipel, Surcouf revenait à son bord dans une pirogue conduite par son hôte en compagnie de son second chirurgien et de l’enseigne Joachim Veillard. L’embarcation fut alors attaquée par un énorme requin qui faillit la faire chavirer. Les coups de pagaie at d’aviron ne parvenant pas à le faire sur, Surcouf s’empera d’un oeuf et le lança dans la gueule de l’animal qui disparut aussitôt. Vraie ou fausse, l’histoire permet d’asseoir un peu plus la réputation de sang-froid et d’habileté du corsaire malouin.

My (occasionally over-)free translation would be something like:

It was during this particular stay in the Seychelles that a strange event took place reported by [Charles] Cunat, who attested that he heard it from the mouth of a direct witness, Joachim Veillard. Having spent a day with a friend who lived in the [Seychelles] archipelago, Surcouf was returning to his ship in a small pirogue guided by his host and with his second surgeon and his ensign Joachim Veillard in tow. The little vessel was then attacked by a huge shark, which nearly managed to capsize it. Once it became clear that their frantic oar strokes were failing to get them clear of the danger, Surcouf took an egg and threw it into the mouth of the animal, at which point it suddenly disappeared beneath the water. Whether true or false, this story allows us to grasp a little more clearly Surcouf’s reputation for cool-headedness and skillfulness.

So it seems that if we would like to know more about Joachim Vieillard, we should look at the works of Charles Cunat, who talked with him first-hand. Unfortunately, Gallica doesn’t seem to have a copy of Cunat’s book on Robert Surcouf (the one to which I believe Alain Roman referred): so I have, yet again, ordered myself a copy, and will pick up this particular thread when it arrives from France in 7-10 days.

But all the same, it now does seem likely that Joachim Viellard was indeed an enseigne de vaisseau for Surcouf: which in turn sharply raises the probability that he was our Missing Corsair. For Vieillard was, after all, a corsair, was he not?

I’m delighted to be able to report that I have received (from the very nice people at the Musée de la Légion d’Honneur) the page of the original Légion d’Honneur register that I’ve been trying to reconstruct. Or rather, a PDF scan of a microfiche of a handwritten copy of the handwritten original: but you get the basic idea.

Musée de la Légion d’honneur

To be precise, both pages appear here courtesy of: Archives du Musée de la Légion d’honneur et des ordres de chevalerie, ampliation de décret de nomination de chevaliers de la Légion d’honneur du 20 décembre 1810 – i.e. it is a duplicate of the decree dated 20th December 1810 nominating a number of knights for induction into the Légion d’Honneur, held by the Archives du Musée de la Légion d’honneur et des ordres de chevalerie.

The first page has Baron Jean-Jacques-Emmanuel Hamelin and Baron Duperré:

legion-dhonneur-hamelin-duperre

The second page has all the rest, including all the first names that were missing from the Journal de Paris summary that I uncovered a fortnight ago:

legion-dhonneur-liste

Capitaine de vaisseau:
28302 René Constant Le Marant de Kerdaniel (LH/1576/58)
28303 Pierre François Henry Étienne Bouvet de Maisonneuve (LH/342/61)

Capitaine de frégate:
28304 Nicolas Morice (LH/1937/17)
28305 Alexandre Louis Ducrest de Villeneuve (LH/827/53)
28306 Albin Roussin (LH/2407/38)
28307 Thomas Julien Fougeray du Coudray (LH/1007/55)

Chef de bataillon d’artillerie de marine:
28308 Etienne-Elisabeth Mourgues (LH/1955/28) (1774-1833)

Lieutenant de vaisseau:
28309 Henri-Félix Moisson (LH/1896/27) (1784-1832)
28310 François-Auguste Costé (LH/598/79) (1770-????)
28311 Bonaventure Thirot (LH/2595/10) (1781-1850)
28312 Edouard Victor Longueville (LH/1657/4) (1784-1862)
28313 René Decaen (LH/403/27)

Capitaine des chasseurs des colonies:
28314 Duplessis

Enseigne de vaisseau:
28315 Michel-Joseph-Guillaume de Rabaudy (LH/2252/38) (1784-1837)

Lieutenant de vaisseau:
28316 Camille Joseph de Roquefeuille-Cahuzac (1781-1831)

Enseigne de vaisseau:
28317 Isaïe Alexis de Longueville (LH/1657/8) (1788-1838)
28318 Auguste-Alexandre Mauclerc (~1767-1835)
28319 Joachim Vieillard (1782-1821)
28320 Vincent-Marie Moulac (LH/1949/55) (1778/1780-1836)
28321 Robert-Nicolas Lefébure (LH/1548/23) (1788-????)
28322 Jean-Baptiste Jardin (LH/1354/77) (1788-????)

Capitaine d’artillerie de Marine:
28323 Ackman

Aspirant de 1ère classe:
28324 Louis Augustin Médéric Malavoie (1793-1836)

So… Which One Is The Missing Corsair, Then?

Someone like Camille Joseph de Roquefeuille-Cahuzac would be an excellent candidate, were it not for the awkward fact that he seems not to have had a brother called Etienne.

Joachim Vieillard at first looks like a plausible fit for the “Joachim Joseph, portuguais” on the Apollon. However, if you search Memoires des Hommes, you’ll find Joachim Joseph and his (possibly twin?) brother Isydor / Ignace as ‘mousses’ (very young sailors) on the Bonhomme Richard two years before Joachim Vieillard was even born. (An older man by the same name – quite possibly their father – was killed on the same ship).

Louis Augustin Médéric Malavoie would also be a good candidate, were he not too young to have sailed on the Apollon. And so it goes on.

In retrospect, my initial hope (that all we would need to do is cross-reference this list of names and the list of names on the Apollon crew-list, and verify the result by finding a brother called Etienne) seems slightly over-optimistic.

However, there are plenty more dice to roll before this game of archival chance is over. For example:
* there may be a second list of the Apollon’s captured crew in British archives
* there may be lists of corsair Freemasons in Ile de Bourbon and/or Ile de France
* there may be other Indian Ocean Freemason archives to go through
* the crew list of La Vénus (in Mauritius) might tell us more
* and so on.

Oh well! A great big thank-you-very-much-indeed to all those fabulous, brave, generous people who pledged their hard-earned money towards my proposed Mauritian pirate treasure documentary project: but – alas! – it was not to be. Cue oversized sad smiley:

sad_smiley

I might try again in the future (and having experienced the whole Kickstarter ecosystem first-hand, I would of course do just about everything differently). But then again, solving the whole Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang pirate treasure mystery by my normal slow means could easily prove more practical than trying to fast-forward to the distant chequered flag of Historical Truth via crowdfunding a documentary.

As a result, I doubt anyone would be surprised if I were now to take my family on holiday to Mauritius and leave them on the beach while I just happen to accidentally sneak off to various historical archives for a day. (Or ten.) 🙂 And on the bright side, given that there can’t be many books on the topic left for me to throw scads of money at, I might now actually be able to start to afford it. 😉

Also: what emerged from the surfeit of Nageon de l’Estang posts here was that many of the relevant archives are actually in France rather than Mauritius. For example, details about Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang’s family are very likely to be in the archives in Lorient: while I would be utterly unsurprised if the Missing Corsair’s life story is to be found scattered through various French marine archives. So I may well have to engineer some way to get myself over to La Belle France for a few days too. 😉

I don’t know: the historical mysteries I try to cover are all genuinely fascinating stories that have ended up wrapped up in layer upon layer of misperception and mythology. And so initially the whole point of the Kickstarter project was to devise a way to try to sidestep the all-too-familiar walking-through-treacle research feeling for just one of these historical mysteries.

But as the project took better shape, what I came to understand was that pirate treasure has an unbelievably powerful resonance within Mauritius, something that people outside the island rarely grasp. Treasure hunting is something that has deeply permeated Mauritian culture over the last century, and even – I suspect – Mauritians’ idea of self.

And so what I ended up hoping to do with the documentary was something far closer to using pirate treasure as a mirror to hold up to Mauritius itself, to reflect back Mauritians’ collective idea of their own history. In many ways, I wanted to try to interview an entire country, something that has never been attempted (and may well never be attempted). But how can you sell that as an idea for a film?

Was I aiming to make a documentary about an actual pirate treasure; about the hopeful dream of finding pirate treasure that an entire country shared; or about how such dreams define a nation? In part, I couldn’t help but want to do all of them at the same time. As a result, it felt as though I finished the whole Kickstarter cycle with too grandly epic a conceptual narrative to squeeze into any small margin.

As a parallel, single-topic historical books have been in vogue for years – telling the history of sugar, of salt, of bananas, of wood, in fact of any damn thing you can name. The reason they’re interesting isn’t that general book readers suddenly want to become experts in what salt meant for Florentines in the Quattrocento (even though this is a genuinely interesting question), but because they open an interesting window onto a whole range of different (and apparently unlinked) histories. That is, these books offer up a kind of synthetic physical narrative that modern historians tend to eschew: and so they are innately romantic and old-fashioned, harking back to the days when historians were often closer to novelists than was genuinely comfortable.

This is just as true for difficult and contested objects such as the Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang papers: there, you have to engage with whole swathes of history in order to put one apparently small thing into its correct set of contexts – the sinking of the St-Géran, the attack on Madras by La Bourdonnais’ fleet, the naval war between the British Navy and Napoleon’s fleet, the Légion d’Honneur and so forth.

So in many ways, you can’t tell a story about this kind of cipher mystery without telling a vastly bigger story about everything that it cuts across that gave it shape, or gave it external meaning: and that’s something that’s arguably beyond the reach of a blog, an article, a crowdfunded documentary, or even a book.

Really: for all the historical grind that I put into researching historical mysteries, I guess what I’m perpetually reaching towards are things that are implicitly romantic and yet forensically rigorous; that touch on deeper truths that even literature cannot reach, and yet require deft scientific precision; and that require off-the-scale intuition and logic to deal effectively with, yet perpetually sit just the wrong side of the limits of what we can know.

Ultimately, what I’m describing is neither a narrative nor a microcosm, but an eternal battle against the gods, against thermodynamics, against Time itself. Maybe I should learn not to be so damned impatient… 😉

One thing I’ve been trying really hard to do over the last few weeks is to identify the “Missing Corsair”, i.e. the person who (seems to have) owned the Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang papers in mid-1811 (i.e. just after the Fall of Tamatave marked the effective end of France’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean).

This Missing Corsair claimed to have been honoured by the First Consul for a glorious feat of arms: which (in English) would seem to mean that Napoleon Bonaparte made him a Chevalier in the Légion d’Honneur for some feat of bravery, presumably in the Indian Ocean.

legion_dhonneur_grand_officier_premier_empire_plaque

Given that this Missing Corsair called his ‘commandant’ Captain “Hamon” or “Harmon”, my working hypothesis for the last few months has been that we should be able to narrow our search down to a small group of men: those rewarded by Napoleon for the part they played in the Battle of Grand Port, and even more specifically those sailing on La Vénus under Capitaine Hamelin.

But despite being so very specific, the list of names in this group has proved very hard to dig up. *sigh*

Finally, A Lucky Break

Though I had managed to identify some of these men (though in admittedly a very piecemeal fashion) via Google, the bulk of my searches had revealed nothing really substantial. Well, that was true right up until a couple of days ago, when I finally dug up the page in the Journal de Paris, Lundi 24 Decembre 1810, no 358, where the names of the new Légionnaires were all announced.

And then, having found that Journal de Paris list, I was able to use the names on that to dig up a further list of the same names by way of general confirmation.

Nicely, the people appear in strict numerical order: so my guess is that each ancien numéro reference is made up of a page number and a line, e.g. “28302” is page #283, line #2 of the ledger.

The biggest problem is that we often only have a surname to work with, and not every name has a corresponding entry within the Léonore database (i.e. of Légion d’Honneur recipients). However, I’ve managed to identify all bar three of the names (eventually), so we’re now hopefully much further along than we were before.

Commandants

Les capitaines de vaisseau
(no ancien numéro) Jacques-Félix-Emmanuel Hamelin
(no ancien numéro) Baron Duperré

Légionnaires

Les capitaines de vaisseau
28302 René Constant Le Marant de Kerdaniel
28303 Pierre François Henry Étienne Bouvet de Maisonneuve

Les capitaines de frégate
28304 Nicolas Morice
28305 Alexandre Louis Ducrest de Villeneuve
28306 Albin Roussin
28307 Thomas Julien Fougeray du Coudray

(Everything below here is a lightly-annotated set of notes relating to each of the non-captains made a Chevalier in the Légion d’Honneur on the 20th December 1810. Only three remain completely unknown: Mauclerc, Vieillard, Ackman. We probably need not concern ourselves with Duplessis and René Decaen.)

Le chef de bataillon d’artillerie de marine
28308 Etienne-Elisabeth Mourgues, 22/08/1774 Brest – 24/04/1833 Sens.
http://www.smlh29n.fr/memorial/legionnaires/11347_mourgues_etienne_elisabeth

Les lieutenants de vaisseau
28309 Henri-Felix Moisson, 14/01/1784 Caen – 03/12/1832 Brest
http://www.smlh29n.fr/memorial/legionnaires/15344_moisson_henri_felix

28310 Francois-Auguste Costé, 22/12/1770 Le Havre
https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Manuel_de_gr%C3%A9ement_ou_L_art_d_%C3%A9quiper.html?id=FIlBAAAAcAAJ&redir_esc=y

28311 Bonnaventure [Bonaventure] Thirot, 21/6/1781 Le Faou – 22/9/1850 Lorient
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/LH/LH267/PG/FRDAFAN83_OL2595010V001.htm
Son of Guilleaume Louis Thirot, brigadier.
Married Cézarine COSMAO-DUMANOIR (b.1794), from which Caroline de la POIX de FREMINVILLE (born THIROT).

28312 Edouard Victor Longueville, 12/8/1784 St Servan – 3/1/1862 Brest
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/LH/LH133/PG/FRDAFAN83_OL1657004v001.htm
Son of Sieur Nicolas Jacques Longueville and Dame Marie Anne Dubois
http://gw.geneanet.org/garric?lang=fr&p=edouard+victor&n=de+longueville

28313 René Decaen (“frère du Général Decaen”)

Le capitaine des chasseurs des colonies
28314 Duplessis

Les enseignes de vaisseau
28315 Michel-Joseph-Guillaume De Rabaudy, 10/1/1784 Amiens – 24/7/1837
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=BgpaAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA290
“Fils de François de Rabaudy, garde du corps du roi et de Aimée Latiez-Dumermon”
Père: RABAUDY (de) François Marguerite
Mère: LATTIEZ DE MERMONT Aimable Aimée
“Il était marié à Marie-Thérèse-Anne-Suzanne Desvimes”
http://gw.geneanet.org/pierfit?lang=fr&p=guillaume&n=de+rabaudy

28316 Roquefeuille
Camille Joseph de Roquefeuil-Cahuzac, 27/1/1781 Cahuzac-sur-Vère – 7/11/1831 Saint-Paul (La Réunion)
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camille_de_Roquefeuil

28317 Isaie Alexis de Longueville, 1788 – 1838
Son of Sieur Nicolas Jacques Longueville and Dame Marie Anne Dubois
http://gw.geneanet.org/garric?lang=fr&p=isaie+alexis&n=de+longueville

28318 Mauclerc ?

28319 Vieillard ?

28320 Vincent-Marie Moulac, 2/3/1778 [1780?]Lorient – 5/4/1836 Callao
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_Moulac
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5458249r/f32.image.r=Vincent-Marie%20Moulac

28321 Robert-Nicolas Lefebure, 18/4/1788 Cherbourg –
Son of Matthieu Lefebure & Julie Anne Marie Drouet
Married Louise-Eglantine Delabriere
Had a daughter Julie-Mathilde Lefébure: he was from a family which had owned “la terre de Gavatot pres d’Auzebosc et en avait parfois porte le nom au XVIIIeme siecle”.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ea6-f9CQz8oC&pg=PA145&lpg=PA145

28322 Jean-Baptiste Jardin, 23/6/1788 Dinan –
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/LH/LH092/PG/FRDAFAN83_OL1354077v001.htm
1819-1820 Falkland Islands, on the Victor

Le lieutenant d’artillerie de marine
28323 Ackman ?

L’aspirant de première classe
28324 Louis Augustin Médéric Malavoie [Malavoye], 31/8/1793 Seychelles – 28/12/1836 Saint-Louis-du-Sénégal. Was briefly Governor of Senegal.
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/LH/LH280/PG/FRDAFAN83_OL2790074V001.htm
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Malavois
Son of Louis Jean-Baptiste Philogène de Malavois (Scarr p.11).
http://gw.geneanet.org/robillard1?lang=fr&p=louis+jean+baptiste+philogene&n=de+malavois

A year back, I was as mystified by the whole story surrounding the letters linked to Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang as anyone else: no matter how hard I tried to fit the various historical jigsaw pieces together, nothing seemed to link up to anything else in any sensible way.

However, six months ago I took a fresh look at it all, and posted here about a new hypothesis that offered the possibility of explaining pretty much everything: my suggestion was that the evidence pointed not to one person but to two peoplea pirate and a Missing Corsair.

Since then, how close have I managed to get to the edge of this knowledge?

The Chevalier

I believe that the reason people started referring to Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang as “Chevalier Nageon” in the 1920s is that someone had noticed the following in the third (“BN3”) letter:

“With the benevolence the First Consul showed me after a glorious feat of arms…”

Here, the “First Consul” can only have been Napoleon Bonaparte: and the way that Napoleon rewarded people (after 1802) was by inducting them into the ranks of the Légion d’Honneur. Hence the ‘benevolence’ was surely at least the lowest ‘Chevalier’ rank of the Légion d’Honneur… ergo the letter-writer was a Chevalier. And if the letter-writer was Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang, then he would be “Chevalier Nageon”, Q.E.D.

However, even if (as I hypothesized back in April) we break the long-assumed link between Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang and the BN3 letter, the rest of the chain of logic still seems to be OK: that is, even if Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang wasn’t a Chevalier, the BN3-letter-writer very probably was. As a result, I firmly believe that we should be looking not merely for a Missing Corsair, but rather a Missing Corsair who was at least a Chevalier in the Légion d’Honneur.

Furthermore, I think it extremely likely (95%) that:
* the Missing Corsair’s “Captain Hamon / Harmon” in BN3 was Jacques-Félix-Emmanuel Hamelin
* the Missing Corsair was on Hamelin’s 380-person-strong La Vénus
* the Missing Corsair was one of the marine captains and officers entered into the Légion d’Honneur on 20th December 1810
* the Missing Corsair was on one of the parlementaires carrying prisoners of war that arrived back in Morlaix in Spring 1811

But which particular parlementaire do I think he was on?

The Missing Corsair Returns To France

We already know that Hamelin arrived at Morlaix on the Bombay Merchant on 15th February 1811, and that Isaie Alexis de Longueville arrived on the Anna on the 14th April 1811: so we already have two possible ships it could have been

Moreover, I found out a little bit more about Albin Roussin’s journey in an 1887 article called “Les héros de Grand-Port” (in Review des Deux Mondes, 1887, volume 84, pp.101-123). Of course, having dug this up the hard way by trawling through Gallica, I then promptly found a plaintext version of the article in WikiSource. Oh well!

Regardless, this article says (p.113) that Albin Roussin was put on the parlementaire Lord Castlereagh on 11th December 1810, and arrived back in Morlaix on the 19th March 1811. When Roussin was presented to the Emperor (in the following May) in front of a large audience, Napoleon told him: “Je souhaite que vous ayez beaucoup d’imitateurs” (‘I hope that you will have many imitators‘)

So it seems that our Missing Corsair could plausibly have arrived at Morlaix in February 1811, March 1811, or even April 1811: which isn’t very helpful. However, I then found a mention in Biographie des hommes du jour industriels, conseillers-d’État …, Volume 3 that said:

Le capitaine Hamelin, transporté à bord de la Boadicea, fut conduit à Saint-Paul, où il obtint un bâtiment parlementaire sur lequel il s’embarqua avec son état-major et son équipage, et qui les débarqua à l’île de Bas, au mois de février 1811 ; de là le capitaine Hamelin se rendit à Paris, où il fut présenté à l’empereur, qui le félicita publiquement sur sa belle conduite à l’Ile de France.

…which I (freely) translate as…

Captain Hamelin, having been taken on board HMS Boadicea, was then taken to Saint-Paul [in Réunion], where he and his staff and crew were placed onto a neutral boat, from which he subsequently disembarked at the Île de Batz [near Morlaix] in February 1811. From there, Captain Hamelin went on to Paris, where he was presented to the Emperor, who publicly congratulated him on his exemplary conduct in the Ile de France.

Hence I think it highly likely that the Missing Corsair returned to France on the same boat on which his commander Captain Hamelin travelled back (i.e. the Bombay Merchant), and hence arrived at Morlaix on or just before the 15th February 1811.

A Spider In A Hole

Even though Captain Hamelin was taken on board HMS Boadicea, there were two other British ships specifically involved in the action against Hamelin’s La Vénus in September 1810: the Otter and the Staunch. (The Windham was also not too far away in Ile de Bourbon, but this was an East Indiaman rather than a frigate or a brig).

Hence I grabbed an hour in the National Archives in Kew this morning to look at the Captain’s Logs for these three ships: the Boadicea (ADM 51/2176), the Otter (ADM 51/2622), and the Staunch (ADM 52/4619). Unfortunately, even though all three logs did indeed gave an account of the specific day in question, there was nothing like a prisoner list or list of captured officers in any of them which we might cross-reference against the Légion d’Honneur records. Which is a shame, but it is what it is.

All in all, as far as historical archives go, I can do no better than pass on the Italian aphorism that Sergio Toresella once told me (freely translated): though I’ve crawled into dark holes many times, I’ve never yet caught a spider there.

So how do I plan to catch this particular elusive spider?

What About The Bombay’s Records?

Even though I’ve already contacted the French marine archives about the Morlaix prisoner of war list for the Bombay Merchant, I’m not honestly expecting a quick response: I guess it’s more likely to be a document I’d physically need to go to Brest to find myself.

But in the meantime, all is not lost, insofar as there are still a few more things I can check a little closer to home first.

The next set of historical resources I plan to go through is in the British Library. Oddly, the most effective way to find stuff held there to do with the East India Company is to use the National Archives’ Discovery document search engine, which covers the holdings of numerous UK archives. Doing this has revealed a whole load of files held there that might just answer the question:
* IOR/G/9/2 – ff. 152-236, 239-254, 393-409, 492-495, 506-507
* IOR/G/9/7 – ff. 138-144, 145-146, 183-188
* IOR/G/9/11 – ff. 84-169, 170-185
* IOR/G/9/25 – ff. 108-115
* IOR/H/701 – (covers the capture of Mauritius, just for the sake of completeness)

But I suspect the most intriguing set of documents at the British Library may turn out to be L/MAR/B/48 – “journals, ledgers, pay books, imprest books and absence books” relating to the “Bombay” East Indiaman.

Currently, it seems probable to me that the Bombay (Merchant) was the same ship sailed by Captain Archibald Hamilton (1778-1848), and about which the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has plenty of papers (HMN/60 through to HMN/70 and beyond).

Really, though, the bigger question with all this would seem to be: how close to knowing something do you have to be to actually know it? It feels as though I’m steering my research ship as close to the edge of what we know as can be sensibly maintained – I’m hunting a person for whom I have only indirect evidence, based on a set of letters that itself sits right on the limit of what can be worked with at all.

But perhaps all that is needed now is a single piece of external evidence and this whole wave-function collapses into a single fact, a single name to really go to town on. Wouldn’t that be nice, eh?