Cipher Mysteries commenter ‘Chris’ has put forward an angle on the Somerton Man mystery that is quite different from the narratives that have immured so many of us for such a long time.

Chris was told that the Somerton Man died as “a result of him wanting to confess to his involvement in a murder in SA in 1943 […] he wanted to confess but the others did not want him to. He came back to SA after the war because he could not live with what had happen.”

The murder in question was that of young railwayman Clarence Keith Seckold on 7th October 1943, who was found dead on the grounds of Government House. While he had significant blunt force trauma to his head, his lower body had also been slashed and mutilated in a way that the Brisbane “Truth” (uncharacteristically finding itself short of words) described as “shocking and unusual”.

What Chris was told was that three people were involved in the killing, one of whom was directly connected to Government House. He suspects that this person may well have been Governor Charles Malcolm Barclay-Harvey, who (perhaps coincidentally) was admitted to hospital the following day, postponing all his engagements, at a time when his wife and daughter were (perhaps coincidentally) both away in Canada. Moreover, Barclay-Harvey (a well-known high-ranking Freemason, perhaps coincidentally) resigned from his post in the following April (“for health reasons”, according to Wikipedia) and returned to his 14,000-acre Scottish estate.


I say “perhaps coincidentally” a lot, because there is – as yet – not a shred of publicly available evidence to support this story.

Lady Muriel’s Horses

Malcolm Barclay-Harvey’s wife was Lady Muriel Felicia Vere Barclay-Harvey (née Bertie) (1893-1980), “Nurse and founder of the Lady Muriel Nurses’ Club; former wife of Henry Liddell-Grainger, and later wife of Sir Charles Barclay-Harvey; daughter of 12th Earl of Lindsey”, according to the National Portrait Gallery.

Chris was told that Lady Muriel owned a number of racehorses: and – oddly enough – that it was she who (allegedly) arranged with the South Australian Grandstand Bookmakers’ Association to make sure that the Somerton Man was buried properly.

[Note: it’s certainly true that Lady Muriel did own some racehorses – not only Waxwings (that she bought from Sidney Reid, according to the omniaudient Lady Kitty), and who famously won the Derby in 1940 in a record time), but also a less successful horse called Marble Hill. According to this article, she still had Waxwings in October 1946 (despite her having left Australia in 1944), but was thinking of shipping him back to the UK: and according to this article, she gave Marble Hill to Sidney Reid as a parting gift when she left Australia.]

Chris says he was told all this in 1970 by a soldier working in Army Intelligence (that most famous of oxymorons) in Northern Territory, (1970 was the year following Charles Barclay-Harvey’s death): but that though he didn’t believe it at the time, when he returned to the story nearly fifty years later (!), he was surprised to discover that many of the details did seem to check out.

Army Intelligence?

Naturally, I wondered what the connection with Army Intelligence might have been. But having gone through all the cuttings in Trove, this didn’t emerge until more than a year after Clarence Seckold’s murder, when the police announced they were looking for “a returned soldier in his early thirties”.

Their search (described by the Sydney Truth as an Australia-Wide Hunt For Insane Killer) was for a well-known Sydney criminal, who they believed was involved with four different murders: Clarence Keith Seckold (25), Francis James Davey (22), Phillip John Beattie (22), and [in Sydney] divorcee Mrs Mary Gwendoline Bakewell

The Adelaide Police were convinced that the same “sex pervert” was responsible for the gruesome deaths of Seckold and Davey: Beattie was shot at close range by a man on a bicycle – the cyclist was then seen by a Lieutenant Norman Munro. Beattie died a little while afterwards in a military hospital, before being able to give a more detailed account of his attack.

All in all, then, it is perhaps not surprising that Army Intelligence would take an interest in the case. However, what I do find odd is that the alleged connection to the Somerton Man cold case was – as I recall – never mentioned in Gerry Feltus’ book. If so, it would seem to be something that they have resolutely kept under their hats for fifty years. Perhaps it is time to ask them to take off those hats and let us have a look.

The Conspiracy of Three?

The Seckold conspiracy theory would seem to run along the following lines: (1) that Charles Barclay-Harvey was (supposedly) having some kind of after-hours dalliance or sexual activity in the park behind Government House, which (2) was observed (perhaps accidentally, perhaps not) by Clarence Seckold [there were many lurid accounts of homosexuals, ‘foxers’ and ‘gliders’ in the park from that time], leading (3) to Seckold being savagely beaten up by one/two minders/associates of Barclay-Harvey, leading (4) unfortunately to his death.

The Army Intelligence people might well have reasoned that whereas the police were looking for a single man, the deaths could equally well have been down to two different – but closely linked – people. In which case Army Intelligence almost certainly know the identity of one (if not both) of them, but were unable to prove it or close the file.

If this is even vaguely along the right lines, arguably the right place to start would be some kind of Freedom of Information request to Army Intelligence relating to the files surrounding this case – what the files say is what they say, and I’m not yet in any kind of position to second-guess what they do say. But am I the right person to be making such a request? I’m not sure. Something to think about, anyway. =:-o

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?

When the Conseil du Sceau des Titres met on 20th December 1810, it made a set of recommendations as to who should be rewarded for their bravery, honour, or long service by being entered into (or advanced within) the Légion d’Honneur.

As we have seen, Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin was on this list (though he was, at this point in his career, merely one sea captain of many), along with an as-yet-unknown number of his marine officers: but many other French captains who had fought in the Indian Ocean also found themselves rewarded by the same committee.

Over the last few days, I have managed to squeeze a fair few names from the dried-up toothpaste tube of history. What got me started was the article starting on p.402 La France Maritime volume 1 (1837) (p.626 of the PDF), which I had in turn found quoted in this webpage.

The List So Far

And with that as a starting point, I uncovered several more valiant sea captains, yielding the following list:
* Pierre François Henry Étienne Bouvet de MaisonneuveLegion d’Honneur scans – ancien numéro 28303
* Alexandre Louis Ducrest de VilleneuveLegion d’Honneur scans – ancien numéro 28305
* Albin RoussinLegion d’Honneur scans – ancien numéro 28306
* Thomas Julien Fougeray du CoudrayLegion d’Honneur scans – ancien numéro 28307
* Isaie Alexis de LonguevilleLegion d’Honneur scans – ancien numéro 28317

According to Denis Piat, Roussin was presented to Napoleon in Morlaix in March 1811. There is a nice painting of Roussin in Versailles, which I took across from here:


Unfortunately, it currently seems that none of the people on my list had a brother called Étienne, so our shortlist of possible names for the Missing Corsair remains as resolutely empty as ever. But I keep looking…

Even so, it would seem that the original numbers assigned to these entrants into the Légion d’Honneur were all close to each other: so in theory, all we would need to do to find the name of our Missing Corsair is to dig up the ‘ancien’ list of Légion d’Honneur rewardees and examine everyone numbered from around 28300 to 28320 or so.

Alas! That list seems – unless you know better – not to exist any more, except in implicit form on the scans of the cards: and the Léonore database contains no field for ‘ancien numéro’, and I have found no trace of the original list anywhere in the archives. So once again, all I can do is keep looking…

Beneath Every Rock

And so it seems that I’m now back trying to track down the crewlist of La Vénus, so that I can cross-reference the names of its officers forward into the Léonore database. On the bright side, I now have several new leads to follow. 🙂

Firstly, thanks to a page on Henri Maurel’s site, I can see that The National Archives of Mauritius have a document called “GB 45” dated 1808, and described as “Rôle d’équipage de La Vénus, Cap Hamelin”. As is almost inevitable, GB 45 hasn’t yet been digitized (even though, for example, GB 40 has, *sigh*), but this is definitely something I’d like to look at in Mauritius.

I also realized yesterday that I haven’t yet had a chance to look at the logs for HMS Boadicea (ADM 51/2176), HMS Otter (ADM 51/2622), and HMS Staunch (ADM 52/4619). Of the three, my guess is that HMS Boadicea is the one most likely to have the prisoner of war list from La Vénus: but until I get to the National Archives in Kew once again, I won’t know.

And I continue to suspect that a prisoner of war list with Hamelin’s name on it must be somewhere in the French archives. The closest I’ve yet got is in Service historique de la Défense (SHD), Sous-série Yj. There, in the very last part of this page on arrivals at Morlaix in Section 10Yj is a section called “ETAT NOMINATIF DES OFFICIERS SUPERIEURS ET AUTRES ARRIVES A MORLAIX SUR LE CARTEL ANGLAIS « LE MARCHAND DE BOMBAY »”… “A Morlaix, le 15 février 1811”.

This, of course, initially got me hugely excited: but it seems that there’s nothing useful there as far as our hunt for the Missing Corsair goes – it’s hard to say whether the person transcribing the page only copied the parts related to the army, or whether that’s all there actually was in section 10Yj (it is the SHD, after all). Nothing’s ever easy, is it?

Incidentally, Isaie Alexis de Longueville’s records state that he was on the ‘parlementaire’ the Anna, arriving in the Cape of Good Hope on 10th January 1811, left on the 28th, and finally arrived at Morlaix on 14th April 1811: yet this doesn’t seem to be covered by this archive either.

Like a string of strangely distant pearls, details larded through Nageon de l’Estang letter BN3 seem to tell us a lot about its author (the person I call the “Missing Corsair”, who I now believe was not the person who wrote BN1 and BN2).

I’ll go through BN3 slowly, showing what I think we can infer from it:

BN3 Analysis

Beloved brother, I’ve been sick since the fall of Tamatave, […]

The Fall of Tamatave in 1811 was a hugely symbolic moment for the French: by then blockaded all too effectively in their European ports, this defeat marked the end of their ambitions in the Indian Ocean too. Effectively, Tamatave was where the French dreams of fighting on a world stage were finally shut down.

despite the care of my friend the commander.

The writer has a close personal relationship with his commander: which probably means he was an officier of some sort, rather than merely a matelot or (dare I say it) mousse.

I am weak, I fear death from one moment to the next, I wish to talk to you one last time dear Étienne and give you my greatest recommendations.

The writer’s brother is called Étienne.

When I am dead, Captain Hamon/Harmon will give you the little that I possess that I saved during my adventurous life at sea.

The people copying these letters obviously had some difficulty making out the name of the captain: however, I think we can infer from the rest of the letter that the writer’s captain was none other than Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin (later appointed Rear Admiral and Baron), and that the ship was very probably La Vénus.

You know, dear Étienne, that my life’s dream was to amass a fortune to bring back our family’s splendour.

It seems that the writer was from an old French family, quite possibly aristocrats who lost everything in the French Revolution. Unfortunately, that’s perhaps not a particularly telling clue: numerous aristos suffered the same sudden reverse of fortune at that time.

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

The “First Consul” was none other than Napoleon Bonaparte: and by far the most “glorious feat of arms” that took place in the Indian Ocean was the Battle of Grand Port (this is even commemorated on the Arc de Triomphe). And the ship that played the most central role in that was (you guessed it)… Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin’s La Vénus.

But as God will not allow me to perform this duty and I feel close to death, swear to me dear Étienne that you will execute my wishes. In my adventurous life before embarking on the Apollon,

The Apollon had a brief life as a corsair ship, doing well when commanded by Hodoul in 1797, before being captured in 1798. It would therefore seem likely that the writer of BN3 was on the Apollon when she was captured.

I was one of those corsairs 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

This has been hard to track down, but currently it seems likely to me that this was Captain Malroux’s Iphigénie, which blew up in a dramatic sea-battle at night. I have read (and transcribed) numerous accounts of this battle, and from these the captain’s whereabouts and manner of death are both not at all clear.

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.

It is not currently known whether Malroux was a Freemason (this is something I’d like to check in Mauritius!): but given that plenty of other corsairs active in Mauritius at the same time had not long before joined a lodge in Port Louis, this would (on the surface) seem to be quite a likely scenario.

But I abhor this wandering life, so I decided to enlist permanently and wait for France to calm down before finding these treasures and return back there. Swear to me that your eldest son will carry out my wishes and one day return to our house with the fortune.

The writer’s brother Étienne has more than one son.

What happened to Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin?


This is best covered in this account from 1837:

Mais après trois quarts d’heure du combat le plus acharné, il se voit forcé d’amener son pavillon. Transporté à bord de la Boadicea, il fut conduit à Saint-Paul, où il obtint un bâtiment parlementaire sue lequel il s’embarqua avec son état-major et son equipage, et qui les débarqua à l’île de Bas, au mois de février 1811.

This is then followed immediately by a footnote telling the next part of the story:

Sur le compte rendu, par le capitaine general, de événements arrives à l’Ile-de-France, le ministre de la marine Decrès adressait au capitaine Hamelin la dépêche suivante:

Paris, le 27 décembre 1810.

“L’Empereur, monsieur, dans le compte que je me suis empressé de lui render des dernières operations de ses forces navales réunies à l’Ile-de-France, a donné une attention particulière aux details qui vous sont personnels.

“Sa Majesté a bien voulu remarquer que vous avez complété les succès que M. le capitaine du vaisseau Duperré avait obtenus dans les journées du 23 ay 25 août, et que vous avez ensuite attaqué et pris le frigate le Ceylan dans un combat corps à corps.

“Quels qu’aient été les événements qui ont suivi, Sa Majesté n’en a pas moins apprécié l’honourable défense que vous avez faites lorsque, désemparé par un précédent combat, vous avez été attaqué par des forces supérieures. Elle a daigné, en recompense de ces différentes actions qui toutes attestent votre habileté et votre bravoure, vous élever au grade de commandant de la Légion-d’Honneur.

“Sa Majesté a bien voulu également répandre ses graces sur les officiers qui vous ont si dignement secondé, et j’adresse à M. le capitaine general Decaen les décrets qui consacrent ces actes de satisfaction.

That is to say, Decrès wrote, His Majesty not only raised Hamelin to the level of “Commandant” in the Légion d’Honneur in honour of his “skill and bravery” (votre habileté et votre bravoure), he also expressed the wish that “the officers who assisted [Hamelin] so worthily” in the Battle of Grand Port should be similarly honoured (i.e. by entering them into the Légion d’Honneur). Hence his naval minister Decrès had written to General Decaen in Ile-de-France to ask him to make this so.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t actually going to be possible in the way Decrès hoped: unknown to him, Ile-de-France had already capitulated to the British on 3rd December 1810.

Hence at the time of the letter, Hamelin and his fellow prisoners of war were on a ship called the Bombay Merchant travelling via the Cape of Good Hope to drop them all off in France – they would arrive in early February 1811.

Which of Hamelin’s officers were inducted into the Légion d’Honneur?

Finally! We reach the most interesting question of the whole research thread.

And the answer is: I don’t yet know… but I’m trying really hard to find out.

I strongly suspect that if I could determine the names of all people who were inducted into (or raised a level) in the Légion d’Honneur on the 20th December 1810 (the specific date given in Hamelin’s file card entry there), we would find the names of all these officers. And one of those officers was – I now firmly believe – the same Missing Corsair who wrote the letter BN3 in mid-to-late 1811.

However, my current understanding is that the “Léonore” database in the Archives nationales has no index for date of honour. And so I suspect there is no easy or quick way to find the list of people entered into the Légion d’Honneur on any given date. (Unless you happen to know better, kind reader?)

(Incidentally, I aso trawled through the Bulletin des Lois looking for anything that might help with this search, but found nothing there either. Just so you know!)

As a result, I’m instead currently trying to identify documents in the English or French archives that might identify the list of prisoners of war carried on the Bombay Merchant, so that I can check these forward against the “Léonore” database’s well-used surname index. But this is proving very difficult too. *sigh*

Oh well: I guess if it was easy, people would have done this 10x over already. 🙂

To my mind, there are two basic types of Voynich Manuscript researchers: (a) those who view Voynichese as a language composed of clearly legible individual letters (and who therefore tend to treat it either as a confounding linguistic puzzle or as an exercise in pure cryptology); and (b) those who believe that you would first need to work out how to parse groups of glyphs into tokens before you can even begin to make any sense of the text.

Despite having made the case for (b) back in “The Curse of the Voynich” (2006), I don’t honestly believe that this second group’s camp has ever had more than my tent in it. (An occasional marauding bear, perhaps, but that’s about it as far as it goes, company-wise.)

Why is “Camp B” so empty?

Strongly-paired Glyphs

The argument starts with the difference between strongly-linked glyph pairs and weakly-linked glyph pairs.

In Voynichese, EVA ‘q’ is almost always followed by EVA ‘o’ (5186 times, compared with about 120 for all other occurrences of ‘q’). The strength of this link suggests the presence of an underlying orthographic rule (i.e. “q is always followed by u”), and also that a fair few of the other (non-qo) instances may well prove to be copying slips.

Similarly, if we see the first half of a strike-through ‘ch’ character (i.e. ‘c’) in front of a gallows character, it is almost always matched by the second half of a strike-through ‘ch’ character (i.e. ‘h’). This too suggests that c+gallows+h is following some kind of underlying orthographic rule:

* cth 905:33
* ckh 876:26
* cph 212:6
* cfh 73:6

However, it then turns out that Voynichese is full of families of strongly-linked glyph pairs, and that (though I don’t have precise statistical evidence for asserting it) it is these strong links that drive much of the structure and statistical behaviour of Voynichese.

* ‘qo’
* ‘ol’, ‘al’, ‘or’, ‘ar’
* ‘ee’, ‘eee’, ‘eeee’
* ‘aiv’, ‘aiiv’, ‘aiiiv’
* ‘air’, ‘aiir’, ‘aiiir’
* ‘ok’, ‘ot’, ‘op’, ‘oh’
* ‘dy’ (though I suspect dy works in a different way to the others)

That is, the amount of genuine information inside these groups is very small: which conversely, in my opinion, means that we should not be trying to look for information inside these groups at all. The real information in the text lies in the choice between these strongly groups, not inside each strongly-linked group.

Reading Jelly vs Parsing Foam

As a result, when I look at Voynichese words such as ‘olchedy’ and ‘olcheey’ (which occur a respectable 71 and 17 times respectively), I can only sensibly parse them as “ol-ch-e-dy” and “ol-ch-ee-y” before even beginning to try to make sense of what is going on with them. And even once you have parsed them, they remain just as inscrutable as before.

All of which is to say that I think we cannot yet parse Voynichese reliably, which is the starting point for the single-tent Camp B described at the top of the post. Yet this does not mean that all is lost: it just means that we are still trying to find a reliable and strong way to get started on a difficult road.

But linguistically, this isn’t how languages work. Orthography is driven by issues such as consonance and assonance: but what we appear to be seeing here is more like a jelly of letters (i.e. more structured than soup, but still quite plastic), joined together into words by deeper rules we are still unaware of.

Yet perhaps a more useful (and visual) way of viewing Voynichese is as a ‘foam’ of small glyph-group bubbles, (e.g. ‘ol’, ‘qo’, etc), empty of meaning in the middle but with all the semantic content on their outside at the point where they touch other bubbles. What I’m trying to do is to decompose the foam of words into its constituent bubbles.

A few days ago, I was wondering here whether I could dig up more about the mini-fleet that La Bourdonnais rustled together to go to the rescue of Dupleix’s land forces in India. And once again, as has been the case so many times already, it was H.C.M.Austen’s exemplary “Sea Fights and Corsairs of the Indian Ocean” (1934) that initially sailed to my rescue.

Austen (p.6) lists La Bourdonnais’ five ships as follows (though note that some of the figures differ from what appears on pp.70-71 in La Bourdonnais’ memoirs, as published by his famous chess-playing grandson):
* Insulaire, 24 guns, 350 men, Captain de la Baume [30 guns]
* Bourbon, 42 guns, 350 men, Captain Sellé [44 guns]
* Neptune, 34 guns, 350 men, Captain de la Porte-Barré [40 guns]
* Renommée, 30 guns, 230 men, Captain de la Gatinais [26 guns]
* Elizabeth, “a small vessel from Surat” [a “petit sloop” of 18 guns]

According to this source (pp.185-186), the famous sinking of the Saint-Géran on 17th August 1744 had so rattled people that hardly anybody wanted to join La Bourdonnais’ fleet. And so, to man his ships quickly, he devised a scheme whereby he would rent slaves for 18 livres per month, with the idea of paying their owner 200 livres if that slave happened to die. People were still umming, ahhing, and grouching about this arrangement when a big slaver ship arrived at the island in the nick of time: at which point La Bourdonnais negotiated to buy many of its noirs at 200 dollars each. And so in May 1745 his conjured-up-ex-nihilo fleet was, against all odds, armed, manned and ready to set sail.

La Bourdonnais initially kept the Bourbon back but sent the other ships to Sainte Marie Island, Madagascar, with the plan of sailing his mini-fleet to Madras on 1st August 1745. However, he received orders at the very last (on 28th July 1745) that he should await a fleet of four ships from France that would arrive by the end of August.

What then scuppered La Bourdonnais’ plans was that these four other ships did not arrive from France until January 1746, when they… (Austen, p.7)

“[…] were in a mutinous, ill-found, and ill-provisioned state. By this time La Bourdonnais’ naval artisans in l’Ile de France had been decimated by an epidemic following a severe drought; the harvest had been ravaged by locusts; a vessel dispatched to India for rice had returned without executing its commission; and the St Géran, with a large store of money, stores and provisions from Europe, had been wrecked near Ile d’Ambre.”

Austen then takes details of the engagement from “Collection historique, ou Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la guerre terminée par la paix d’Aix-la-Chapelle en 1748” (1758), which is available online via Google Play: but probably doesn’t concern us for the moment.

But there currently seems to be no obvious trace in the archives of the enrollment details and the crew lists for La Bourdonnais’ fleet.

La Bourdonnais: Trial and Exoneration

After La Bourdonnais had saved Dupleix’s hide by taking Madras, he fell foul both of accusations made by Dupleix of malfeasance and of a change in the complex political tide: recalled to France, La Bourdonnais was imprisoned in the Bastille while a number of accounts of what had happened were brought together by judges. He was eventually exonerated, but the struggle to clear his name ruined him: he died not long after.


One of these court accounts was subsequently published as “Mémoire pour le sieur de La Gatinais, capitaine de vaisseau dans les Indes (impliqué dans le procès criminel intenté au sieur de La Bourdonnais sur la dénonciation de Dupleix)” (1751), which is digitized in Gallica.

La Gatinais confirms many details of the accounts given above, including the fact that his ship (the Renommée) was crewed entirely by Maures: he claims he was given captaincy of that particular ship because he was the only captain who understood their patois, if only weakly (p.2). La Bourdonnais also told him that the cannons on the Renommée were too feeble to take an active part in the planned siege

He also mentions a “Sieur Najon”, one of four officers of the Compagne des Indes who (he said) submitted false or misleading accounts of La Bourdonnais’ conduct for the trial (the other three were Morin, Bouvet, Foucault, p.7). And I suspect you already know which particular Nageon family we are talking about…

Le Sieur Najon

It wasn’t only Gatinais who had a low opinion of this Sieur Najon: “Mémoire pour le sieur de La Bourdonnais: avec les pièces justificatives” (1751) heavy-handedly poured scorn on the testimony of “Le Sieur Najon, Officier des Troupes”:

Le sieur Najon Officier des Troupes, qui en a été chassé, & qui pendant le tems qu’il a servi a été si universellement méprisé, que tous les Officiers ont refusé de faire le service avec lui, dépose qu’après le coup de vent du 13 Octobre, le Sieur de la Bourdonna fït travailler pour sauver les Effets qu’il avoit, dit-il, fait charger dans le Vaisseau Hollandois. Voilà une insigne imposture.

1°. Le sieur Najon est le seul qui dépose de ce fait, & dès-là sa déposition ne fait aucune foi. Si un fait aussi public que celui-là étoit vrai, ne seroit-il pas attesté par une foule de Témoins? Comment pourroit-on concevoir que le sieur Najon fût le seul qui en eût eu connoissance ? Cette singularité ne caractérise-t-elle pas la méchanceté du Témon?

2°. II est impossible que le sieur Najon eût aucune connoissance de ce fait puisqu’il n’étoit plus à Madraz lors du coup de vent du 13 Octobre, &que dès le premier jour du même mois d’Octobre il étoit parti sur le Lys pour Pondichery (a) [le 5 du même mois le sieur de la Bourdonnais écrivoit au sieur Dupleix [..] ] , comme toute l’Escadre le scait. Il n’a donc pû tout au plus deposer que d’un oui-dire, & cependant il parle comme Témoin de visu, Peut-on desirer une prevue plus precise de la fausseté de sa deposition?

3°. Ce même Sieur Najon est d’ailleurs convaincu d’avoir depose faux, dans un article particulier de sa deposition, où il a soutenu que la sieur de la Gatinais étoit arrivé à l’Isle de France dans une Prise Angloise, quoiqu’il soit de notoriété publique, comme sieur Bouvet l’a attesté, qu le sieur de la Gatinais arriva dans la Renommée. Personne n’ignore qu’on n’ajoute aucune foi à la deposition d’un Témoin, qui se trouve fausse en un point. La fausseté d’une partie influe sur tout le reste.

4°. Le sieur Najon est démenti par tous les autres Témoins sure le fait du Vaisseau Hollandois. En effet le siieur de Barville a affluré, soit dans sa deposition, soit à la confrontation, qu’il alloit journellement le long de la côté, & qu’il n’a jamais vû travailler au Vaisseau Hollandois, ni entendu dire qu’on y eût travaillé. Il depose aussi, qu’il a demeuré avec le Subre-cargue de ce même Vaisseau Hollandois, qui s’étoit sauvé du naufrage, & que ce Subre-cargue lui avoit assure quon n’avoit embarqué dans le Vaisseau Hollandois, que les meubles du Capitaine & quelques vivres.

Whatever the historical rights and wrongs of La Bourdonnais’ dispute with Dupleix (and I suspect that the full answer will turn out to be far more complex than the reductionist “La Bourdonnais = Good, Dupleix = Bad” formula that tends to get wheeled out), I am reasonably sure that the (apparently unlikeable) person being denounced here was “Bernardin Nageon officier des vaisseaux de la Compagnie”, as he was described at his death in 1750.

“Hutin” or “Butin”?

The epithet “Le Butin” seems to have settled onto (the pirate) Bernardin Nageon’s shoulders over time, but it’s far from clear to me where it originated. Paul Fleuriau-Chateau did offer a dissenting opinion: he instead suspected that Bernardin Nageon’s nickname might well have been “Le Hutin”, ‘the quarreller‘ (p.53), but didn’t know for sure.

I now wonder whether the roots of this epithet might have actually lain in accounts of La Bourdonnais’ trial, such as the section of his memoirs I excerpted above, where “le sieur Najon” is described as “universellement méprisé” (universally despised). Certainly I don’t believe we have any secondary material about (the pirate) Bernardin Nageon beyond the internal evidence within BN1 and BN2, so it’s a bit vague where the name came from otherwise.

…unless anyone knows better?

Having considered André Nageon de l’Estang in Part 1 and his son André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang in Part 2, and Jean-Marie-Justin Nageon de l’Estang (and his possible father) in Part 3, we now move on to Part 4 and André Bernardin’s son, André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang.

As before, we start with his timeline (once again courtesy of Jean Claude Duchemin):

André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang

1745 (1st October): André Ambroise born in Port Louis.
1766 (14th January): marries Perrine Clerjean in Port Louis (she dies on 18th July of the same year)
1768 (13th June): marries Mathurine Louise Françoise Pitel in Grand Port.
1770: birth of a daughter, Marie Jeanne (she dies on 26th october 1779)
1774 (3rd July): birth of a son, Jean Philippe (he dies on 28th September 1779)
1779 (9th February): birth of a daughter, Marguerite Appoline Pélagie
1780 (30th June): birth of a son, Jean Joseph
1786 (7th November): it is announced that André Ambroise owes £10,229 to Thomas Etienne Bolgerd of Port Louis.
1788: birth of a daughter, Françoise Clémentine
1790: moves with his family to Seychelles, as Garde Magasin du Roi (‘Royal Storekeeper’)
1791 (26th December): birth of a son, Etienne Olivier
1798 (3rd February): André Ambroise dies in Mahé, Seychelles.

Incidentally, the tomb of Thomas Etienne Bolgerd (1748–1818), a local bigwig who at one time had 500 slaves, is still visible in Souillac’s Marine Cemetery, though how long that can last before the sea destroys it is a matter for only sad speculation:


(Photograph courtesy of Yann Arthus-Bertrand.)

André Ambroise Nageon in the Seychelles

There are far more mentions of André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang that relate to his time in the Seychelles than to his time in Mauritius. In April 1790, the Intendant de l’Ile de France appointed him Garde Magasin du Roi, and so he travelled with his family over to the Seychelles with Jean-Joseph Conan, “a surgeon for the royal establishment” and “their common brother-in-law” (according to Deryck Scarr’s very readable “Seychelles since 1770”, pp.11-12), Jean-Francois-Marie Jorre de St Jorre.

On the 19th June 1790 (Scarr, p.14), the heads of ten of the twelve families on the Seychelles “constituted an assembly”, and elected André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang president. He then read out a letter from the Ile de France inviting the Seychelles to join as a colony (which nobody agreed with), before immediately resigning.

When in 1794 Captain Newcome (briefly) took control of the Seychelles, André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang was one of the signatories to Article 7 of the capitulation document (found on Henri Maurel’s site here):

Article 7 :

La dite capitulation fait de bonne foi sera garantie par la signature du Commodore Newcome et signée par le commandant militaire et Agent Civil et par trois citoyens habitants des Seychelles représentant le corps des citoyens des Iles Mahé ou Seychelles et Praslin.

* Agreed.

Fait à Mahé, Iles Seychelles, le 17 mai 1794.

* Done on board H.B.M. ship Orpheus, in the roads of Mahé or Seychelles, the 17th May 1794.

Signed Jn Bte Quéau Quinssy                   Henry Newcome
[Pierre] Hangard
[André] Nageon de l’Etang
[Captain H.] Cornier Bellevaut

But sadly, this seems to be as much as there is to be found about André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang.

Was André Ambroise Nageon the pirate ‘Bernardin Nageon’?

If the two men were the same person, and if the French Republican Calendar dating evidence is also to be trusted, then we can reject the “20 floréal an VIII” (10th May 1800, after André Ambroise’s death) version from the letters in favour of the “20 floréal an III” (9th May 1795) version.

But I have to point out that, as of that particular date, André Ambroise had two sons and two daughters all very much alive: and so the notion that he gave his fabulous treasure and his half-lot of land back in Grand Port in Ile de France to a nephew (probably in France) does immediately seem somewhat shaky.

Moreover, as of 9th May 1795, Seychelles was a neutral country (the families having failed to agree to be a colony of Ile de France in 1790, and having capitulated to Captain Newcome in 1794), so there seems to be no obvious reason why André Ambroise would have been “about to enrol to defend my Country” at all. After all, he had gone native with his family: he was the head of a small number of Seychellois families. Who would he even enrol with, and to do what?

All in all, I think that once you have mentally separated out the ‘Pirate’ of BN1 and BN2 from the ‘Missing Corsair’ of BN3, the only thing that even faintly suggests that André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang and Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang might have been the same person is the presence of a French Republican Calendar date in the letters: and given that that is something I’m far from certain was a part of the original document, André Ambroise seems not to be our man.

I’d be happy to consider any evidence that seems to suggest otherwise, but if there is any such thing, I haven’t seen it so far.

It turns out that we can develop the hypothesis that André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang was in fact Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang very much further than at first seems possible.

For a start, if the two men were indeed one and the same person, I think we can (putting all the pieces together) significantly narrow the range of possible historical dates during which the Will (BN1) and letter (BN2) were written.

Because André Bernardin’s second son André Ambroise was born on 1st October 1745, and his first son Jean Bernardin died on the 16th February 1745 (at the age of only seven months), his (probable) enlistment to La Bourdonnais’ fleet in April/May 1745 would have been at a time when he had no male heir of his own. (His wife may well not have yet realized that she was pregnant with their second child.)

As a result, it seems perfectly conceivable that he would in that context leave his precious pirate treasure cache and half-lot of land in Grand Port to a male relative. But who was Bernardin’s ‘neveu’ (nephew) Jean-Marie-Justin Nageon de l’Estang?

Jean-Marie-Justin Nageon de l’Estang

The Mauritian records tell us that André Bernardin had only one sibling: his sister Jeanne Marie Nageon de l’Estang. She arrived on Ile de France with their parents in 15th July 1738, and was married in 2nd July 1742 to François De la Cour Pradel. However, there is absolutely no genuine BMD data from the Mauritian archives supporting the much-repeated notion that either she or André Bernardin had a son “Jean-Marie-Justin”.

Yet I suspect that if you read the BN2 letter (addressed to ‘Mon cher Justin’) more closely, it not only doesn’t appear to have been addressed to a tiny child, but also doesn’t appear to have been written to someone living on Mauritius at all:

Par nos amis influents, fais-toi envoyer dans la mer des Indes et rends-toi à l’île de France à l’endroit indiqué par mon testament.

This surely only makes sense if it was written to someone far away – someone quite probably in France, I would venture to suggest. And in the context of André Nageon de l’Estang (Senior)’s long-standing connections to the Compagnie des Indes, the “amis influents” could surely only have been senior members of the French East India Company.

But could this (still hypothetical) Jean-Marie-Justin have been remotely old enough to be classed as an “officier de la réserve” in 1745? Given that Jeanne Marie was born on 26th November 1726 (it’s on the bottom left of p.264 in GG4 here), and even if she had a child at (say) thirteen, that child would only have been four or five years old by 1745… too young to be Jean-Marie-Justin, I think.

Hence I have to say that trying to reconstruct a missing Nageon de l’Estang genealogy via Jeanne Marie Nageon doesn’t quite work.

The Missing Brother

Yet there is another alternative that threads an acceptable route through our twisty maze of historical constraints.

The gap between André Bernardin (born 1716) and Jeanne Marie (1726) is quite wide: certainly wide enough for the Nageons to have had other children in the gap. If an otherwise-unknown brother had been born (say) around 1718, and had himself fathered a child at a young age, that child might well have been in some kind of Lorient naval academy by 1745, perhaps being fast-tracked towards the life of an officer, courtesy of the Nageon family’s “influential friends”.

So who was the missing brother? Actually, I strongly believe we already saw him mentioned three times in the page on André Nageon de l’Estang:

Danaé (1728-1730)NAGEON, 3 passagers, embarquée à l’armement, débarquée à Pondichéry le 05/07/1729, D[emois]elle, avec ses enfants, Louis et Jeanne Marie.

Badine (1730-1732) NAGEON, 4 passagers, embarqué à Pondichéry, débarqué à ?, passager pour la France, avec son épouse, son fils et sa fille.

Reine (1732-1733) NAGEON, 4 passagers, embarqué à l’île Bourbon le ?, débarqué à Lorient, sr, avec sa femme et 2 enfants, passager pour la France.

If this is as I suspect it is, this missing brother was Louis Nageon de l’Estang, named here for the first time. Further, I suspect that Louis had died by 1746, because that was when André Bernardin named one of his sons “Louis Noël Nageon de l’Estang”, I suspect in his brother’s memory (the son died in 1756).

If this all fits together the way it seems (and I really don’t have any more proof than the Danaé’s 1729 passenger list), the relevant section of the Nageon de l’Estang family tree looked like this:


Alas, this is exactly as far as I have been able to reach with the evidence currently available to me. However, perhaps other people will be able to clamber onto my shoulders and use other archival resources to develop this (sketchy, but not entirely hypothetical) narrative yet further.

For example, it might well be possible to determine from the Archives Municipales de Lorient if Lorient had any kind of naval academy for training young officers circa 1745: and if so, what records relating to those institutions are still extant. Similarly, it might well be that André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang himself – the paterfamilias of the family – might have some personal records in the sprawling historical treasure trove that is the archives of the French Compagnie des Indes.

Or… what do you think?

I’m looking at three 18th century Nageon de l’Estang men in the Indian Ocean, all called André. Having looked at André Nageon de l’Estang in Part 1, I’m now moving briskly on (in this Part 2) to his son André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang.

André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang

~1716: born (see further below why I think this date is correct)
17th February 1738: marries Mathurine Metayer (1714-1765).
1744: birth of son (Jean Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang) born – dies in 1745
1st October 1745: birth of son (André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang) born in Port Louis.
1746: birth of son (Louis Noël Nageon de l’Estang) born – dies in 1756
20th October 1750: dies in Port Louis.

Duchemin quotes as his source for André Bernardin’s death the Archives Nationales d’Outre Mer:

ANOM, Ile de France, Port louis, année 1750, page 19 :
“Le 21ème jour du mois d’octobre 1750 … sépulture de Bernardin Nageon officier des vaisseaux de la Compagnie, décédé ledit jour et an …”

…and no further trace of André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang appears beyond this date, which seems fairly conclusive, all in all.

Source: Jean Claude DUCHEMIN

Even though we don’t have a date of birth for André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang, the excellent Mémoires des Hommes has some maritime records dating between 1735 and 1741, which I think we can identify him in:

* Duc de Bourbon (1735-1736) Bernard NAGEON, Paris, 2e pilote, ?, remplacement à l’île de France le 26/12/1735, débarqué au désarmement, vient de la Légère.

* Gloire (1737-1737) André Bernardin NAGEON, 21, Paris, 3e pilote, £24, a fait la campagne, non classé

* Amphitrite (1738-1739) André Bernardin NAGEON DE L’ESTANG, 23, Valogne, 3e pilote, £28, embarqué à l’armement, renversé sur le Duc d’Anjou le 01/02/1739, resté à l’île de France le 20/07/1739.

* Comte de Toulouse (1739-1742) Bernardin NAGEON, Paris, officier marinier, £28, remplacement à l’île de France le 26/03/1741, débarqué à l’île de France le 31/07/1741.

If this is indeed him (and I’m fairly sure that it is), André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang was 21 years old in 1737 and 23 years old in 1739, so would seem to have been born in (or very close to) 1716.

So… Was André Bernardin The Pirate ‘Bernardin’?

Given that the Mauritian pirate treasure mystery has always been linked to a ‘Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang’, people have often suggested that the pirate ‘must surely have been’ André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang.

From my perspective, the good news as far as this suggestion is concerned is that if we can eliminate BN3 (because it was written by a different corsair entirely) and both BN4 and BN5 (because they are so abbreviated and cryptic that nobody can yet make any genuine sense of them), all we have to work with is the scanty evidence in BN1 and BN2. This quickly eliminates the vast majority of problematic references, because they are almost all in BN3.

However, other problems do still remain. For example, one variant of the Will refers to Bernardin’s nephew Jean-Marius-Justin as an “officier de la République” (which would point to a post-1792 date): yet another refers to him as an “officier de la réserve”. We don’t yet know enough to tell which one of these is correct.

Perhaps more straightforwardly, given that the French Republican Calendar was only used from 1793 to 1805 and the documents have some dates quoted for BN1 (“l’an III de la République”) and BN2 (“20 floréal an VIII” and “20 floréal an III”), it would seem to be a straightforward thing to eliminate any pre-1794 date.

However, I’m not so sure: the date given for the third document BN3 (“20 Floréal de l’An IX”) seems to be incorrect, insofar as I think we can date BN3 as having been written after the Fall of Tamatave in May 1811, several years after the French Republican Calendar had stopped being used. As a result, I’m highly suspicious of all the dates given for BN1, BN2, and BN3.

It could very well be, for example, that at least one of the dates was attached to the papers when they were copied, rather than when they were originally written. As far as the French Republican Calendar date evidence goes, then, I think the jury should still be out.

Still, there is one more problem in the papers that remains to be considered. BN1 begins “I’m about to enlist to defend the motherland, and will without much doubt be killed”: but was there any such enlistment on Mauritius during André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang’s relatively short adulthood?

The War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748)

From 1721 to 1767, Ile de France (Mauritius) was governed by the Compagnie des Indes, most famously under the governorship of Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais during 1735-1746.


But when hostilities broke out between France and Great Britain, thanks to the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), I am sure that enlistment must have taken place on Mauritius. Hence my tentative conclusion is that if ‘Bernardin Nageon’ was André Bernardin Nageon, then the phrase “I’m about to enlist to defend the motherland” probably refers to enlistment to fight against Great Britain in the War of Austrian Succession.

Without much doubt, the most famous Indian Ocean engagement of this war was when La Bourdonnais took a small fleet from Ile de France in 1746 and captured the British stronghold of Madras. Perhaps the enlistment for La Bourdonnais’ fleet was what ‘Bernardin Nageon’ was referring to in his Will and letter, who can tell?

Though there is much more history yet to be dug up (hopefully by my documentary!), it currently seems most likely to me that the archival material surrounding La Bourdonnais’ expedition to Madras might well prove a productive place to be looking for further details of André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang…

To try to resolve the issue of who Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang actually was, we should take a closer look at the Nageon de l’Estang family members who were in the Indian Ocean at the same time.

And the good news (from an historian’s point of view) is that we have a good genealogical resource to work with: Jean Claude Duchemin’s numerous webpages on Geneanet include not only archival references but also transcriptions of the text itself, giving us confidence that these are genuine.

The three Nageon men I’ll be posting about were all called André:
* André Nageon de l’Estang (~1676-1766) in Part 1;
* his son André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang (d.1750) in Part 2; and in turn
* André Bernardin’s son André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang (1745-1798) in Part 3.

André Nageon de l’Estang

André Nageon de l’Estang was very much the pater familias of the Nageon de l’Estang family in the Indian Ocean.

~1676: André Nageon de l’Estang born
before 1727: married Marie Marguerite Belhoste de Vieuville (Belot)
~1716: has a son, André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang
1726: has a daughter, Jeanne Marie Nageon de l’Estang
1743: Marie Marguerite dies
1st February 1766: André Nageon de l’Estang dies in Lorient (in Brittany)

Source: Jean Claude DUCHEMIN

He worked for many years for the French Compagnie des Indes. We can follow his trail as he went from Lorient to Pondicherry in 1727; his wife and children (Louis and Jeanne Marie) following out in 1729; before then returning to Lorient via Bourbon in 1732 or 1733:

Lys (1727-1728) André NAGEON, sergent, £18, embarqué à Lorient, débarqué à Pondichéry le 30/09/1727

Danaé (1728-1730)NAGEON, 3 passagers, embarquée à l’armement, débarquée à Pondichéry le 05/07/1729, D[emois]elle, avec ses enfants, Louis et Jeanne Marie.

Badine (1730-1732) NAGEON, 4 passagers, embarqué à Pondichéry, débarqué à ?, passager pour la France, avec son épouse, son fils et sa fille.

Reine (1732-1733) NAGEON, 4 passagers, embarqué à l’île Bourbon le ?, débarqué à Lorient, sr, avec sa femme et 2 enfants, passager pour la France.

The curious thing about this is that the son that went with them was named as “Louis”: this was either André Bernardin (and who they must therefore have called “Louis”), or a different son who possibly died young (with André Bernardin, who by then was 12 or 13 years old, perhaps already working on the ships). At this stage, we don’t have enough evidence to call this either way: so let’s leave this as an open question.

Duchemin then moves André’s timeline forward to 1737, quoting from Mémoire des Hommes:

– 15 septembre 1737 : Présentation au Roy du sieur Nageon de l’Etang, enseigne pour la garde des isles de France et de Bourbon
– Brevet de sous lieutenant pour le sieur Nageon de l’Etang : Sa Majesté ayant agréé le sr Nageon de l’Etang qui lui a été présenté par le directeur de la Compagnie des Indes pour servir en qualité de sous lieutenant d’une compagnie d’Infanterie entretenue? pour la Garde des isles de France et de Bourbon, Elle mande au Gouverneur Général des isles de le recevoir et faire reconnaitre en ladite qualité. Fait à Versailles le premier janvier mil sept cent quarante, signâe : Louis
– 15 janvier 1741 : Présentation au Roy du sieur Nageon de l’Etang comme enseigne pour servir à la garde du fort de Gorée et autres lieux dans l’Afrique appartenant à la Compagnie des Indes.

i.e. (my free translation)

Warrant for sublieutenant for Mr Nageon de l’Etang: Her Majesty has approved Nageon de l’Etang, who was presented to him by the director of the East India Company, to serve as Deputy Lieutenant of an infantry company retained for guarding the Ile de France and the Ile de Bourbon. She passed control of this to the Governor General of the Isles of receiving and recognizing that said quality. Done at Versailles on January 1 1740, signed Louis.

Duchemin then quotes from “Les défricheurs de l’Île de France: essai de biographie : contribution à l’étude de l’établissement de l’Île Maurice par la Compagnie des Indes, 1722-1767” (1992) by Octave Béchet:

Nommé à l’Ile de France à la requête de la Reine, bien qu’il eût près de 60 ans. Il avait auparavant servi à l’Ile Bourbon. Sa femme et sa fille l’accompagnèrent. En 1739 il demanda a rentrer en France et de laisser sa femme et sa fille dans l’Ile. La Compagnie des Indes approuva son retour. En 1742, il était Lieutenant major à Gorée, Sénégal.

i.e. (my free translation)

Nominated for the Ile de France at the Queen’s request, despite his being nearly 60 years old. He had previously served on Ile Bourbon. His wife and daughter accompanied him there. In 1739 he asked to return to France and for his wife and daughter to remain on Ile de France. The [French] East India Company approved his return. In 1742 he was made Lieutenant Major at Gorée, Senegal.

As per Béchet’s account, we can see him leaving France for l’île Bourbon in July 1738 with his wife and daughter on the Compagnie des Indes vessel Apollon, before returning on his own back to Lorient in 1740:

Apollon (1738-1739) NAGEON DE L’ÉTANG, officier de troupe passager, embarqué à l’armement, débarqué à l’île de France le 15/07/1738, passager pour l’île Bourbon avec sa femme et sa fille, à la table.

Triton (1739-1740) NAGEON, officier des troupes passager, embarqué à Port-Louis île de France le 07/01/1740, débarqué au désarmement à Lorient le 01/06/1740 — à la table aux frais de la Compagnie.

We can also see his travels between Lorient, Senegal and Brazil in 1741-1745/7 on various Compagnie des Indes ships:

Prince de Conti (1741-1741) NAGEON D’ESTANG, enseigne de troupe passager, embarqué à Lorient, débarqué au Sénégal le 19/04/1741, à la table

Gloire (1741-1741) NAGEON DE LETANG, enseigne de troupe passager, embarqué au Sénégal le 29/04/1741, débarqué à Gorée le 04/05/1741, à la table.

Apollon (1743-1743) NAGEON DE L’ETANG, enseigne de troupe passager, embarqué au Sénégal le 12/06/1743, débarqué au désarmement, Mr, passager pour la France

Lys (1745-1747) André NAJEON DE L’ÉTANG, officier de troupe, £45, “a fait la campagne de Lorient au Brésil”.

Finally: was this last entry a snapshot of André going between Mauritius and Madagascar on the Triton, or was it his son André Bernardin? It seems he was working in the Atlantic for the Compagnie des Indes at this time, so it seems to me more likely to have been his son:

Triton (1743-1745) NAGEON, officier de vaisseau passager, embarqué à l’île de France le ?, débarqué le 29/11/1744, à la table du capitaine embarqué pour Madagascar.

The Mysterious Pilot?

Given that André’s son André Bernardin died in 1750, I ought to point out that there are two Memoires des Hommes entries that don’t quite fit the basic timeline:

* Paix (1754-1755) André NAGEON, Île de France, pilotin, £15, remplacement à l’île Maurice le 01/02/1755, débarqué à l’île Bourbon le 04/04/1755 ?, embarqué sur la Renommée le 16/04/1755.

* Condé (1756-1759) André NAGEON, Île de France, pilotin, £12, embarqué à l’armement, débarqué à l’île de France le 30/12/1757.

Who was this mysterious [apprentice] pilot on the Paix and the Condé? Was it André Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang’s nine-year-old son André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang (really?)… or might it have been his father André Nageon de l’Estang (who was 80 or so years old)?

For what it’s worth, my suspicion is that this pilot was the young boy’s sprightly grandfather, keeping himself busy with a bit of pilotage. But for now, that’s just my speculation, make of it what you will!

Update: As Dario kindly points out in the comments below, given that ‘pilotin’ means ‘apprentice helmsman’, the answer would seem to be that this was in fact a very young André Ambroise Nageon de l’Estang, about whom more in Part 3…