To err is human; to arr is pirate.~~~Anonymous
Olivier Le Vasseur stood defiant before the assembled crowd on Ile de Bourbon (now Reunion Island) on 7 July 1730. He was expected to express contrition for his crimes in the few minutes he was given to address the crowd. But Le Vasseur would not give the people any such thing. He did, however, throw out a cryptic map and said, “My treasures to those who will understand!” At 5 PM, he was hanged by French authorities, ending the reign of France’s most famous and successful pirate of all time.
One of our guest lecturers aboard the Silversea Shadow, Brigadier Hugh Willing, introduced us to the man and the legend also known as La Buse. Translated, la buse means “the buzzard” and it was the nickname given to Le Vasseur because of his beak-like nose and his ability to swoop in and attack his prey before they even knew what was upon them. He is buried, supposedly, in a pirate cemetery on Reunion Island. The cemetery was not created until thirty years after his death, so many people are skeptical about the authenticity of that claim. Interestingly, the cemetery is somewhat of a pilgrimage site for French visitors to Reunion Island because of the swashbuckling reputation of La Buse. Le Vasseur was the first pirate to fly the black flag and also wore an eye patch when an eye infection rendered him blind in one eye. When you think “pirate,” the image of La Buse is what your mind conjures.
Le Vasseur was born in Calais, France. His family was wealthy and he was well educated. He started his maritime life as a buccaneer for the French government. He actually held a “letter of mark” from the government which is, in truth, nothing more than a license to steal. He was to turn over all his plunder to the French government. When the British and French signed a truce ending the privateering, Le Vasseur just continued his career in pirating, keeping the all the booty for himself. Le Vasseur pirated all over the globe, but at some point, he headquartered his operations on Ile de St. Marie. This little island in the Indian Ocean was ideally situated to take advantage of the shipping routes for his pirating raids. At one point, the French government offered La Buse amnesty with the condition that he turn over all of his ill-gotten gain. He decided to pass on the offer and continued to pillage and plunder.
One of his most legendary heists was the capture of a Portuguese ship carrying treasures that belonged to the Bishop of Goa. The ship had been damaged in a storm and the crew had thrown all the cannons overboard to lighten the load to avoid capsizing, making the ship an easy target. He and his crew managed to steal the Flaming Cross of Goa. Reportedly, the cross was so big and heavy with gold and jewels that it took three men just to get the cross to the pirate ship. When everything was divided, each pirate received at least 50,000 pounds sterling worth of gold plus forty two diamonds each. La Buse kept the cross for himself. The booty was so valuable that they didn’t even bother to stop and rob the people from whom they stole it. La Buse was captured on Madagascar in 1724 and got his just deserts on the gallows in 1730.
Several people have devoted their lives to finding the buried treasure, but no one has been successful. The cryptogram continues to baffle everyone. The treasure is estimated to be worth between 100 million to one billion pounds sterling and current thinking is that it is buried deep underground somewhere on one of the islands of Seychelles. Below is a picture of the cryptogram if you would like to give it a go. I will also share a few pictures from the Seychelles island of Mahé since I don’t have a photo of La Buse to share. But you don’t need a picture; you know what he looks like. He looks like a pirate.