Posts filed under 'Reunion Island'

1730: Olivier Levasseur, “La Buse”

Add comment July 7th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1730, the pirate Olivier Levasseur was hanged at Reunion Island– legendarily hurling into the crowd cryptic directions to his vast hidden treasure.

Supposedly a bourgeois son of Calais, Levasseur (English Wikipedia entry | French) made his start on the briny deep as a French naval officer-turned-privateer during the War of Spanish Succession, transitioning to full-time buccaneer after that conflict ended in 1714.

By the 1720s — and with a bad eye necessitating that most trite of pirate accessories, the eyepatch — Levasseur had a mixed-race crew raiding the east African coast and the Indian ocean.

His most renowned exploit put him decisively in piracy’s 1%.

Descending upon the Portuguese galleon Cabo — fat with gems and gold bars and loose guineas and silks and a gigantic decorative cross and a noble’s diamond-encrusted +3 vorpal sword, all en route from the wealthy colony of Goa but disarmed at anchor off Reunion Island after having barely survived a storm — Levasseur’s band was able to plunder something on the order of a present-day value well north of £1 billion.


A lot more than that.

This stupendous fortune, even after dividing it democratically with the crew, would cinch Levasseur’s fame, and his fate.

La Buse (“the Buzzard”; alternatively, “la Bouche”, “the mouth”) naturally tried to take advantage of the next available pirate amnesty to cash out and retire, but found that he’d be expected to cough up his loot as part of the deal. So he hoarded his treasure instead, hung up his pirate’s cutlass, and tried to hide out. He was eventually captured casually working as a ship’s pilot off Madagascar and strung up by the French; you can still pour out a rum for him at his grave at Saint-Paul.


By Tonton Bernardo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So much for Levasseur.

The reason we’re still talking about him three centuries on is that he’s alleged,* just before he dropped, to have hurled a bundle of parchments and/or a cryptogram necklace into the crowd assembled to watch him die, crying “find my treasure, who can!” or “my treasure for he who understands!”

And that’s pretty tantalizing stuff, considering the treasure has never since been found.

Levasseur’s boodle, if it did then and does still exist, is thought to be stashed somewhere on the Seychelles island of Mahe, and the slow and tantalizing unraveling of our corsair’s mysterious clues have seduced generations of treasure-hunters right into the present — like this fellow, or this one,** chasing after Masonic codes and rock etchings and Labors of Hercules and the promise of turning a five-figure investment in dynamite and scuba gear into a nine-figure payday and all the Discovery channel specials you can handle.

Until that day comes, Olivier is only a minor cinematic fixture. Basil Rathbone portrayed him (loosely) in the 1935 Errol Flynn vehicle Captain Blood (in that version, Rathbone dies by Flynn’s sword). An accessible treasure of this production, courtesy of YouTube: this 1937 radio drama of that same adventure, voiced by the principal actors:

* Here’s a skeptical take on the whole thing.

** If someone does have to find it, we’re rooting for this guy.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Pelf,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions,Reunion Island

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1911: Sitarane and Fontaine, Reunion Island occultists

1 comment June 20th, 2011 Headsman

This date marks the centennial of perhaps the most famous execution in the history of Reunion Island: the June 20, 1911 guillotining of Sitarane and Fontaine.

Sitarane (French link) — his actual name was Simicoudza Simicourba — hailed from Portuguese Mozambique, supposedly from a long line of sorcerors.

A contract job brought him to Reunion, but he soon abandoned it for the black [magic] economy. A fellow purported necromancer named Pierre-Elie Calendrin pulled Sitarane and run-of-the-mill hoodlum Emmanuel Fontaine into a prolific little crime ring that terrorized Reunion around 1907 to 1909, amassing about a dozen murders.

And what murders!

Most of the sources on this circle are French, and they narrate weird occult criminality: reading tarot and sacrificing a black cock before a proposed adventure, drinking the blood of their victims to gain their strength.

Still, this was practical magic: Calendrin, Sitarane and Fontaine killed people so that they could rob them.

So it was with their dark arts, too: the sacrificed chickens were drugged and tossed to watchdogs; a mysterious powder blown through keyholes narcotized targets before the gang burst in to do its dirty work. It’s Sherlock Holmes in the Indian Ocean.

The three were finally surprised in the midst of one of their mercantile and monstrous sorties, and tried in 1910.

Although all three received death sentences, Calendrin — who as the trio’s leader would figure to have been the most culpable among them — had his execution mysteriously commuted to penal transportation to Guyana instead. Maybe he foretold the lottery numbers for a judge, or just cooked him a mean chicken dinner.

Sitarane died wailing a Comorian death-chant. Fontaine, more panicky, resisted the executioners and got his neck in a twist, resulting in a bad strike from the blade that lodged in his jaw.

But bad luck on the appellate circuit would mean a bit of immortality that the spared Calendrin could never obtain: today’s doomed — most particularly Sitarane — live on yet as popular saints with a special appeal to the underworld.


Sitarane’s jaunty red grave in Saint-Pierre attracts a lively flow of cult offerings from supplicants hoping to avail the powers of its resident thaumaturge … and of gawkers who do not fear to tempt the evil eye by photographing same. Allegedly, it’s the place to pray for fortune in the sort of nefarious scheme Sitarane used to get up to: folk contemplating a robbery or homicide are among those particularly likely to invoke their criminal forebear, as are those who fear such plots against them.

Image: Par Thierry Caro (Travail personnel) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) ou CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The toxic hallucinogen Datura, a “witches’ weed” of long standing deployed over the centuries in all manner of potions and poultices, is known locally as Herbe à Sitarane.


(cc) image from mwanasimba

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Guillotine,History,Infamous,Murder,Organized Crime,Pelf,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Reunion Island,The Supernatural

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