I don’t particularly like visiting cemeteries and I don’t like pirates at all. This is a post about a Pirate’s grave in a cemetery on the French Island of Reunion. Go figure.
First, cemeteries — I would rather remember my parents and grandparents as the vital and alive people they were. Visiting their graves reminds me more of their terminal illnesses. So I don’t often visit my parents’ or grandparents’ graves, even when I drive past the cemetery on visits to New Jersey. And my grandfather was enough of a merchant seaman to detest pirates. They rob and kill. On this voyage we have had several nights under pirate watch and we have had drills, like lifeboat drills, on how to react if there is a pirate attack. There is nothing romantic about pirates.
So what was I doing at a pirate’s grave? The simple answer is I wanted to get to the beach inexpensively. We had limited time on Reunion, local buses don’t always run on schedule and taxis are very expensive. The ship offered a tour that dropped us off at a beach for a lower price than a taxi but part of the price included a visit to the local cemetery in St. Paul, the former capital of Reunion.
The best visited and tended grave in the cemetery belongs to Olivier “La Buese” (the buzzard) Levasseur. He was called “the buzzard” because he was swift and ruthlessness.
Levasseur was a French Privateer during the War of Spanish Succession. After the war he took up with some English colleagues and continued to raid ships, shifting from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. He captured a Portuguese treasure ship “The Virgin of the Cape” sailing from Goa. He did it without firing a shot because the “Virgin” was caught in a storm and was so overloaded that they dumped her 72 cannon overboard. According to records the ship had gold bars, gold guineas, pearls, diamonds and the “Flaming Cross of Goa” a solid gold crucifix studded with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. By today’s standards the haul would have been worth over a billion British pounds. The treasure was so big that Levasseur did not bother to rob the people on board, something what was par for his course.
After the haul Levasseur approached the French governor of Reunion to negotiate an amnesty for him and his crew. The French wanted too big a cut of the loot, at least too big for Levasseur. He refused the final offer and retired to the Seychelles under an assumed identity.
He was identified, captured, sent to Reunion, tried for piracy, and hanged. His treasure was never recovered BUT he threw a neckless into the crowd from the gallows claiming that it contained an encrypted code. Whoever could decrypt the code could find the treasure. The hunt has been going on, unsuccessfully for 288 years.
Levasseur and his treasure inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” Basil Rathbone played Levasseur in the 1935 film “Captain Blood.” And the hunt for the treasure is the theme of a mobile phone game.
So why visit a cemetery? I guess it’s to hear a good story.
Here are some other pics from this cemetery.