It’s no secret that there is little of substance about “La Buse” (the pirate captain Olivier Levasseur) on the web. Errrm… or anywhere else, to be brutally honest.
One of the few good places is photographer Yannick Benaben’s website, where he has posted up a set of pages called Sur les Traces du Trésor de La Buse Entre Histoire et Légendes Insulaires. This is a mixed bag of “La Buse”-related threads, some of them genuinely historical (which is good), but also a lot of fairly empty cryptogram-based speculation too (which is… not quite so good).
Regardless, I’m happy to recommend his set of “Sur les Traces…” pages as a genuinely useful resource covering the Indian Ocean phase of La Buse’s piratical life (as long you don’t inhale the cipher speculations part of it too deeply).
“Les Diamants de Goa”
However – and this is where it gets confusing – Yannick has also published an online story called Les Diamants de Goa. This has a (fictional) underwater archaeologist called “Francesca Verrazone” working at a (fictional) French underwater archaeological institute in Marseille, albeit one that sounds a great deal like (the very real) Marseille underwater archaeological institute DRASSM, which is indeed one of the first (real) places you’d go if you were looking for an underwater site in French (or formerly-French) territorial waters.
Yannick’s story has his (fictional) Verrazone arrange a (fictional) conference to air her (fictional) theory about the Nossa Senhora do Cabo, the (real) treasure-filled ship that La Buse captured. He then has a whole load of (fictional) marine archaeologists go and look for it: and so it all proceeds.
But though he seems to have enjoyed this writing (I suspect he had the film rights at least half in mind), the piece has ended up unfinished, stranded precariously on the water’s edge of his website. And people (particularly those who rely heavily on Google Translate, I expect) find links to his story high up in their La Buse search results and conclude it must be just as true as the “Sur Les Traces…” pages, when it’s in fact no more than a frippery.
As a result, you have to be very careful as to which “tree” of pages you’re looking at (i.e. the “Sur Les Traces…” set or the “Les Diamants de Goa” set), because while the former is largely factual (though laced with cipher speculation), the latter is simply made up – a bit of cipher-themed fun.
This difficulty becomes most apparent when Benaben’s (fictional) narrative deals with the captured treasure ship…
The ‘Nossa Senhora do Cabo e São Pedro de Alcântara’
There are plenty of things we can say for certain about this (very real) ship. The Nossa Senhora do Cabo e São Pedro de Alcântara (or ‘Nossa Senhora do Cabo’ for short):
* was built in Amsterdam in 1710 and called the ‘Zeelandia’ or ‘Gelderland';
* was a two-deck 2nd rate ship of the line with 72 guns;
* was bought by Portugal in 1717 and renamed ‘Nossa Senhora do Cabo e São Pedro de Alcântara';
* entered service in August 1717;
* having survived a terrible storm, was captured in port by Olivier Levasseur (“La Buse”) in 1721;
* subsequently disappeared without a trace (presumed sunk).
(Note that because people writing about La Buse tend to be French, the ship’s Portuguese name tends to get Frenchified into “La Vierge du Cap”.)
In Yannick’s story, however, he has his (fictional) marine archaeologist refer to the (real) “Grande Panorama de Lisboa” (a huge set of tiles depicting Lisbon around 1700):
He has Verrazone (fictionally) assert that a (real) ship (genuinely) drawn near the front of the tiles is the Nossa Senhora do Cabo:
As you have probably already worked out from the above, this cannot actually be the Nossa Senhora do Cabo: the tiles were drawn before 1703 (because that was when the artist died), while that ship was not built until 1710, and did not arrive in Lisbon until 1717. Also, while the ship depicted does have two decks, it only seems to have ~44 cannon (rather than 72): the real Nossa Senhora do Cabo was a substantially bigger beast.
(Perhaps someone else will be able to find out what this ship depicted actually was, because there wasn’t anything on the 3decks website that seemed to match: doubtless a plucky Portuguese historian has already trawled through many more fleet descriptions to do precisely this.)
The First Cryptogram
My current understanding is that the first “La Buse” / “Le Butin” cryptogram – the one that Charles de la Roncière wrote about in his 1934 book “Le Flibustier Mysterieux” (and how I’ve tried to get a copy of that book, but without success) – has not been sighted since 1934.
(And for what it’s worth, I still fail to see how this has anything to do with La Buse.)
However, following an exchange of comments on Klaus Schmeh’s recent page on La Buse, I received what seemed to be a low resolution version of a photo of the real first cryptogram (“crypto_musee_2004″). Looking at the EXIF data attached, it was (c) Yannick Benaben and dated 2004:07:18 13:10:30.
When I then trawled through the Wayback Machine, the only place that this appeared on Yannick’s site was at the bottom of the ‘Préambule’ section of his (fictional) “Les Diamants de Goa” web pages. It therefore seems – unless someone can prove otherwise – highly likely to me that Yannick mocked this up for the purposes of his “Les Diamants de Goa” story sometime before 1st Sep 2009.
The Second Cryptogram
Going forward a little in (Wayback Machine) time to 16th October 2011, we find that Yannick has replaced the (presumed mocked-up) image of the first cryptogram with an image of the second “La Buse” cryptogram, the one which Emmanuel Mezino wrote an entire book about (but which I don’t believe is genuine).
As far as I know, this would have been the first public sighting of this second cryptogram.
Now here’s the curious thing. If we look closely at the ship on the second cryptogram identified as “La Perle” (of which Manu very kindly sent me a close-up copy), we see something rather odd:
What is arguably far too coincidental is that the back of “La Perle” is almost exactly the same as the back of the ship drawn on the Grande Panorama:
I didn’t believe that the second cryptogram was real before, and now I really don’t believe it all. To be precise, it seems extremely likely to me not only that Yannick Benaben mocked up the image of the first cryptogram, but also that he was the person who created the whole second cryptogram. He had the means, opportunity, and – crucially – the motive to do it.
…unless anyone knows better?