ACCOUNT OF THE DEATH OF COUNT DE BENYOWSKY.
To the Editors of the London Magazine. Gentlemen-The public attention having been lately attracted by a drama to an episode in the life of the celebrated Count Benyowsky, your readers may perhaps be interested in an authentic, indeed an official detail of the last moments of a man whose adventures more resembled those of the hero of a melodrame, than of an actor in real life, and who, had he been born under a happier star, might have transmitted his name to posterity as the founder of an empire. I became possessed of this valuable document, a translation of which I annex, from having been so fortunate as to render some services to one of the keepers of the archives of the French marine, who allowed me to extract this and a few more curious articles from the mass of official rubbish under which they had been buried for nearly forty years; for so long it is since a bullet from a nameless hand deprived Africa of one whose powerful mind, directed exclusively to the advancement of his infant colony, might have done more towards the civilization of that hapless quarter of the globe, than all the petty commercial establishments of the Grand Monarque, or even than all the more liberal, though luckless, expeditions undertaken in our own days. Fate however decreed it should be otherwise; the interesting colony was crushed in its birth, and all must sympathize with me at seeing the senseless natives crowding around the dead Hon, whem, when alive, they crouched before. In a few hours they demolished the fort and town, from whence the rays of knowledge and humanity were to have diffused themselves, whilst the powerful hand that should have repelled them lay cold in death, and the French commander safe by, enjoying the destruction of which he had been the cause. At all events, though strict justice obliges us to acknowledge that he had founded his colony on an act of piracy, it is impossible to refuse a sigh to the fate of the noble-minded, the enterprising, the gallant Benyowsky.
I am, gentlemen, yours, &c. R. E. S.
Journal of the Expedition undertaken against M. At. Benyoieshy, sent to M. le Vicomte de Souillac, Governor General of the French Colonies beyond the Cape of Good Hope, by M. L’Archer, Captain and Adjutant of the Regiment of Pondicherry, commanding a Detachment of Sixty Men sent for that purpose.
Foulpoint, Isle of Madagascar, July 13, 1786.
General — I hasten to have the honour of giving you an account of the expedition undertaken by your orders to Angoutzy, by the detachment from the regiment of Pondicherry which I command; I request you to allow me to address to you the following detailed account of it.
Setting sail from the Isle of France the 9th of May, in the Louisa, we dropped anchor in the French establishment of Foulpoint on the 17th, at nine at night.
You had ordered us to stop here to obtain more recent information of the new establishment formed at Angoutzy by M. de Benyowsky, who had seized on the flag and the property belonging to his most Christian Majesty at that place.
M. le Mayeur, the negotiating agent at Foulpoint, being there to join the detachment under my orders, to act as counsellor, interpreter, and guide, could not embark until two days after, on the evening of the 19th.
On the 20th, at half-past two in the morning, the Louisa weighed anchor, sailed from Foulpoint Roads, and directed her course to the Isle of Saint Marie. The object of this second delay was to procure from the principal inhabitants of this isle still more certain intelligence than what M. le Mayeur could have collected for us at Foulpoint. We there learned that M. do Benyowsky had sent two white men, and several blacks, to the upper end of the Bay of Antongil, not far from Manaar, to explore a silver mine, but that he himself remained near Angoutzy; that he had built a village there which he called the "town of the Mauritannique God," and in which he had assembled a great number of the natives. I could not however acquire anycertain intimation of the position of this village, of its distance from the sea, of the road we should follow to penetrate to it, nor of the fortifications or strength of M. de Benyowsky.
M. Lequenne had told me at Foulpoint that he had fifteen or sixteen whites, and nearly two hundred armed blacks; but neither fortifications nor artillery; but in this he was mistaken. On the 21st, at eleven in the forenoon, the Louisa again set sail, and on the 23d, at four in the afternoon, cast anchor in the Bay of Cape L'Est. At the upper end of this bay is a magazine, in which the French, who carried on negotiations for his most Christian Majesty, enclosed their property and provisions. M. de Benyowsky had seized on it at his arrival, and with the European merchandise paid the blacks who built his town. We could perceive near this magazine many persons who were observing our motions, but we could not ascertain their colour.
When we had dropt anchor, I had the longboat and the yawl lowered, and made preparations for embarking my forces in them. The night was drawing near; we lowered into the long-boat our ammunition, our two pieces of artillery, and I embarked with Messrs. De Kavadek, De Valliere, Le Mayeur, and forty men. The remainder, commanded by M. Rondelet, my lieutenant, were to follow in the yawl. I gave the word to bear off from the ship, but we had scarcely done so when I perceived that we were overloaded. The currents are so rapid in this bay, that we were driving rapidly towards reefs that lay at no great distance. The danger was imminent, and I shouted to the ship to send quickly the yawl to tow us back to her; notwithstanding this assistance, it was with considerable difficulty we conquered the current, and regained the ship. The night fell very dark; no person on board knew either the anchorage or the landingplace. I had just experienced the violence of the currents; a nocturnal disembarkation would have neither expedited nor facilitated our operations. Having neither maps nor guides, I should have been obliged to wait for daylight on the strand, that I might then endeavour to discover some path through the thick woods that came down to the very water edge. All these considerations determined me to put my men on board the Louisa again, and to wait there for the rising of the moon, and the approach of day.
On the 24th, at four in the morning, I reembarked in the long-boat my ammunition, my artillery, Messrs. De Valliere and Le Mayeur, with only twenty-four men, of whom I took the command. I ordered M. Rondelet to embark in the yawl, and to follow me with his men. M. de Kavadek was to remain on board with twenty men. I ordered him to wait for the return of the long-boat, and then to join me on the shore. This successive disembarkation, which I was not prepared for, (as I was led to expect, from the assertions of the captain, that his two boats would contain the entire of my detachment,) might have been dangerous, if we had been attacked whilst landing. The great number of men I had seen the night before, gave me reason to suppose this might be the case; but it was necessary to make a descent, and I had no choice as to the means. I had the long-boat steered above the magazine, that I might have time to unite my detachment before an attack could be made on it; then, having gained the shore, we all disembarked in the most profound silence.
The skirt of a thick wood was twenty paces distant from us in front, and I had just placed sentinels on it, when two muskets were discharged at us from the magazine; I made my men take close order, loaded my guns, lighted my matсhes, and kept myself equally in readiness to repel an attack, and to cover the landing of the rest of my detachment, which the boats had returned to the ship for.
Five or six musket-shots, pretty well aimed, came from the same direction as the first. I would not allow my men to return the fire; at last, the remainder of my people arrived, landed, and joined me, after having had some musket-shots directed against them also.
The day, which now began to break, showed us shortly after a group of men near the spot from whence the muskets had been fired; I distinguished amongst them two whites, and many armed blacks: their number seemed augmenting every moment. I had a cannon fired against them, on which they took shelter in the wood, and I lest sight of them. Then I proposed to M. le Mayeur to go in search of M. de Benyowsky with a flag of truce, and to carry our propositions to him as his private instructions indicated; to which he made answer,—" I shall take good care to do no such thing, for he would hang me; but arm me with one of your pistols only, and I will follow wherever you choose to lead me."
Having formed my men, and discovered the enemy, we marched forward. The advanced guard, headed by M. de Kavadek, preceded the artillery; a corporal and four men searched the skirt of the wood in front and to the left of the advanced guard; I followed my two pieces closely, with the rest of my men. I expected to meet with resistance at the magazine we were approaching; I placed my guns so as to favour an attack, and we continued our march prepared for every event. The magazine had, however, been abandoned; we found a fire still burning in it: those who had fired on us appeared to have passed the night in it. We had now nothing in sight but the woods; no person came near us, and we could discover neither road nor even path. M. le Mayeur had no idea of Benyowsky's position; I could not tell at what point to enter the forest, having, as I said before, neither a map nor guides. I had the wood carefully searched at the entrance of the magazine, that I might discover the path which led to the interior; at last we perceived some footsteps of oxen and men, which led us to a narrow path, cut but very lately through the forest. We conjectured that this should lead to the town of M. de Benyowsky; in this expectation I determined to follow it, leaving in the magazine a corporal and four men to guard our military stores, and to keep up a communication with the ship. I also left here the surgeon. It was near two in the afternoon when we entered into the path that had been cut through these thick woods; when we had advanced about fitly paces into the forest, we came to a marshy stream, which could be crossed only by means of a large tree that was placed over it. I thought my passage might be opposed, and took every possible precaution for the protection of my guns, which we were obliged to dismount, and have them carried on men's shoulders.
Five streams, or broad marshy rivulets, which successively crossed our path in the space of half a league, presented the same or even greater difficulties; we at last arrived at the bank of a deep, muddy river, but over which there was fortunately a crazy bridge, which the rapidity of our march had not left time to destroy. It is probable, too, that M. de Benyowsky, persuaded that we should not have found this path, or that it would have been impassable for such a number of men, had not expected us from that side. What leads me to believe this is, that if we had followed the line of the sea-shore, we should have discovered a more open road, both shorter and less marshy, but of which we had not the least idea. On this road he had posted a sentinel, and thrown up some entrenchments, which proved that it was from that quarter he expected us.
There is no doubt but he had made preparations against an attack; he had said that morning, "I shall have a skirmish to-day with the Foulpoint agents; they have spared us the trouble of goig in search of them."
The bridge we had reached was, however, too weak to risk the passage over it of our guns on their carriages, though they were very light. I had them, consequently, dismounted, and at the opposite bank remounted them again; I then drew up my men in order, for we now drew near to the town of Mauritania. I could already hear the noise of the workmen, who seemed to be striking down stakes or palisadoes. I concluded from thence that the enemy was intrenching himself. After another quarter hour's march, my patrole in advance gave notice that we had reached the extremity of the wood, where the path was terminated by a wooden barrier, from which the town was visible. I advanced myself to reconnoitre the position that M.de Benyowsky had taken up. I then saw, at about three hundred fathoms from the wood we had just penetrated through, a town, which appeared to me of considerable extent; at the end of the principal street appeared a house much larger and more elevated than the rest; I judged that this was the abode of M. de Benyowsky. A tuft of trees as yet concealed the fort from me; and, relying on the intelligence of M. Lequenne, I did not expect that there was one. I could only perceive above the tops of the trees two flags, one yellow and blue, with crescents and stars on a blue field; the other red; M. le Mayeur informed me that in this country the red flag was the signal for battle, and for calling together all their allies. After reconnoitring thus, I fell back to my men, inspected my guns, my cartouche boxes, and my small arms, to ascertain whether they had received any damp, and completed my arrangements. My artillery followed my advanced guard, and the rear was brought up by my little column of forty men. Thus prepared for every thing, and seeing no one advancing to meet us, though I had perceived much commotion in the town, we debouched from the forest.
M. de Benyowsky, who was at the door of his house, perceived us, and running to his fort, cried out to all his people to be prepared:— "The first who makes one step backwards," added he, "I will cleave his skull." This we heard from one of our prisoners.
We then perceived on an eminence of about one hundred and fifty feet in height, a fort, surrounded with palisadoes of nine feet in height, and in the centre, on a commanding platform, two four-pounders and four carronades, which were levelled at us. Nearly ninety men, blacks and whites, armed with muskets, were around the guns, on the battery, and within the palisadoes. Observing their motions, we advanced in good order, without precipitation, and reserving our fire. When within two hundred and fifty fathoms of the fort, we saw M. de Benyowsky himself firing a cannon against us, the ball from which passed over our heads. At an hundred and fifty fathoms distance, another was fired, loaded with grape shot; at sixty fathoms, a third, the ball from which carried away the hat of one soldier, and broke the musket of another; the four carronades were fired then at once, and the musketry kept up an equally brisk fire. We accelerated our march, that we might place ourselves under the shelter of the great house at the foot of the eminence on which the fort was constructed. All my soldiers, in obedience to my commands, had as yet reserved their fire. When under cover of the house, we formed into two platoons for the attack, and I ordered them to commence firing at each side of it.
At that moment I perceived that M. de Benyowsky had just applied the match to one of his guns, which did not go off; we were then so near that that shot would certainly have killed or wounded the greatest part of my detachment. I then thought the decisive moment was come. I ordered the assault, and we rushed to it. I was yet a few paces from the exterior palisadoes, when I saw M. de Benyowsky, armed with a musket, fire it off, let it drop, place his left hand on his breast, and stretch forward his right hand towards us, then take some steps to descend from his battery, and fall heavily against the outward stake that strengthened the palisadoes. We sprung over them, and mounting to the battery, I passed close to M. de Benyowsky, who seemed endeavouring to pronounce some inarticulate words. I had orders to give, and could not at that moment delay; in two minutes I returned; he had just expired; a ball had passed through his breast from the right to the left side. The blacks escaped over the palisadoes; the whites asked quarter, and were all made prisoners. Michel alone received, before" the attack, a musket-shot in the right arm. I had not a man killed. I must here do justice to the humanity of my soldiers, after an assault in which they proved both their valour and their discipline.
At nine in the evening we were masters of the fort; it was necessary to assure ourselves of the town also. Some blacks had made a sortie from it before the assault, and fired on our flank; M. le Mayeur had repelled them with those under his command. I caused the neighbouring parts of the wood, and all the houses to be searched, and found but one sick Frenchman, who had refused to bear arms against the king, (M. Brossart, Chevalier of the order of Cincinnatus;) our remaining white prisoners amounted to eight, whom we placed under a strong guard. When these precautions were taken, and that we had interred M. de Benyowsky, I ordered food to be sought for and got ready; it was now near midnight, and it was nearly twenty hours since my men had any refreshment.
This account, given with the most scrupulous exactness, will I trust suffice, General, to prove to you the excellent conduct of Messieurs Rondelet, Kavadek, and Valliere, without its being necessary for me to bestow on them the praise they so well deserve. As their commander, I issued the orders, but it is to them I owe a complete success. I must here add, that M. le Mayeur conducted himself all along like a brave man, and a worthy citizen. Five Dutch sailors belonging to the Louisa, who carried our ammunition, were also highly useful to Us.
On the twenty-fifth in the morning, I allowed the neighbouring blacks who had crowded round the fort, to demolish it, and to take the nails and the iron-work employed in its construction. It was entirely destroyed when we quitted it at three in the afternoon, after having set fire to the town.
On the same morning Madame la Baronne de la Delstein, wife of M. de Benyowsky's prime counsellor, or second in command, and a Portuguese lady of Rio Janeiro (Donna Maria Anna) were delivered into our hands by the blacks; when all the arrangements were completed, and we had returned to the magazine, I embarked my prisoners, and thirty-seven men of my detachment to guard them, and I remained on shore with the rest to procure provisions for the ship, which was in total want of them.
On the 26th, at seven in the morning, the Chief of Anguongue bay, and of the entire tract of country lying between it and the bay of Antongil, came to request our friendship, and to assure us of his entire devotion to the French interests; I received him well, pretending to be quite unconscious that, but the second day before, he had sworn to M. de Benyowsky to die beside him, and that his son and his subjects had fought against us in the fort.
The entire of this day passed in cabas, or national meetings; the chief swore to be henceforth the friend of the French alone, and to favour no commercial treaties but theirs. He procured food for us, and presented us with four oxen.
On the 27th we embarked the provisions we were in want of, and returned on board. The night of the 27th was very dangerous; towards ten o'clock we dragged our anchors, and our danger increased every instant; carried away by the force of the current, we were on the point of being dashed against the reefs, from which we were now distant but half a cable's length. We could only hope for safety by casting out a third anchor; the bad state of the long boat, and the high sea that ran, made this attempt dangerous. We tried, however, and most fortunately were successful. The rising tide enabled the long boat to tow the ship against the current, until she had gained a distance from the reefs, when the third anchor held. Towards morning the wind fell, and we repaired whatever damage we had suffered.
The 28th in the morning we weighed anchor, to return to Foulpoint, where we did not arrive until yesterday, the 12th July, the state of the weather obliging us to pass the intermediate time at the Island of Saint Marie. We found the Subtile anchored in Foulpoint Roads, which is to bring us back to the Isle of France; we are not to embark until the 18th.
Утром 28-го мы снялись с якоря, чтобы возвращаться в Фулпуан, куда добрались только вчера, 12 июля: погодные условия вынудили нас пережидать у острова Сен-Мари. На фулпуанском рейде мы нашли «Субтий», который доставит нас обратно на Иль-де-Франс; мы погрузимся не ранее 18-го июля.
This day the 13th of July, King Hyavi came to the French palisadoes with all his suite, and was saluted with fifteen guns. We held a grand cabas, in which the profound respect he testified for the French nation (since the recent success of their arms) makes me think he will grant whatever we shall think fit to ask of him. Messrs. the Agents of Negotiation, entrusted with your orders, will give you a detail of all that passes in this council. To-morrow I shall bring to a public sale the trifling property found in the fort and the town; I don't think the entire will bring more than two hundred piastres, which I shall distribute amongst the soldiers. On the person of M. de Benyowsky there was found but a demi-piastre: he had but few valuables, and but little ammunition. We took possession of the two cannon and the four carronades; as to his papers, they are all contained in a large portfolio, which I shall have the honour of presenting to you myself, with the minutes of his soi-disant council.
Thus, General, has our expedition terminated. M. de Benyowsky alone was killed; I wished to have saved him, but his ferocity did not allow me to do it. With this intent, I made my men reserve their fire until it was not possible to do so, without being completely exposed to the enemy's fire. His design was, clearly, never to capitulate, and never to be taken alive; what proves this, is his obstinacy in the combat, and that he might have sent us a flag of truce three times, whom we should have respected; the first time, was the morning we made the descent, which he showed he was aware of by the musket-shot fired against us by his orders; the second, at the barrier, that terminated the path through the forest; the third, behind his own house, where we halted sufficiently long to have received one.
As to myself, judging of his disposition from the reasons that induced M. Le Mayeur to refuse risking his person, of which I already have spoken, I dared not endanger so evidently the life either of an officer or a soldier. A second most important objection to my having sent him a flag was, that it would have allowed him time to escape, and the capture of the fort, without that of his person, would not have completed our purpose. He would have been unceasingly raising up enemies against us, and perhaps ultimately have destroyed our establishment at Foulpoint, which he intended in a short time to have at least attempted; for on the 28th of this month, he was to have assembled all the neighbouring nations, and led them to attack Hyavi, our ally, at Foulpoint, which would probably have been carried by assault.
The greatest part of his effects was, as I am informed, at Cape d'Ambre, the spot where he first landed, on the western coast, at the distance of a hundred leagues from this place.
Condescend, General, to accept the assurances of the profound respect with which I am, &c.
L'Archer, Captain and Adjutant of the regiment of Pondicherry.