history notes

Pirates, gold and ghosts: Goa’s ‘Treasure Island’ connection is a movie waiting to be made

A real-life mystery which makes the Da Vinci Code look like a child’s jigsaw puzzle.

Most of us have grown up with the story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), with its swashbuckling tale of “buccaneers and buried gold”. So many clichés about pirates begin here, with Long John Silver emerging as the stereotypical pirate in our imagination.

I only recently learnt of the tale’s connection to Goa. Among the several historical allusions to real pirates and piracies, Stevenson also cites (through the character of Long John Silver) a ship named The Viceroy of the Indies sailing from Goa, and taken by real-life pirate Edward England (1685-1721) off the Malabar coast, when John Silver was serving along with England, aboard his pirate ship Cassandra.

In real life, there was no ship called The Viceroy of the Indies, but there still is some factual basis for its inclusion in Stevenson’s tale. In April 1721, when one of the biggest recorded piracies took place, the hapless victim was the great, 700-tonne Portuguese galleon Nossa Senhora do Cabo e São Pedro de Alcântara (also referred to as Virgem do Cabo, or La Vierge du Cap in French). It was heavily laden with “the wealth of the entire viceroyalty of Goa”. The pirates who led the raid from the Cassandra were John Taylor (originally England’s second-in-command, but who had England marooned in Mauritius over a misunderstanding), and Olivier Levasseur (1688-1730), who was nicknamed La Buse or The Buzzard, or sometimes La Bouche, The Mouth, for his ruthlessness and swift attacks.

Treasure Island by George Wylie Hutchinson.
Treasure Island by George Wylie Hutchinson.

Among the several prominent passengers aboard the vessel were the Archbishop of Goa (Patriarch of the East Indies) Dom Sebastião de Andrade, and the outgoing Viceroy of Goa Dom Luís Carlos Inácio Xavier de Meneses, fifth Count of Ericeira. Interestingly, the latter would return to Goa in 1741 (with an additional title of first Marquis of Louriçal) for his second tenure as Viceroy, only to die in office just a year later. Stevenson conflated the title of the Archbishop and the Viceroy to christen the fictional ship of Silver’s account as the Viceroy of the East Indies.

The treasure on board included silver and gold bars, dozens of boxes full of golden guineas, pearls, diamonds and other gems, silk, spices, art and Church regalia particularly from the Se Cathedral. The hoard was so vast that the passengers were simply allowed by pirates to keep their personal valuables with them and set free, an occurrence unusual for piracy. In monetary terms, the takings were estimated to be worth £875,000, though some inflate it to £1 million, others to a fantastic £1 billion, and yet others to $400 million. It is still regarded as the largest heist in pirating history.

The incident helped Luso-French relations, as the governor of Bourbon, Beauvolier de Courchant, secured the release of the Count of Ericeira and his entourage and provided them shelter for months, before carrying them to Mozambique. The resultant cordial relations between Goa and Pondicherry opened French ships to Goa for repairs but not for trade, and ships from the Compagnie des Indes were permitted to go and take slaves in Mozambique. But the Count of Ericeira was received in disgrace at Lisbon, and banished from court for 10 years.

Good fortune

But how did such a haul fall to pirates? Some accounts say the galleon was damaged in a storm, and the crew were compelled to sink all its 72 cannon to avoid capsizing, and had to anchor off the island of Bourbon (today Réunion) in the Indian Ocean to undergo repairs. The ship was thus taken in an unequal fight, as most of the crew were ashore as well.

Among the Church’s valuables was the Flaming or Fiery Cross of Goa, so called on account of its brightness, as it was believed to be made of pure gold, inlaid with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. It was described as being seven feet tall, and so heavy that it required three men to transfer it to Levasseur’s ship.

The pirates then returned, stunned by their literally good fortune, to their base in Madagascar. Here, one version states that they burned their own ship the Cassandra (another account says Taylor took the Cassandra for himself), and christened their newly-acquired ship the Victorious (le Victorieux). The loot was divided, with Le Buse keeping the ship and the Fiery Cross of Goa.

But what good is a pirate story unless we know where the treasure is buried?

‘Find my treasure’

In 1722, Taylor and Levasseur parted ways after an argument. Taylor went on to the Caribbean and then to Panama, where he and his crew were pardoned (most likely after receiving a hefty bribe) by the governor of Portobello in exchange for the Cassandra.

Levasseur makes an even more interesting story: he contemplated taking up the French government’s amnesty to all pirates who would give up their profession. But the French wanted too much of the loot for Levasseur’s liking, so he settled down incognito in the Seychelles until he was found out by a bounty-hunter. He was captured near Fort Dauphin, Madagascar, and hanged for piracy at 5 pm on July 7, 1730, at Saint-Denis, Réunion.

In a dying theatrical flourish, he allegedly flung a paper with a 17-line cryptogram at the crowd, exclaiming “Find my treasure, ye who may understand it!” Many doubt that this could be possible: most hangings occurred at dawn, not at dusk and it would be extremely difficult for a prisoner with his hands bound, to be able to make such a gesture.

But what follows is a real-life mystery saga that would put The Da Vinci Code in the shade, and it is quite surprising it hasn’t attracted the attention of Hollywood. The ciphers, codes and clues involve the Zodiac, the Clavicles of Solomon, and the Twelve Labours of Hercules.

The treasure has still not been found, although treasure-hunters are tantalisingly close.

The epitaph to Levasseur’s tomb at Saint-Denis has a skull and crossbones, under which reads “Oliver Levassuer dit La Buse – pirate, cumeur des Mers du Sud, Executé à Saint-Paul 1730”. It has become a shrine for those who believe his spirit still has supernatural powers.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch. For those of you just looking for a high quality fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge has Rs. 4500 off on 22nd September.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.