Olivier Levasseur

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Gravestone traditionally attributed to La Buse (Olivier Levasseur) in Saint-Paul, Réunion

Olivier Levasseur (1688, 1689, or 1690 – 7 July 1730), was a pirate, nicknamed La Buse ("The Buzzard") or La Bouche ("The Mouth") in his early days, called thus because of the speed and ruthlessness with which he always attacked his enemies. He is also known for allegedly hiding one of the biggest treasures in pirate history, estimated at over £1 billion, and leaving a cryptogram behind with its whereabouts.


Born at Calais during the Nine Years' War (1688–97) to a wealthy bourgeois family, he became a naval officer after receiving an excellent education. During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), he procured a Letter of Marque from king Louis XIV and became a privateer for the French crown. When the war ended he was ordered to return home with his ship, but instead joined the Benjamin Hornigold pirate company in 1716. Levasseur proved himself a good leader and shipmate, although he already had a scar across one eye limiting his sight.

After a year of successful looting, the Hornigold party split, Levasseur partnering briefly with Samuel Bellamy[1] before deciding to try his luck on the West African coast. After William Moody was ejected from command by his disgruntled crew in late 1718, they elected Levasseur as Captain in Moody's place.[2] In 1719 he operated together with Howell Davis and Thomas Cocklyn (who had also served under Moody) for a time. In 1720, they attacked the slaver port of Ouidah, which was part of the Kingdom of Whydah at the time and is on the coast of what is now Benin, reducing the local fortress to ruins. Later that year, he was shipwrecked in the Mozambique Channel and stranded on the island of Anjouan, one of the Comores. His bad eye had become completely blind by now so he started wearing an eyepatch.

From 1720 onwards he launched his raids from a base on the island of Sainte-Marie, just off the Madagascar coast, together with pirates John Taylor, Jasper Seagar,[3] and Edward England, (no doubt planning to capture one of the Great mughal's heavily armed but usually heavily laden pilgrim ships to Mecca). His quartermaster at this time was Paulsgrave Williams, who had been Bellamy's quartermaster then fellow Captain until Bellamy was killed in a storm off Cape Cod.[4] They first plundered the Laccadives, and sold the loot to Dutch traders for £75,000. Levasseur and Taylor eventually got tired of England's humanity and marooned him on the island of Mauritius.

Jolly Roger flag of pirate Olivier Levasseur (La Buse), described as a "white ensign with a figure of a dead man spread in it"; one of the few mentions of a black-on-white Jolly Roger flag.[4]

They then perpetrated one of piracy's greatest exploits: the capture of the Portuguese great galleon Nossa Senhora do Cabo (Our Lady of the Cape) or Virgem Do Cabo (The Virgin of the Cape), loaded full of treasures belonging to the Bishop of Goa, also called the Patriarch of the East Indies, and the Viceroy of Portugal, who were both on board returning home to Lisbon. The pirates were able to board the vessel without firing a single broadside because the Cabo had been damaged in a storm and to avoid capsizing the crew had dumped all of its 72 cannon overboard, then anchored off Réunion island to undergo repairs. (This incident would later be used by Robert Louis Stevenson in his novel Treasure Island where the galleon is referred to as The Viceroy of the Indies in the account given by his famed fictional character Long John Silver).

The booty consisted of bars of gold and silver, dozens of boxes full of golden Guineas, diamonds, pearls, silk, art and religious objects from the Se Cathedral in Goa, including the Flaming Cross of Goa made of pure gold, inlaid with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. It was so heavy, that it required 3 men to carry it over to Levasseur's ship. In fact, the treasure was so huge that the pirates did not bother to rob the people on board, something they normally would have done.

When the loot was divided, each pirate received at least £50,000 golden Guineas, as well as 42 diamonds each. Seagar died when they sailed to Madagascar to divide their take;[3] Levasseur and Taylor split the remaining gold, silver, and other objects, with Levasseur taking the golden cross.

In 1724, Levasseur sent a negotiator to the governor on the island of Bourbon (today Réunion), to discuss an amnesty that had been offered to all pirates in the Indian Ocean who would give up their practice. However, the French government wanted a large part of the stolen loot back, so Levasseur decided to avoid the amnesty and settled down in secret on the Seychelles archipelago. Eventually he was captured near Fort Dauphin, Madagascar. He was then taken to Saint-Denis, Réunion and hanged for piracy at 5 p.m. on 7 July 1730.

The treasure[edit]

The Cryptogram of Olivier Levasseur
Alphabet of Olivier Levasseur

Legend tells that when he stood on the scaffold he had a necklace around his neck, containing a cryptogram of 17 lines, and threw this in the crowd while exclaiming: "Find my treasure, the one who may understand it!" What became of this necklace is unknown to this day. Many treasure hunters have since tried to decode the cryptogram hoping its solution will lead to this treasure.

In 1947 Englishman Reginald Cruise-Wilkins, a neighbour of Mrs. Savy, studied the documents, but the cryptogram was much more difficult to solve than first believed. Deciphering it could be carried out only by starting from the two letters[why?] and the three cryptograms compiled in mysterious alphabet, a rebus, or at least in initiatory writing which could be put in relation to masonic symbolism. Cruise-Wilkins then discovered a connection with the Zodiac, the Clavicles of Solomon, and the Twelve Labours of Hercules. Various tasks, representing the Labours of Hercules, had to be undertaken in strict order. The treasure chamber is somewhere underground and must be approached carefully, to avoid being flooded. It is protected by the tides, which requires damming to hold them back, and is to be approached from the north.

Until his death at Réunion, Cruise-Wilkins sought and dug in the island of Mahé. In a cave, except for old guns, some coins, and pirate sarcophagi, he did not find anything. He died on 3 May 1977 before he broke the last piece of code. His son, Seychellois history teacher John is currently still seeking the treasure, concluding that after using state-of-the-art equipment, he needs "to go back to the old method, [getting] into this guy's mind, [claiming he is] ten down, two to go in his Herculean Labours."[5]

Current Treasure Hunt[edit]

Today a South African National Tyrone Leech has been issued a permit to search and recover Olivier Levasseur's treasure[citation needed]. Various clues and carvings found at Bel Ombre where Cruise-Wilkins searched as well as various carvings located in Caves at Mont Dor, led the new hunter to where he believes the treasure is located.

Olivier Levasseur's Carved Signature

Leech has managed to piece together all the clues, carvings and decoding of the cryptogram to finally find the physical location where Olivier Levasseurs Cryptogram eludes to. Various carvings and man made structures found at the new location suggest that Leech may finally solve the 300 year old mystery.

"X" Marks the spot.jpg
Onguent like honey.png
Carving of an "A".png

Popular culture[edit]

  • Basil Rathbone plays Levasseur in the 1935 Errol Flynn film Captain Blood.
  • The story of Levasseur's treasure was featured in the comic book series Spike and Suzy (also known in the UK as Bob & Bobette or the original names Suske en Wiske by the Flemish author Willy Vandersteen), in the album The Amazing Coconut (1990). There the medallion of Levasseur was taken by a bird, which fled into the forest, where it became trapped in a mature fruit called coco de mer. This coconut was sold in Belgium in 1988 to the heroes of the series, and they went on to discover the medallion and finally the treasure.
  • The 28th episode of Redbeard features the fictitious daughter of the historical pirate Olivier Levasseur.
  • In the Japanese anime and manga series One Piece, the main storyline is ignited by the deceased pirate Gol D. Roger, who, much like Levasseur, during his public execution dared the assembled people to find his hidden treasure called "One Piece", assuring them that he had left everything he owned in one place.
  • In the mobile game Assassin's Creed: Pirates, the Templar-fronted corporation Abstergo Industries wants to find La Buse's treasure. To this end, they hire the player, a genetic memory researcher, to delve into the memories of the pirate Alonzo Batilla, whom La Buse befriended before becoming a legend. His treasure contains a Piece of Eden, one of numerous artifacts left behind by the First Civilization, humanity's precursors.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Humanity, History of. "Infamous Pirates | Olivier Levasseur". www.goldenageofpiracy.org. Retrieved 1 June 2017.
  2. ^ Grey, Charles (1933). Pirates of the eastern seas (1618-1723): a lurid page of history. London: S. Low, Marston & co., ltd. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  3. ^ a b Fox, E. T. (2014). Pirates in Their Own Words. Raleigh NC: Lulu.com. ISBN 9781291943993. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b Woodard, Colin (2008). The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Orlando FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0547415753.
  5. ^ 'One Man's Search for Buried Treasure' by Jean-Marc Mojon (Agence France-Presse) in The Jakarta Globe of 14 December 2009, Features C3

External links[edit]