B bábi, Tibor

Benyovszky, Count Móric Ágost

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Benyovszky, Count Móric Ágost (Maurice Austin) (Verbó, now Vrbove, Slovakia, 20 September 1741? - Angontsy, Madagascar, Africa, 23 May 1786) – Discoverer, soldier of fortune, King of Madagascar, world traveler, writer. The year of his birth is disputed. According to some it was 1746. He entered the military at a young age. In a lawsuit over his share of family inheritance he tried to obtain by force, he became involved in a high treason case, and as a consequence Empress Maria Theresa banished him. He took refuge on his property in Poland; and when the Poles rose against Russian rule in 1768, Benyovszky joined them. He was taken prisoner by the Russians and exiled to the Bolsereck colony on Kamchatka. In the spring of 1771 he organized an uprising with other interned Czarist officers, captured a ship and escaped. Their original destination was America; but at the Aleutian Islands they turned around, sailed past Japan, touched on Formosa, and finally landed at Macao. From there Benyovszky traveled via Madagascar to France, where he was received with great honors and was given the title of Baron for his bravery. King Louis XV of France commissioned him to lead an expedition of volunteers to Madagascar and establish commercial settlements there with the aim of turning the island into a French colony. Benyovszky stayed in Madagascar from February 1774 until December 1776; and with the help of his expedition, greatly contributed to the exploration of the Island at the time still unknown to Europeans. Before leaving Madagascar, a delegation of 62 native chiefs proclaimed him their ruler in August 1776. It was partly due to Benyovszky’s benevolent nature and efforts toward the natives, and partly to a local belief that an important former ruler had reappeared in him. This seemed to be a threat to French interests; hence they criticized him on his return to France. Thus he went back to Hungary following Empress Maria Theresa’s pardon. During 1778-1779 he took part in the Bavarian War of Inheritance; and in acknowledgment of his bravery received the rank of Count, a title he was already using. On hearing of the American War of Independence in 1779, he wanted to join the legion led by General Pulaski; but it met with little success and he returned to Hungary. There he made plans for land and water transportation of goods and for development of Fiume’s harbor (now Rijeka, Croatia). Having been on friendly terms with Benjamin Franklin, he went back to America in connection with a foreign legion he wanted to organize; but the idea was not received well. In 1783 he decided to resume the colonization of Madagascar and for this reason traveled to America a third time. With the aid of some Baltimore businessmen he managed to fully equip his expedition. He landed on Madagascar again in July 1785 and built up his fortified settlement, Mauritanie near Cape East at Angontsy. From the Ile de France (the Island of Mauritius) the French took a dim view of Benyovszky’s activities and a detachment of 60 men led by Captain Larcher was sent to capture him. In the ensuing engagement Benyovszky received a fatal bullet wound. He was buried at the base of his fort; but over the years his grave has been lost to tropical growth. Before his final and fatal undertaking Benyovszky wrote down the story of his adventurous life and left it behind in London. His Memoirs were published after his death, translated into a number of other languages and earned world fame for him, although his real historical role is still debated. – B: 0883, 1257, T: 7456.

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