The Adventure Journalism of Ian Fleming



  • Posts: 2,248
    Birdleson wrote: »
    It always ends in death with Fleming.

    And the rest of us too!
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CAModerator
    Posts: 30,475
    Not me yet.
  • DoctorNoDoctorNo USA-Maryland
    Posts: 707
    Are there photos available of this trip to view I wonder?
  • Posts: 2,248
    DoctorNo wrote: »
    Are there photos available of this trip to view I wonder?

    None accompanied the article, but there's no doubt photos were taken by Dr. Murphy and the other scientists. And I'm sure Bryce (a wealthy man who could afford the best cameras) and Fleming must have taken photos too. Just where they are is the mystery--I would love to rummage through Fleming's photographs!
  • DoctorNoDoctorNo USA-Maryland
    Posts: 707
    Revelator wrote: »
    DoctorNo wrote: »
    Are there photos available of this trip to view I wonder?

    None accompanied the article, but there's no doubt photos were taken by Dr. Murphy and the other scientists. And I'm sure Bryce (a wealthy man who could afford the best cameras) and Fleming must have taken photos too. Just where they are is the mystery--I would love to rummage through Fleming's photographs!

    Yes absolutely! There’s a book there, I’d love to do some archival and publication work for Fleming estate. we’ve all seen the publicity stills of Fleming but pretty limited beyond that.
  • DragonpolDragonpol Writer @
    Posts: 14,441
    Revelator wrote: »
    Birdleson wrote: »
    It always ends in death with Fleming.

    And the rest of us too!

    Death Comes as the End, as Agatha Christie put it.
  • Posts: 2,248
    More Adventures in the Sun

    My Friend the Octopus (Sunday Times, March 24, 1957)

    By Ian Fleming

    Every year Ian Fleming returns to the small house by the sea in Jamaica which he built ten years ago and on each succeeding holiday he finds some new adventure to describe. Last year it was the deadly remora, the blue mountain solitaire and the flamingos which captivated him. Here, just back from his latest visit, he begins a new series of Adventures in the Sun.

    Probably no living creature inspires such universal loathing and terror as the octopus. The reputation of this sea shell (for the octopus belongs to the same family of molluscs as the clam) stems from the fact that the octopus remains one of the few unexploded myths.

    It is still a credible villain in children’s stories and its relative, the giant squid, is probably the most fearsome creature in the world.

    But the octopus and the squid should not be confused. The giant squid lives thousands of fathoms deep and engages in titanic battles with sounding whales who are often found marked with its suckers. (Not long ago the eye of a squid was found in the stomach of a whale. It was two feet in diameter!) So, even in fiction, it is difficult to invent circumstances in which giant squids could be a threat to man.

    An authentic case was the squid engaged by the French battleship Alecton in mid-Atlantic in 1860. The squid was 60 feet long, exclusive of the arms. The Alecton engaged the monster in battle but her cannon-balls traversed the glutinous mass without causing any vital injury. The Frenchmen at last got a harpoon to bite and passed a bowling hitch round the rear end of the squid and attempted to haul it on board. But the line cut through the flesh of the beast and the Alecton only salvaged a chunk weighing about 40 lb. From this morsel the total weight of the squid was estimated at two tons.

    But this is a very different creature from octopus vulgaris, which this striking portrait [omitted] shows at about a quarter of its natural size.

    When I first started spending my holidays in Jamaica and skin-diving I was infected by the octopus myth and waged war upon the tribe. This year an octopus came to live at the bottom of my garden and I have quite changed my mind.

    There are certain disagreeable features about octopuses. Their appearance is, to say the least, unusual and they have talents which seem to us supernatural. They can change colour from off-white to dark brown. They can turn luminous in the dark. They travel very fast by jet propulsion and the suckers on their eight arms exert terrific and unrelenting pressure. They are also slimy and creepy-crawly and are very difficult to kill unless, as is the custom with Jamaican fishermen, you bite off their heads.

    In Jamaican waters they are not feared. They are not called “devil fish,” as they are in many parts of the world, nor yet “pus-fellers,” in the tough lingo of deep-sea divers, but “sea cats”— a much more friendly name. In fact, octopus vulgaris is an extremely shy creature which, although it has few enemies apart from man, has little confidence in its natural weapons and spends a disproportionate amount of its time trying to hide. It hides very effectively, squeezing itself like thick paste into rock crannies or choosing the nearest piece of coral and flattening itself against this after changing its colour to an almost exact camouflage.

    As I say, I first regarded these creatures as enemies and had many, in retrospect, cruel and untidy battles with them. Then one day, standing on a rock at the side of my beach, I saw through the clear water a few inches down an octopus, asleep just below me.

    It had turned itself into a kind of clumsy saucer with its tentacles wrapped round its body. Now and then the tip of a tentacle moved delicately, like the tail of a sleeping kitten. It did not seem to have attached itself to the shelf of coral and rocked slightly in the small currents. There were one or two leaves on the water. When the shadow of a leaf floated over the octopus it blushed a dark brown. Occasionally it opened a sleepy eye and then closed it again.

    I defy anyone to watch a sleeping octopus for some time and not be captivated by its defencelessness and astounded by the bizarre mechanisms of its camouflage.

    Finally I moved so that my shadow fell across it. At once the creature was fully awake. It turned exactly the colour of its coral bed and, with incredible stealth, its tentacles unfurled on the rock and took hold. The eyes watched me. I moved again and the octopus took a deep breath to prime the tanks of its jet mechanism and started slowly crawling sideways. I lifted a hand and it gathered itself up like the sheet in M. R. James’s ghost story, “Whistle and I’ll Come to You” and launched itself sideways with streamlined compactness and shot into the deeps.

    It was from that day that I decided to befriend the octopus and when, this year, one took up residence a few yards out from the beach it was given a warm welcome and christened “Pussy.”

    If you happen to collect shells an octopus can be a very valuable pet. Each morning when we visited “Pussy” in her comfortable burrow in the coral, we would find a new tribute of shells on her doorstep. They were not very rare shells—clams, tulip shells and small helmets—but they were in pristine condition. Octopuses have an easy way with shells. They simply attach their suckers to each side, or to the operculum, or door, to a shell, and pull and go on pulling, until the muscles of the animal in the shell are exhausted. Then they eat the animal.

    “Pussy” became a valued feature of the property and privileged visitors were taken to inspect her. She would playfully tug at the blunt end of a spear and occasionally display a shy tentacle or a watchful, stealthily retreating eye. I had hopes of developing the relationship by giving her crushed sea urchins to eat. Then I had to be away from the house for a couple of days.

    On my return I was greeted with disquieting news. My small son, never quite clear who “Pussy” was, but merely accepting her daily tribute of shells, informed me that fishermen had caught a fine sea cat and presented it to Beryl, the housemaid.

    I hastily swam out and placed a fat meal of sea urchin at, the door of “Pussy’s” burrow. Nothing happened. Perhaps she was out hunting. I let a day go by and still she did not reappear.

    I asked the housekeeper. Yes, indeed, Beryl had been given a fine sea cat by the fishermen.

    Where was it? What had happened to it?

    “Beryl mash her and cut her up and cook her in hollive hoil and eat her out of a coconut.”

    That is the worst of pets. Something always happens to them.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CAModerator
    Posts: 30,475
    Many things all came together and made sense there.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 2,552
    Poor Pussy! (Octopus is very tasty, though.)

    I went to Croatia a few years ago and saw an octopus the size of my hand while I was swimming - at a tourist beach, very near the shore. Like Fleming's, it realised it had been spotted and scooted off as if I'd caught it doing something embarrassing.
  • Posts: 2,248
    Birdleson wrote: »
    Many things all came together and made sense there.

    Yes, now we know there was a real life of model for Octopussy (who met a similar end, alas). This real life octopus made enough of a personal mark on Fleming for him to immortalize their friendship several years later.
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    Poor Pussy! (Octopus is very tasty, though.)

    It is! And I always feel a teeny bit guilty when I eat it and remember all those stories of octopuses performing brilliant feats of escape and deduction. But I suppose it's the larger species of octopodes who do that, rather than the smaller ones who end up on the table. Pathetic rationale, I know...
  • Posts: 2,248
    More Adventures in the Sun—2

    Treasures of the Sea (Sunday Times, April 7, 1957)

    By Ian Fleming

    Every year Ian Fleming returns to his house by the sea in Jamaica and on each succeeding holiday he finds some new adventure to describe.
    In his previous article, the first of a new series, he wrote of the ‘octopus at the bottom of the garden.’ Here, he describes a visit to the Cayman Islands in search of rare sea-shells.

    The Cayman Islands have always sounded to me extremely romantic. Columbus discovered them and named them “Las Tortugas,” after the turtles which swarmed on them. Lying to the north-west of Jamaica and to the south of Cuba, well away from the shipping lanes, they were the principal hide-out of the buccaneers and have been the haunt of treasure-seekers for 200 years.

    The Caymanians also sounded a most attractive people. Descendants of the pirates or of Cromwellian soldiers, they have somehow managed to keep their bloodstream free of negroid strains, and they have built up a tradition as some of the finest sailors in the world. Until last year it was very difficult to get to the Caymans, but now there are almost daily flights from Jamaica and Miami, and last month, with two girl Fridays, I went to Grand Cayman to collect sea-shells in the imagined paradise.

    Grand Cayman is some 20 miles long, and, at its broadest, eight miles wide. The Island is more or less in the shape of a giant bottle-opener and, as you can see, the North Sound, where the pirates used to careen their ships, almost cuts the island in two. It is very flat and marshy, and only occasional palm trees stand up above the covering of mangroves, sea grape and sea almond. A hot, dry, ugly wind blows almost continuously, but not hard enough to disperse the mosquitoes which render the place almost uninhabitable in the summer.

    The population is about 7,000 and the capital, Georgetown, is a pretty clap-boarded little village with a vaguely Cornish air. Beside the natural harbour crouches an exquisite Presbyterian chapel. The Caymans are a Scottish Presbyterian stronghold, and no doubt this accounts for their staunch, sober character and for the fact that the four-cell gaol is rarely occupied. On the principal beach a new and luxurious hotel was opened last year, but its rates, £8 15s. for a single room and bath, were not for us, and we put up at the excellent Pageant Beach Hotel, a single-storey motel-like affair, entirely on the American style. There are three other simple, small hotels, and the total number of hotel rooms on the Island is about 300.

    The Roneod information bulletin on the Caymans was written by the last Commissioner, Mr. Gerrard, and is a model of what such things should be: modest, humorous and realistic. (It can be obtained from the Tourist Board in Kingston, Jamaica, or from the Commissioner’s Office, Grand Cayman.) One paragraph which had attracted me was “The coasts and beaches of the Cayman Islands abound in shells of an astonishing variety.” I happen to collect tropical shells in an amateurish fashion and was looking forward to much treasure. I am ashamed to say that I am uninterested in rare, dull shells and only collect those which are huge or beautiful or strange. I do not even ticket or catalogue my collection, but leave it piled on shelves for other amateurs to admire and the sun to spoil. But the collection amuses me, and, now that I will not shoot fish, adds purpose to the exploration of tropical beaches, underwater landscapes and reefs.

    I could not begin to give details of my collection but these two illustrations from Hyatt Verrill’s excellent Shell Collectors’ Handbook, published by Putnams, New York, show Caribbean treasures I do not possess and which I hoped against hope might turn up in the Caymans. [Images omitted due to poor reproduction quality: they depict “Murex Argo, West Indies, rarest of large shells” and “Violet Scorpion, Pterocera violacea.”]

    Our taxi driver from the airport, Conrad Hilton, was helpful. “I often takes folks huntin’ for shells. Only las’ week I takes Mr. German huntin’ shells. Him comes from New, York. Mebbe you knows him.” (Residents of small remote places assume that all visitors know each other, just as they know every single one of the local inhabitants.) “Him was mos’ satisfied. Ah takes him to Bodden.”

    Who was this rival shell collector who had forestalled us and doubtless skimmed the cream from Conrad Hilton’s private treasure beach? However, perhaps since we have underwater masks we shall do better than this serious-minded, though no doubt expert, conchologist with his topee, sneakers, sun glasses, khaki shorts down to the knee and blistering nose (as we imagined him).

    “There’s a man at Bodden collects shells. Mr. Willywaw. Sells them. Mebbe you like to buy some?”

    We had a vision of the cunning Mr. Willywaw sitting in his treasure house waiting for boobies from overseas and lovingly caressing a Precious Wentletrap as he talked of the requests he had had from American museums.

    “We’d like to see his collection but we don’t want to buy shells. We like to find them.”

    “You find plenty shells at Bodden.” Conrad Hilton was definite.

    There was a great stretch of sandy beach between our hotel and the jagged dead coral against which the waves crashed. (It crossed my mind, and still crosses it, to wonder where the sand came from since the rocks were between it and the sea.) As soon as we arrived we put on our masks and took spears and went into the sea to explore. No doubt, even opposite the hotel, there would be pickings from this paradise of sea-shells.

    It was the most ghastly sea bottom I have ever explored. An endless vista of dead grey coral, interspersed with sharp and angry niggerheads and positively infested with huge black sea eggs—a type of sea urchin with four-inch needle-sharp spines which break off and fester in your flesh. There were few fish about and no crabs or lobsters—just an endless, dead landscape bristling with black spines. Worse, the American way of life, which has Grand Cayman in its grip, had penetrated the surrounding sea. Everywhere there was refuse—the permanent unbreakable refuse of a people that has given up eating fish and fruit and now lives out of American bottles and cans.

    The bottom of the sea was littered with rusty (and rustless) cans, disintegrating cartons and the particularly vivid green of broken Pepsi-Cola bottles. (The company must have a monopoly on the island. Other soft drinks were poorly represented.) And the place was a sort of bottletopia. Everywhere were bottle tops; the sad rusty coinage of our civilisation.

    We swam for an hour along the rocks and round into the yacht harbour where grey silt and slime covered everything. We came ashore disgusted. Thank heavens tomorrow would be different!

    At 9 o’clock Conrad Hilton came to fetch us and we rattled off along the appalling roads on our way to Bodden. The roads on Grand Cayman had once been metalled—perhaps during the war when there were a few defences on the Island against its use as a possible refuge for U-boats—but the surface has melted and eroded into ridges and waves and potholes. Fine sand, which makes even bicycling very difficult, has covered them. A few motor-cars ply for hire during the “season” and then, over the next nine months, get wired and soldered together again.

    Bodden turned out to be no “secret” place, but Grand Cayman’s other “town”—a handful of houses and bungalows at one end of a six-mile sandy beach. Conrad Hilton drove us to the Presbyterian minister’s bungalow and this charming padre allowed us to leave our picnic lunch and bits and pieces on his wooden verandah. Strung with empty knapsacks for our shell burdens, we hurried down to the beach and started tramping into the wind, and sun to where, six miles away, the beach ended at Betty Bay Point.

    There were, practically speaking, no shells at all. Surely there would be more when we got away from the houses! There were none, or at any rate none worth picking up. For mile after mile we trudged towards the distant shimmering rocks that never came nearer. From time to time we stopped and put on our masks and went into the sea. At once the sand ended and it was another dead landscape scattered, but more sparsely than off Georgetown, with tins and bottle tops. A bright flash of colours caught my eye in deep water and I dived. It was a disintegrating Quaker Oats carton.

    Deep depression filled us. Where was this paradise of seashells? Surely Mr. Willywaw could not have scoured the place clean that morning in the four hours since dawn. He and his minions could not possibly have covered the whole six, miles of beach. There were a few fishermen about and occasional heaps of conchs that had been broken to remove their animals, but there were miles of shelving sand without a single footstep below the high tide mark. My companions gave up and stopped. Obstinately I covered another two miles, my face gradually stiffening and smarting in the sun and wind. I came to the Point and turned. Now there was six miles of baking sand without the spur of treasure hunting. I set off on the return journey.

    Next Week: Ian Fleming continues his search for “Treasures of the Sea.”
  • DoctorNoDoctorNo USA-Maryland
    Posts: 707
    @Revelator thank you as always. Love reading these... where may I ask are you getting these articles from?
  • Posts: 2,248
    Thank you @DoctorNo -- glad to know you're enjoying them! The Sunday Times archive was digitized a few years ago and the database can be accessed at various research libraries. The database also offers an OCR service, which makes it much easier to transcribe the articles after I download them, though I still spend time correcting and formatting the OCR results.

    I hope you've also seen the articles I posted in the "Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction" thread. For non-ST articles I've often had to resort to microfilm, ordering items on ebay, and trips to faraway places like the British Library. I now have almost all of the journalism listed in Jon Gilbert's Fleming bibliography.

    If there are any unposted Fleming rarities you would like to see, please let me know. This thread will conclude sometime in March. Afterward I will either start a thread for excerpts of Fleming's Atticus column or for his interviews.
  • DoctorNoDoctorNo USA-Maryland
    Posts: 707
    Yes @Revelator i’ve been enjoying Spy Fiction thread too... look forward to either new thread after March! It’s cool you’ve done the work there to track these down. I seem to remember seeing somewhere some archive of Fleming’s publications that was once sold and wondered if these were from those collections. Not sure where I saw that or if I dreamt it now, ha.
  • Posts: 2,248
    You might be thinking of Talk of the Devil, a collection of Fleming's non-Bondian writings, including some never before published material, that came out in 2008 but remains only available as part of the "Complete Works" of Ian Fleming set printed by Queen Anne Press. The cheapest edition of the set is £2,000, so it remains a holy grail for most of us who don't have deep pockets.
  • DoctorNoDoctorNo USA-Maryland
    Posts: 707
    Oh yes that’s it.. a holy grail indeed. The Shameful Dream, a treasure hunt in the Seychelles that reads like a short story.... very intriguing. I can only hope they release it separately some day.
  • Posts: 2,248
    The Sixth Continent Under the Sea (Sunday Times, June 26, 1955)

    From Ian Fleming


    The first Underwater Archaeology Conference has now completed its work and the sponsors, the Club Alpin Sousmarin, are to be congratulated on its success. If Cannes—or better still Monaco, in view of the royal family’s traditional interest in submarine matters—is far-sighted, it will provide the funds and organisation to make the conference a regular international event, and to include on its agenda underwater exploring in all its branches.

    Although this first conference has barely touched upon the immediate concerns of underwater archaeologists, when each speaker drew aside the curtain from his particular porthole, one looked through upon the problems of a new world.

    Even International Law—the rights of the discoverer, of the salver and of the country within whose riparian limit the discovery is made. In France the whole matter is covered by a Royal Decree of 1680 and by the antiquated Laws of Colbert. These allot to the finder 10 per cent. of the value if the discovery, generally a wreck, is ashore, 33 1/3 per cent. if it is found at a depth of 15 ft., and 50 per cent. if it is found at a depth of 45 ft. There they end. There is nothing to cover the many recent discoveries at depths of over 100 ft., nor the salvage, at great cost and risk to life, of archaeological treasures which are, by another set of French laws, automatically the property of the Ministry of Fine Arts.

    And who is to pay for the work —far more costly in man-hours (good visibility and calm weather are not essential to a dig at Stonehenge) and in equipment than terrestrial archaeology? Commander Cousteau’s archaeological work has been financed only to the tune of 1/30th by the French Government and he has been luckier than most.

    New means of salvage were discussed—the Cousteau one-man bathyscape now being tested to destruction at depths up to 3,000 feet; fast methods of search, by holding on to a torpedo or being towed over the bottom of the sea on a skid; underwater television for the direction of excavations by archaeologists on the surface; the use of compressed air and suction pumps for clearing wrecks and sites, and stereoscopic underwater photography for measurement and reconnaissance.

    Rebikoff, the pioneer of underwater colour photography, showed some fine films, including an enchanting record of a battle between a baby octopus and an adult sea anemone (and here I might mention, though it has nothing to do with the conference, that Cousteau arrives back this week from the Indian Ocean with twenty miles of underwater film for the moving picture of The Silent World for the Rank Organisation).

    The uninitiated would imagine that normal salvage methods should be good enough for the archaeologists, but the experiences of many speakers made it clear that the traditional diver in a diving suit is far too clumsy and slow for this kind of light-fingered work, and I heard dire stories of the operations of the famous Italian salvage ship Artiglio on the sunken trading vessel at Al Benga. It did indeed raise 100 amphorae in a day by methods appropriate to the salvage of a sunken coal barge, but, through no fault of its owner or crew, the damage done was appalling.

    The representative of the Ligurian Study Group who reported on this wreck had a sad tale to tell. The Italian Government, already active on many dry land projects, has no money to spare for its territorial waters, and the young Italian divers are interested only in shooting fish and finding treasure. Their parents and school-teachers brought them up on the contents of their local museums and they have no enthusiasm for risking their lives for mere “pottery and statues.”

    The English representative of the British Sub-Aqua Club, Mr. Richard Garnett, pricked up his ears at this and gave an enthusiastic account of last year’s Sunday Times expedition to Chios and described the plans for two English expeditions to the Mediterranean this year, one to Crete and another to Cyprus. It seems likely that members of British underwater clubs with proper training and a smattering of languages will find no difficulty in loaning their services to Mediterranean clubs once things get better organised.

    Mr. Garnett also mentioned a fascinating discovery at Syracuse, where the British Vice-Consul thinks he has found the remains of an Athenian battle fleet, reported sunk there by Thucycides. This site is now being examined by the Italians and the first reports are that the ships are in fact trading vessels. But the discovery is an exciting one, with much talk of amphorae being used as firebombs and the like.

    Mr. Garnett also gave details of the Pudding Pan wreck-site in the Thames Estuary off Whitstable, whence, despite thick water and currents, Roman pottery has been recovered by the British Underwater Reconnaissance Group and shown, I believe, on television.

    The 2,000-year-old sunken trading vessel off Marseilles and the salvage methods used on it were fully discussed and Professor Benoit of Marseilles threw out the notion that in fact two ships were sunk, one on top of the other. This he deduces from the types of pottery being recovered, of which he said his museum already contains 6,000 different examples of 65 types. He mentioned his suspicion that Sestius, the Greek merchant who shipped this and other cargoes of wine to Marseilles (by A.D. 200 the Gauls had grown their own vine-yards and killed the Greek trade) threw in free drinking goblets with each 30-litre amphora, for many of the goblets are marked with the same Greek advertising slogan (cribbed no doubt from Guinness!): “Drink Wine. It’s Good for You.”

    From the trademark of Cassius, a metal-merchant of around A.D. 100, on lead anchors and on the lead counter-weights attached near the handles of oars to lighten the blades on fast galleys (mentioned by Pliny and Plutarch), whose products are also found in the Rhineland, and from the copper and tin used in the construction of sunken ships, a clear picture of the great Roman, Greek and Phoenician metal routes is being built up.

    The representative from Tunisia described progress on the Mahdia wreck, on which Greek sponge-divers worked from 1907-1912 and recovered amongst other treasures, the Mahdia “Hermes.” This wreck, which lies in perpetual swell five kilometres from the coast, has, in the last twelve months, been cleared of sixty tons of marble columns, and the programme for 1955 includes deep excavation into the after-part of the 30-foot vessel, in which there has already been identified part of the arm of a gigantic marble statue. Here also might be, said the delegate, the famous “Golden Virgin” which tradition has firmly planted among the cargo.

    This, with the sunken trading ship off the Ile de Levant, in the Hyères Group, which is being excavated by Commander Tailliez, and which may prove even more important than Cousteau’s wreck, completes the list of some of the underwater archaeological projects now going forward in the Mediterranean. They are perhaps enough to suggest how useful and fascinating this first conference was.

    And yet they are only a corner of the problems which future generations will have to solve as they push forward their exploration of the Sixth Continent. There are greater treasures under the sea and in the sea than wrecks and sunken gold and buried cities, and they include more food and power and mineral wealth than can ever be yielded by our scratchings on the narrow land surfaces of the world. These resources will in due course be explored and harnessed, but perhaps this is the moment to salute the pioneers—all Frenchmen—Cousteau, Dumas, Diolé, Tailliez, Huot and Bombard, who, in just twenty years, have encouraged the Common Underwater Man to lose his shyness for the new element he is about to conquer.
  • edited January 2020 Posts: 2,248
    Treasure Hunt in Eden (Sunday Times, August 17, 1958)

    By Ian Fleming

    A cache of treasure worth £120 million is believed to have been buried by the eighteenth-century French pirate, Levasseur, on the island of Mahé in the Seychelles. Ian Fleming recently visited the island to discover how an Englishman, armed with old documents, has been seeking the treasure for nearly ten years. Behind this search, financed by shareholders, lies a fascinating blend of fact and legend.

    I—Pirate Gold

    I have always been interested in buried treasure. I think most men are. Women are less interested either because they have a more realistic turn of mind or because they were brought up on different children’s books. Early reading of Coral Island, The Blue Lagoon, Treasure Island and other Stephensonia, Jules Verne and Rider Haggard gives a boy that golden treasure bug which he rarely gets out of his bloodstream even in much later years.

    I found my first treasure at the age of nine. We were staying in the summer holidays at the Tregenna Castle Hotel at St. Ives and I spent much of my time looking for amethyst-quartz in the cares along the beaches. One day, far from the town, I penetrated deep into a little cave and found at the back a lamp of ambergris as big as a child’s football. I knew all about ambergris from Stacpoole. It should have the consistency of thick paste, be greyish in colour and have no smell. There simply wasn’t any doubt about it. I was thrilled. Now I would be rich and I would be able to live on Cadbury milk chocolate flakes and I would not have to go back to my private school or indeed do any more work at all. I had found the short cut out of all my childish woes. But how to get it back to the hotel? Carefully I extracted the heavy lump, picked out some of the pebbles that had stuck to it, and hoisted it onto the lap of the grey jersey, which, with grey shorts, I was wearing. The long walk back was exhausting and the hot sun and my hot body melted a fraction of my treasure (at £1,000 an ounce I could easily afford the small wastage) so that soon my jersey and shorts were a dreadful sight. What did I care? There would be no scolding or punishments ever again. People looked curiously at me as I climbed the narrow street and went through the big gates and up the drive. I stared haughtily back.

    Soft Squelch

    My mother was having tea in the palm court (as I remember it) of the hotel with a handsome admirer; I stumped through the crowded tables and stopped in front of her. She looked startled at my expression and my filthy appearance. Quite casually I released the lap of my jersey and let the lump of ambergris fall with a soft squelch (it was rather more melted than I had thought) at her feet. I said “There” and stood waiting for her, or for someone else to say “Ambergris, by Jove !”

    My mother looked astonished. “What is it darling?” she asked. “What a mess you’ve got your clothes into.” “It’s ambergris” I said. “It’s worth £1,000 an ounce and there must be two pounds of it. How much does that make? I’m not going back to school.”

    A horrified waiter bustled up and looked down at the dreadful grey mess on his parquet floor. “Don’t touch it,” I said imperiously. “It’s ambergris.” Kindly or unkindly, I cannot remember which, he asked where I had found it. I told him and then, I hope kindly, he explained. It was butter I had found. A lump of butter from a supply ship that had been torpedoed several months before. She had been carrying a cargo of New Zealand butter and lumps of the stuff had been washing up on the coast from time to time. No doubt I burst into tears.

    Wilkins’s Prospectus

    Memories of this bitter experience came to me when I first got a sight of the Wilkins Treasure Prospectus, and, without wasting space on my own picayune treasure tales, here is the gist of it—cut, but with the wording unaltered:
    A short précis of the story of the treasure and details in brief of the work done by Mr. R. H. Wilkins up to the 31st December, 1955.

    Oliver Levasseur commenced his piracy in 1716 in the Caribbean where he stayed for some time, at the end of which he refused to return to France but turned pirate and came into the Indian Ocean in 1721 in his vessel “Le Victorieux.” He was joined by an English pirate named Taylor in his ship “Defence,” and together they took over control of the shipping lanes from John Avery, the English pirate, who had become ruler of Madagascar in former years and whose greatest prize had been the capture of the daughter of the Grand Mogul with her marriage dowry while she was on her way to Persia to marry its ruler, the Shah. Avery was driven from Madagascar and returned to England to die penniless in Bideford, Devon.

    Levasseur and Taylor took two French treasure ships belonging to the Compagnie de France, namely “La Duchesse de Neuilly” and “La Ville d’Ostende.” Up to this time Levasseur had been offered a free pardon if he would bring his treasure in but he sealed his fate by taking the Royal Portuguese Papal vessel “Le Cap de Ver” which was returning to Europe with the Bishop of Goa and his treasure—church plate, diamond cross and staff, etc.—on board. The treasure in the first two ships is believed to be ninety million gold francs and estimated to be some one hundred and twenty million pounds worth at present-day values. The value of the treasure in the ship “Le Cap de Ver” is not known, nor is there anywhere any record of the amount of treasure taken from Avery or brought by Levasseur from the Caribbean.

    As a consequence of taking the Bishop of Goa’s treasure ship, Levasseur realised he could expect a pardon no longer. It Is believed that he then set about burying the treasure and the French archives indicate that this took Levasseur some four to five years to bury.

    The taking of the Bishop of Goa’s ship caused the wrath of the Pope and representations were, it is believed, made to the French Government through papal channels which resulted in renewed efforts on the part of the French. Levasseur was eventually captured by a naval vessel, “La Meduse,” under Captain d’Hermitte, in 1730, and was taken to the Isle of Bourbon (now Reunion). After various attempts to make him disclose the whereabouts of his treasure were made without avail he was hanged on July 17, 1730. On the scaffold he threw to the crowd a number of papers crying “Find it who can.” These papers were held by various families and some came into the hands of the Paris archives.

    When I was in the Seychelles in January, 1949, I came across some documents in the form of a cryptogram, a cryptic map and other papers which interested me. My work in the Seychelles was finished and I had to wait three months for a boat to bring me back to Kenya. I started to try to interpret the documents and papers. I did not get very far at this stage but I did discover that the documents had some relation of Greek mythological figures pertaining to their astronomical values. I also found certain carvings on rocks at a particular place on the coast of Mahé, the Island of the Seychelles on which I was at the time. I particularly observed the mythological figure of “Musca” or “Asp” carved on a rock.

    I took the documents and papers I then had back to Kenya with me and spent several months working on them. I managed to translate them and the translation I got indicated to me that I should look for an area where there would be indications of the northern and southern hemispheres containing the mythological figures of Greek mythology relating to the heavenly bodies or stars and probably indications which had something to do with the story of Jason and the search for the Golden Fleece.

    I returned to the Seychelles and started exploring the area where I had earlier uncovered the carving of the “Asp,” having first concluded an agreement with the owner of the land in which I thought the treasure to be buried…

    I found other carvings in the area, some above ground and some underground. They all related to the mythological figures I have mentioned above. I soon discovered a complete hemisphere with these figures set out correctly in the right position from the other. I then found indications of other hemispheres in the same area and I found carvings and other indications which clearly referred to the Jason and Golden Fleece story. I found buried the bones of an ox many feet below ground. I also found a complete skeleton of a horse buried without doubt to indicate Pegasus the Horse. I found Andromeda both carved and in statuette form. Indeed in my five-to six-year search I have found many things to prove that my interpretation of the documents and papers is correct and to prove, which is even more important, that no one has been on this site before me.

    In all I have found eight hemispheres. All have been complete in themselves and each has led me in turn to the next. In each except the last hemisphere the Golden Fleece—the treasure — has been stolen by the fox and there are indications to this effect left there by the pirates. In the last hemisphere these indications are absent and the fox itself is shown within the hemisphere, which has not been the case in the other hemispheres. I therefore believe the treasure to be intact from this evidence…

    Extreme caution is now needed and suitable pumping equipment has to be available to keep the water under control to enable digging operations to proceed, but I have complete confidence in getting into the cavern—given the equipment if not this year then next.

    The prospector for whom I act has the full co-operation of the Seychelles Government in this search for treasure and there is an agreement in writing properly stamped and registered under which this Government gets a certain share of the prospector’s share of the treasure in consideration of the Government providing many useful and free facilities to me as the prospector’s attorney to help me in the search.

    The prospector now desires to dispose of not more than a further twelve shares at the price of £2,000 for each share. These can of course be split so that for example if any person desires to invest £100 he or she will obtain 1/20th of a share.

    Those persons advancing money for the purchase of any one share or proportion of a share are asked to sign a formal application for that share or portion of a share that they desire to purchase and they will receive either from Messrs. Gill and Johnson, chartered accountants, or Messrs. Hamilton, Harrison and Mathews, advocates, of Nairobi, a formal receipt therefor and in due course a document in a form satisfactory under Seychelles law to transfer the share or part of a share which document after being signed and stamped will be registered with the Seychelles Government in the manner required by Seychelles law.

    It is pointed out, for avoidance of doubt, that should the treasure not be found then any balance of money paid by persons for the purchase of shares or portions of shares will belong to the prospector absolutely.

    Nine Years’ Dig

    Well, that’s the prospectus, and some £24,000 was quickly forthcoming. I later made the acquaintance of a shareholder and I have a complete set of the subsequent progress reports, that reached shareholders from Nairobi. (My particular shareholder is an interesting man, by the way. In 1938 an elephant knelt on his left leg while a tigress chewed off his right. But that is how it is in this story. Even the smallest walk-on parts have a touch of the bizarre.)

    A treasure hunt for £120 million, with shareholders scattered all over the world, is an interesting business and I was surprised to find that only snippets of news about its progress had leaked out during the nine years’ dig. The whole thing made up the sort of adventure story that intrigues me and. having made sure through the Colonial Office that the hunt was still on, I shook the Easter snows of England off my boots and twenty-four hours later the sweat was pouring off me in Bombay. The next day I sailed in the excellent s.s. Karanja of the British India Line and just over four days later I came on deck at five o’clock in the morning and watched the Seychelles materialise out of the darkness.

    The Crown Colony of the Seychelles consists of ninety-two islands in the Indian Ocean. The capital, Port Victoria, on Mahé, which is about as big as the Isle of Wight, is some 1,000 miles from Africa and 1,500 from India. Population, 40,000, exports: copra, cinnamon, patchouli, vanilla and various exotic desiderata, including two fabled aphrodisiacs—sea-slug, or bèche de mer, to China, and the grotesque Coco de Mer fruit, to India. The best of very few books on the Seychelles is F. D. Ommaney’s admirable Shoals of Capricorn.

    Garden of Eden

    As we crept in towards the islands, I was somehow unsurprised when instead of the usual seagulls a single large bat flew out to inspect the ship and, no doubt, report back. The night before I had filled in my customs declaration form and had sniffed the wind of a treasure island in its old-fashioned print. Instead of the usual warning about importing alcohol, tobacco, agricultural machinery and parrots, I was cautioned that “Passengers must specifically state if they have in their possession OPIATES, ARMS AND AMMUNITION, BASE OR COUNTERFEIT COINS.” After this I was only surprised at not being required to sign the form in my blood.

    With an almost audible blare of trumpets and crash of cymbals the sun hurled its javelins into the heavens over the Garden of Eden a few miles away on the port side. The dull geographers call it Praslin Island, the second largest of the Seychelles, but General Gordon wrote a book proving conclusively that these islands were originally joined to the northern bulge of East Africa and he pin-pointed the famous “Vallais de Mai,” home of the bizarre Coco de Mer, as the original Garden of Eden. I am sure he is right.

    We slowly engraved our wake across the mirror of the doldrums and at breakfast time the roar of our anchor chain echoed back to us from the emerald flanks of Mahé, biggest island of the group.

    The captain bade me farewell with a final warning: “First thing you do, you get your return passage fixed up. Left a chap here last year and the next thing I heard he’d hanged himself with his braces in the Pirates Arms. Couldn’t get a passage out. Claustrophobia.”

    I thanked the captain, told him I didn’t wear braces, and went down the ladder to the launch and the twenty-minute trip in through the reef.

    Ramshackle Paradise

    Of Mahé, Ommaney wrote: “As we passed slowly along the coast, I thought I had never seen a lovelier place in my life. Many people, seeing it thus for the first time, have said to themselves: ‘This is where I will spend the rest of my life and here, with God’s help, I will die’.” But when Ommaney landed he changed his mind and found much to criticise in the island and its inhabitants. So did Alec Waugh in his gossipy Where the Clocks Chime Twice. For my part, having known tropical island life in the Caribbean and having seen something of it in the Pacific, I found nothing either surprising or unpleasant in this authentic though in parts ramshackle tropical paradise. It is true that the Seychelles are fifty years behind the times in almost everything unconnected with the Government—a Government incidentally which under the light but firm reign of Mr. John Thorp, lately Governor of the Leeward Islands, is quite astonishingly efficient and forward-looking in all departments—but most of us would count that a blessing.

    Apart from the humidity, which is exasperating to the new arrival, poor communications and the standard of living, the Seychelles are blessed.

    The temperature varies between 75 and 85 degrees throughout the year and the sea temperature is much the same. Scenically the islands are some of the most beautiful in the world, the waters that surround them are almost paved with game and other fish, the bird life includes ten species unique to the Seychelles (including the famous black parrot, coracopsis barklyi, of Fraslin) and botanically there is almost every tropical species of tree and shrub including the majestic Coco de Mer which grows naturally nowhere else in the world. On a drabber note, the tax rates are not attractive but servants are around ten shillings a week.

    Incomparable beach sites can be bought for about two to five hundred pounds an acre, and a substantial bungalow would cost around £3,000 to build and furnish. On the reverse of the medal is lack of refrigeration, shortage of electricity, telephones, meat, vegetables, except tropical varieties, poor roads and, from March to May and in October and November, the aforesaid humidity. To make up for lack of snakes and malarial mosquitoes there are centipedes and scorpions, though in a month I never saw either, and occasional Stone Fish, one of the Scorpionidae. If you have the misfortune to step on any of these there is excellent medical service. Some knowledge of French is important since the man-in-the-street speaks Creole, an incomprehensible language consisting almost entirely of bastard French nouns stitched together with grunts and facial expressions.

    Anyone who is attracted by the sound of this patchwork paradise would do well to write to the Tourist Officer, Port Victoria, Seychelles, Indian Ocean, and enclose a postal order for three shillings. By return, i.e., in about a month, he will receive a workmanlike tourist handbook. The only reason why these beautiful British possessions are not overrun with tourists and settlers from Africa and England and why there are still only about 150 rather tatterdemalion hotel and guest rooms on Mahé is poor communications. In theory you can fly from London in a day to Bombay or in a little longer to Mombasa via Nairobi and have a pleasant three to four days’ voyage to Port Victoria. But in fact there are only about two sailings per month by British India and the Eastern Shipping Company. At one time or another the Union Castle, Royal Interocean, Bank and Messageries Maritimes lines have called at the Seychelles, but copra is the only large outward cargo and the rest of the traffic and mails are not economic. It is the chicken and the egg. If the British India line will take a view and increase calls on the Seychelles to twice a month, then the tourist marionettes will start to revolve. The hotels will get built, the roads will improve, the electricity company will operate for twenty-four hours instead of twelve, the cargoes will materialise for the returning ships and the British India Company will benefit.

    Two Spectres

    However much a Government is willing to help with guarantees and tax reliefs, private industry must make the first move. In this part of the world there are two spectres that commemorate the failure of two majestic treasure hunts carried out by the last Socialist Government—the ground-nut scheme in Tanganyika that cost you and me 36 million pounds and the quarter of a million-pound Seychelles fisheries scheme which became so weighed down with overheads that it never got off the ground.

    However, tourism is the mundane side of the Seychelles treasure story and this is not a travel series. All I can say is that, having spent a month in the islands, the true treasure of the Seychelles, as the Roman Catholic Bishop was tartly to remind me at a Government House reception, lies in the natural resources of the islands and their simple, kindly, and often beautiful people. If I were a British millionaire, I would invest in them before the American millionaires get there first as they have in the Caribbean.

    But I was in pursuit of more earthy objectives and, after ascertaining that Wilkins, the treasure-hunter, had abandoned operations during the high tides of the south-east monsoon, and had retired to the neighbouring island of Praslin, I jumped a schooner trip to the outer islands with the object of looking into the treasure myth that pervades the whole group. We set sail in the m.v. De Quincy, an elderly ex-minesweeper of 100 tons with a single 100 h.p. Parsons diesel, eight berths, a splendid captain named Houareau, and a solid crew of Seychellois wearing the black-ribboned flat straw hats of Nelson’s time.

    The Ghost Ship

    As we chugged round North Point on our thirty-hour voyage to the Amirantes we were passed by the most beautiful ship in the Indian Ocean coming home from the Islands. She is a 50-ton schooner called Le Revenant, with a pale blue hull and grey sails and woodwork silvered by the sun. This is how she came by her name. As the Juanetta she was caught by the cyclone of 1951 when lying at anchor off Farquahar Island in the Aldabras. By the time the cyclone had blown itself out the remains of her were lying 300 yards inland, among the palm trees. Lloyd’s surveyor from Mauritius agreed that she was 100 per cent. loss and her owner was paid £10,000. He at once began digging a channel to the sea, refloated and rebuilt her, and after years of work she set sail again among the islands as Le Revenant. That day, as The Ghost Ship hissed quietly by with all sails set, coming into harbour with the dawn, I felt a pang of the heart such as the sight of no other ship has given me.

    We carried three sucking pigs and twelve chickens to eat on the way, a super-cargo of a beautiful negress with baby, one temperamental dog and several tribes of ants, cockroaches and spiders. The other seven passengers were Mr. Frank Cook, Editor of “World Crops” (immediately dubbed “koko”) who had been sent out by the Colonial Office to advise on coconuts on which he said, and we all ultimately agreed, he is the world’s leading expert, Mr. Jefferiss, Director of Agriculture, a sardonic, wafer-thin, pipe-smoking character whose photography embellishes this series, his assistant, Mr. Guy Lyonnet, who remained silently immersed in “La Loi,” the Prix Goncourt winner, throughout the voyage, and three representatives of the Seychelles plantocracy—Mr. Douglas Baillie who, besides planting coconuts, is an administrator of note and a formidable, though tight-lipped, conchologist and stamp collector, Mr. Jimmy Oliaji , a leading Hindu merchant, heir to the Temoolgees, the “Sassoons” of the Seychelles, and a compulsive talker, and Mr. Andre Delhomme, a witty and very Parisian member of the “Grand blancs” who are alleged, with the help of the Roman Catholic Church, to rule the Seychelles from behind the scenes.

    Romantic Voyage

    In this good company I wallowed, at six knots, 150 miles across the ocean to Alphonse, just south of the Amirante group, and thence to Poivre and Desroches and so back to Mahé and the blessings of iced drinks and water closets. It was a wonderful, romantic voyage through the squalls and doldrums to lost coral islands—the endless chunkachunkachunk of the diesel, the skimming following sooty terns, boobies and shearwaters, the death-flap of the bonitoes, king fish and tuna on deck and the subsequent stench of the salted flesh drying in the sun, the varying but always sad cloudscapes that strung along our horizons and had always so strung, through the ages of pterodactyls, pirates and U-boats. And then, from time to time, the smudge on the horizon that grew into a coral atoll, the pirogue out through the reef and the ride back through the surf, the clear sea bottom aflash with life and colour, the jump to land on the wet sand and the huddle of palm-thatched houses with the central boat-house with the tall white cross which also acts as a guide through the reef on its roof. There would be brief public relations with the local manager and his family, the rude discomfort of the earth closet and the brief ease of the blood-heat water in the bath house, and then, while the other’s went seriously about their work, I would talk to the fishermen about their local treasure myth and then put on my mask and get my face under the sea and away from the roasting sun and escape to the sergeant majors and the bat fish, the globe fish and the morays and compare, greatly to its disadvantage, the underbelly of the Indian Ocean with the underbelly of the Caribbean. (The Governor, something of a cartoonist, subsequently lampooned this favourite hobby of mine.)


    It was a wonderful, simple voyage which scraped off the civilised scales and parasites and hurled you back fifty, a hundred years. Wallowing through the doldrums with a queasy stomach and sucking pig and 60 degree beer for dinner and with only the blazing southern Cross and the symmetrical jewels of Orion’s Belt to think about is a good therapy for Strontium 90, and the future of England and the world—let alone one’s own private puzzles.


    Captain Houareau

    I spent much time with the captain, a huge man with a feminine voice and feet that hurt him so much that. he bathed them for half an hour every morning in the deck pump. Captain Houareau is a brilliant navigator and he and the De Quincy are just what you need if you are after doubloons. He knows all the stories, has his own ideas and has not lost faith in Treasure as a real thing.

    How real is treasure in the Seychelles? To my great surprise it is more real than you might think. First of all you have to differentiate between what the locals call “Le Grand Trésor” and “Le Petit Trésor.” It is a logical definition. The captain of the ship, Le Grand Corsair, had of course the Big Treasure in chests in his cabin. He slept on them. Traditionally his leather-bound chests contained pieces of eight, Maria Theresa thalers, doubloons and Louis D’or. There were also ropes of pearls and, as inevitably as the “hundred grand” in American thrillers, a richly jewelled cross. (This features prominently in the Wilkins Treasure in search of which we are bound.) In due course, when the going got hard or he got old, the captain would work out his hiding-place on a remote island, pick out an identifiable hiding-place, mark it by physical features and the stars and then get his treasure ashore, bury it and murder the witnesses. This must have been difficult. My ship is lying off a coral atoll surmounted by two humps probably called “Les Tetons.” I take bearings and make my plan, perhaps obscured by clues and traps—childish ones, for I am not very well educated—and then I get fifty of my sixty crew dead drunk. (But how do I keep my boat’s crew sober? How do I lull their suspicions? These things are difficult among criminals, each with his own secrets and suspicions, in a 500-ton ship.) And then my heavy chests are borne over the side into the whaler and we pull for the shore, our oars muffled with sacking, and I leave my ship without a watch. (Who is my second in command? How do I explain my actions to him?) We come to the spot. We carry these heavy chests up above the tide-line to the cave, of the big rocks, or the single palm tree (so soon to be blown down) and under my directions we dig. How do I keep them at it while I anxiously examine my turnip-watch, the-stars, the lifeless ship lying offshore, on which one among the rum-soaked crew may soon revive and watch the swaying lanterns ashore? Then the hole is dug and the chests lowered in.

    Security Problem

    I have single-shot pistols, perhaps four of them, though that in itself would have aroused suspicions. There were no revolvers in those days and the labour force, for the rowing and the digging, could not have been less than six. And when the work is done and the hole covered in, I shoot the men and we set sail. But the next morning? Where is La Barbe, the second mate? What has happened to Le Cossu, Simon le Grand, L’Espagnol, L’Homme-singe, Petit Phillippe? Did not someone hear the sound of oars last night, see lights ashore? Can I silence these murmurings with a torrent of oaths, with a threatening plank run out over the heaving stern?

    I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. The security problem of burying heavy treasure is to me the greatest argument against the “Grand Trésor.”

    But I can more easily comprehend the hiding of the Petit Trésor which every man on the ship had round his waist or hidden in the wooden walls of his ship. These little treasures were bags full of gold coins which were every man’s portion. To get them ashore and bury them in a water jar would not have been too difficult. There was always fear of one’s shipmates and of defeat in battle to spur one on. But even then one can see the shifty, ever-watchful eyes of one’s “best friends” and one can feel the treasure-guilt and guile that must have sailed in these small, desperate ships.

    Clues to Treasure

    Houareau, captain of the De Quincy, told me the story of one such Petit Trésor. He told me how it had been hidden and found and of the way the finder had got it away from the treasure island and through the customs at Port Victoria. Houareau had carried it for this man, not long ago, in 1936. And the man had got the treasure away to France and had lived on it.

    I was to hear of other such treasures before I came back to the Wilkins Grand Trésor. I am told by a solid enough witness, for instance, that there is one on the island of Praslin at this moment and that the finder has baked the gold, which is in bars, into loaves of bread which sit innocently on the shelves of his larder. And, if you want Captain Houareau’s own best bet, it is the island of Astove, in the Aldabra group, and a headland called Pointe aux Canons where you can see the sunken cannon of a Portuguese, ship below the sea. However, these are unproven. The treasure trove of 1936 is fact.

    NEXT SUNDAY: Ian Fleming meets some of the remarkable inhabitants of the islands and hears of strange treasure hunts—and finds—in recent years.
  • DoctorNoDoctorNo USA-Maryland
    Posts: 707
    Like his description of the passing of time, “the varying but always sad cloudscapes that strung along our horizons and had always so strung, through the ages of pterodactyls, pirates and U-boats.” Always seeing the world through peak moments of intrigue and danger.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 2,552
    Revelator wrote: »
    There were also ropes of pearls and, as inevitably as the “hundred grand” in American thrillers, a richly jewelled cross.

    That made me smile because I immediately thought of the one in Red Rackham's Treasure.
  • Posts: 2,248
    I had to google that title! Unfortunately I didn't grow up with Tintin. I'm glad both of you are enjoying the latest article, since I worried its extreme length would put folks off. It's the first of a three-part series and will conclude this thread. I think a treasure hunt in the Seychelles would make a terrific plot for Bond 26 by the way.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 2,552
    @Revelator, I'm enjoying these very much - please carry on, and thanks for all the effort!
  • Posts: 2,248

    Butterflies and Beachcombers (Sunday Times, August 24, 1958)

    By Ian Fleming

    Continuing his account of a recent visit to the Seychelles where a search is going on for pirates’ buried treasure, reputed to be worth £120 million, Ian Fleming describes some remarkable finds—of treasure and personalities.

    The island of Desroches, where treasure was found in 1936, is a dot in the Indian Ocean just east of the Amirante group and about 120 miles from Mahé, the chief Island of the Seychelles. It was a great rendezvous of the Blackbirders, and, long after the abolition of slavery, the remnants of the “Ebony Trade” continued to flourish with the outlying islands, using Desroches as an entrépôt. Even today you can see the ruins of a great underground cellar into which a nineteenth-century owner of the island used to herd his slaves whenever a sail was sighted. On a day at the end of April I stood on the bridge of the fairly good ship De Quincy and watched Desroches grow from a smudge on the horizon to a Robinson Crusoe paradise of brilliant green palm trees and dazzling sand while the captain told me the story.

    Captain Houareau had been a young sailor in one of the inter-island schooners at the time, and the overseer of Desroches, which was owned by one of the “grands blancs” of Mahé, had been a man remembered simply as “Jules.” One day in 1936 the schooner had visited Desroches to take off Jules who had suddenly and inexplicably thrown up his job. The reason he had done so, as was subsequently discovered, was a good one. He had found a rich treasure of gold coins (small gold coins, his Desroches mistress was later to say) and he was escaping with them to France. The discovery had come about like this.

    Search at Dawn

    One day a labourer working on the pier at which I was soon to land had come upon the first links of a rusty chain. He had followed the chain a little way through the sand in which it lay deeply buried, but gave up when he had got out of his depth towards the reef. He had then reported his find to Jules, the overseer. Jules waited until dawn when all his small labour force was busy inland husking the day’s quota (today 400 nuts—wage three shillings) of coconuts and he had then followed the chain out towards the reef in a pirogue. At the end of the chain he found an ancient metal cauldron which he had somehow managed to heave into his boat. When he got this home and forced off the sealed lid he found a small fortune in gold coin.

    Jules was a good carpenter and he spent the next few weeks building three stout wooden trunks with false bottoms. Then he packed his clothes, and, having sent his resignation in to Mahé by a passing fishing boat, he set sail in the schooner of which Houareau was one of the crew. “I helped carry those trunks into the customs shed,” said Captain Houareau dolefully, “and each one weighed a ton. The customs men were suspicious but short of smashing the trunks they could do nothing. Although I remember they even searched his accordion. The very next day this Jules sailed for France in a Norwegian ship.”

    “What happened to him?”

    “Ah, he was a sly one, that Jules. When the true story leaked out through the ménagère he had forsaken on Desroches a certain Seychellois called Michel got together all his money and his family’s money and sailed for France to beard this Jules and find out where the treasure was. He thought there might be some gold left. Jules sold him a plan, a true plan of the treasure place, and Michel came back to Desroches. He found the chain where the plan said he would, and he followed it out to the reef and pulled up the end. But of course there was no treasure. Jules had taken it all.”

    The Captain laughed hugely at Michel’s stupidity.

    When we landed, I asked the present owner of Desroches, Monsieur André Delhomme, who had sailed with us, if the story was true. He said it was and he added these details.

    Jules had lived well off his treasure and had married a well-connected French woman. Through her he came to know Louis Renault, head of the Renault companies. Renault was impressed with Jules and allowed him to purchase some of the privately-owned Renault stock with his gold pieces. Jules lived happily ever after until two years ago, when he is believed to have died in Brittany.

    Hunting for Cowries

    While the coconut experts strode round the tiny island I got down under the milk-warm sea and hunted for cowries, of which every turned rock yielded two or three.

    Collecting shells is one of the minor treasure industries of the Seychelles; for the islands are astonishingly rich, particularly in cowries, of whose 164 species no fewer than sixty-four are found in these waters. Everybody, from the Chief of Police downwards, has his hoard, and everyone has his secret beach.

    Later I was to hear scraps of conversation like the following: “Found an odd-looking Valkyrie the other day. Must find time to give her a tooth-count. Might be a sub-species.” “There he was sitting by his pirogue with a pile, an absolute pile of Talparia Argus in front of him—you know, the pheasant cowrie. Ten dollars at least in the catalogues. And you won’t believe it, but he’d smashed the whole blooming lot to pieces for bait!”

    But it’s a peaceful occupation and that afternoon I made a modest start with two of the beautiful Tiger cowries that are twice as big as golf balls and that shine out from the rock crevices like great jewels. Then at dusk we were rowed on board again to a beautiful, lilting rowing-song with the refrain “Oh Marie, qui a des jolies tetons” [“Oh Mary, who has such pretty breasts”] and sailed through the night and the next day home to Mahé.

    Tales of Adventure

    We had previously visited Alphonse, south of the Amirantes, and Poivre, a member of that group, and at each one there had been tales of adventure and treasure. On Alphonse, for example, there still lay in the palm-thatched boat-house a tiny coracle of boards in which a Canadian had sailed 1,500 miles with nothing but seagulls and flying fish to eat. He had been sailing alone round the world and had been wrecked on the Chagos group. From the remains of his boat he had built this little six foot tub and had sailed vaguely in the direction of Africa to land, by God’s grace, when he was hardly a day away from death, on Alphonse. If he is alive today he may care to know that his little coracle is still preserved and his courage venerated by the fifty inhabitants of Alphonse.

    At Poivre, Mr. Baillie, one of the leading English planters on Mahé, told me of the lost treasure of the German raider Koenigsberg of the 1914-18 war. The Koenigsberg used the vast landlocked lagoon of Aldabra as her hiding-place. She was sunk there by the Royal Navy, but when her wreck was searched for the gold coin she had been forced to use as currency for supplies, there was no trace of the treasure. Three years ago, the Seychelles Government put the leases of Aldabra and the not-far-distant island of Cosmoledo out to tender and they were surprised to get many offers from Germany. It transpired that the Koenigsberg treasure is a favourite myth with the Germans and there are many secret maps giving its location. None of the German offers was accepted, but two years ago a party of Germans in an Italian schooner landed on Cosmoledo, carried out a quick dig and hurried away. Perhaps they were as lucky as Jules.

    I was later to find that treasure is as much the topic of everyday conversation in the Seychelles as are the football pools in England, and that secret digs are the order of the day. Just before I arrived, a citizen had written feverishly to the Governor asking that, on the next visit of one of H.M. ships, she should be instructed to fire a salvo from her main armament at a particular rock-face the writer would designate. If she would do this, and lay bare the riches beneath, he would go halves with the Government.

    Gruesome Discovery

    On our long voyage home to Mahé through the doldrums, Captain Houareau told me of his own private treasure hunt—a grisly tale. Five years or so ago he had been sailing north of the Amirantes when, off the African Banks, which rise just above the surface of the sea, he was hailed by some excited fishermen. The night before, a big cargo ship, wearing so far as they could see no flag, had hove to off the banks and a boat had come ashore carrying two officers and four Chinamen. The Chinamen had carried a heavy chest ashore and this they had buried under the supervision of the officers. Then the boat had been hoist inboard again and the ship had departed. Hardly had he heard the end of the story than Captain Houareau was ashore with a spade and a machete. Sure enough, the edge of a box soon appeared and when he cut through the wood, his machete rang on metal. It was lead. He cut a hole in it and a dreadful odour emerged. It was a coffin.

    When Houareau despondently told the story to his owner in Mahé the man said, “Houareau. You are a bigger fool than I thought. Of course it is a treasure and they have thrown some meat on top of it to put people off the scent (so to speak). Go back, dig up the treasure and we will go halves.”

    More excited than ever, Houareau ploughed back across the ocean to the African banks and this time he took the whole lid off the coffin. Captain Houareau looked at me delightedly. “And there was gold, gold, gold.” He held up three fingers. “Three gold teeth in the mouth of a poor old Chinaman endormi.”

    Back in Mahé I ascertained that it was still the closed season for my own, the Wilkins treasure hunt, and that Wilkins had himself retired to the neighbouring island of Praslin but would be back in a few days to begin operations. To pass the time I visited Silhouette, three hours’ sail away, and the remarkable man, Monsieur Henri Dauban, who is its “king.” Over a dish of jugged bat (yes, Pteropus Celaeno, the flying fox. Not recommended) Henri Dauban told me a series of vertiginously tall tales.

    He had been a card-carrying Communist, he had mounted and ridden on a forty foot Chagrin shark and helped it to scratch the parasites off its “shagreen,” he had the only real treasure in the Seychelles, a butterfly that lived on the summit of his thousand foot peak and was worth £2,000 per specimen, he had represented England in the Olympic Games. This seemed a verifiable tale. I stopped the flow and asked for details. This is the story Henri Dauban told me.

    In 1924 he had left the Seychelles and gone to England to learn about world commodities and he had worked on essential oils for a famous Mincing Lane firm. He lived in a boarding house in the suburbs adjacent to a sports ground owned by one of the big five banks. One day, looking out of his window, he observed to his great surprise a group of young men “throwing the harpoon” in a distant corner of the ground. They were doing it very badly, getting no distance, and “the harpoon” was flying crooked. Dauban had fished with the harpoon since he was a child and he couldn’t understand why these men were practising so badly and yet so seriously, so he went down and asked what they were trying to do.

    The Javelin Thrower

    “We are practising throwing the javelin for the Olympic Games in Paris,” explained one of the young men. “Then England will not win,” said Dauban. “I also can throw the harpoon. May I try?” They allowed him to and he threw the harpoon straight and true and twice as far as any of them had achieved. He did this as if standing in a pirogue and without taking any run.

    The young men were very excited and told Dauban that he must come with them to Twickenham on the following Saturday for the semi-finals of the eliminating trials. Dauban laughed and said he would if he got a proper invitation. The young men arranged this. Dauban won easily at Twickenham and again, on the following Saturday, at Wembley. On these occasions instead of throwing his harpoon as if he was standing in a boat he copied the standard run. Everyone was delighted and in due course he received the official invitation to represent England at Paris. No he hadn’t won. The Finns and the Norwegians were far too good for him, but he hadn’t disgraced England. He had come in fairly near the top.

    I took this delightful story, as I had taken the others, with a cubic metre of salt. When I got back to England I consulted the Olympic records. It was quite true, Henri Dauban had represented England in the javelin in Paris in 1924. And now what about the Communism and the shark and the butterfly?

    The Communism I cannot check, but the Chagrin shark [Whale Shark?] is in fact a docile creature and not carnivorous. It occasionally capsizes boats by rubbing against them to remove its parasites. As for the butterfly, was this perhaps the unique Cirrocrista Mulleralis Legrand captured by the eminent French entomologist Legrand? His visit to the Seychelles in 1956 on behalf of the Museum de Paris was the most recent of a long list of scientific expeditions, starting with Charles Darwin, who said that the islands should be made a natural history preserve. Each scientist has noted some new species in the rich variety of flora and fauna that are endemic to the Seychelles.

    Having said a reluctant goodbye to Silhouette and its local Baron Munchausen I returned to Mahé and spent a few days meeting local notabilities and eccentrics while waiting for a boat to take me over to Praslin to beard Wilkins, the treasure hunter, in his den. There are not as many true eccentrics in the Seychelles as some writers would have us believe. There are innumerable wafer-thin “Colonels” living on five hundred a year with their ménagères and they are the subject of much gossip, but in fact they are uninteresting people, the flotsam and jetsam of our receding Empire. But there is a crusty and excellent Knight of the British Empire who acts as a public scribe to the local malcontents and unsplits their infinitives when they wish to have a bash at Government—the national sport among the tiny plantocracy and small middle class. There is the ninety-year-old “father” of the Seychelles who claims, and can name, 167 illegitimate children. And then there is, of course, Sharkey.

    Sharkey’s Club

    Sharkey Clark is a most valuable citizen of Port Victoria and is held, except by the Roman Catholic Bishop, in general esteem. He came to the Seychelles, with a 100 per cent. disability pension from the Canadian Navy, as engineer of the Cumulus, Ommaney’s C.D.C. fishery research vessel. Today, with the help of an iron-muscled bouncer named Bob, he runs “Sharkey’s Club,” where the visiting seaman pays a shilling entrance fee and can then carouse till dawn and be certain that Sharkey’s machine will get him back on board his ship in time. Successive Governors have been grateful for this well-oiled safety valve in the town.

    Only once did Sharkey Clark nearly come to grief. There had been a reception at Government House under the last regime, and Sharkey, who had been invited, consumed, under the strain of polite conversation, fourteen glasses of champagne (the exact details of this imbroglio have been lovingly preserved). In due course he and several other guests proceeded to the Seychelles Club, the social Mecca of Port Victoria and an agreeable place.

    Sharkey, needing to “freshen up,” retired into the shower room opposite the long bar. There was no towel and all Sharkey could find to dry himself with was a red, white and blue cloth lying on the floor. Draped in this, Sharkey, a short man with steely blue eyes, a limp and a huge paunch, found he made a fetching picture. Certain that others would agree, he threw open the door and proceeded to do the dance of the seven veils before the applauding company.

    But one man, prominent in the French community, did not applaud but ran tight-lipped to the telephone and rang up the French Consul. The flag of La Belle France was being insulted! The French Consul hurried to the scene—high words, uproar, scandal! Passions, always rather near the surface in local Anglo-French differences, boiled through the days. Sharkey must resign. The committee must resign. All of French blood would certainly resign.

    Sir Michael Nethersole, leader of the British community, who is usually appealed to for a settlement to every contretemps, mildly inquired why, if the French set so much store by their flag, they left it lying around the floor of the washroom. Anyway, where was this flag? Let it be produced. The flag was produced. Consternation, relief, apologies given and accepted! It was not the French flag. It was square and not oblong. It was the signal letter T belonging to the yacht club. Sharkey was saved, so was La Belle France, and the Colony sat back, exhilarated and refreshed.

    But all this is beachcomber history, the backstairs stuff of any tropical colony, and I chronicle it only as an appendix to the local lore handed down by Ommaney, Mockford, Waugh and others. And yet I could convey no picture of these treasure islands without explaining that the bizarre is the norm of a visitor’s life and the vivid highlights of the Seychelles are in extraordinary contrast to the creeping drabness, the lowest common-denominator atmosphere that is rapidly engulfing us in Britain.

    For example: Here the cathedral clock strikes twice, the second time two minutes after the first, for those who didn’t hear it the first time. It is a criminal offence to carry more than one coconut. With two, you will be stopped on suspicion of praedial larceny.

    In the Leper Colony

    Trouble brews in the leper colony on Curieuse Island. One of the staff hates the Superintendent and also hates Leper Annie, an inmate who rejects his advances. He has written a gris-gris (black magic) letter to the head gris-gris man on the neighbouring Praslin, detailing exactly how he wants these two to die. Foolishly he has signed the letter. The gris-gris man will have none of it and takes the letter to the local schoolmaster. Who is to handle the case? The Chief of Police, or the Director of Medical Services who administers the leper colony?

    That’s what I mean, it’s an odd sort of place.

    Now, armed with the background to the tale and the basic facts, it was time to beard the great treasure hunter himself, and I took passage in the schooner Janetta for Praslin where Wilkins was said to be girding his loins for the coming open season on Mahé. It was a false trail. Wilkins had left the day before for Mahé. We had almost passed each other at sea.

    Faced with an exasperating three days on Praslin, there was only one thing to do—visit the famous “Vallais de Mai,” home of the notorious Coco de Mer palm and the unique black parrot and the authentic, or almost, site of the Garden of Eden. After that I would sit down in one of the excellent but primitive beach bungalows of the “hotel” and get the history of the treasure hunt as far as I knew it, down on paper.

    Praslin is a mountainous island about half as big as the Isle of Wight. At the southern end there is a saddle between peaks and this is the Vallais de Mai. It is a slow, very hot two hours’ walk to traverse the-Garden of Eden, or half an hour if you run through it as the natives often do two or three times a day. The walk has often been described in poetic flights of varying emotional temperature and I will commend to you once again Ommaney’s Shoals of Capricorn and myself be brief. It is a strange and beautiful walk into pre-history through a dark silent forest of giant palms. The only sounds are the trees’ softly chattered comment on your passage and the occasional distant whistle of the parrots. I was later to see several of these in the distance. They are sooty grey, very wild and have never been domesticated.

    Nothing lives under the trees except one of the world’s largest snails—Helix Studeriana—but the golden-barred gloom is full of the imagined shapes and shadows of those monsters one knows from museums. The great trunks of the trees rise straight as gun-barrels to the green shell-bursts a hundred feet above your head and above them again the broken patches of blue sky seem to belong to quite a different, a more modern world of familiar people and familiar shapes. Here, down below, you have seen none of it before and you gaze with curiosity at these elephantine vegetables, many of them over 600 years old, and think how odd it must have been then.

    Sense of Sin

    Everyone who has visited the Vallais de Mai has been struck by the strange sense of original sin that hangs in this secret place. It comes partly from the grotesque impudicity of the huge fruit of the female tree—the largest fruit in the world—and from the phallic shape of the inflorescence of the male, but also from the strong aroma of animal sweat the trees exude. The natives will not go there at night-time. When it is dark, they say that the trees march down to the sea and bathe and then march back up the valley and make massive love under the moon. I can well believe it.

    I consulted the Director of Medical Services about the fruit’s alleged stimulant properties. He averred that not only had it none but equally it had no nutritive value. For myself I may say that, well iced and cut into cubes, the firm jellied fruit of the double nut has a milky transparency, is glutinous to the palate like the cubes of turtle fat in turtle soup, and tastes of nothing at all.

    In due course I found my way out on to the well-beaten mud path. Where I came out there was a piece of paper on the ground. It was a page from a child’s exercise book—clearly a message to me from Eve. Repeated ten times down the page in a clear, young hand, were the words “Le chagrin la menait et elle versait des torrents de larmes amères.” [“Led by sorrow, she poured torrents of bitter tears.”] Puzzling over the significance of these melancholy words I walked thoughtfully down the mountain and back into the world.

    NEXT SUNDAY: Gold or No Gold?
  • Posts: 2,248

    Gold or No Gold? (Sunday Times, August 31, 1958)

    By Ian Fleming

    Concluding his account of the search for pirate’s treasure, reputed to be worth $120 million, in the Seychelles, Ian Fleming describes his visit to the hunter and the site where strange clues have been found.

    With a couple of days to waste before I finally met Wilkins the treasure hunter, on the main island of Mahé, I sat down in one of the excellent but primitive beach bungalows of the “hotel” on Praslin Island and put down on paper what I had been able to piece together of the ten-year history of the treasure hunt. My sources are such documents as are available and the evidence of reliable witnesses. I subsequently checked these with Wilkins himself.

    The treasure prospectus of 1955 was issued under the impeccable auspices of Messrs. Hamilton, Harrison and Mathews, Nairobi solicitors, and Messrs. Gill and Johnson, a leading firm of Kenya accountants. The result was an immediate subscription of £24,000 by some 400 shareholders. Since then, single shares have been bought for £4,000 when the market was good—that is when it leaked out that Wilkins had found Pegasus in the tenth hemisphere or whatever—but today I dare say the market is not so firm. But this, as they say on Wall Street “should not be construed as an attempt to induce the public to subscribe for shares” and I personally have no holding.

    The Palace Sentry

    Reginald/Herbert Cruise Wilkins was born forty-five years ago near Bideford, in Devon, of good yeoman stock. He decided to join the Army and went into the Coldstream Guards. His only military claim to fame is having been a sentry outside Buckingham Palace. In the middle of 1940 he was discharged from the Coldstream Guards as unfit and somehow found his way to East Africa where he became a white hunter. Later, in 1949, he went to the Seychelles and dabbled with the idea of starting a shark-fishery and meanwhile settled down in a bungalow adjacent to the present treasure site. The whole area was the property of a Miss Berthe Morel, subsequently to become the wife of a famous Seychellois, Mr. Arthur Savy.

    Mrs. Arthur Savy died two years ago aged eighty-four, having, for the last ten years of her life, kept her coffin slung from the roof of her sitting-room. She is very important in the treasure story. She owned the famous cryptogram and documents which Wilkins is using today and she herself had hunted the treasure on and off for over forty years. Labour is cheap in the Seychelles and to keep a labour force digging and wall-making all that time would not have been too expensive a business. She also owned the land on which the treasure “is.” Wilkins quite naturally met this elderly lady and was several times asked up to her house for tea. On each occasion, he tells me, as he came into the room, Mrs. Savy appeared to shove some papers hastily under the tea-tray . This would have seemed to my suspicious mind as something like a “come-on,” but not to Wilkins, and in due course he “came-on” and asked what Mrs. Savy was hiding.

    Then reluctantly the story of the Levasseur treasure came out and his papers were revealed. Wilkins believes they were originally stolen from Government archives in Mauritius where Levasseur was held prisoner before going to the gallows in France.

    I asked if this story had been checked in Mauritius. The answer was no. Wilkins, fired with the story, cabled for his mother to come with the idea that he would invest a hundred or two in a hunt for the treasure. (In all he and his mother spent £6,700 between 1949 and 1955 when they went to the public for more funds.)

    The Diviner

    Wilkins then sat down and “deciphered” the cryptogram. Having done this to his satisfaction he was convinced that the treasure lay almost under his feet and he went back to Kenya, his head, as mine would have been, stuffed with dreams. As soon as he landed, and as if the Fates had paid for the insertion, he saw in a local paper an advertisement offering to divine copper, gold and diamond mines. Colonel Hennessy, a member of the British Society of Water Diviners, was a Eurasian, born in Bangalore, and had just ceased being Embarkation Intelligence Officer in Bombay. He listened to Wilkins, sent for his lawyer, Mervyn James Eversfield Morgan, barrister-at-law, of Nairobi and the three of them drew up a partnership deed dated July 18, 1949. Very soon they went off to the Seychelles. Sure enough, Colonel Hennessy’s pendulum swung like mad over the treasure site, whirled clockwise here and twirled anti-clockwise there, and the Big Dig was on.

    I have seen a copy of Colonel Hennessy’s official report on his divinations and this is a typical extract: “Plot V.: Cavity plus, Gas plus, Fresh water, Salt water, Diamonds and Sapphires, Emerald, Ruby, Brass, Lead, Gold coins, Silk, Steel plus, Copper plus, semi-precious stones, Whale oil, Pearl, Parchment.” — Forgetting the “gas plus,” a pretty attractive inventory.

    The partnership lasted for something over a year and what a year it was! They had found it. They hadn’t. Now they were on the threshold, and a nurse must be in constant attendance at the site in case Wilkins had heart failure when he saw the gold. The treasure hunters solemnly went to the Government and asked that a cruiser should stand by and be prepared to repel the gold-crazy populace and transport the treasure away to the vaults of the Bank of England.

    Hunters Fall Out

    But the emotional pressure on the partnership was too great, and at the end of this time the treasure hunters fell out and Wilkins brought a case for “Rescission and Nullity of Deed” against Hennessy and a certain J.P.G. Harris, a Kenya lawyer who seems somehow to have replaced Morgan as Hennessy’s attorney. It was a complicated case; injunctions and adjournments provided handsome fees for members of the Seychelles Bar until, in April, 1951, Chief Justice Lyon declared the case to have lapsed and it faded out. Hennessy, Morgan and Harris then left the stage and their connection with the treasure hunt seems to have ended.

    From 1951 to 1955 Wilkins dug furiously in, under and around the giant rock to which he grandly refers as “the glacis.” The only event of note was his success in involving Government in the affair. The Government investment was a small one. In exchange for two full shares they provided some £750-worth of labour and other services by the Public Works Department, but the agreement, dated July 19, 1954, did allow Wilkins and subsequently less respectable people to say quite truthfully that the British Government had come in as a junior partner. However, the small subsidy of 1954 was only a temporary stop-gap. Pumps became necessary and Wilkins had exhausted every penny of his own and much of his mother’s money. There was nothing for it but to give up some shares in the giant treasure in exchange for a modest amount of ready cash. Wilkins went to Kenya, the prospectus was issued and in due course he was back on the site with the necessary equipment.

    Now the hunt was again on in earnest and the impatient shareholders in Kenya, thirsting for news, despatched as their representative a certain Colonel J. Kent whose reports on progress caused the market in the treasure shares to veer wildly over the next two years. This was not Colonel Kent’s fault, but Wilkins became more and more unhappy and fell out with Colonel Kent at the end of 1957.

    Deliberate Traps

    I have read all the reports to shareholders and to me they make fascinating reading as this or that “clue” is discovered, is run excitedly to earth and in the end turns out to have been a false trail, or, as Wilkins insists, a deliberate trap set by Levasseur. Alas, there is no space for them here.

    East of Longitude 10 and South of Latitude 35 (that is approximately East and South of Switzerland), is I reckon the septic zone, as opposed to the antiseptic, in which Britons are fortunate enough to live. Go farther East or farther South of these lifelines and a scratched midge bite may mean an amputation. Anyway, by the time I had explored the Seychelles and talked treasure with everyone that mattered, a small coral cut on the left shin, which I had foolishly not dabbed with Merthiolate, had become a deep festering wound and I was stuffed with medicaments, unsuspected glands were aching, and I had a mild fever. So I was already slightly airborne when I landed on Mahé and motored along the bumpy coast road towards the treasure site across the wide bay from Fairhaven, the admirable guest house in which I had the most luxurious bedroom in the Indian Ocean.

    Most unusually for the Seychelles there was an occasional growl of thunder. Rain began to fall heavily and at four in the afternoon it grew dark. To my right it was low tide and, in the shallows out to the reef, the octopus fishermen were bent over the livid pools. An occasional flash of Satan’s Fire, which is more like a huge magnesium flare than our lightning, lit up the scene from time to time as if some celestial recorder wanted a photograph of my first meeting with Wilkins and, due to the gloom, was having to use flash.

    I bumped and clattered round the bay, past the romantic Crusoe cottages of the Hôtel des Seychelles and the Beauvallon, where most of the keen fishermen seem to stay, and came to an unusually unkempt fishermen’s village in which all the inhabitants seemed to be suffering from pigmentation troubles. I asked the way of a piebald face and was directed onwards a hundred yards. As I pulled up at the side of the road, a skeletal white hound with elemental eyes dashed at the car with a snarl. I knew that the son of the proprietor of the land was in hospital with lockjaw. Rabies raised its dreadful head in my fevered mind. But the hound, after paying an unwelcome attention to my off front wheel, slunk away.

    At the Site

    The treasure site, as a treasure site, has much to recommend it. It is well and solidly landmarked, being exactly at the western horn of the longest stretch of sand on Mahé—the mile long North West, or Beauvallon Bay. More or less directly above this point is the 2,000-foot high Mount Simpson. The site itself, at the point and below the mountain, is a giant 100-foot square elephant’s flank of granite that plunges, almost vertically down to the edge of the road and Into a small tidal bay. Levasseur would have said to himself that this cliff of granite would never be obscured by vegetation and it never has been. Somewhere beneath this 1,000-ton rock, according to Wilkins, lies the great treasure and, for all I know, he is right.

    I got out of my car and walked towards a lean-to engine shed at the foot of the “glacis” (the Wilkins treasure lingo creeps up on one). Around me, for about two acres, the ground between the coconut palms looked as if it had been used for a film of the battle of the Somme. Everywhere there were craters full of greenish water, half shored-up walls, rough bits of masonry, little fortifications erected to try to keep back the sea, and the stumps of broken hoists. It was rather pathetic, as if some huge child had been playing with his spade and bucket. The engine shed, containing a well-kept Lister Diesel and a Holman Compressor, stood on the brink of a large and deep-looking crater full of water that extended round the base of the “glacis.”


    A dozen coloured workers were tinkering, digging, wrestling with chunks of rock. On the edge of the crater sat a middle-aged man, dressed in a clean white shirt, blue trousers and sandals, gazing moodily at an oil slick on the surface of the pea-soup water. I introduced myself and, after dissipating sundry suspicions, we were off into Treasure Land.

    Wilkins is a pleasant man. He engenders sympathy. He has steady, truthful but rather blank blue eyes in a totally unlined round face. His thin fair hair, neatly brushed back, and his modest, well-tended moustache are up to guardsman standards. He has a pleasant voice, and if he never smiled in my company, and certainly never laughed, it is perhaps because nothing he or I said amused him.

    Stuff of Dreams

    For the next hour it was all Andromedas and the Collarbones of Solomon (a hoary treasure puzzle I have not bothered to explore), The Golden Fleece, Pegasus and, of course, these infernal hemispheres (for which I had the good manners not to suggest there was a very much shorter word). Finally I interrupted. I pointed down into the scummy water. “Well, at least you’ve found oil,” I said encouragingly.

    Wilkins’s calm eyes looked down at the rainbow slick. “It’s ambergris ," he said reverently.

    Thinking “oh Lord, this is where I came in,” I said sympathetically, “What makes you think that?”

    “They buried whale oil with the treasure. Must have been a lump of ambergris mixed up with it.”

    “Why did they bury whale oil with the treasure?”

    ”To make poison gas. We’ve had to be jolly careful. They were full of tricks those chaps — always trying to lead us up the garden path into some booby trap. Here, Joe, bring the crowbar.”

    A large Negro brought the crowbar and prodded into the murky depths. More oil came to the surface. I said, “Have you had the stuff tested or tried tasting it?”


    It was always so when I asked Wilkins if he had made the obvious tests. They had never been made. They might have destroyed the dream. I knelt down and dipped my finger in the stuff and tasted it. It was oil, petrol probably. I said so. I also pointed out that the gusher was about six feet away from the engines. Could someone have thrown a half empty can of oil or petrol into the pool at the end of the last dig?

    “No, old man,” said Wilkins pleasantly. “Now just come and have a look at the Andromeda in the fourth hemisphere.”

    We scrambled up and over the road to the sand. The tide was coming in and we had to jump for it once or twice. We walked and skipped from granite lump to granite lump. “Now you see over there, old man,” there was a vague pockmark in the rock, “that circle with the dot in the middle, that represents the sun. And there,” there was an irregular scab on the granite, “Taurus, the bull. See the horns? Now just look down.” I was standing on a ton of rock, more or less, I admit, cruciform. “That’s just one of the Andromedas. The best one, with her left leg bent, is in Kenya. Now just come over here…”

    Newspapers and Government departments occasionally get letters of many pages in which this sort of stuff is mixed up with the future of Palestine, or a demand for a higher pension. In my rather feverish state, under the dark livery sky, Wilkins’ richly studded, evenly spoken chronicle of his discoveries began to work upon me like one of these letters and I became desperate to escape. Fortunately rain stopped play. It came down in heavy straight rods out of the doom-fraught sky. With a babble of thanks and a promise to come again I made a dash for my car, whirled it round and was off back through the looking glass.

    Looking back at our first of many meetings, I am sure I am doing Wilkins an injustice, or at the very least abusing his hospitable reception of me, in writing this highly charged stuff. My fever did not abate and the next day I was in hospital having a mega-shot of penicillin and giant snacks of aureomycin, and I have a scar on my shin as big as a doubloon to show for it. So it was not until a week later that, more soberly, I had my further talks with Wilkins and I will try to keep the purple out of my prose in recounting the gist of them.

    The Clues

    Wilkins is certainly no slouch. When I saw him again he had already pumped out the site (“2,000 gallons a minute, old man”) and a solid looking four foot high wall was marching out into the shallows. “I’m going to curve it round like this,” explained Wilkins drawing with his finger in the sand. “That’ll keep the sea back while I dig under the road.”

    “Why under the road?”

    “Just have a look over here. We’re in the tenth (I think it was) hemisphere and I’ve found the star and the circle. And dead on the bearing at that.”

    I followed him reluctantly and waited with some impatience while a workman dug round the base of a large granite boulder and fetched sea water to clean the exhibit

    There indeed were two clearly outlined circles or wheels in the rock and these could not possibly, I think, have been cut into granite by anything but human agency. Now suddenly I began to doubt my own scepticism. Certainly a great number of Wilkins’s “clues” were wishful, but now it seemed to me that at any rate some of the rock markings I had been shown, and perhaps many more I had not bothered to look at, could have been made by man.

    “How are you going to get under the road?”

    “Have to get Public Works to agree and then build them a bridge, sixty foot, steel and concrete.”

    “That’s going to cost a lot of money.”

    Wilkins shrugged. “I’ve cabled for Jabby Trent (the latest liaison man with the shareholders) and he’s coming by the next boat. Perhaps we can make do with a trestle bridge.”

    Wilkins’s Labour

    When he is working on the site, Wilkins lives in a neat little two-roomed bungalow some fifty yards from the engine shed. We sat down and Wilkins spread out the documents from a bulging briefcase. These all looked very much like what such documents might look like. The basic cryptogram written in ink is on a piece of cloth (not vellum, as Wilkins thinks) without any margins.

    I asked Wilkins if he had submitted the cryptogram to any expert cryptographer. No — because after four months’ hard work he had been able to decipher the puzzle himself. He showed me his translation. It was full of compass bearings and Greek mythology. The last line read: “Make diagonal at 82 degrees — here is the gold.”

    The translation had been in French. Wilkins had known no French . He had had to teach himself the language. I picked up the photostat of a kind of chessboard with the German words “Gut,” “Böse” and “Mittel” (good, evil, middling) neatly scattered among the squares opposite the signs of the Zodiac written down the right-hand margin. Wilkins said indulgently, “They suddenly broke into Prussian.” Had he unravelled this one? “No. That one got me stumped.” There were various cryptic letters in spidery French and some aged correspondence with the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris.

    There was no particular coherence about the papers and no history of their origin or details of previous work on the treasure. I asked Wilkins if he had been able to find out anything about Levasseur himself. Had he been a man of education? Was there any reason to suppose he had been acquainted with Greek mythology? According to Wilkins, he had taken four years to bury the treasure. Why had he taken so long and made such an incredible rigmarole out of it when a few true bearings mixed up with some false ones would have served as well?

    Wilkins had no satisfactory answers to these questions and there is no reason he should have. He was quite certain the treasure was there. He had believed it for nearly ten years and he still believed it. He intends to go on looking for it until the money (£9,000 remains) runs out or until his lease of the property expires in 1961. His untroubled blue eyes gazed calmly into mine. We called it a day.

    His Armour

    I called on Wilkins twice more to try to sort out the jumble of facts and phantasy that jostled each other round and round in my head. I heard the story of the numerous betrayals and attempts at sabotage he had suffered, his persecution by gris-gris (he had suffered mysterious poisoning; showers of stones had descended on his bungalow), the accusations of jobbery in his shares and, at no time throughout this catalogue of slings and arrows, did his even, good-humoured tone of voice become disturbed. It was as if his faith in the treasure had armoured him against all misfortune, or as if he disregarded every adversary except the great pirate who had set his puzzle and laid his traps 200 years before expressly for a man called Reginald Herbert Cruise Wilkins, ex-sentry at Buckingham Palace.

    On each occasion I managed to see more clues. There was the copy of the original treasure “map” which, alas, I was not permitted to transcribe. This was a simple affair—a few curved lines, a few straight ones, and some groups of numerals. It looked very haphazard to me but Wilkins explained it with a few airy phrases involving the compass and the heavens. I dare say that if anything among the papers is in fact a guide to a treasure, this map might be the most significant. It looked to me more like the sort of thing a pirate of 1720 might have drawn—no frills and certainly no Andromeda. I was also shown some interesting fragments of glazed earthenware jars or phials. One of them bore on its base the following inscription in what seemed to me appropriately antique black lettering:

    Pommade de Sain Bois
    de Ls DUBOUAIS
    Me LECHAUX Phen
    Succr BORDEAUX

    Bearing in mind that the Seychelles were French until 1814, these fragments could have been left by a previous inhabitant or even by a previous treasure hunter, but Wilkins found them ten feet under the earth and he is sure they were left by Levasseur or his men. I suggested that submission of the fragments to the Museum de Paris would resolve the problem, but here again — and I repeat, it was always so when a common-sense piece of research seemed desirable — Wilkins was satisfied with his own conclusions and with certain inquiries that had been made for him in London.

    And so in due course our conversations came to an end and I thanked Wilkins and wished him luck and drove away down the dusty treasure road under the palm trees and left the dreamer dreaming in his dreamland. The next day I said goodbye to this beautiful, romantic, rather haunted paradise and started the long trudge back across the Indian Ocean and to Bombay and thence, in a flick of time, over the roof of the world to London.

    Out of paradise and back in reality, what is one to make of The Great Wilkins Treasure? First of all, I am of the opinion that Wilkins is an honest, though possibly a deluded, man. The best evidence of his honesty is. that, in accordance with the terms of the prospectus, at any time during the past four years, Wilkins could have downed tools and pocketed the remaining cash. He could do so today and be the richer by £9,000. No, Wilkins honestly believes in the treasure and he is spending his shareholders’ money in honest and unremitting efforts to find it.

    A Fever

    And what to make of these “clues” he has found? Some, as I have suggested, may be genuine, but a vast number such as the skeleton of a horse (Pegasus), “island marbles” made of clay, fragments of bottles, a sea boot, a doll’s head (the best of the “Andromedas”) and suchlike are surely the remains of former human habitation on and around the site. As for the “door” which Wilkins found, fragments of wall and cement and other signs of human activity in and around the site, I feel sure that these are the remains of the forty-year search by the landowner, Madame Savy.

    But when one has cleared away all the mumbo-jumbo, one is left, I think, with the following conclusion: If Levasseur buried a treasure, and if some of his shipmates didn’t come and dig it up after he had been hanged, this would have been an excellent site on which to bury it.

    And, of course, there is that circle and that star on the rock and, even as you read this, the pumps will be chugging and the twelve men will be digging and blasting while Wilkins sits in the shade with his back against a rock. And, who knows, perhaps at this very moment, a great shout has gone up and Wilkins has struggled to his feet and is running forward — “Gold, Master! Gold! Gold!”

    One hundred and twenty million pounds isn’t a figure — it’s a fever!

    Note: The hunt for Levasseur’s treasure continues to this day. Reginald Herbert Cruise-Wilkins kept searching until his death in 1977. Afterward his son John picked up the baton and has carried it since, though treasure fever has consumed others too. Perhaps Wilkins's great-great grandchildren will be hunting long after the deaths of everyone reading this post.

    Alas, though the treasure hunt continues, this thread must end. I have now exhausted my stash of Fleming’s articles, so unless some kind multi-millionaire buys me a copy of Talk of the Devil, I have nothing more to post, aside from Fleming's Atticus columns (which will require careful presentation). So my next project will be posting Fleming’s interviews, especially the lesser-known ones. Unfortunately there aren’t many of them, because despite his willingness to promote James Bond, Fleming liked his privacy. But if you have any potential leads or recommendations, please let me know.

    My thanks to everyone who has commented on (or simply just read and enjoyed) this thread and its predecessor.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 2,552
    Thank you so much for posting these! Fascinating stuff.
  • edited February 2020 Posts: 2,248
    You're always welcome @Agent_99 ! I'm very glad these articles have proved interesting. I wish I had more, but Fleming was busy with so many other projects. The only unpublished material left is State of Excitement, but that won't show up anywhere soon! In the meantime I've been collecting Fleming interviews for the upcoming thread.
  • Posts: 2,248
    Research into Fleming's interviews is coming along, but I need some assistance. Is there anyone in London with access to the British Library who wouldn't mind spending an hour or two going through microfilm to find two interviews Fleming gave to the London Evening Standard? Fleming spoke to the paper on Nov. 30 1957 and April 4 1960. I will pay for your time and labor in return for pdfs of the interviews, which I will transcribe and post on this board.
    Ordinarily I would perform such research myself, but I am 5,351 miles away from London. Please message me if you can help.

  • Posts: 2,248
    Ian Fleming on his Jamaican villa
    By Ian Fleming (House & Garden, April 1959)

    Poets and solitaries and crooks love islands. They are for the adventurer rather than the homebody. They are for people who want to put a moat between themselves and the rest of the world. They are for the escapee rather than the rut-dweller. They are not for the solid core of citizens. They are for the froth.

    There are too many 'theys' in all that, and other signs of hasty and indolent thinking, but it is eighty in the shade and out of my left eye I can see waves crashing quietly on the reef, and out of my right a pair of doctor humming birds going the rounds of a small jungle of hibiscus. This is too much distraction for proper writing and I shall be too lazy to rewrite what I have written, so it must just go as the sort of planchette-writing this place is apt to engender in one.

    My eyes glimpse different things even while they are more or less focusing on my typewriter, despite the fact that I write in a corner of the room with the sole object of avoiding these distractions. But just within my wide-angled vision on both sides are the slats of jalousies and beyond are the brilliant primary colours and the summery sounds and movements that insist on being seen, or at least half seen, all through the day. These things–the blue sea and the hibiscus–mean as little to a Jamaican as green fields and Old Man's Beard mean to an English countryman. They are the permanent background to his 'winter' and even when the trees begin to flame with orchids in April he wouldn't think of bothering himself to reach up and cut one down with his cutlass for a girl friend, any more than the Englishman would give his girl a dandelion.

    But to me, and of course to you, the tropical scene is an endless delight and to escape here, as I do, for two months (and the worst ones) of every English year is a fabulous refreshment for all the senses.

    I was lucky. I came to Jamaica for three days during the war. It was July, and brown rain fell in thick rods between periods when everything sweated and steamed. I adored it all. I came back in 1946, found thirty acres of field above a pirates' cove, built a house of large airy rooms and began to plant flowers and trees. Today the garden is a jungle round an acre of lawn and I and all the birds of Jamaica applaud my brilliant gardening. Nothing has changed. My housekeeper, the irreplaceable Violet, can cook about three more dishes than she could twelve years ago. There are not so many fish and lobsters inside the reef because, foolishly, I gave one of the local fishermen a spare mask and spear, and American prices and the hideosity of American shorts have made it almost impossible to visit the hotels.

    But here the waves still crash quietly on the reef and the humming birds go their rounds of their hibiscus. I have only one worry at the moment. It is the time of the full moon and the smell of the night-scented jasmine is quite overpowering. Oh yes, I knew there was something else. The grapefruit and oranges and limes are simply weighing down the trees. I must remember to send a cartload to the school to get rid of them. Ah me!
  • ThunderfingerThunderfinger Joe Don Baker Street
    Posts: 40,805
    Great find, @Revelator
  • Yes indeed. I only wish I'd seen this thread sooner. I have a lot of reading to catch up on!
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