Leguat, François (DNB00)

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LEGUAT, FRANÇOIS (1638–1735), voyager and author, born of protestant parents at Bresse, in the modern department of Ain, near the frontier of Savoy, in 1638 claimed descent from the seigneur of La Fougère, Pierre Le Guat, secretary of the Duke of Savoy from 1511 to 1534. To avoid persecution after the revocation of the edict of Nantes, he took refuge in Holland in 1689. On 10 July 1691 he left Texel with a small party of adventurers under the auspices of the Marquis Henri du Quesne, and on 1 May 1691 landed in Rodriguez, the smallest of the Mascarene islands, in order to found a colony of French protestants. After a residence of two years Leguat and the other settlers, who grew discontented with their retired life, constructed a boat, and succeeded in reaching Mauritius, 330 miles distant to leeward, after a hazardous voyage of eight days. The Dutch governor, Diodati, maltreated Leguat and his comrades. They were confined on the rocky islet now called Fouquets, between Mananna island and de la Passe at the entrance of the south-east haven, where the Dutch had established their fort, Hendrik Fredrik. In attempting to escape one of their number perished, and at last the survivors, who had managed to send news of their plight to Europe, were transferred, still in confinement, to Batavia in December 1696. It was not until March 1698, after the proclamation of the peace of Ryswick, that Leguat and two others, the sole survivors of the original party, were set free.

Leguat made his way to Flushing, and thence came over to England, where he became acquainted with Baron Haller, Dr. Sloane, and other scientific men. He published an account of his travels in 1708, both in French, Dutch, and English. The English title runs 'A New Voyage to the East Indies, by Francis Leguat and his companions, containing their Adventures in two Desart Islands, and an Account of the most remarkable things in Maurice Island, Batavia, at the Cape of Good Hope, the Island of St. Helena, and other places in their way to and from the Desart Isles.' The French and English editions were published simultaneously by David Mortier, both at Amsterdam and at London. The Dutch edition, by Willem Broedelet, appeared at Utrecht also in 1708. A German translation was printed at Frankfort and Leipzig in 1709; another under the title of 'Der Französische Robinson' in 1806; another French edition is dated 1720, and a third 1792. The English version was reissued by the Hakluyt Society in 1891. The fact that Leguat was a Huguenot refugee probably sufficed to prejudice contemporary opinion as to the merits of the book in catholic France, where the story of his adventures was generally regarded as an extravagant fable; but in England, Holland, and Germany the work met with a favourable reception. The description of a remarkable didine bird, the solitaire, and the detailed accounts of a certain stone which it swallowed, and of its curious habits, were received with some incredulity, even by Buffon; but since 1864 the excavations in the caves of Rodriguez, carried out under the direction of Sir Edward Newton, have brought to light singular confirmation of Leguat's recorded observations, and although the bird itself has been extinct over a century, Professor Alfred Newton of Cambridge and Sir Edward his brother have constructed an admirable, though not entirely perfect, restoration of the skeleton of the bird. Leguat settled in England as a British subject, and from a notice in the 'Bibliothèque Britannique' (v. 524), 1735, it appears that he died at the beginning of September in that year, in London, at the age of ninety-six years, having preserved to the end a 'grande liberté de corps et d'esprit.' He seems to have been unmarried.

[Continuation of Bayle's Nouvelles de la République des Lettres, December, 1707; Biographie Universelle, art. ‘Leguat;’ Un Projet de République à l'Ile d'Eden (l'Ile Bourbon) en 1689, par le Marquis Henri du Quesne. Réimpression d'un ouvrage disparu, par Th. Sauzier, Paris, 1887; Voyage of François Leguat, Hakluyt edition, 1891.]

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