Count Moric Benovsky

Slovak Adventurer and King of Madagascar

Matú¹ Móric Beòovský

Maurice Benyowsky (20 Sep 1746 - 23 May 1786) left a legacy of a brave explorer, a knight carrying the flag of liberty over three continents, a citizen of the world. Baron Benyowsky was a nobleman of Hungary of Slovak origin from Vrbove (near Trnava). He began his career as an officer in the Seven Years' War. Because of his rebellious attitude in matters of religion and towards authorities he had to leave the country. In 1768 Benyowsky joined the Polish Confederation (Konfederacja Barska) to fight side by side with Pulaski brothers for independence of Poland from the Russian rule. After being captured by Russians in 1770 he was sent into exile to the east Siberia (Kamchatka). However he managed to escape from the captivity. He rallied his fellow prisoners and managed to capture the fort of the governor and the heart of his daughter. He then commandeered a Russian battleship and set out for a discovery trip through the Northern Pacific (well before James Cook and J. F. La Perouse) along the Aleutians, Alaska, Japan, Formosa (Taiwan), arriving in Macao in 1771. He also visited the huge island of Madagascar off the African coast, then still independent and ruled by countless native chieftains.

In 1772 Benyowsky eventually arrived in France, where he learned about his promotion to General of the Polish Confederation, as well as about his growing international fame. He suggested to the King Louis XV that he should establish a French colony on Formosa or Madagascar. The king appointed him as Governor of Madagascar, gave him the title of count and a few promises, and sent him off to Madagascar. In 1774 Benyowsky arrived in Madagascar with a corps of volunteers. He established a colony at Maroantsetra (Antongil Bay) called Louisborg, with a hospital/quarantine on Nosy Mangabe. Besides building the French presence and geographically exploring the island he was unifying tribes. In 1776 local kings elected him as their Ampansacabe (Emperor). Among other things he introduced Latin script for the Madagascar language.

In 1776 Benyowsky was promoted to French General and awarded the Order of Saint Louis. However, Paris ignored his requirements, therefore he returned to the Central Europe. He obtained a pardon from the Austrian empress and queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa and was promoted to the rank of Count. Count Benyowsky elaborated a project of Austria's access road to the Mediterranean and was empowered to take control of Madagascar in the name of Austria.

In Paris he became a close friend of Benjamin Franklin and Kazimir (Casimir) Pulaski (1748-1779). In 1779 Benyowsky followed Pulaski to America and offered his services in the American Revolution. He joined General Pulaski for the tragic Savannah battle, where Pulaski died in his friend's hands.

In 1781 Benyowky returned to America with a project of recruiting in Europe an American Legion to help the Revolution. The project was favorably evaluated. Benyowsky met George and Mary Washington in Newborough. A reconciliatory change in British attitude prevented the project's accomplishment. Benyowsky's brother, Francis, was the adjutant of Major Polerecky, Head of the Blue Hussars of the French cavalry supervising the British surrender at Yorktown.

In 1783 Benyowsky presented his Memoirs and Travels (in French) to J. H. Magellan (a descendant of Ferdinand M.) for publication in the United Kingdom. With Benjamin Franklin's assistance he founded an American-British company for business with Madagascar. In 1784 Benyowsky left Baltimore on board the Intrepid provided by Baltimore businessmen Messonier and Zollikofer. Back in Madagascar Benyowsky challenged in the name of his empire the European powers. Benyowsky perished as Malagasy monarch in 1786 in fights with the French.

Thanks to the help of Benjamin Franklin, Benyowsky's descendants kept the spirit of cosmopolitanism and can be found all across Europe, as well as in the United States. His wife, Zuzana Honschova, spent the years from 1784 until her death in 1815 in the United States. A full page handwritten letter of Ben Fraklin, former ambassador to France, dated Philadelphia, May 11, 1786, addressed to madame the countess Benyowsky in Baltimore, concerning the inquiries he made as to the whereabouts of the count Benyowsky, has been preserved until the present day.

Besides being the author of a bestseller of the break of 18th and 19th century, Benyowsky became a rich source of inspiration for writers, poets and composers. The play Count Benyowsky (or The Conspiracy of Kamtschatka), a tragi-comedy in five acts by the German playwright August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue (1761-1819) had its premier in the United States together with the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner on October 19, 1814 in Baltimore.

Benyovszky is also the name of the second of 8 operas by the Austrian composer Albert Franz Doppler (1821-1883), later arranged for piano by the Hungarian composer Mihaly Mosonyi (1815-1870, born as Michael Brand). And Beniowski is also the name of an epic poem by the Polish poet Juliusz S³owacki (1809-1849).

Of course, also in Slovakia many books and articles were written about Count Benovsky, especially The Madagascar Diary by Miroslav Musil from 1997. Another book named Moric Benovsky by Michal Kocák was published in the same year.

And the TV series Vivat Benovsky from 70s is well-known to the public, though it does not reflect historic facts very precisely. More informative is the documentary film The King of Kings was from Slovakia.

In 1996 a silver coin in the value of 200 Slovak crowns commemorating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Moric Benovsky was issued by the National Bank of Slovakia with this summary: "Count Moric Benovsky, a typical representative of the period of the Enlightenment, the development of transport and trade, exploration of unknown regions, French colonel, Ruler of Madagascar, and the first Slovak author of a best-seller, was involved in the history of various countries. After being captured while fighting for the independence of Poland, he was deported to Kamchatka, where he organized his escape. His voyage to Macao was the first known voyage from the north-east to the south-east shores of Asia. The King of France entrusted him with an expedition to Madagascar, where he unified part of the island, and the local tribes granted him the title of "King of Kings". Upon his return, he attempted to build a fleet of ships for overseas trade. After this failed, he became a general in the American army, and organized another expedition to Madagascar, where he fell in battle with the French in 1796. His travel memoirs were published in London in 1790, and have so far appeared in at least 20 editions in more than ten languages."

Moric Benovsky / Maurice BenyowskyDigitized photo of an engraving of
Count Benyowsky, scanned from the title page of the first, London edition of the English translation of Benyowsky's memoirs, provided by the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The name of Moric Benovsky exists in various forms. Nowadays the family names of foreigners are usually not translated or transliterated in European languages using Latin alphabet, mostly only the original diacritic is omitted. However Benovsky, as a polyglot cosmopolitan wanted his name to be pronounced as close to the original Slovak pronunciation as possible. That is why the spelling of the name was modified for the language of each country he lived in. The given names were simply translated. I found no information where the name Augustus comes from, but my theory is that it should symbolize his emperor status just as it was used by the Roman rulers. We have also found the name sequence Moric August Aladar Benovsky.

Slovak: Matus Moric Benovsky, with diacritic (gróf) Matú¹ Móric Beòovský, mostly without Matus, alterantive (older) spelling Benowsky, with diacritic Beòowský, (w was used earlier instead of v)

English: Count Maurice Benyowsky, with translated given names Matthew Maurice (Morris) Benyowsky or Benovsky (ny is the usual English transliteration of the ò sound as in canyon), often Maurice August is used instead of Matthiew Maurice, sometimes the last name is in the Polish form

Polish: Maurycy August Beniowski (Polish adjectives in singular have always the suffix -ski instead of the Slovak -sky)

Hungarian: Benyovszky Móric (the last name in Hungarian is the first one)

French: baron (later comte) Maurice Auguste de Benyowsky, de Benyowski (French transcription should actually be Begnovsky)

German: Graf Moritz Benjowsky, Benyowsky or Benjowski

Latin: Mauritius Augustus de Benyowsky, Benyovsky, Benovsky (Latin actually does not have w, as in modern Slovak the sound is represented by v, the correct form would be Benovensis, Benoviensis or Benovenius)

Madagascar is the second largest island in the world located in the Indian Ocean, about 240 mi. (385 km) off the SE coast of Africa, formerly a French colony, gained independence in 1960. Population 8,000,000; 227,800 sq. mi. (590,000 sq. km), capital Antananarivo. Formerly called Malagasy Republic.

Today the street "Rue Benyowski" in the country capital and other local names commemorate Count Benyowsky.

One of the nearby islands (Mauritius) was named after this adventurer and to this day he is remembered there. Other sources, however, say that Mauritius was named after Maurice de Nassau.

Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky
Consisting of his military operations in Poland, his exile into Kamchatka, his escape and voyage from that peninsula through the northern Pacific Ocean, touching at Japan and Formosa (Taiwan), to Canton in China, with an account of the French settlement he was appointed to form upon the island of Madagascar. Written by himself. Translated from the original manuscript. London: Printed for G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1790.

First edition. Two quarto volumes. Complete with twenty-three plates and maps (all but six folding), including frontispiece in Volume I. Handsomely rebound in period-style mottled calf, covers ruled in gilt and blind, spines ruled in gilt and tooled in blind in compartments, with raised bands and black morocco lettering labels. Title-page in Volume I somewhat browned. Intermittent light spotting to text and a few plates. Plate 18 at end of Volume II trimmed close.

Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky (London, Kegan, Paul, Trench, & Trubner, 1904). With an introduction, notes, and bibliography by Captain S. Pasfield Oliver. 2nd edn, 12 mo, 636 pp, 2 illus.

The Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky in Siberia, Kamchatka, Japan, the Liukiu Islands and Formosa  (from the translation of his original manuscript (1741-1771) by William Nicholson, F.R.S., 1790.    Edited by Captain Pasfield Oliver (London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1898).  2nd edn, 8vo, 399 pp,  decorative cover.

Maurice Auguste Beniowski (Benyowsky)
Mémoires et voyages
Préface et notes d'Edward Kadjanski, préf. de William Nicholson a l'édition princeps anglaise
Montricher: Les Ed. Noir sur Blanc, 1999. ISBN 2-88250-082-3.
Vol. 1 - Journal de voyage a travers la Sibérie (371 p.) Vol. 2 - Journal du voyage par mer depuis la presqu'île du Kamtchatka jusqu'a Canton en Chine (283 p.) Vol. 3- Mémoire concernant l'expédition a Madagascar en 1772 (286 p.)

Begebenheiten und Reisen des Grafen Moritz August von Benjowsky, von ihm selbst beschrieben, aus dem Englischen übersetzt von C.D. Ebeling und J.P. Ebeling, mit den ersten Anmerkungen und Zusätzen wie auch einem Auszuge aus Hippolitus Stefanows russisch geschriebenem Tagebuche über seine Reise von Kamtschatka nach Makao
published Hamburg : Benjamin Gottlob Hoffmann, 1791

Polish edition (wydanie polskie) 1797, 1802, 1806 and later.

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