Half-arsed buccaneer

Memoirs of a buccaneer manuscript

The buccaneer’s memoirs even included a photograph of the battered manuscript opposite the title page

One of the most famous of the Caribbean buccaneers, Louis le Golif, was better known by his nickname Borgnefesse (half-arse) which he acquired after a ricocheting canon-ball removed most of his left buttock.
Born around 1640 in St Martin de Ré, southwest France, Le Golif travelled to the Caribbean as an indentured servant when aged 20. Overworked and beaten by his cruel master, he stole a skiff and escaped to Hispaniola, where he fell in with buccaneer Roc Braziliano. It wasn’t long before his bravery and resourcefulness won him a command, and he went on to fight valiantly alongside another famous buccaneer, Laurens de Graff, notably at the attack on Veracruz in 1683. He returned to France and lived to the age of 80.
If le Golif had not written an autobiography, we would know nothing of his life. Neither his contemporaries, nor the chroniclers of the buccaneer era mention either his real name or his nickname. French public records shed no light on his life: according to the introduction to his memoirs, records of his birth were destroyed in a fire that consumed the archives, and his death certificate has proved impossible to find.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by these lacunae, for le Golif never existed. His memoirs are fiction, penned by one of the supposed editors, Belgian-French travel writer Albert t’Serstevens.
According to t’Serstevens, the book was transcribed from a battered and incomplete manuscript found by his artist friend in the shell-shattered cellar of a St Malo house in August 1945. Published in English translation nine years later as The Memoirs of a Buccaneer, the book is racy and salacious. Borgnefesse describes his amorous conquests in far more detail than the battles he fought outside of the bedroom. But elementary errors should alert the reader that this is a work of fiction: the “author” returns to France after the Veracruz attack, yet gives the date of his return as 28 years before the raid.
Despite these mistakes, t’Serstevens managed to pass his hoax off as authentic. Several quite eminent historians of piracy quote from the book, and even the erudite British journalist James Fenton was fooled, as his 2006 article in the Guardian reveals.


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