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Guillaume Chenu de Chalezac, the ‘French Boy’ – Randolph Vigne
Guillaume Chenu de Chalezac, the ‘French Boy’ — Randolph Vigne [Editor]
Van Riebeeck Society, second series No 22, 1993, Hardback with removable protective plastic wrap – Africana – 174pp.
The Narrative of His Experiences as a Huguenot Refugee, as a Castaway Among the Xhosa, His Rescue with the Stavenisse Survivors by the Centaurus, His Service at the Cape and Return to Europe, 1686-9
This volume contains the fascinating narrative by a 15-year-old Huguenot refugee who was a castaway among the Xhosa and his rescue with the survivors of the Stavenisse and the Good Hope who built a new boat, Centaurus, from the wreckage with which they sailed to the Cape.
Guillaume Chenu de Chalezac was a 15-year-old French boy who left France in 1686 at the insistence of his parents to escape the persecution of the Huguenots. The plan was to reach family in Holland or Germany. They secured a berth for their son on a ship sailing to Madeira from where they hoped he would find a returning vessel to take him to safety in Holland. When he reached Madeira, the authorities threatened to send him back to France. This forced him to approach the captain of an English ship, the Bauden which was due to sail to the East Indies.
During this voyage the captain and the pilot were killed in an encounter with pirates and the Bauden had to continue its voyage with nobody that “understood navigation” at the helm. When they saw their first land, after four months at sea, a small boat with eight men, including Chenu, was sent ashore in an attempt to obtain more reliable information about their position. Bad weather and a rocky coast line contributed to them reaching the shore in a wretched condition ten days after leaving the ship. According to a map included in this volume the yawl went ashore close to the mouth of the Great Kei River on the Eastern Coast.
The castaways obtained some food from the friendly Xhosa people, but a scuffle developed when there was a misunderstanding that resulted in the death of Chenu’s comrades and he being seriously wounded. He was found lying on the beach and was carried by two black men to their huts where his wounds were dressed and gave him food and something to drink. Chenu went on to live in the household of a Xhosa chief for almost a year. The central theme of Chenu’s narrative is the way of life of the Xhosa-speaking people who took him in. He eventually arrived back in the Cape with the Stavenisse survivors on the self-built vessel Centaurus in 1687.
Chenu went on to be in the service of the VOC at the Cape where Simon van der Stel identified him as a young refugee nobleman sought by the Princess of Orange. His return to a commission in the Prussian army completes his story.