Published in 1790, Maurice Benyovszky’s posthumous memoir was an instant sensation. A tale of exploration and adventure beginning with his daring escape from a Siberian prison and ending with his coronation as King of Madagascar, it was translated into several languages and adapted for the theatre and opera. This book explores the veracity of this memoir and, more broadly, the challenges faced by the explorers of the age and the brutality of colonisation.

The self-styled Hungarian Baron Maurice Auguste Aladar Benyovszky, Counsellor to the Duke of Saxony and Colonel in the service of the Queen of Hungary, was in fact only confirmed to have been an officer in a regiment of the Polish Confederation of Bar. While he did escape from Russian captors and subsequently travel to Japan, Formosa, China and Madagascar, many of his exploits were wildly exaggerated or simply invented. Andrew Drummond reveals an alternative picture of events by looking at statements from Benyovszky’s travelling companions and sceptical officials as well as contemporary documents from the places he claimed to have visited, untangling the truth behind his stories and examining what these stories can nonetheless tell us about the era in which Benyovszky lived.

Witty and engagingly written, this book is fascinating reading for anyone interested in eighteenth-century colonial history and the story of early European and Russian explorers.

chapter I|3 pages


“A Vessel of Uncommon Appearance”

chapter II|3 pages


“Short and Incomplete, it is Written with a Bias”

chapter III|9 pages

Poland and Siberia

“Iron and Garlick”

chapter IV|6 pages


“Caviar and Cedar Nuts”

chapter V|9 pages

Stepanov's Account

“A Man Who Played an Active, but Unworthy Role”

chapter VI|18 pages

Ryumin's Account

What Happened, and Other Things, and so on

chapter VII|7 pages


“Captain St Hylaire… Weighs, Calculates, Forsees the Danger”

chapter VIII|6 pages


“Who They Were and What Happened to Them and Where They Are Now”

chapter IX|6 pages


“Five Persons in Womens Apparel”

chapter X|6 pages

Return from Paris

“Wild, Empty Land in Hungary”

chapter XI|7 pages


It Made His Story a Little Suspicious

chapter XII|7 pages


“The Rampaging Rapaciousness of Robbers”

chapter XIII|11 pages

Benyovszky's Accounts

“Written by Himself”

chapter XIV|13 pages

Exiled to Siberia

“A Pack of Lies”

chapter XV|16 pages

Kamchatkan Romances

“Entrails of Dogs and Rein-deer”

chapter XVI|8 pages

The Great Escape

“Twenty-two Bears Were This Day Salted”

chapter XVII|8 pages

The Fur-Trade

“All Join in Hating the Russians”

chapter XVIII|6 pages

A Gentleman-Pirate

Turnips, Garlic and Pirates

chapter XIX|10 pages

A Voyage North

Seven Hundred and Forty Roots of Garlic Nearly the Size of a Child's Head

chapter XX|9 pages

The Island of Liquor


chapter XXI|5 pages

What the Japanese Thought

“Foreign Paper with Horizontal Writing”

chapter XXII|8 pages

The Ryükyü Islands

“The Most Perfect Work of Living Nature”

chapter XXIII|13 pages


“An Inadvertence of the Count”

chapter XXIV|8 pages


“This Proposition, so Evidently Interested, Disgusted Me”

chapter XXV|6 pages


“I Could Not Believe That He Had Discovered such Agreeable Countries”

chapter XXVI|14 pages

Madagascar – the Project

Good War Against Bad White Man

chapter XXVII|9 pages

Madagascar – the Reality

“Everything Is Rotten”

chapter XXVIII|8 pages

Europe and America

“I am Ready to Offer Your Country… My Blood, My Knowledge and My Courage”

chapter XXIX|4 pages

Return to Madagascar

“Give Me One of Your Pistols and I'll Follow You”

chapter XXX|15 pages


Perfidious Mutilations in Counterfeit Editions

chapter XXXI|4 pages

A Final Audit

“A Very Fair Claim to the Title of Adventurous”