27 May 2008

Mahé de La Bourdonnais

While wandering around the streets of St.Malo (Saint-Malo) in Bretagne (France), I noticed the street sign pictured in the following image. The street was named after Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais (St.Malo, 1699 - Paris, 1753), grandfather of the first unofficial World Champion Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (Réunion, 1795 - London, 1840), and a historically important person himself.

In Chess History on the Web (2002 no.13), I wondered about the correct spelling of the chess player's name. The historical museum in St.Malo confirms the Wikipedia spelling of the family name. The Wikipedia article on Bertrand-François, which is meatier than the article on Louis-Charles, says,

La Bourdonnais was born on February 11, 1699 in Saint-Malo, Brittany. He went to sea when a boy, and in 1718 entered the service of the French East India Company as a lieutenant. In 1724 he was promoted captain, and displayed such bravery in the capture of Mahé off the Malabar Coast that the name of the town was added to his own. [italics mine]

Born more than 40 years after B-F died, L-C never knew his grandfather. According to Wikipedia, B-F 'left memoirs which were published by his grandson', although the date of publication was 50 years after L-C's death. Also according to Wikipedia, B-F was 'governor of the Île de France (Mauritius) and the Île de Bourbon (Réunion).' Gaige notes that L-C was born in 1797 in Réunion. Hooper & Whyld give 1795 and add that 'he was sent to the Lycée Henri IV in Paris, where, in 1814, he learnt chess'. A few years ago, I copied an 1840 account titled Portrait of La Bourdonnais, that confirms some of the details of L-C's life.

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