Thursday 25 June 2015

La Liberté - a replica galley

You can now take a trip out on a galley.... This replica, called La Liberté,  is based in the port of Morges on Lake Geneva.  It was the brainchild of the architect Jean-Pierre Hirt and was build as a community project for the local unemployed.  Begun  in 1996, it took six years to complete.  Although galleys did indeed ply the waters of Lake Geneva in medieval times, La Liberté is based on a 17th-century French Mediterranean galley and was built using plans and models lent by the Musée de la Marine in Paris.

It's great, but hang on a moment -  where are the galley slaves????!!

The boat is normally powered by two diesel engines though once a week it uses its sails; apparently it can be rowed; they originally promised us that on special occasions a team of 123 volunteers would take up the 41 oars. Not sure whether this happens though.

[According to Jean Marteilhe in 1703 four half-galleys were built at Dunkirk and crewed by free-men, but they could scarcely leave the port; such was the effort involved that only Slaves driven by the lash of the Comite could move the galleys...guess the Genevans haven't taken authenticity that far! ]


"Lake Geneva welcomes back oar-inspiring medieval galley",  27 June 2001

La Liberté website

Virtual trip on the galley - looks a bit cold and grey!

Tuesday 23 June 2015

The galley fleet at war - the Atlantic in 1707-9

The reality of naval combat involving galleys rowed by slaves seems impossibly remote, even from the perspective of the  the great age of "fighting sail" in the late 18th century.  Yet  Jean Marteilhe's memoirs brings it vividly to life.  Here are a few extracts from his account, concerning the actions of the Atlantic galleys in 1702-1714, during the War of the Spanish Succession.

The galleys capture a prize

 At the beginning of July 1702 the six galleys left Dunkirk and made Ostend their base for patrols along the coast of the Low Countries. On one occasion they succeeded in capturing a Dutch Man of War, the Unicorn of Rotterdam, which had become separated from the rest of its squadron, becalmed off Nieuport.  Marteilhe explains how the captain underestimated the danger posed by the galleys and was taken unawares:

He was it seems deceived by our Appearance at a Distance, as a Galley sails very deep, and its real Strength consists only in its Number of Hands, with which it over-powers the Enemy......  As a Galley sails upon such Occasions with prodigious Swiftness, we were soon along side of him, and with all our Force raised the Chamade, or Shout of the whole Crew, which is done in order to intimidate the Enemy.  There certainly is something shocking and terrible in the Approach of a Galley.  Three hundred Men quite Naked, roaring all at once, and rattling their Chains in the most hideous Manner, impresses the Mind with strange Emotions; they must have Hearts well fortified, who can sustain the Encounter without trembling.  In Effect, the whole Man of War's Crew were so much astonished, that they fled into the Hold and begged for Quarter.  Our Soldiers and Sailors boarded without Opposition, and instantly became Masters of the Prize (p.64-5).

This ship was the 52-gun Eenhoorn, which subsequently saw service in the French fleet as La Licorne: see

A narrow escape
 In 1704 the fleet was almost destroyed when the Dutch Vice Admiral Almonde disguised his ships as East Indiamen in order to lure the galleys into close range.  They escaped by retreating onto a sandbank but two hundred and fifty men were killed.  Both the Commodore and his subordinate Fonette behaved with bravado - the comite on the Commodore's ship was struck dead at his feet by a canonball; but "numbers of unhappy Men fell a sacrifice to their romantic bravery" (p.64)

In 1706  Maulévrier-Langeron, the captain of Marteilhe's galley La Palme, became Commodore of the Atlantic fleet (as Major of the galleys in Marseille he was later to play a major role in organising the galériens during the 1720 plague.) The galleys were sent from Dunkirk to fortify the besieged garrison in Ostend, but soon beat a nervous retreat:"We had only the Pleasure of seeing the grandest Firework that could be imagined; for the Sky seemed all in a Blaze with those infernal Engines, which fell as thick as Hail among the beseiged" (p.72). In the following campaigning season (1707) they narrowly escaped being wrecked in a storm,avoiding disaster thanks to skills of their pilot, Pieter Bart, brother of the famous Admiral Jan Ba(e)rt.

Seige of Ostend by Martin Engelbrecht (detail) Etching from the Hermitage Museum

The capture of the Nightingale - Marteilhe is injured

The valiant Captain Jermy
The final action which Marteilhe recounts took place in August 1707 (Marteilhe himself places events in 1708 but he must be mistaken.)

The squadron had been joined by an Englishman "Captain Smith", a concealed Papist, who was given charge of an operation to pillage Harwich.  En route it chanced to encounter a convoy of 36 merchantmen heading for the Thames, accompanied frigate of thirty-six guns, the Nightingale.  Langeron decided to attack. The Palme and another galley were sent against the English ship, but her captain, Seth Jermy, held out in order to ensure the safety of his convoy.  He feigned retreat, enticing the Palme to ram his stern, at which point a deft manoeuvre brought her alongside and in the line of fire.  The Nightingale was eventually overpowered with the aid of the four other galleys, but Jermy barricaded himself in his cabin and refused to surrender until he established that the merchantmen had escaped. Once aboard the Palme, he spiritedly drew his gun and threatened to kill the renegade Smith. Marteihe reports that Jermy was far from heroic in appearance: "He was hump-back'd, pale-faced, and as much deformed in Person, as beautiful in mind"

Marteilhe's memoirs are the main primary source for this episode.  See also:
On the Nightingale:

It was during the taking of the Nightingale that Marteilhe was wounded. He describes memorably the terror of a slave helplessly chained to his bench in a galley under close fire. Here is the passage:

With respect to myself, for I must bring back my Reader again to the minute Subject of this Memoir; I escaped Death almost miraculously ; the Manner is too strongly imprinted on my poor maimed Body, for any of the Circumstances to escape my Mind.

We have seen how the Frigate avoided being boarded, by dexterously turning to lie on our Side, by which we were exposed to the Fire of her Artillery, charged with Grape Shot. It happened that my Seat, on which there were five Frenchmen and one Turk lay just opposite one of the Cannons, which as I readily perceived was charged. The two Vessels lay so close, that by raising my Body in the least, I could touch this Cannon with my Hand. A Neighbourhood so terrible, filled us all with silent Consternation. My Companions lay flat on the Seat, and in that Posture endeavoured to avoid or rather waited the coming Blow. I had presence of Mind sufficient to observe, that this Gun was pointed in such a Manner, that those who lay flat would receive almost all its Contents ; and accordingly was determined to sit upright, since I was chained, it was impossible entirely to quit my Station. In this Manner then I awaited Death; which however, I had scarce any Hopes of escaping. 

My Eyes were fixed upon the Gunner, who with his lighted Match, was employed in discharging every Piece, one after the other. I saw him approach nearer and nearer to the fatal one, and felt all that Opposition of Passions, so Consonant to my Circumstances, Dread of immediate Pain and Hope of ensuing Happiness. I lifted my heart to my God, in all the Exstasy of fervent Devotion. Have Pity, O Father, on my poor Soul, and as thou hast allotted me to mourn on Earth, may I be comforted with thyself in Heaven. I now felt stronger Assurance of Divine Mercy, than I had ever before experienced, and looked upon Death with Philosophic ; nay more, with Christian Fortitude. I had the Constancy to observe the Gunner apply the lighted Match, what followed I only knew by the Consequences. The Explosion had stunned me, I was blown from my Seat upon the Coursier, which was as far as my Chain would permit.

 Here I remained, I cannot say how long, lying across the Body of the Lieutenant of the Galley, who had been killed some Time before. The space, however, must have been considerable, as I afterwards gathered from different Circumstances. At last recovering my Senses, and finding myself lying upon a dead Body, I crept back to my seat. It was Night, and the Darkness was such, that I could neither see the Blood that was spilled, nor the Carnage that was heaped around me. I imagined that their former Fears still operated upon my Companions ; and that they still kept upon their Bellies to avoid the no longer threatening Danger. I felt no pain from any Wound, and thought all in perfect safety. I remained in this complacency of thought for some Time, and even took a malignant Pleasure in the Continuance of the Terrors of my fellow Slaves. But at last, desirous to free them from their Fears, I gently kicked him that lay next me, rise my Boy, said I, the Danger is over. I received no Answer, I spoke louder, but still all were silent about me. The Turk of our Seat, one remarkable for his Truth and Probity, who had been chained next me, was lying among the rest; he had been a Janissary, and had frequently boasted of his never knowing what Fear was. I was accordingly resolved to rally the Fellow upon his present Behaviour. What Isouf cried I, where is your boasted Intrepidity now ? for shame rise, the Slaughter is over. Upon this I went to raise him by the Hand ; when, O Horror! My Blood still freezes at the Remembrance! This Hand came away from his Body ; and with its deadly Coldness, chilled me with more than usual Terror. I threw it back with Detestation on the Body of the poor Wretch to whom it belonged, and quickly perceived that my Companions were mashed to pieces, by that very Discharge which I avoided ; and that of six, I alone remained the miserable Survivor.

 I was sitting in a pensive Posture on the Slaves Seat, and had not been long in this Attitude, when I perceived somewhat moist and cold run down my Body, which was naked. I put my Hand to the Place and found it wet ; but as it was dark, I was unable to distinguish what it was. I suspected it, however, to be Blood, flowing from some Wound, and following with my Hand the Course of the Stream, I found my Shoulder near the Clavicle, was pierced quite through. I now felt another Gash in my left Leg, below the Knee, which also went thro, again another, made I suppose by a Splinter, which ripped the Integuments of my Belly ; it was a Foot long, and four Inches broad. I lost a great Quantity of Blood, before I could have any Assistance ; all near me were dead, as well those before and behind me, as those of my own Seat, Of eighteen Persons on the three Seats, there was left surviving only me, wounded as I was in three different Places, and all by the Explosion of one Cannon only. But if we consider the Manner of charging with Grape Shot, our wonder at such prodigious Slaughter will cease. After the Cartouche of Powder, a long Tin Box filled with Musquet Balls is rammed in. When the Piece is fired, the Box breaks, and scatters its Contents most surprisingly.

I WAS now forced to wait till the Battle was ended, before I could expect any Relief. All on board were in the utmost Confusion ; the Dead, the Dying, and the Wounded, lying upon each other, composed the frightful Scene. Groans from those who desired to be freed from the Dead ; Blasphemies from the Slaves who were wounded to Death; arraigning Heaven for making their End not less unhappy than their Lives had been. The Coursier could not be passed from the dead Bodies which lay on it. The Seats were filled not only with Slaves, but also with Sailors and Officers, who were wounded or slain. Such was the Carnage, that the Living hardly found Room to throw the Killed into the Sea, or succour the Wounded. Add to all this, the Obscurity of the Night (for we could not light a Candle, for fear of being seen by the four Men of War already mentioned). All this considered, I say, where could Misery have been found equal to mine ! 

We continued thus embarrassed for a great Part of the Night, till at last, upon the surrendering of the Frigate, all Things were adjusted, as well as Time and Circumstances could permit. The five other Gallies gave all the Assistance in their Power, putting the Wounded, the Oars, and other Tackling of the Vessel, in the best Order they could. Their Loss was by no Means equal to our's : They therefore, with all the Despatch, and all the Silence in their Power, gave us Assistance. Despatch and Silence were absolutely necessary; for we could discern several Lights leaving the Mouth of the Thames ; and could hear several Signals made by Cannon, which by the Flashes seemed to approach ; by which we were confirmed, that these were Men of War sent out to pursue us. The first Concern of the Sailors was to throw the Dead overboard ; and to stow the Wounded in the Hold. But so much did their Fears of being made Prisoners increase their Despatch, that I verily believe as great a Number of the Living were thrown over for Dead, as of those who were dead in Reality. For in the Confusion of the Night, they flung over all who shewed no Signs of Life; though several, through Fear, or Loss of Blood, were insensible; but, by proper Treatment, might easily have recovered. In this Manner I had like to have found that Death from my barbarous Countrymen, which I had escaped from the Enemy. When the Keeper came to unchain the Killed and Wounded of my Seat, I was fallen into a Swoon, with- out Sense or Motion ; lying among the Dead bathed in their Blood and my own, which flowed from my Wounds in great Abundance. This made the Keeper and his Attendants conclude, that all in that Seat were killed. They accordingly did but unchain the Slaves, and then threw them over, without any previous Examination: It was sufficient for them if the Body neither spoke or cried. In short, those Marine Undertakers did their Work precipitately, that they emptied the Seat in an Instant. My departed Comrades, it is true, were not in very equivocal Circumstances, as they had been too strongly impressed with the Hand of Death to be mistaken ; and they were thrown over Limb by Limb. Mine was the only Body that remained entire; but dead to all Appearance. I was going to be unchained accordingly, in order to keep my Fellow Slaves Company. I had been chained by the left Leg ; and, as I have said already, was also wounded in the same. The Keeper grasped this Leg in his Hand, while an Assistant endeavoured to wrench open the Ring by which I was listened to the Chain. Fortunately for me, the Keeper happened to press his Fingers against my Wound so strongly, that the Pain revived me. I roared out in inexpressible Anguish ; which made the Fellow let go his Grasp. I now perceived their Intention ; and fearing lest they might still put it into Execution, cried out as loud as I could, Pray do not throw me in ; I am not yet dead. They upon this carried me to the Hold, among the rest of the Wounded ; and threw me upon a Cable, made up into a Rouleau. Perhaps the hardest Bed of Repose that ever a Man, in the agonizing Pain I then felt, had to lie on.

The Wounded were thrown indiscriminately into the Hold ; Petty Officers, Sailors, Soldiers, and Slaves : there was no Distinction of Places, no Bed to lie upon, nor any iSuccour to be had. With Respect to myself, I continued three Days in this miserable Situation : The Blood coming from my Wounds was stopped by a little Spirit of Wine ; but there was no Bandage used, nor did the Surgeon once come to examine whether I was dead or alive. In this suffocating Hole, the Wounded, who might otherwise have survived, died in great Abundance. The Heat and the Smell were intolerable, so that the slightest Sore seemed disposed to mortify; while those who had lost limbs, or received large Wounds, went off by an universal Putrefaction.

In this deplorable Situation we at last arrived at Dunkirk where the Wounded were put on Shore, in order to be carried to the Marine Hospital. We were drawn up from the Hold by Pulleys, and carried to the Hospital on Men's Shoulders. The Slaves were consigned to Apartments separate from the Men who were free, and lodged in two large Rooms; forty Beds in each Room: Every Slave being chained by the Leg to the Foot of his Bed. .... (p.84-90)

Sunday 21 June 2015

Life in the galleys - the Memoirs of Jean Marteihle

The memoirs of the Huguenot convict Jean Marteilhe, represent one of the few eye-witnesses accounts of life aboard the galleys. The circumstances surrounding the first publication of Marteilhe's work in Rotterdam in 1757 are not really known, but in 1758 it was translated into English by no lesser personage than Oliver Goldsmith (under the pseudonym James Willington).  There are modern critical editions in both French and English.

Persecution of the Huguenots according to Romeyn de Hooghe;
 Illustration from the Huguenot Museum in Germany

Marteilhe was born in Bergerac in 1684 into an affluent and well-educated Protestant family. In 1700, when the duc de La Force was given permission to "convert" the local Huguenots, twenty-two dragoons were forcibly billeted with the Marteilhe family, Jean's father was  imprisoned and his mother tortured into signing a renunciation of her faith. Jean and a companion attempted to escape to Holland but were captured at the French frontier near Marienbourg and imprisoned in Tournay.  Having been condemned to the galleys, the young men were held for several months in Lille.  In January 1702 they were advised by the sympathetic prison governor to avoid the arduous march to Marseilles by joining the last of the bands of convicts heading for Dunkirk where the six galleys of the Atlantic fleet were based.  They were given a wagon and spared the worst deprivations of the journey. On arrival, they were consigned to the galleys:  Marteilhe served first on board the Heureuse commanded by Commodore de la Pailleterie, then later on the flagship La Palme. 

The Chain gang

Marteilhe did not after all escape the horrors of the chain-gang for, after several years in the Atlantic fleet, following the surrender of Dunkirk to the English in 1712, he and twenty-two fellow Huguenots compelled to transfer to the galleys in Marseilles.
Illustration from Gaston Tournier's  Les galères de France et les galériens protestants (1944)
There were four hundred men in all, or two hundred couples, in the chain-gang. A chain about a yard long joined the collars of each pair, with a large ring in the middle, through which passed the links of the ponderous grande chaîne which kept the whole gang together. The weight which each man carried was about one hundred and fifty pounds.  The rapacity of the escort aggravated the hardship.  At Charenton, in freezing weather, all the prisoners were compelled to strip naked and stand for two hours to remain stark naked while their clothes were searched, ostensibly to find hidden files.  Afterwards came blows, when the victims were too stiff to move, and they were dragged back to their places by the chain attached to their necks. On this and the succeeding day, eighteen men died of exposure and ill-usage.  

To an extent the Huguenots were spared the worse cruelties through the aid of the nouveaux convertis, who rushed to meet these "confessors of the truth"; in Paris a rich sympathiser paid "one hundred crowns to buy us off from blows" However, they could do little to mitigate the discomforts of the prisoners when, as at Rouen, they were crowded into a foul hole, or, as at the Tournelle,  chained by the neck to huge beams, uable neither to sit norstand. Fortunately for Marteilhe he was detained here only three days and three nights.

This entry from the Marseilles register records Marteilhe's arrival from Dunkirk; his name is also preserved in an official roll of 47 slaves liberated in June 1713.  See:
"Jean Marteilhe’s official traces" 27 April 2014
Tumblr post by Trompe-la-mort "Ça me connaît"

The experience of the galériens

Marteihle's account includes a number of digressions on the nature of the galleys, and, in the appendices,  more extended description of the galleys and the employment of the galériens when in the port.  Here is one such passage where he elaborates on the experience of rowing a galley:

Marteihe first describes the exiguous conditions on board the galleys, and the way in which the galley slaves are chained, crowded together, on their benches:  He goes on to explain their labour:

The method of rowing a galley

The Comite, who is Master of the Crew of Slaves, and the Tyrant so much dreaded by the Wretches fated to this Misery; stands always at the Stern, near the Captain, to receive his Orders.  There are two Sous Comites also, one in the Middle, the other near the Prow.  These, each with a Whip of Cords, which they exercise without Mercy on the naked Bodies of the Slaves, are always attentive to the Orders of the Comite.  When the Captain gives the Word for rowing, the Comite gives the Signal with a Silver Whistle, which hangs from his Neck:  This is repeated by the Sous Comites: Upon which the Slaves, who have their Oars in Readiness, strike all at once, and beat Time so exactly, that the hundred and fifty Oars seem to give but one Blow.  Thus they continue, without requring further Orders, till by another Signal of the Whistle, they desist in a Moment.  There is an absolute Necessity for thus rowing all together; for should one of the Oars be lifted up, or fall too soon; those before leaning back, necessarily strike the Oar behind them with the hinder Part of their Heads; while the slaves of this, do the same by those behind them.  But it were well if a few Bruises on the Head was the only Punishment: the Comite exercises the Whip on this Occasion like a Fury; while the Muscles, all in Convulsion under the Lash, pour Streams of Blood down the Seats; which who dreadful soever it may seem to the Reader, Use teaches the Sufferer to bear without Murmuring.

The Labour of a Galley-Slave is become a Proverb, nor is it without Reason that this may be reckoned the greatest Fatigue that can be inflicted on Wretchedness.  Imagine six Men chained to their Seats, naked as when born, sitting with one Foot on a Block of Timber, fixed to the Footstool or Stretcher; the other lifted up against the Bench before them, holding in their Hands an Oar of an enormous Size.  Imagine them lengthening their Bodies, their Arms stretched out to push the Oar over the Backs of those before them; who are also themselves in a similar Attitude.  Having thus advanced their Oar, they raise that End which they hold in their Hands, to plunge the opposite in the Sea; which done, they throw themselves back upon their Benches below, which are somewhat hollowed to receive them.  None in short, but those who have seen them labour, can conceive how much they endure; None but such could be persuaded, that human Strength could sustain the Fatigue which they undergo for an Hour successively. 

But what cannot Necessity and Cruelty make Men do?  Almost Impossibilities.  Certain it is, that a Galley can be navigated in no other Manner, but by a Crew of Slaves, over whom a Comite may exercise the most unbounded Authority.  No free Man could contnue at the Oar an Hour unwearied : yet a Slave must sometimes lengthen out  his Toil for Ten, Twelve; nay, for Twenty Hours, without the smallest Intermission.  On these occasions the Comite, or some of the other Mariners, put into the Mouths of those Wretches a Bit of Bread steeped in Wine, to prevent Fainting through Excess of Fatigue or Hunger, while their Hands are employed upon the Oar.  At such Times, are heard nothing but horrid Blasphemies, loud Bursts of Despair, or Ejaculations to Heaven;  all the Slaves streaming with Blood, while their unpitying Task-Masters mix Oaths and Threats, and the smacking of Whips, to fill up this dreadful Harmony.  At this Time the Captain roars to the Comite to redouble his Blows; and when any one drops from his Oar in a Swoon, which not unfrequently happens, he is whipped while any Remains of Life appear, and then thrown into the Sea without further Ceremony.  How much happier is that unpitied Wretch, than those he leaves behind! (p.57-9)

The bastinado

According to Marteilhe, it was above all the capricious and sadistic power of the captains and overseers which made the life of the galériens  unbearable.  He might, he writes, have endured the labour, were he not subject to "the capricious Insolence of a Parcel of petty Tyrants". A brutal captain might arouse the chained rowers from their exhausted sleep merely to show a visitor how promptly he could set the galley in motion. Marteilhe's memoirs include one of the most graphic accounts of the dreaded "bastinado", not in the French galleys a "foot-whipping", but a vicious flogging:

The Criminal is stript from the Waist upward. He is extended with his Face downward, his Arms upon one Bench, and his Legs upon the Opposite, which are held by two Slaves that stand opposite each other. The Executioner, who is generally a Turkish Slave, stands over him with a Rope in his Hand, with which he is to beat the Criminal without the least Mercy ; for if he happens to be remiss, which is seldom the case, the Sous Comite [galley sergeant] uses him as he should have used the Criminal. Thus then every Stroke is laid on with the Executioner's whole Force, so that each Blow raises a Wheal as thick as one's Thumb. Few that are condemned to suffer this Punishment, can sustain above ten or twelve Blows without fainting. This, however, does not prevent the Executioner from proceeding. He continues to lay on the miserable and seemingly lifeless Carcase, till the Number of Blows ordered by the Major are Completed. Twenty or thirty are generally inflicted for slight Offences. I have seen fifty, eighty, even an hundred ordered ; but then those who are thus punished seldom recover. When the allotted Number of Stripes are given, the Surgeon Barber of the Galley rubs the Criminal's Back with Salt and Vinegar ; which, though it may prevent a Gangrene, yet renews all the Poignancy of his former Anguish. (p.55)

Marteilhe recounts how he was among sixty slaves re-distributed among the vessels shortly after his arrival. They were led to an open area belonging to the Arsenal, humiliatingly stripped and handled "as if they had been purchasing Oxen at a Fair".  The men were divided into two classes, the weaker and the stronger.  Marteilhe was allotted to the Palma whose comite was particularly vicious, though in fact he proved amenable to bribery - Marteilhe had his chains struck off and assigned to the comite's bench where he was eligible for scraps for the table. He was later transferred to another bench but escaped the rigours of the lash.

Having served at the oars over several campaigning seasons, Marteilhe was to sustain almost fatal injuries in an engagement with the British off the mouth of the Thames and, on his recovery, finally gained himself a trusted position as secretary to the commodore of the fleet, Langeron Maulevrier. Here we gain a glimpse of the organisation which had evolved to get money and help to the Protestant prisoners.  Marteilhe acted as intermediary for the reception and distribution of remittances which he did successfully with the aid of a loyal Turkish shipmate.  In Marseilles François Sabattier, who performed a similar service,  was not so lucky and was mercilessly flogged, then confined to a dungeon in the Château d'If. (He was released in 1713).

After the arduous march to Marseilles, Marteilhe was released as part of a general amnesty in 1713.  Little is known of his later life; he died in Holland in 1777 at the grand old age of 93. 


The memoirs of a Protestant [J. Marteilhe] condemned to the galleys of France, for his religion 
[Dublin 1765 edition]

There are modern critical editions of Marteilhe's text in French (2001, edited by André Zysberg) and in English (2010, "Galley Slave" in the Seaforth Publishing series: Seafarers' voices)

Thursday 18 June 2015

Jean Bion, chaplain to the galleys - "Those things my eyes have seen"

Of the [Galley slaves] I design to give the public an Account, as being of all men the most miserable : the Barbarities committed in those horrid machines exceeding all that can possibly be imagined.... I shall relate nothing by hearsay; but, like the Apostle, confine myself to those things 'my eyes have seen.'  
[Jean Bion, Protestant convert and former Chaplain of the Galley Superbe]

Sadly the Catholic clergy who showed compassion towards the Protestant on board the galleys were few in number - but they did exist.  Jean Marteilhe preserves the memory of  a Dominican friar in Dunkirk who allowed the forçats pour la foi to keep their books and who acted as intermediary for the delivery of funds from Holland.  In Marseille the abbé Jean-François Bion was so moved by the heroism of the Protestants in his charge, that he fled to Geneva, converted to Calvinism and eventually settled in London where he published an account of their sufferings, today an important primary source for life on the galleys.

Jean-François Bion was born in Dijon on 24th June 1668 and in 1695  became curé of the village d'Urcy near Dijon.  In 1703, when he was 35 years old, for reasons unknown, he took the post of chaplain on board the Marseille galley La Superbe.  So appalled was he by the conditions which he found, and particularly the treatment of the Protestants,  that in 1704 he journeyed to Versailles to make a protest to Chancellor Pontchartrain.  He subsequently converted to the Reformed faith and, by December 1707, was in  London where he received assistance from the Huguenot Threadneedle Street Church.  His Account of the Torments which the French Protestants Endure Aboard the Galleys was published in French, English and German in 1708, with a dedication to Queen Anne. The text betrays both his anger and his haste.  His subsequent career can be picked up at several points: in 1709 he was minister of the French church of Blackfriars; in 1709 he took out oath roll naturalisation, at which time he was living in the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields.  He later became minister at Little Chelsea and later perhaps in Marylebone.  The date and circumstances of his death are unknown.  In addition to his Account several other tracts, including a criticism of Quietism which denied the validity of Christian mystic experience.

Life on board the galley

Bion’s moving account  begins by describing the conditions in which the galériens were held.  On the Superbe, the crew numbered 500 men, 300 of whom worked the oars.  He explains that each oar had a team of five  the strongest, at the upper end, generally being a Turk.  The convicts subsisted in cramped conditions on the open deck, their only shelter a canvas tent which could be erected only in fair weather. The men wore two shirts of coarse canvass, a red serge tunic, and a red cap to cover their head, which was shaven to indicate their subjection.  Each prisoner was attached with chains and beaten if he slacked. The rowers were permanently exhausted and vermin infested.  As Marteilhe also attested so vehemently, convict life made worse by the inhumanity of the galley crew;  Bion highlights the peculation which was rife  - the Comites who profited from convict labour in the port, the surgeon who sold his medical supplies and the officer in charge of provisions who embezzled money for rations.  The prisoners were subject to anachronistic humiliations:  their shaved heads were a symbol of abasement and they were forced to perform a strange ritual howl of despair for the entertainment of visitors.  Above there was the constant threat of the whip. Bion describes the categories of prisoners - Muslim slaves, peasant smugglers, criminals, both petty and hardened. The Turks were the trusties of the system and Bion, again like Marteilhe, insists on their courage and probity.  He takes away a lesson of toleration:   he once tried to baptise a dying Turk but admits he would not have done so had he understood the Muslim religion as he did now.

In 1703 the Superbe left Marseille with a little squadron under the orders of the chevalier de Rouannez to patrol the ports of Savoy. (Dangeau's memoirs (x,74) confirm that they were involved in a naval engagement when two boats transporting reinforcements for the Camisards was intercepted).  Bion describes how during the winter of 1703 more than sixty men fell ill off the coast of Italy and were confined in the unimaginably tiny, squalid and airless compartment for the sick in the prow of the galley.

The Protestants

Bion was a first-hand witness to the "affair of the bonnets".  Soon after his arrival on the Superbe several Protestants from the Cévennes and Languedoc came on board.  They refused to knee or bear their heads during Sunday Mass and were threatened with a whipping (bastinado);  Bion had never seen this and was appalled by the very idea; "Ce mot de bastonade m'effrayer".  He spent the whole week trying to prevail on the men to change their minds; by  now he had no desire to make them act against their conscience, but was motivated  simply  by "pity and human tenderness that nature inspires in us for our fellow creatures".  Two complied; the rest were whipped. Bion himself was reduced to an extreme confusion. He had gone to console the wounded men but found himself more in need of consolation himself, so lost in admiration was he for their constancy and patience in the face of suffering, their resignation to the will of God.  Details of this episode are confirmed in a letter of 26th October 1702 in which one of the Protestant convicts relates the details and names the three men involved.  One was a laborer called Denis Ustain, who believed himself inspired. (see Conlon, p.20-21)


Jean François Bion,  An Account of the Torments which the French Protestants Endure Aboard the Galleys (London 1708)

Critical edition of the French text (with introduction)
Pierre M. Conlon, Jean-François Bion et sa relation des tourments soufferts par les forçats protestants (1961) Extracts:

Jacques Rigaud (1681-1754)  Arming a galley [detail]
One of a set of prints depicting the galleys of  Marseilles - sold by Vasari in December 2014

The text is not long, so here it is reproduced:

An Account of the Torments which the French Protestants Endure Aboard the Galleys

by Jean Bion, sometime Priest and Curate of the Parish of Urcy in the Province of Burgundy; and Chaplain to the 'Superbe' Galley in the French Service

[Dedication omitted]

The Preface.

AS I PURPOSED in this Work, only to make the Sufferings of the Protestants condemned to the Galleys, for the sake of Religion, known to the World : people will be apt to think that, when I speak in general of the different sorts of ' Forcats ' or Slaves, which are on them, I go beside the rules I prescribed to myself. But if it be considered that it is no little Torment to the Protestants to be amongst Malefactors and lewd and profligate Villains ; whose continual blasphemies and cursings have no parallel, but among the damned in Hell : it will not be thought beside my purpose, to have given to the World a particular Account of the various sorts of those men who live in the Galleys.

There is, besides, a block, those, who never saw the Galleys but in the Port at Marseilles, will infallibly stumble at ; if not removed. Which is, that whereas the Galley Slaves are not, during that time, in that wretched condition they are in, whilst at sea, and tugging at the oar. Being allowed to keep shop about the Port ; and there to work and sell all manner of commodities. And sometimes having leave to walk in the Town : giving only one penny to the Algousin [Boatswain's Mate, or Galley Serjeant^; as much to the Turk, with whom each of them must then be coupled ; and five pence to the 'Pertuisenier' or Partizan Bearer, who guards them. There being some besides, that even have their Wives at Marseilles. And all being permitted to hear from their friends ; and receive money from their relations. All such comforts and favours, as well as all manner of correspondence with friends, are utterly denied the Protestants.

I have not descended to particulars, in what relateth to the usefulness of Galleys in Sea fights, for the keeping of the Coasts ; or convoying of Merchant Sloops, when there is any danger of their being taken, or set upon, by the Brigantines the Duke of Savoy keeps commonly for thatpurpose, during the war, in Villa Franca, Saint Hospitio, and Oneglia.

Nor did I take notice in this Work, how the Galleys in an engagement wherein there are Men of War, serve to keep off and sink with their cannon sftot out of the Coursier, a Gun so called, the Fire-ships the enemy sendeth to set the ship on fire ; and to tow away such as are disabled in the fight.

I might also have observed how, in every Galley, there are five Guns upon the foredeck, viz., four six or eight pounders : and a fifth, called the Coursier [Chase Gun] , which carrieth a 36-lb. ball.

And herewith, when an enemy's ship is becalmed, a Galley, which with her oars can do what she pleaseth, may attack that ship fore and aft, to avoid her broadsides ; and ply her with the Coursier ; so that, sometimes, if she happeneth to let [give] her a shot which cometh between wind and water, she forceth her to surrender. Which how- ever happeneth seldom enough ; for a ship needs but a little wind, to make nothing of overthrowing five or six Galleys.

I did not think fit either to give here, an Account of the numbers of Galleys in France ; which are twenty-four at Marseilles, and six upon the Ocean. Not to speak of the six small rooms in every Galley, under the deck ; wherein ammunition and provisions are kept, and which they call, the ' Gavon,' the ' Scandclat,' the ' Campaign,' the ' Paillot,' the ' Tavern,' and the ' Fore-room.'

All these particulars would have carried me too far out of my way, and beside my purpose ; which is only to give a plain and faithful Account, without amplifying, of the Sufferings of the Protestant Galley Slaves.

If there be anything omitted in this Relation ; it will not be found as to any material point. And as my sole aim in it hath been to work a fellow feeling in other men's hearts ; I shall not find myself at all disappointed,, although their curiosity should not be fully satisfied.
The Lord, in his mercy, pour out his blessings upon this Work ! and favourably hear our Prayers and Supplications, which we shall never cease to make unto his Divine Majesty, for the deliverance of our poor distressed brethren.


THE DISMAL ACCOUNTS handed down to us, by Historians, of the Torments inflicted on Christians by the Heathen Emperors, in the first Ages of the Church, might justly be suspected, if the woeful experience of our own, did not put the truth of them out of dispute. For though it be not easy to conceive how men can put off all that is tender and generous in their natures, and degenerate into the ferocity of brutes ; yet it is but looking on the World around us, and being convinced that they can even outdo their fellow-animals in Cruelty to one another. Nay, we may see many professing Christianity, under the specious pretence of zeal for its Interest, commit such Barbarities as exceed, [or] at least equal, the rage of the Persecutors of the Primitive Christians. History abounds in instances that shew the nature of a Spirit of Persecution ; and how boundless its rage and fury ! But the sad effects it hath, of late years, produced in France, as they are still fresh and but too obvious, are scarcely to be paralleled in any Age or Nation !

All the World knows the Protestants there lived, under the protection of the Edict of Nantes : a Treaty as full and solemn as ever any was ! It was at first religiously observed : but, in time, several breaches were made in it. Many of its branches were, by degrees, lopt off : till, at last, under the present King [Louis XIV.] , at the continual teasing and solicitation of the Jesuits, those restless and busy insects ! it was perfidiously broken ; or, as they please to term it, repealed.

But Religion and its propagation must be the cloak, under which those crafty Silversmiths intend to play their game. And therefore having first confidently taught, That the King hath a Despotic Power over the Consciences as well as Estates ; and consequently his Will to be the Ruleof their Religion; they, by several arts and methods, but chiefly by dreadful punishments, force weak people to play the hypocrites, and embrace a Religion which in their hearts they detest. Such as were too good Christians to prostitute their Consciences to vile worldly interests, are denied the benefit of retiring into foreign countries : and punished, if discovered, often with death ; or reserved for more cruel usage, and condemned to spin out their wretched lives in the Galleys.

Of these last I design to give the public an Account, as being of all men the most miserable : the Barbarities committed in those horrid machines exceeding all that can possibly be imagined. The ingenuity of the famous Sicilian Tyrants in inventing torments deserves no longer to be proverbial : being far excelled, in this pernicious art, by the modern Enemies Of Religion and Liberty.

I shall endeavour to satisfy the curosity of those who desire to be informed of the treatment the Slaves, and particularly the Protestants, in the Galleys meet with ; and to convince such as are loath to harbour any hard thoughts of the French Court : that justifies its proceedings by pretending that what they suffer, is not on the account of Religion; but a just and lawful punishment for Rebellion and Disobedience.

My being, several campaigns [cruises] , Chaplain aboard one of the Galleys, called, 'La Superbe,' gave me a sufficient opportunity of informing myself of the truth of the follow- ing Relation. And I hope my integrity will not be called in question by anybody, that hears, that during my stay in that Service, I never received the least disgust, or met with any disobligation. The Certificates I have from Monsieur de Montolieu, Chief Flag Officer of the French Galleys, and Monsieur d'Autigny, Captain of the aforesaid Galley, whose Chaplain I was ; a reward for my services conferred on me by the French King, in the year 1704, at the recom- mendation of Monsieur de Pontchartrain ; several good Offices done me by the General and other Officers who knew me : will, I hope, screen me from the suspicions or calumny of such who, through malice or perhaps Interest, might be inclined to misrepresent me.

Neither shall a blind zeal for the Protestant Religion, which I have lately embraced, hurry me beyond the strict bounds of Truth ; or make me represent things in any colours but their own. I should be an unworthy Professor of that holy Religion, if, on any consideration, I should in the least deviate from the strictest truth : to which end, I shall relate nothing by hearsay; but, like the Apostle, confine myself to those things ' my eyes have seen.'


BEFORE I proceed to show the Sufferings and Misery the wretches in the Galleys labour under; I shall give a short description of that Vessel. 
A Galley is a long flat one-decked Vessel ; though it hath two masts. Yet they generally make use of oars ; because they are built so, as not to be able to endure a rough sea, and therefore their sails, for the most part, are useless : unless, in cruising, when they are out of sight of land ; for then, for fear of being surprised by ill weather, they make the best of their way. 

There are five Slaves to every oar : one of them, a Turk ; who, being generally stronger than Christians, is set at the upper end to work it with more strength. 

There are, in all, 300 Slaves : and 150 men ; either Officers, Soldiers, Seamen, or Servants. There is at the Stern of the Galley a Chamber, shaped on the outside like a cradle, belonging to the Captain ; and solely his at night or in foul weather: but, in the day-time, common to the Officers and Chaplain. All the rest of the crew (the Under Officers excepted ; who retire to other convenient places) are exposed above deck, to the scorching heat of the sun by day, and the damps and inclemencies of the night. There is indeed a kind of a tent suspended by a cable from head to stern that affords some little shelter: but the misfortune is, that this is only when they can best be without it, that is, in fair weather. For, in the least wind or storm, it is taken down ; the Galley not being able to endure it, for fear of oversetting. 

The two winters (in anno 1703, and in 1704) we kept the coasts of Monaco, Nice, and Antibes; those poor creatures, after hard rowing, could not enjoy the usual benefit of the night, which puts an end to the fatigues and labours of the day : but were exposed to the winds, snow, hail, and all other inconveniences of that season. The only comfort they wished for, was the liberty of smoking : but that, on pain of the Bastinado, the usual punishment of the place, is forbidden. 

Print from the Musée de la Marine in Marseille?
The vessel being but small for the number, the men consequently crowded, the continual sweat that streams down from their bodies whilst rowing, and the scanty allowance of linen ; one may easily imagine, breed abundance of vermin. So that, in spite of all the care that can be taken, the Galleys swarm with lice, etc. ; which, nestling in the plaits and laps of their clothes, relieve, by night, the Executioners who beat and torment them by day. 

Their whole yearly allowance for clothes is two Shirts made of the coarsest canvas, and a little Jerkin of red serge slit on each side up to their arm holes ; the sleeves are also open and come not down so low as their elbows. And every three years, a kind of coarse frock, and a little cap to cover their heads ; which they are obliged to keep shaved, as a mark of Infamy. 

Instead of a bed, they are allowed, sick or well, only a board a foot and a half broad. And those who have the unfortunate honour of lying near the Officers, dare not presume, though tormented with vermin, to stir so much as a hand for their ease : for fear their chains should rattle, and awake any of them ; which would draw on them a punishment more severe than the biting of those insects. 

It is hard to give an exact description of the pains and labours the Slaves undergo at sea ; especially during the long campaign [cruise]. The fatigue of tugging at the oar is extraordinary. They must rise to draw their stroke, and fall back again almost on their backs : insomuch that, in all seasons, through the continual and violent motion of their bodies, the sweat trickles down their harassed limbs. 

The lashings of the relentless comites
And for fear they should fail, as they often do through faintness, there is a Gang-board, which runs through the middle of the ship, on which are constantly posted three Comites, an Officer somewhat like a Boatswain in Her Majesty's Ships: who, whenever they find, or think, that an oar does not keep touch with the rest, without ever examining whether it proceeds from weakness or laziness, they unmercifully exercise a tough wand on the man they suspect ; which, being long, is often felt by two or three of his innocent neighbours ; who being naked when they row, each blow imprints evident marks of the inhumanity of the Executioner. 
And that which adds to their misery is, that they are not allowed the least sign of discontent or complaint ; that small and last comfort of the miserable ! but must on the contrary endeavour with all their might to exert the little vigour that remains ; and try, by their submission, to pacify the rage of those relentless Tigers : whose strokes are commonly ushered in, and followed by, a volley of oaths and horrid imprecations.

No sooner are they arrived in any Port ; but their work, instead of being at an end, is increased : several laborious things previous to casting anchor being expected from them ; which in a Galley is harder than a Ship. And as the Comite's chief skill is seen in dexterously casting anchor, and that they think Blows are the Life and Soul of Work ; nothing is heard for some time, but cries and lamentation : and as the poor Slaves' arms are busy in the execution of his commands ; his are as briskly exercised in lashing them

To support their strength under all these hardships during the campaign, every morning, at eight of the clock, they give each man his proportion of biscuit : of which, indeed, they have enough ; and pretty good. At ten a Porringer of oil, with peas or beans ; often rotten ; and commonly musty. I call it, Soup, according to their use : although it be nothing but a little hot water, with about a dozen peas or beans floating on the top. And when, on duty, a Pichone of wine, a measure containing about two-thirds of an English Pint, morning and evening. 

When at anchor in any Port, all who have any money are allowed to buy meat : and the Turk that commands the oar, and is not chained, is commonly the person employed for this purpose: as also to see it dressed in the Cook Room. But I have often seen the Captain's Cook, a brutal passionate man, take the poor men's pot, under pretence that it troubled him, and either break [it] , or throw it over- board : whilst the poor wretches were fainting for want of that little refreshment ; without daring so much as to murmur or complain. This indeed is not usual, but where the Cook happens to be a villain: of which sort of men there are plenty in the Galleys. 

The Officer's table is well furnished, both for plenty and delicacy : but this gives Slaves only a more exquisite sense of their misery ; and seems to brave their poverty and hunger. 


We spent the Carnival of 1704 in the Port of Monaco. Our Officers frequently treated the Prince of that place aboard the Galley. Their entertainments were splendid. Music and all things that could promote mirth were procured. But who can express the affliction of those poor creatures, who had only a prospect of Pleasure : and whilst others revelled at their ease, were sinking under a load of chains, pinched with hunger in their stomachs, and nothing to support their dejected spirits. 

Nay, and what is worse, they are forced to add to the pomp and honour done to Great Men who visit their Officers : but in such a manner as moves the compassion of all who are not used to such dismal solemnities. 

When a Person of Quality comes on board, the Comito gives twice notice with his whistle. The first time, they are all attentive : and the second, the Slaves are obliged to salute, as they call it, three times ; not with a cheerful  ' Huzza ! ' as in an English Man of War ; but by howling in a piteous tone ; making a lamentable complaining outcry .

The life aboard a Galley, while in harbour
When the badness of the weather hinders the Galleys from putting to sea ; such as have Trades work in the Galley. Such as have none, learn to knit coarse stockings : the Comite for whose profit they work, gives them yarn, and pays them about half the usual price : and this not in money, but some little victuals or wine which they are obliged to take out of the Ship's Cellar (of which the Comite is the Keeper);, though it be generally bad, and dashed with water. For, though they had as much gold as they could carry, they durst not, on pain of the Bastinado, send for any wine from the shore.

The most moving spectacle of all is, to see the poor Souls that have no Trade. They clean their comrades' clothes, and destroy the vermin that torment their neighbours : who, in return, give them some small share of that scanty pittance they purchase by working.

The loathsome hospital in the hold
One may imagine that such ill treatment, diet, and infection, must needs occasion frequent sickness. In that case the usage is thus :
There is in the Hold, a close dark room. The air is admitted only by the scuttle, two feet square : which is the only passage into it. At each end of the said room, there is a sort of a scaffold, called, 'Taular': on which the sick men are laid promiscuously; without beds or anything under them. When these are full ; if there be any more, they are stretched all along the Cables : as I saw in the year 1703 : when, being on the coast of Italy, in winter time, we had above threescore sick men.

In this horrid place, all kind of vermin rule with an arbitrary sway; gnawing the poor sick creatures without disturbance. When the duties of my function called me in amongst them, to confess, advise, or administer some comfort : which was constantly twice a day, I was, in an instant, covered all over with them ; it being impossible to preserve one's self from their swarms. The only way was, to go down in a night gown : which I stripped off when I came out ; and, by that means, rid myself of them, by putting on my clothes.

But when I was in, methought, I walked, in a literal sense, in the Shades of Death. I was obliged, notwithstanding, to make considerable stays in this gloomy Mansion, to confess such as were ready to expire. And the whole space between the ceiling and the Taular being but three feet ; I was obliged to lie down, and stretch myself along their sides to hear their confessions : and often while I was confessing one, another expired just by my side.

The stench is most intolerable : insomuch as that there is no Slave, though ever so weak ; but will rather choose to tug at his oar, and expire under his chain, than to retire to this loathsome Hospital.

The sick Slaves defrauded of their food
There is a Chirurgeon [Surgeon] to take care of the sick. At the first setting out of the Galley, the King lays in drugs for the use of the crew; which are always very good : and therefore the Chirurgeons make money of them in the several places we arrive at : so that the persons they are intended for, have the least benefit of them.

During the sickness, the King orders each man in the room we have described, 1 lb. of fresh bread, and the same quantity of Fresh meat, and 2 oz. of rice a day. This is the Steward's province : and he discharges his duties in such a manner, that five or six campaigns make his fortune. We have frequently had in our Galley three score and ten sick men ; and the quantity of flesh allowed for that number never exceeded 20 lbs. weight, and that bad meat too: though, as I have observed, the King's allowance is 1 lb. for every man ; the rest going into his own pocket.

Once, out of curiosity, I tasted it ; and found it little better than hot water. I complained to the Chirurgeon and Steward; but [they], being great [thick] and 'commensales' [companions at table] , they connived at one another.I complained to the Officers also : but for what reason (I only guess), they did not regard me. And I have too much respect for the Captain to say, That he had any reason or interest to wink at so great a piece of injustice ; though he could, by his own authority, do these wretches justice : who often refused that water, made only more loathsome by the little quantity of meat put into it; and the little care used about it. 

I enquired of other Chaplains, Whether the same was practised aboard their Galleys ? They frankly confessed it was : but durst own no more. 

After the Campaign of 1704, I, having occasion to go to Versailles, thought myself obliged, when there, to give an account to Monsieur [Louis Phelypeaux, Comte] de Pontchartrain, one of the King's Ministers, whose particular province the Sea Affairs are. 
I offered him a short Memorial, and some Advices ; which I thought most proper to prevent the like abuses for the future. 

He was pleased to be so well satisfied, and found them so agreeable to some intimations given him before ; that he regarded my advice, and offered me his Interest. The King was pleased to order me a gratuity. I left the Warrant with Monsieur Thome, Treasurer General of the Galleys, living at the Marais du Temple, to serve as an acquittance for the several payments he has made me. 

This is a brief Account of the Galley, and the Government thereof.


I NOW PROCEED to shew what sort of people are condemned there. There are, in a Galley, five several sorts of people, under the notion of Slaves ; besides Seamen and Soldiers : viz. Turks, such as are called ' Faussioners,' Deserters, Criminals, and Protestants. 

The King buys the Turks to manage the stroke of the Oar, as I have already shewn ; and they are called ' Vogue - avants ' [Bow -oarsmen] and they, together with such as are on the seats called 'Banc du quartier', 'de la Conille', and 'les Espaliers' [Stroke oars], have the same allowance with the Soldiers. They are generally lusty strong men ; and the least unfortunate of the whole crew. They are not chained : but only wear a ring on their foot, as a badge of Slavery. 

When they arrive at any Port, they have liberty to trade. Some of them are worth 300 or 400. They frequently send money to their Wives and families : and (to the shame of Christians be it spoken ! ) there is a great deal more charity amongst them, than is to be found amongst us. 

I had taken one, called Tripoli, for my Servant. He was a most religious observer of his Law. During the Ramadan, a Feast kept by them, the first Moon of the year ; he never eat or drank from sun rising to sun setting : in spite of all the toil and fatigue of the oar, he never seemed uneasy ; though ready to faint through weakness. 

I could never so much as persuade him to take a little wine ; though I have often urged him, merely out of compassion. 

The Officers make use of no other Servants ; and they are so trusty, that they are never found out in any theft or roguery. 

If any, by chance, commit a fault ; all the Turks importune their respective masters to intercede for him with the Captain. 

If any be sick ; they are all busy about him, to do him all the kind offices in their power. They club to buy him meat, or to purchase anything that may refresh him, or do him good. 

In short, in the Galleys, one would think that the Turks and the Christians had made an exchange of principles : and that the latter had abjured the Precepts of their Saviour, and that the others had taken them up. And, accordingly, preach up Christ to a Turk in a Galley  and his answer presently is that, He had rather be transformed to a dog ; than be of a Religion that countenances so much barbarity, and suffers so many crimes. 

The story of the dying Turk I cannot omit one remarkable instance of their constancy and firm adherence to their Religion. One of them who spoke French fell sick. I found him stretched on the cable, in the place I have already described. I had done him some services : and seeing me do the duties of my function to some of his neighbours, he called me to him, and bade me farewell, telling me, That he found he could not possibly live four hours longer. 

I ventured to talk to him of GOD, our Saviour Christ, and the principles of his Religion ; and told him that ' through him alone, he was to expect Salvation.' 

I found what I said made some impression. 

Whereupon I embraced him ; and told him, I would answer for his Soul if he would renounce Mahomet, who was but an Impostor, and believe in Jesus Christ, the only Redeemer and Saviour of Mankind ; whose holy and excellent doctrine he had heard me so often preach. 

He told me, He would do what I thought fit. 

I answered, That all I desired was his consent to receive Baptism 'without which,' I told him, 'he could expect no salvation.' I explained, in a few words, the nature and design of it : and having induced him to consent, I went for some water; and secretly told the Captain what had happened. 

But, unluckily, another Turk, a friend of his (who also understood French, and had heard all that had past), whilst 1 was away, said something to my Proselyte in his own language : so that, by the time I came back, he had quite altered his resolution; in such wise that I could by no means persuade him to perform the promise he made me. 
Nay, his friend threw himself over him ; and exhorted him to continue true to the Prophet Mahomet : in spite of the Comite, who was present, and threatened severely to beat him, if he desisted not. He prevailed, in despite of all ; for the poor wretch died in my presence in his error. 

Had I understood Religion as well as I do now, I should not, in that extremity, have insisted so much on the absolute necessity of Baptism ; but, having given him a general notion of the Principles of the Christian Religion, I should have admonished him to repentance ; and to implore the Divine mercy for pardon of his sins, through the merits of Christ : and so, in saving his Soul from death, I should have hid a multitude of my own sins. The Reader, I hope, will excuse my former error. 

Though, as appears from what hath been said, the Turks on the Galleys are treated somewhat better than the Christians ; and though they be in no wise molested on the score of Religion, for, whilst Mass is a saying, they are put into the caique or long-boat, where they divert themselves by smoking and talking : yet there is not one of them, but would give all the World to be at his liberty. 

For the very name of a Galley is terrible to them : because, notwithstanding their treatment is pretty easy, yet they are Slaves during life ; unless, when they are very old and unserviceable, they meet with friends" who are willing to lay out a large sum of money for their ransom. 

Which shews how little those persons are acquainted with the affairs of that nature, who say that, There are, in the Galleys, men who would not accept of their freedom ; though it were offered them. It is just like talking of a Battle which one never saw, unless at a great distance ; or knows nothing of, but by hearsay

The peasants who evade the salt tax
Those who are called ' Faussoniers ' [deceivers'] are generally poor Peasants, who are found to buy salt in such Provinces where it is cheap, such as the country of Burgundy, or the country of Dombe. In France, what they call a Pint of Salt, weighing four pounds, costs 3s 6d. 

There are some poor peasants and their whole families, who, for want of Salt, eat no soup sometimes in a whole week : though it be their common nourishment. A man in that case, grieved to see his wife and children in a starving languishing condition, ventures to go abroad, to buy Salt in the Provinces where it is three parts in four cheaper. If  
discovered ; he is certainly sent to the Galleys. It is a very melancholy sight to see a Wife and children lament their Father; whom they see laden with chains, and irrevocably lost : and that for no other crime, but endeavouring to procure subsistence for those to whom he gave birth. 

These, indeed, are condemned only for a time ; perhaps five, six, or eight, years : but the misfortune is, that having served out their time, if they outlive it, they are still unjustly detained. For Penance, and Masses, avail nothing in this Purgatory ! Indulgences are excluded, especially if the man be unfortunately strong and robust; let his Sentence be what it will ! The King's Orders are that, when the time of the Sentence is expired, they should be set at liberty, and sent home. But in this, as in many other cases, his Orders are not duly put in execution : which, indeed, does not excuse him ! since a good Prince is obliged to have an eye on the Administration of his Ministers and Servants. 

The Deserters and Criminals in the Galleys
As for Deserters ; their sentence runs during life. Formerly they used to cut off their nose and ears : but, because they stank, and commonly infected the whole crew; they only now give them a little slit. 

Though these are inexcusable : because desertion is, upon several accounts, dangerous and base ; yet it moves one's pity, to see young men, who often happen to descend from good Families, condemned to so wretched and so miserable a life. 

Such as are condemned for Crimes, are generally 'Filous' [Pickpockets] , Sharpers, Rooks [Cheats], or Highwaymen. The most notorious Villains are [the] least daunted; and take heart soonest. They presently strike up a friendship with those of their own gang. They tell over their old rogueries, and boast of their crimes : and the greatest villain passes for the greatest hero. 

The misery they have reduced themselves to, is so far from working any amendment, that it makes them more desperate and wicked : insomuch that if any stranger chances to come aboard, though it were but a handkerchief or some such trifle, they will certainly steal it, if they can. Their common employment is to forge Titles, to engrave false Seals, and to counterfeit Handwriting : and these they sell to others as bad as themselves; that often come in, some time after, to bear them company. But though they feel no remorse ; yet they feel the Comite ! who, with a rope's end, often visits their shoulders ; but then, instead of complaining, they vomit out oaths and blasphemies enough to make a man's hair stand on end. 

There was one who, shewing me the mark the rope had made about his neck, bragged that, though he had escaped the gallows, he was not thereby grown a coward : but that, as soon as ever he had been at liberty, he had robbed the first person he met with. And that, having been taken, and brought before a Judge who knew him not; he had been only condemned to the Galleys : where, he thanked GOD ! he was sure of bread and good company, the remain-der of his days. 

It is certain, that how terrible and hard soever the usage of such may be in the Galleys : yet ft is too mild for them ! for, in spite of all the misery they endure, they are guilty of crimes too abominable to be here related. 

Over which, we shall draw a veil ; and go on to the Protestants : who are there purely because they chose rather to obey GOD than Man ; and were not willing to exchange their Souls for the gain of the World. It is not the least aggravating circumstance of their misery, to be condemned to such hellish company. They who have so great a value for the Truth of Religion as to prefer it to their worldly Interest, must be supposed to be indued with too much Virtue, not to be in pain and under concern for the open breach of its rules, and the unworthiness of its Professors. 


THE PROTESTANTS, NOW on the Galleys, have been condemned thither at several times. The first were put in, after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes [October 18 1685]. The term prefixed for the fatal choice of either Abjuring their Religion, or Leaving the Kingdom, was a fortnight : and that, upon pain of being condemned to the Galleys. But this liberty, by many base artifices and unjust methods, was rendered useless, and of none effect. There were often secret orders, by the contrivance of the Clergy, to prevent their embarking ; and to hinder the selling of their substance. Their debtors were absolved by their Confessors ; when they denied [the payment of] a debt. Children were forced from their fathers' and mothers' arms ; in hopes that the tenderness of the Parent might prevail over the zeal of the Christian. They, indeed, Avere not massacred, as in Herod's time: but the blood of the Fathers was mingled with their tears. For many Ministers, who had zeal and constancy enough to brave the severest punishments, were broken alive upon Wheels, without mercy ; whenever surprised discharging the duties of their function. The Registers and Courts of Justice where the Sentences were pronounced against them are recorded ; and the Executioners of them, are lasting monuments of the bloody temper and fury of Popery. 

The Laity were forbidden, on pain of the Galleys, leaving the Kingdom, on any pretence whatsoever. But what Posterity will scarcely believe ! the Protestants of all Sexes, Ages, and Conditions, used to fly through deserts and wild impracticable ways ; they committed their lives to the mercy of the seas, and ran innumerable hazards ; to avoid either Idolatry or Martyrdom. Some escaped very happily [fortunately"] ; in spite of the vigilance of the Dragoons and Bailiffs : but a great many fell into their hands. The Prisons were filled with Confessors. 

But the saddest spectacle of all, was to see 200 men at a time, chained together, going to the Galleys; and above 100 of that number, Protestants. And what was barbarous and unjust to the last degree, was that they were obliged, when there, on pain of the Bastinado, to bow before the Host, and to hear Mass : and yet, that was the only crime for which they had been condemned thither. 

For suppose they were in the Wrong, in obstinately refusing to change their Religion ; the Galleys were the punishment ! Why then, were they required to do that, which had been the Cause of their condemnation ? Especially since there is a Law in France, that positively forbids a Double Punishment for one and the same fault, viz., Non bis punitur in idem. But in France, properly speaking, there is no Law ; Avhere the King's commands are absolute and peremptory. I have seen a General Bastinado on that account ; which I shall describe in its proper place. 

Bancilhon, Serres, and Sabattier, in the Chateau d'If.
It is certain, that though there were at first a very great number of Protestants condemned to the Galleys ; the Bastinado and other Torments hath destroyed [between 1685 and 1707] above Three parts of Four: and the most of those who are still alive are in Dungeons, as Messieurs Bancilhon, De Serres, and Sabattier, who are confined to a Dungeon at Chateau d'If ; a Fort built upon a rock in the sea, three miles from Marseilles.

 Francis Sabattier is bastinadoed. 
But the generous constancy of this last, about eight or ten months ago ['? 1706] , deserves a place in this History ; and challenges the admiration of all true Protestants. 
Monsieur [Francois] Sabattier, whose charity and zeal equal those of the Primitive Christians, having a little money, distributed it to his brethren and fellow Sufferers in the Galleys. But the Protestants being watched more narrowly than the rest ; he could not do it so secretly but he was discovered, and brought before Monsieur de Montmort, Intendant of the Galleys at Marseilles. 

Being asked ; he did not deny the fact. 

Monsieur Montmort not only promised him his Pardon : but a reward if he would declare, Who it was that had given him that money ? 

Monsieur Sabattier modestly answered that, 'He should be guilty of ingratitude before GOD and Man ; if, by any Confession he should bring them into trouble who had been so charitable to him, That his person was at his disposal : but he desired to be excused as to the secret expected from him.' 

The Intendant replied, He had a way to make him tell ; and that immediately. 

Whereupon, he sent for some Turks who, at his command, stripped Sabattier stark naked ; and beat him at several times with rope ends and cudgels during three days. And seeing this did not prevail over this generous Confessor; he himself (which never happened to an Intendant before) turned Executioner! striking him with his cane ; and telling the bystanders ' See, what a devil of a Religion this is ! ' These were his own expressions ; as is credibly reported by persons that were present. The Gazettes and Public Letters gave us an Account of the same. 

At last, seeing he was ready to expire ; he commanded him into a Dungeon where, maugre all torments, Providence hath preserved him to this day. [He was released in 1713.] 

The War in the Cevennes. 1702-05.
But though most of the Protestants of the first date are destroyed : yet the Wars in the Cevennes [1702-1705] have furnished them with more than enough to fill the vacant places. These Wars may be properly called, A Second Persecution : because the cruelty and inveterate malice of a Popish Priest was the occasion and first cause of them. 
One of the most bitter and passionate Enemies of the Protestants was the Abbot Du Chelas  whose benefice was in the Cevennes. He kept an exact account of the Protestants in his district. 
Whenever he missed them at Mass ; he used to send for them, under some pretence or other, to his house : and used to make his servants tie them (whether men, women or maidens) to a tree, stripped down to their waist ; and then, with horsewhips, [he] scourged them till the blood gushed out. 

This the Papists themselves do not deny ; who own that this Du Chelas was an ill [bad] man : and yet this his proceeding against the Protestants, being meritorious at Court, he had encouragement to hope for a reward. 

But, at last, his Protestant neighbours, perceiving there were no hopes of pacifying this Monster by submission and fair means, grew desperate: and, one night, invested his 
house. He leaped out of his window into his garden ; but not being able to get out, he begged Quarter: but, as he had never granted any, they served him in his kind, by killing him. 

And because they were sure of being pursued ; they kept the country : and, by degrees, their numbers increased. All that were tormented for not going to Mass, made a body and joined them. 

GOD blessed their Arms with success for some time : but (for good reasons, no doubt ; though unknown to us) he gave them up into the hands of their Enemies : and not only them ; but the inhabitants of the neighbouring countries, as the Vivarais and Languedoc. And [on] the bare suspicion of being in their Interest, those with whom any Arms were found, those who refused to frequent the Mass, were either hanged, or broken on the Wheel. 

1702-07. The Story of the Baron de Salgas. 
That pretended Rebellion was made use of, as a pretence, to send to the Galleys several rich Protestant Merchants. 

There is, since that time, a Gentleman, Monsieur [Francois Pelet, Baron de] Salgas by name, who, before the Repealing of the Edict of Nantes, enjoyed a plentiful estate in the Cevennes. In order to keep it ; he abjured his Religion, and promised to go to Mass. His spouse, a worthy Lady (with whom I have often conversed at Geneva, where she lives) refused : and generously rejected all proposals on that subject. 

Seeing they threatened her with a Cloister; she endeavoured to gain time : but, at last, her husband told her, That there was a positive Order from the Court to confine her, if she did not comply and go to Mass. 

This courageous Lady, who deserves to be a pattern of Piety and Zeal to Posterity, having, by prayer and other acts of devotion implored the Divine assistance, resolved to quit her country, her husband, children, and estate, and all that is dear and precious here below. 
She took her opportunity, one day, when her Husband was gone a hunting, without communicating anything of her design to anybody, but to such as were instrumental in her escape. She retired to Geneva; where she might have liberty to make an open Profession of her Religion, and bemoan the misfortune of her family. 

Some time after, the Wars of the Cevennes broke out.  

Monsieur de Salgas was accused of assisting the Camisards with provisions ; and, in spite of his hypocrisy and pretended zeal for his new Religion, he was sent to the Galleys. 
But, here, we must admire the wisdom of Providence ; very remarkable in this dispensation. For this has proved the means to open his own eyes ; and to let him see his error : as appears from the penitential Letters he writes to his friends, his Christianlike behaviour under his Sufferings, his Exhortations to his fellow Sufferers, and the noble and pious example he shews them. 

He hath had frequent offers made him, of being restored to his estate on the same conditions he had preserved it before ; but he hath hitherto been proof against all their attempts. 

He was, some years ago, put into the Hospital General for the Galleys, at Marseilles. This is a kind of Manufactory ; where their treatment is somewhat easier than in the Galleys. 

But, at the siege of Toulon [1707], he and all his brethren were taken out of that Hospital ; and reduced to their old station and former miserable condition : besides losing 12 or 14 Louis d'Or [= 12 or 14] which he had procured, to purchase such necessaries as might keep up and support his spirits under the hardships he endured. 

This account came to his Lady, while I was there [Therefore Bion was at Geneva in 1707]; who is, as one may easily imagine, under an inexpressible concern for the miseries her Husband groans under. 

Second Storm and Fury of the Bastinados. 1703.
But it is time to bring this sad Relation to a conclusion. In order whereunto, I shall, according to my promise, give an Account of the General Bastinado, at which I was present; and it was not the least means of my Conversion. GOD grant that it may be effectual to my Salvation ! 

In the year 1703, several Protestants out of Languedoc and the Cevennes, were put on board our Galley. 

They were narrowly watched and observed. 

I was mightily surprised, one Sunday morning, after saying Mass on the Bancasse (a table so placed, that all in the Galley may see the Priest when he elevates the Host) to hear the Comite say, He was going to give the Huguenots the Bastinado ; because they did not kneel, nor show any respect to the mysteries of the Mass : and that he was going to acquaint the Captain therewith. 

The very name of Bastinado terrified me : and, though I had never seen this fearful Execution, I begged the Comite to forbear till the next Sunday ; and that, in the mean time, I would endeavour to convince them of what I (then) thought their duty, and mine own. 

Accordingly, I used all the means I could possibly think of, to that effect : sometimes making use of fair means, giving them victuals and doing them some good offices ; sometimes using threats, and representing the torments that were designed them ; and often urging the King's command, and quoting the passage of St. Paul that, He who resists the Higher Powers, resists GOD ! 

I had not, at that time, any design to oblige them to do anything against their Consciences. I must confess, that what I did, at that time, chiefly proceeded from a motive of pity and tenderness. 

This was the cause of my zeal : which had been more fatal to them ; had not GOD endued them with resolution and virtue sufficient to bear up against my arguments, and the terrible Execution they had in view. 

I could not but admire, at once both the modesty of their Answers and greatness of their Courage. ' The King ' said they, ' is indeed Master over our Bodies ; but not of our Consciences ! ' 

At last, the dreadful day being come ; the Comite narrowly observed them to see the fruit of my labours. There were only Two, out of the Twenty, that bowed their knee to Baal. 
The rest generously refused it : and were accordingly, by the Captain's Command, served in the manner following. 

Here, like another AEneas (with regret calling to mind the miseries and ruin of his own country, the very memory whereof struck his Soul with horror), I may truly say, Infandum Regina jubes renovare dolorem! 

In order to the Execution, every man's chains were taken off; and they were put into the hands of four Turks: who stripped them stark naked, and stretched them upon the Coursier, the Great Gun we have described in the Preface. There they are so held that they cannot so much as stir. During that time there is a horrid silence throughout the whole Galley. It is so cruel a scene that the most profligate obdurate wretches cannot bear the sight : but are forced to turn away their eyes. 

The victim thus prepared, the Turk pitched upon to be the Executioner, with a tough cudgel or knotty rope's end, unmercifully beats the poor wretch ; and that too the more willingly, because he thinks that it is acceptable to his Prophet, Mahomet. 

But the most barbarous thing of all is, that, after the skin is flayed off their bones, the only balsam they apply to their wounds is a mixture of Vinegar and Salt. After this, they are thrown into the [Galley's] Hospital already described. 

The Bastinados convert Bion to Protestantism. 
I went thither, after the Execution ; and could not refrain from tears at the sight of so much Barbarity. They quickly perceived it ; and, though scarce able to speak through pain and weakness, they thanked me for the com-passion I expressed ; and the kindness I had always shewn them. 

I went with a design to administer some comfort ; but I was glad to find them less moved than I was myself. 

It was wonderful, to see with what true Christian Patience and Constancy they bore their torments ! in the extremity of their pain, never expressing anything like rage ; but calling upon Almighty GOD, and imploring his assistance. 

I visited them, day by day ; and, as often as I did, my Conscience upbraided me for persisting so'long in a Religion ; whose capital Errors I had long before perceived: and, above all, that inspired so much Cruelty ; a temper directly opposite to the Spirit of Christianity. At last, their wounds, like so many mouths, preached to me, made me sensible of my Error, and experimentally taught me the excellency of the Protestant Religion. 

But it is high time to conclude ; and draw a Curtain over this horrid scene ; which presents us with none but ghastly sights and transactions, full of Barbarity and Injustice : but which all shew how false what they pretend in France is, for detaining the Protestants in the Galleys, viz., That they do not suffer there, upon a Religious, but a Civil account; being condemned for Rebellion and Disobedience. 

The Punishments inflicted on them, when they refuse to adore the Host ; the rewards and advantages offered them, on their compliance in that particular ; are a sufficient Argument against them : there being no such offers made to such who are condemned for Crimes. It shows the World also, the almost incredible Barbarity used against the French Protestants; and, at the same time, sets off, in a most glorious manner, their Virtue, Constancy, and Zeal for their holy Religion. 


Print Friendly and PDF