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December 25, 2013

An important document preserved at the Département des Archives in Marseille (Arch. dep., 200 E 892) is titled, Declaration de la mort en mer du general Yacoub. An IX, 29 fructidor (Declaration of the death of General Yacoub[1] at sea, 16 September 1801). I have the pleasure to reproduce it here[2] in its French original and an English translation.[3]

Declaration de la mort en mer du general Yacoub. An IX, 29 fructidor


L’une des unites de recrutement local organisees durant la campagne d’egypte était la legion copte, commandee par un notable de cette communnaute, le general Moallem Yacoub. Lors du retrait de l’armee francaise, celui-ci s’embarqua avec l’intention de travailler a faire reconnaitre l’independance de l’egypte, mais il devait malheureusement mourir en mer, a bord de la fregate anglaise la pallas.

Dans sa deposition aux intendants de la sante au lazaret de marseille, le capitaine anglais sir joseph halmas declare qu’il avait a bord « 310 passagers, dont 80 sont francais & et le reste cophtes…., sous les ordres du general cophte Yacoub, lequel est mort 6 jours apres son depart de la dissenterie ». sont morts aussi de la meme maladie « l’agent en chef des hopitaux d’egypte » et « un bas employe ».

Declaration of the death of General Yacoub at sea, 16 September 1801
Upon withdrawal of the French Army, General Moallem Yacoub, the notable commander of the Coptic Legion, also left with the intention of working to recognize the independence of Egypt, but unfortunately he died at sea, on board the English frigate, the Pallas.[4]

In his testimony to the health authorities at the lazaretto[5] of Marseilles, the English captain Sir Joseph [Edmonds][6] said the Pallas had on board “310 passengers, 80 of whom are French & the rest Copts under the command of the Copt, General Yacoub, who died six days after his departure from dysentery.” Also died of the same disease “Chief of Egypt’s hospitals” and “a low rank employee.”

From this important document, we know the following points:

  1. The Coptic General Moallem Yacoub, “the notable commander of the Coptic Legion”, left too upon withdrawal of the French Army from Egypt in 1801 and “with the intention of working to recognize the independence of Egypt.” Some have denied that, out of what I would call anti-Coptism, but here is another document to confirm General Yacoub’s intention of achieving the independence of Egypt, the “First Egyptian Independence Project”[7].
  2. The Copts who left with General Yacoub on board the British ship, the Pallas, were 230. There were, according to this document, 310 persons on board, the remainder individuals were French nationals.[8] This must have been a crowded ship if we take that the 230 are on top of the ship’s complement[9], which was 280.
  3. General Yacoub died six days after the Pallas’ departure from Egypt. We can give these dates of Yacoub’s last days:
10 August 1801 : The Pallas setting sail for Marseille from the Bay of Abukir
12 August : Yacoub falls ill to the infectious disease (dysentery)
16 August (Sunday) : Yacoub dies of dysentery off Rhodes’ south-eastern corner
17 September : The Pallas reaches the port of Marseille and the body of Yacoub is kept at the Lazaretto
18 October (Sunday) : Yacoub’s funeral and burial at Saint Martin Cemetery[10]
  1. General Yacoub died of dysentery. This must be the severe type of dysentery that is caused by the bacterium, Shigella dysenteriae type 1 (Sd1), rather than amoeba[11]. It is highly infectious, occurring in crowded and poor sanitary conditions, such as must have prevailed in the Pallas, and has high mortality rate (the document tells us that, with General Yacoub, two more people died of the same infection). It causes high fever, bloody and mucusy diarrhea, dehydration, rectal pain, abdominal cramps and septicaemia[12]. Treatment for this condition rests on rehydration (including oral rehydration salt solution and intravenous infusions) and antibiotics, but these were not available at the time.



How to cite this article: Dioscorus Boles (25 December 2013), THE DECLARATION OF THE DEATH OF GENERAL YACOUB (TA’QUB) AT SEA, 16 SEPTEMBER 1801

[1] The name of Mu’allem Ya’qub Hanna is written in various references in different forms: Mu’allem is sometimes written as Mu’allem, Moallem, Maa’llem, Mu’allim, Moallim, and Maalem; Ya’qub is written as Yacoub, Ya’qoub, and Jacob; Hanna is written also as Anna.

[3] The English translation is mine.

[4] The UK has had seven Royal Navy ships called HMS Pallas. The one we are talking about in this context is the third Pallas, which was a 38 gun fifth rate frigate. It was launched in 1780 as HMS Minerva, but when it was converted to a troopship in 1798 it was renamed HMS Pallas. Its propulsion was via sail, and its rough dimensions were: 43 m (length), 12 m (beam), 4 m (depth of hold). She was broken up in 1803. See J. J. Colledge and Ben Warlow, Ships of the Royal Navy: A Complete Record of All Fighting Ships from the 15th Century to the Present (London, 1969).

[5] The lazaret (or lazarette) is a building used as a quarantine hospital. In ports, such as Marseille, the lazaret was used for detention of all arrivals on ships, which was usually continued for forty days. The aim was prevent spread of contagion disease, such as the plague or cholera, to the population.

[6] His name is sometimes written as Joseph Edmunds. He took over as captain (commander) of HMS the Pallas in July 1798. In his letter from aboard HMS Pallas, Minorca, 4 October 1801, to Earl St. Vincent First Lord of the Admiralty, Captain Joseph Edmonds writes about “Maa’llem Ya’qoub”, the chief of [the] ligation: “The Pallas under my Command received on board in Egypt a Copte – a man of an excellent character and great weight as one of the Chiefs of that Sect in Egypt.” See George A. Haddad, A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801, p. 179.

[7] George A. Haddad, A Project for the Independence of Egypt, 1801; pp. 169-183.

[8] The number of the Copts on board was most probably less than that, and the number given in the document possibly included all who left Egypt with General Yacoub, including non-Copts.

[9] A naval ship’s compliment (or company) is the number of officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel aboard it, excluding civilians and guests.

[10] Some years later, Saint Martin Cemetery was closed and Yacoub’s remains were transferred to the new Saint Charles Cemetery. In 1835, his remains were moved for the second time to Saint Peter Cemetery in the same city.

[11] Entamoeba histolytica is an organism that causes amoebic dysentery (amoebiasis). It is milder than the severe type of dysentery caused by Shigella.

[12] Blood poisoning.

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