I wrote this now-archived blog in the persona of Christiaan Jan Neercassel, tracking his fictitious 18th century journey in real time, and using Google Earth to plot his course. The illustrations were also created in his persona, using two blackboards on which images were created and continuously erased. The work reflects some of my ideas on philosophies of time, situating the present in the past and the past in the present. A note on latitude and longitude, and a list of useful books, can be found at the end of the blog.
At Anchor, 22 November 1751.
Today the twenty-second day of November in the Year of Our Lord 1751 we are at anchor on the roadstead, having safely brought our fair ship The Precious Wentletrap from Rotterdam through the Old Meuse and Haringvliet. I am Christiaan Jan Neercassel, First Mate of this Dutch East India Company (VOC) vessel, bound for Batavia out of Rotterdam. Previously called the Island Venturer she has been most thoroughly re-fitted over six months at Rotterdam, and re-named in honour of that most beautiful shell which is the prize of Emperors and kings, and worth many thousands of guilders to any man who can find even one such specimen and bring it safely to Europe. Our blessed late Prince Willem IV, General Stadtholder of all the Netherlands and Director-General of our great VOC, was said to have desired to possess one; but a month ago he flew above all wordly possessions. I will soon write more of this shell. We are occupied today with loading the last of our provisions and water, and await the arrival tomorrow of our good Schipper, Kornelis Haverkamp. Latitude 51:49; Longitude 4:03.
Final Preparations, 23 November 1751.
Today we brought on board from the lighters the last consignment of our water and good beer. We welcomed on board our Schipper, Master Kornelis Haverkamp, with whom I have previously served and who is fair but stern with miscreants. I gladly handed command of the vessel to him.
Trusting in our Lord and in the stout oak of our ship we will proceed tomorrow westwards along the Channel, never forgetting the fate of the lamented Amsterdam, lost two years hence on her maiden voyage. Invia Nulla Via Favente Dio! Weather fair and calm, much improved from the lengthy storms this past summer. Our hold, which still smells sweetly of nutmeg, cloves and sandalwood from the last voyage, contains fine woollen cloth from Leiden, paving bricks and amber, along with sundry other items needed in Batavia and elsewhere: and in the Master’s and officers’ cabins we carry some 37 chests of heavy silver coins, mainly dubbeltjes and stuivers.
For myself, I have thirty one ducatoons in a tin box securely locked and hidden, wherewith I hope to trade for treasures and curiosities. On my previous voyage I bought much pretty porcelain, but would trade it all for just one of those shells for which our vessel is named.Tomorrow the Director of the Rotterdam Chamber will board to give our final instructions, and then if the winds continue favourable we will set sail along with our four companion Rotterdam ships.
Setting Sail, 24 November 1751
Today our plump Director arrived to confirm all that we knew already; that we have 197 crew, fifty-three soldiers and eleven passengers on board, and have the protection of 42 guns. Having read out our instructions, inspected the cargo and chests and pinned the Articles to our mast he waddled to his transport and departed, to the sound of salutes. Our pilots are now aboard, our Prayers and readings on deck have been accomplished with reverence, and we are ready at last to set sail.
Underway, 25 November 1751
Favourable Easterly winds today and so we are underway, sailing W along the English Channel. Today passed the white headland of Dover, and Calais. Our re-fitted ship is so splendid I must tell you of the carvings and decorations which have been newly wrought in honour of her new name, the Precious Wentletrap. On each side of the transom we have a goddess, richly attired in painted red and green silks and each wearing a necklace and bracelets of carved wentletrap shells. The figurehead on the bowsprit is smaller but yet more finely carved, a goddess with her hand shading her eyes as she strains forward, and her bosom similarly adorned with a wentletrap necklace. Covering the woodwork around the transom balconies are further painted carvings of white wentletraps. I can just see some of these when looking through the window of my cabin in the quarterdeck. By comparison with our companion ships on this voyage we look fresh and splendid indeed. Once we had left the roadstead today, which was as crowded with masts as a forest of pines, we made good progress, covering today 180 nautical miles, and our pilots will be able to leave us tomorrow. Latitude 50:11; Longitude 0:13W
Leaving the Channel, 28 November 1751
Winds continued favourable to us and so by late yesterday we passed the headland of England and sailed to the open sea, our course now set W.S.W. with a strong breeze. Our voyage now truly underway our Schipper was pleased to entertain at dinner our eleven passengers along with the officers, and a merry time was had. Some of the chickens had been killed and roasted and these we enjoyed with our smoked meats and French wine. Among the passengers there are four delightful ladies, three young cousins from a respectable family of Delft, along with the mother of one of them, aunt of the other two. The eldest of these girls, a most pretty and neat young lady, is betrothed to Willem Droop, Minister of the Gospel in Batavia. I have met the Reverend Droop myself on my previous voyage there, and in my heart I have to say that alas I think him a very dreary and tedious prospect for such a charming girl. All three young ladies have heard of the great riches of Batavia, and spoke in particular of the fine silks and jewels which are to be had there, and all the other finery which our Dutch ladies there do wear, and the servants whom they all have to carry their parasols and shield their complexions from the sun. I was pleased to tell them of the fine appearance of Batavia itself, with its houses which are built like our own houses but made of painted white coral instead of bricks; and its beautiful castle walls of pink coral. Latitude 48:7; Longitude 5:59 W.
A strange discussion, 1st December 1751
Strong Winds North by East these three days giving us good progress, between 93 and 127 nautical miles each day. Some hailstones. Men occupied about the rigging. Our passengers are finding the movement of the ship difficult to bear, so our dinner companions have been much reduced and confined to their cabins these last few days. Last night the only female dinner guest at our Schipper’s table was Mej Gretje Alkmaar who is the younger cousin of the young lady I have previously referred to. Unlike her cousin and sister, who are both fair-haired and pink-cheeked (except when suffering the sea-sicknesse) this younger sister has straight dark hair and pale skin. She is however blessed with eyes of the most remarkable clear gray. This evening at dinner the company were discussing again the many advantages of the fair town of Batavia, when she turned to me and asked quietly if it was not the case that the servants whom I had previously mentioned, who so carefully carry the parasols over the heads of our Dutch women, were in fact the property of those families for whom they work? I assured her that this was indeed the case, and that eminent families owned upwards of two dozen of such slaves, the greatest households in Batavia having perhaps one hundred. At which point this young lady leaned towards me, and fixing her gray eyes most earnestly upon mine she asked in a grave tone, if no Christian man in Holland is permitted to own another, why should it be so different in Batavia. I confess that I was lost for words at such a question. She continuing to regard me with great seriousness I could only turn the conversation to other matters, but her question continued to vex me for many hours after the dinner plates were removed and she had been conducted back to her relatives.
In sight of the Island of Madeira, 8th December 1751
Moderate breeze, E by N. We saw many schools of flying fishes, which proved greatly entertaining to our passengers. Today we had a ox killed and sent some of it in the boats to two of our fellow ships, the Maasluis and the Vrouwe Evelien Maria. Continuing our course S.S.W. we saw today the Island of Madeira, with its high hazy mountains.
Our sailors are proving themselves a good crew man and boy; but I cannot say the same for the soldiers, who are for the most part a dissolute and ill-tempered group of fellows with too much idle time in their hands. Latitude 34:18; Longitude 21:10.
A brilliant sight in the heavens, 15th December 1751
Course S and by W, we today passed the Tropic of Cancer. Brisk East-North-Easterly trade wind and good progress. Many fish were caught, especially snapper, and also a great shark which was caught with difficulty using a triple brass wire baited with pork and fastened close to. Then it was hauled aboard with ropes and battered with iron bars until it could no longer do any harm. It was cut up and served to the crew.
Tonight at 9 as I was conducting our four female passengers to their quarters after an excellent dinner of fish we saw a great meteor in the heavens, which flew with great rapidity from NE to SW, leaving a blazing trail behind it and lighting the whole ship as if it were the afternoon.
In discussion with Master Kornelis concerning the discontent amongst the soldiers. Loyal sailors have reported conversations amongst those who mingle on the boevenet to smoke their pipes. We have no doubt as to the loyalty of our crew, but we are told there are malcontents, especially among the German conscripts, which gives us great cause for anxiety and we are to decide tomorrow what course of action to take. Latitude 21:27; Longitude 26:47.
Two troublemakers, 16th December 1751
Winds E.N.E. growing stronger and filling all our sails. At first light our Schipper meets the Commandeur der Soldaten; together they decide to take action over the case of the two soldiers known to us to have been spreading dissent. There is a reliable report that they have been discussing mutiny and should be executed: but to avoid the trouble of a trial it was decided to be merciful and to put the pair in irons, with a guard, until we reach the Cape.
There is illness among the crew and military. Already two sailors have died from sickness and flux.
Cape Verde Islands: & some words concerning the Precious Wentletrap, 17th December 1751
Our trade winds have continued very favourable and we have now reached sight of the Cape Verde islands. Our ship has been accompanied by many land birds, which departed when we came in sight of the shores. Around these islands are dangerous reefs, which we are steering out to avoid. After we pass these isles our course will be to stick fast to the wagenspoor, or cart-track, on our charts, which will bring us safely to the Equator; outside the track we are in danger of drifting to the coast of Africa, or further still in the other direction, to the Caribbean. These islands mark an important juncture for our voyage, and thank God our fellow ships are still within our sight.
I spoke at the start of our voyage of my hope that I might make my fortune by obtaining and selling a rare shell, the Precious Wentletrap. The islands of the Far East have many natural riches, the spices and fruits; and many man-made ones from thereabouts and from other countries, such as the silks and porcelains. But those natural prodigies, the shells and strange animal wonders, are of a different kind of treasure, being unpredictably found and marvellously created. The Precious Wentletrap itself is of a most unusual shape and beauty, being like a long conical coil wound around itself and upwards like the spiral staircase which gives it its name; the whole being supported by an exterior structure of ever-diminishing hoops.
The creature which dwells inside it is said to be like one of our garden snails, with long eyes on stalks which it can move about; but it is of the purest white or golden colour, not black like a snail. I take this to be because it dwells in the darkness of the sea and grows pale in complexion, like a plant that makes white sprouts while kept in the dark. It is also said to produce a most rare and brightly coloured purple dye, which the native peoples obtain by milking it. Latitude 15:50; Longitude 26:31.
Comrades in distress, 22nd December 1751
These two days past the winds have increased greatly and now are blowing a hard gale and rain. At ten o’clock this morning we saw that the Maasluis had lost her fore topsail yard in the squall, but although we were able to approach her we can do little to help until the weather improves. Conditions on board our own ship have worsened, with many sailors, soldiers and some of the passengers falling sick.
Repairs to ship and crew, December 26th 1751
Today the winds having calmed to a slight S.W. breeze we are becalmed and making little progress. Our look-out ascertained that the Maasluis is over two leagues distant, having drifted away from us in the storm due to her deficient rigging. We sent a boat to her with the Carpenter and crewmen, along with our own sprit-sail top sail yard which we could spare, to help her make the repairs. A boat also being despatched from our other sister ship ,the Vrouwe Evelien Maria we trust that we shall be able with God’s help to return all of our ships to their course.
We now have grave concerns over the sickness among our crew and passengers. Six more sailors, three soldiers and one passenger, the merchant from Sweden, have succumbed to the sickness and flux, dying rapidly some two days after falling sick. Some time after our boat was despatched to the Maasluis we received in return a boat from that ship, offering us the assistance of their ship’s surgeon to help our own Dr Schloss. To my great astonishment, on welcoming this surgeon on board I found him to be none other than the physician Arnoldus op den Ool of Batavia, returning to a new post there. This is the same physician who treated me when I was last in Batavia and fell deadly ill with the shivering sickness, which killed so many of our VOC employees in recent decades. Believing firmly that this illness is caused by the foul air from swampy grounds he did not permit me to go to the hospital in Batavia, instead caring for me in my lodgings and administering Jesuit Bark, thus nursing me back to health, thanks be to God. If any man can help our suffering crew and passengers it is he.
Becalmed, 2nd January 1752
Slight Breezes continue from S.E., leaving us almost becalmed and able to make only ten or fifteen miles each day. The temperature remains consistently hot. Having followed the instructions of Dr Arnoldus we have seen fewer crewmen succumb to the sickness and flux, which while still very prevalent throughout the ship is raging less fiercely than before. Among the instructions he gave us we were advised that where possible those who were ill should be kept separate from those who were in good health – no easy task before the mast where space is limited for the large numbers of men. Instead of beer he said that water should be drunk, in which we were assisted by the many barrels of rain which we had gathered in the week before the present calm weather; furthermore he instructed that all such rainwater should be boiled in the galleys before drinking, in order to remove from it any foul air which it had gathered in its descent to earth. And lastly he mixed with this water a concoction of which he has several dozen ankers in casks, which he brought on his own ship and supplied to us. This concoction is a syrup of sugar with oil of oranges, limes and lemons inmixed. He says that he had this idea from a Swedish ship’s surgeon, who says it is a great preventative and cure for the scheurbuik or scurvy.
Recovery and progress, January 10th 1752
Our prospects have now improved, with the trade winds once again filling our sails we are on the wagenspoor and following our course S.S.W. with our two sister ships. Strong winds. We have suffered the loss of two more seamen, yet the last was sent to his grave in the ocean four days hence, and the health overall of the men and passengers appears to show no further sign of worsening.
An evening’s entertainment, January 13th 1752
Our ships now being safely carried by good breezes we are making progress South and by West over 100 nautical miles each day; today alone we sailed 112. Giving prayers of thanksgiving for our progress and for the improved health of our people, our Schipper allowed extra spirits for the men; and for his own guests he ordered a splendid dinner with entertainment. At our table, in addition to the officers and our passengers, we entertained Arnoldus op den Ool, who came across by boat from the Maasluis. The three young ladies played the clavichord, and our Schipper his violin. Altogether the good French wine, the conversation and the music made for a happy evening, and a great sense of thankfulness. Arnoldus was greatly entertaining on the subject of curious plants and animals in the Far Eastern islands, and spoke most informatively of a magnificent set of volumes which he has examined in the home of a certain rich merchant of Amsterdam. This herbal was written and drawn by Georg Rumpf or Rumphius, who collected many thousands of plants on those islands in the last century; but his great herbal was only printed ten years ago, the manuscripts having been in the safe ownership of our great VOC for many decades. Arnoldus described many of the plants depicted therein, and explained how he had learned from the herbal the uses of some of them for remedying some of the maladies amongst the Dutch in Batavia. The young lady whom I spoke of, Mej Gretje with the grey eyes, seemed particularly captivated by our physician’s conversational skills.
January 21st 1752 Slow Progress
Winds have been very light and variable these past days due to our position just S of the Equator. We have made slow progress and are further hampered by Scurvy symptoms among some of the crew;we will assay more dosages of the good doctor’s concoction. These poor crewmen are exhausted, and showing signs of blisters and sores, along with bleeding of the gums. While I do earnestly hope that they will recover I confess that our limited progress and the great heat are rendering the good doctor’s air of constant knowledgeability somewhat hard to bear. We were further distressed last week to find that our sister ship the Vrouwe Evelien Maria was no longer in our sights and we fear she may have drifted too close to the coastline of Brazilia; by our own calculation we are ourselves at a safe distance of some three hundred miles from that country.Latitude S5:35: W30:08.
February 1st 1752 A terrible storm
The winds having revived we have been making better progress S past the coast of Brazilia, and have seen many natural wonders which have greatly pleased our passengers, and which I will describe here, but first I must describe the events of the day just past. As I have previously experienced in these parts the weather can change with extreme rapidity, and yesterday in the late afternoon this was seen to be the case, when with almost no warning other than a sudden darkening at the horizon we saw a storm rapidly approaching and had barely time to furl all of the sheets.
For over two hours we were scudding under bare poles, the great loud storm taking us wheresoever it wished. For all the duration the air was filled with foam and the sea all white. All the passengers were ordered to their cabins and men readied at the pumps, the conscripts assisting the seamen where they could. Our vessel was tossed and thrown about and all on board were praying aloud in their own languages, be it Dutch or German, French or English; and the servants in their own tongues also prayed aloud. When the worst had passed we found under the night sky much destruction to our Precious Wentletrap. Our Schipper and the Commandeur der Soldaten have joined forces to effect repairs to the mizzen topmast, which cracked and fell in the great wind and did much damage. Lat 13:59; Longitude estimate 32:44.
February 22nd 1752 Repairs and natural wonders
After several days of very hard work by our hard-pressed crew we were able to resume our course. We were fortunate that the break being to the Mizzen top, for which we had a spare mast, we were able to avoid the need for a jury mast, and the cracked and broken timbers of the deck were made good. Alas some of our decorative transom is damaged beyond repair and will require attention at the shipyard in Batavia. We are back on our course, passing today the Isle of Trindade and the Isle of Martim Vaz to the East. Our whole attention now is fixed on continuing S and then E towards the Cape, trusting that we can convey ourselves and our passengers thence without further mishap. We and the other three ships in our fleet are within sight of each other, but no sign has been seen of the Vrouwe Evelien Maria.
Over the last weeks we have seen several albatrosses and swimming turtles, and once only half a mile distant a great school of whales swimming and leaping in the air, their big tails seeming to pause above the water as they re-entered it. They continued leaping for nearly half an hour, stirring up the waves with all their vigorous actions. Another day we sailed through a huge group of those creatures we call the Portugees Oorlogsschip, that look like a warship in full sail, their strange transparent pink and purple sails floating some six or nine inches above the surface of the water, which they covered like a great carpet.Latitude S20:40; Longitude W29:58.
March 1st 1752 South of Capricorn
Good weather and East winds have brought us on our course some 620 miles S and by west, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn some five days past. Now at Latitude S30 we are ready to turn our ship eastwards and head for the Cape. After our recent travails we are thankful to now be in the last stage of the long first part of our voyage. Our doctor friend Arnoldus has spent more time on his own ship, but we have continued our convivial evenings with our passengers at the Captain’s table. Exhaustion and scurvy continue to beset the crew. We shall recruit extra assistance at the Cape.
March 14th 1752 A sky brightly lit
Our course now set E we have travelled some 618 nautical miles in the last two weeks, our position now S35:24; W25:44. Supplies for the officers and passengers remain adequate, I have still a goodly quantity of my own smoked meat and pickled tongue, there remain several different and excellent wines, and some good cheeses which are hard now but flavoursome. For the crew there are plenty of stockfish and beer, and some pigs remaining. We have husbanded our water supply well and gathered more rain. Yet we have lost two more crew members to exhaustion and consigned their mortal remains to the ocean.
Last night as I conducted to their cabin our four lady passengers we were astonished to see in the heavens the most remarkable effect of the Southern aurora. It was like bright red and green silken curtains, moving and rippling across the entire sky, which was light and bright instead of dark as it should be. As it moved slowly on it appeared after some time as if we were under the zenith of a great dome, with green lines radiating and pouring down from its peak to the horizon all around, like the buttresses of some vast transparent building. We were all struck speechless by the beauty of this celestial display. When it was over, young Gretje asked me, her grey eyes sparkling, if I considered this to be a good or bad omen? – to which I could only reply that it seemed to me to be a good omen indeed.
April 2nd 1752 Provisions from the sea
We have progressed E by S and had good westerlies; today we have a topsail gale at N.N.W. and proceed at good speed.Latitude S36:45; Longitude W12:06. To the south we can see the great peak on the island of Tristao da Cunha, with a wreath of cloud aound it. In these waters are many vast flocks of birds, especially petrel; we have seen many albatrosses also, and great shoals of swimming penguins. We caught many of these to roast; they have yellow eyebrows like long crests. Their taste was worse than their appearance.
We had more luck with the dolphins we caught; these were good eating.
April 15th 1752 A cabinet of curiosities
Westerly winds continue fair, and we make good progress towards the Cape. Our stores now becoming somewhat diminished we feel the lack of vegetables and fresh goods, and look forward to the riches of the Cape. Our evening entertainment continues to be convivial. Last night we fell to discussing the great Doctor Rumpf or Rumphius, of whom I previously wrote. He lived on the Island of Ambon, some 1500 miles from Batavia, and there he set about drawing every natural thing which he could find, and collecting as many as possible of those things which would not rot or perish; thus he accumulated many thousands of the most beautiful island shells and other marvellous things for his Cabinet of Curiosities. Alas, his life was sad indeed, for he was struck blind and able only to complete his work because of his loyal assistants; and then after his wife and daughter died in an earthquake he had the additional misfortune of losing all his drawings in a great fire on the island, and they all had to be re-drawn. Cosimo de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany bought many of the shells which Rumphius had collected, including a Precious Wentletrap.
Much as I enjoyed our conversation, and welcomed this information from the lips of Dr Arnoldus, I can no longer hide from the fact that I watch closely how Gretje listens to his disquisitions with rapt attention. I can write here that which I cannot write in any official journal of this voyage; which is to say, my feelings of the most profound admiration for Mej Gretje Alkmaar. Latitude S34:43; E03:37.
April 28th 1752 At Table Bay
Today after our many weeks with sight only of the sea, we had fog as is usual around these parts, and then we saw many white petrels which we know do not stray far out to sea. Taking soundings we found fine sand at 19 fathoms and shortly thereafter as the fog cleared we saw Table Mountain and Cape Town. Now at Table Bay we are to spend two weeks replenishing our stores and doing Company trade. This bay is known for stormy weather from mid-May onwards, when False Bay is preferred, but for the present the weather is calm and hot. We trust that we will be under sail before the strong gales begin. We have all our companion ships near at hand, with the exception, alas, of the Vrouwe Evelien Maria .
We are preparing for disembarkation in a day or two. I will look for any opportunity to buy for myself any oddities of nature that may have been brought to the town from elsewhere.
April 30th 1752 In Cape Town
Today we disembarked and sought out our Cape Town lodging-houses. Having safely conveyed the four ladies and two of our other passengers to their accommodation I made my way to the lodgings where I resided on my last visit. Here I was greatly pleased to eat a good meal of fresh meat and vegetables, which seemed most delicious after our long voyage. On the morrow I shall be making arrangements for the re-caulking throughout of our ship the Precious Wentletrap, and also arranging for good fresh provisions to be taken on board for the benefit of our men. Schipper Haverkamp will be conducting the Company’s business and meeting His Excellency the Governor Ryk Tulbagh; and I shall have the pleasure of conducting our passengers to some of the more interesting parts of the town. Later in the week we shall seek replacement men for those members of the crew we have so sadly lost in the first part of our voyage.
May 7th 1752 The purchase of a man
During this week we have been occupied in the shipyard ensuring that all the necessary repairs to the Precious Wentletrap are being carried out. We have obtained a good number of sheep and brought them aboard for the next part of the voyage. The Schipper and I have been seeking out new crewmen to replace those we have lost.
Our passengers have been greatly intrigued to see the town and the countryside, all of which is new to them. I have taken them to see the fine vineyards in the surrounding country; and in the town they have enjoyed the Company’s large hillside gardens, and admired the animals in the menagerie, including the zebras and cassowaries. Many strange objects are available to purchase in the town, and I was pleased to have from a merchant trader recently returned from Batavia a bottle of that rare purple dye which is milked from the body of the Precious Wentletrap creature. This was intended for Rotterdam but I was able to offer him a good price for it, and have stored it safely in my tin box.
Our lady passengers were distressed to see the very poor living conditions of some of the slaves in the town, and their defeated and sad demeanour. On learning that Dr Arnoldus had purchased a man to take back to his home in Batavia Mej Gretje protested, to which he answered that the man would have a better life in Batavia than he could hope for in Cape Town, where the slaves outnumber the Europeans; and he spoke of Jacobus Capitein, the black minister who spoke in Holland in favour of Christians keeping slaves. Mej Gretje was silenced, but I think Dr Arnoldus has fallen in her estimation.
May 16th 1752 The price of mutiny
We are under sail on the second part of our voyage, sailing S.S.E. with a fair wind. Our last few days before leaving Cape Town yesterday were difficult ones. The representatives of our Chamber in Cape Town learned of our leniency towards those two miscreants who had plotted mutiny on our voyage from Rotterdam; they reprimanded Schipper Haverkamp and fined him, and ordered that the Ship’s Council should hold a proper trial on board as should have been done at the beginning. The trial took place on board in the shipyard, and the men were executed in the town before we left. For once I was glad to leave the town’s broad unpaved streets and the fresh provender. Then our departure was not without difficulty as the winds were rising and we left under the duress of a strong North-West gale; we know well how many of the Company’s ships have been lost in that harbour in similar circumstances, but we did not want to delay our journey any longer as the winter storms seemed likely only to increase. Now we are in better conditions and sailing to that southern latitude which we will follow for many thousands of miles before we turn north to Batavia. Latitude S37:27; E22:44.
May 30th 1752 A near disaster
At latitude 44 South we gladly embraced the brave Westerlies, which are blowing strongly this time of year and bearing us eastwards to our destination. Two days ago the winds strengthened to a great storm, during which hailstones the size of pigeons’eggs fell on the decks. We struggled to hold any course, sailing under bare poles and discovering to our dismay that the caulking which had been carried out at the Cape was far from sound, having been done with oakum which appears to have been insufficently preserved in pitch. This has caused us great trouble, our pumps working without cease to preserve us and our ship from disaster. The winds having now somewhat calmed we are attempting to carry out repairs with such materials as we have in our stores. Compass readings have been difficult or impossible, but we now compute our position as Latitude S42:13; Longitude E38:21.
June 15th 1752 Alone near St Paul Island
Following the great storm which I have described, we found to our dismay, although hardly to our surprise, that we had become entirely separated from our companion ships, and so we progress in isolation, occasionally seeing at some distance other ships but none of our own small fleet. We pray that they are continuing their voyage in another latitude. For ourselves, we were blown far off course but now find ourselves near at hand to the St Paul and Amsterdam Islands; first descrying yesterday great quantities of floating red and green seaweeds, and then hearing the strange groans and roars of some sea lions around the ship, we came in sight of the St Paul Island some eight leagues to the south. Around these parts there are also enormous quantites of those seals with the orange coloured chests distinctive in these areas. We have thus progressed about half of the distance of this the second part of our voyage.
It has been difficult to maintain good spirits amongst the crew. LatitudeS38:02;Longitude E78;26.
June 24th 1752 Illness and death
Our recent struggles have seen an increase again in sickness among the crew. Many dozens are ill, and all hands have been commanded to assist our progress. The soldiers, at first unwilling, have been made to realise that for the good of all, including their own souls and bodies, they must join in helping us onwards.
Our old doctor struggles with the high rate of mortality. Some three dozen men have, in the last week, paid their debt to nature, falling ill and sucummbing rapidly to this dreadful and unexplained illness.
We continue to follow the advice of Dr Arnoldus, to keep separate the sick and the healthy, and to feed the men with such fresh foodstuffs as we can.
Latitude 38:20S;Longitude 90:53E
July 3rd 1752 A great loss
We have at last reached that longitude at which we can turn North on the last part of our voyage. In every way but one this has been the worst journey I have made, the most dreadful occurrence being the loss two days ago of our brave and gallant Schipper, the most recent and greatly lamented victim of the illness which has ravaged our crew. Yesterday we held his funeral with full honours; his body in a coffin with holes bored into it, the flag draped over it, all the officers and crew present. This is the first, and the saddest duty, of my new command, as I have now taken on the duties of the Schipper.
The company of young Gretje, who has stayed so steadfast and calm in the face of our disasters, has been my only comfort.
Latitude 38:45S; Longitude 99:6E
July 17th 1752 The silent violin
We are making good progress northwards with favourable winds. We have had no further illness, beyond the ordinary, amongst the crew. Despite all our recent troubles we have good will amongst the men. I have endeavoured to maintain their spirits by allowing from time to time perhaps more of the wine than would normally be permitted; and as we have alas fewer stomachs to feed we are in no way short of provisions for the mess.
From time to time I look with sadness at the late Schipper’s belongings, now packed away to send to his widow, and his now silent violin and clavichord. Our cheerful evenings during the first part of our voyage have been replaced by somewhat quiet mealtimes.
Latitude 18:44S;Longitude 103:36E
August 4th 1752 In the straits of Sunda
At last within sight of our journey’s end, we today have turned North East into the Straits of Sunda and can see away to our north the beautiful mountains of Sumatra and nearer at hand the tree-covered islands of Cracatoa and Iron island; and on the southern side the paddy fields and palm trees of Bantam. Soon we will be in sight of the island Dwars in den Weg, or Middle Island, which lies athwart the straits, and once we are past that island we will at last be safely in the roads of Batavia.
Latitude S7.45:Longitude E101:43
August 8th 1752 Ashore at Batavia
Finally we are at anchor in the roadstead of Batavia, the city called the Queen of the East, where the coral walls of the fortress shining in the sunlight were greatly admired by those of the passengers who had not visited the island before. We have today disembarked; I have reported to the Governor General all the details of our voyage, and have agreed with him that the ship should be ordered to the shipyard at Onrust Island to effect all the repairs which are required. While we await the appointment of a new Schipper I am commanded to commence negotiations for the removal of our cargo and the exchange of the silver which we have safely brought here despite all our difficulties.
Today two of our fellow ships, from which we had become separated so many weeks ago, have arrived safely: they include the Maasluis, and today I met Dr Arnoldus from that vessel. We made a pleasant party with our passengers, who were delighted to see all the stuccoed brick houses and wide tree-lined streets; and the ladies exclaimed with delight on seeing the brightly flowered and highly fashionable silks sported by the local wives of the VOC officers.
Having safely escorted the ladies to their lodgings, it was agreed that Arnoldus and I will attend them there tomorrow.
I have returned to my own lodgings with my thoughts all in a jangle, partly no doubt because of the heat and the moisture in the air here; and partly because I fear the influence of Arnoldus over Mej Gretje.
Latitude S6:06; Longitude E106:48
August 9th 1752 An extraordinary treasure and its effects
This evening I sit down to record a most extraordinary afternoon. As anticipated, Dr Arnoldus and I attended the four ladies at their lodgings – the aunt and the three young ladies – there we were joined by the Reverend Droop, the betrothed of the oldest girl. We spent a merry afternoon, the ladies in particular enjoying the many fruits and sweetmeats of this region, which the servants brought in continually.
We were enjoying some sliced mangoes in a spiced syrup sauce when it was announced that a merchant had arrived and wished to speak to me! It appears that my desire to find or purchase a Precious Wentletrap shell has become known among the traders of the town. The man was ushered in, and was found to be carrying a most extraordinary replica of the shell, composed of some strange material entirely unknown to us; he proceeded to try to convince us that this was indeed a real Precious Wentletrap shell of enormous size – some ten times bigger than any such shell hitherto discovered. Both Dr Arnoldus and the Reverend Droop argued with him at great length that for reasons of natural history this could not possibly be a real example of the shell, and in due course the argument became so heated that both gentlemen conducted the hapless merchant out of the room, telling him that we were no fools and that he should take his replica elsewhere.
As they left the room I happened to look at Gretje, and to my astonishment I saw that she was struggling with some repressed emotion; within a few seconds she started to giggle, covered her face with her hands, and then burst out with a great roar of laughter; I found myself struggling to remain dignified but I too was overcome with her infectious mirth and both of us, to the astonishment of the rest of the company, laughed together helplessly, to the point of tears.
When the other gentlemen returned to the room they embarked on a serious discussion as to whether the value of these shells might, as with the value of the tulip bulbs a hundred years ago, suddenly diminish – especially if some were able to make more realistic replicas than the one we had just seen.
I have to confess that Gretje and I had to avoid looking at each other while they had their solemn discussion, as even the slightest glance between us started a recurrence of our earlier hilarity.
Tonight I have determined that I will visit her aunt tomorrow, with a most important proposal.
August 10th 1752 Journey’s end, and a beginning
I write this entry the happiest man alive.
Today I called on Gretje’s aunt and asked to see her in private; I asked her my question and she gladly gave her consent.
Then Gretje and I were at last able to speak together in private and pledge ourselves to each other; after all the trials of our recent voyage my heart is overflowing with happiness.
I have spoken to the Governor-General and asked for time here in Batavia; it is a fine town and there remain many opportunites for those of us who work for the Company. I think that for some time at least we might stay here to enjoy the delights of these islands, while I endeavour to set up my trade as a merchant of spices, shells and other natural wonders.
And so our new voyage begins.
A note on latitude and longitude:
When Christiaan was writing his blog, latitude could be accurately determined; accurate measurement of longitude was not yet possible, although he used his utmost endeavours to estimate it with the methods he had available. Furthermore, there was no standard meridian line, and he used the meridian through the east end of Tenerife as approved by the VOC. But for the convenience of 21st century readers he used the Greenwich meridian in this blog when giving coordinates of his position.
Commanders of Dutch East India Ships in the Eighteenth Century, by Jaap R. Bruijn ; translated by R.L. Robson-McKillop and R.W. Unger. Boydell, 2011.
Social World of Batavia : Europeans and Eurasians in Colonial Indonesia, by Jean Gelman Taylor. University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.
The Navigator; the Log of John Anderson, VOC Pilot-Major 1640-1643, edited by Victor Enthoven, Steve Murdoch and Eila Williamson. Brill, 2010.
Maritime Society: Friendship, Animosity and Group-formation on the Ships of the Dutch East-India Company, by Michaël Deinema. academia.edu, 2003.
Ships’ Surgeons of the Dutch East India Company: Commerce and the Progress of Medicine in the Eighteenth Century, by Iris Bruijn. Leiden University Press, 2009.
The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth, by Richard Conniff. W.W. Norton, 2010.
Voyages to the East-Indies, by John Splinter Stavorinus. G.G. and J. Robinson, 1798.