Dutch trade in Asia

Part 1 and 2
IDC (Verlag)
  • erschienen am 1. Januar 2011
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978-90-04-20458-4 (ISBN)
Doeff in Japan
The name Hendrik Doeff (1777-1835) is a celebrated one in the history of Dutch cultural and commercial relations with Japan and the East. As a young man of nineteen he went out to the Indies to work in Batavia for the East India Company. In 1799 he was assigned to the Dutch trading post on the artificial island of Deshima in Nagasaki harbor, working his way up from clerk to director by 1803. During his stay in Japan he acquired a vast amount of knowledge of the country, its people, culture and language.

He saw to it that the Dutch maintained their monopoly of trade with Japan, which they had held as the only western power since the closing of the country in 1639. During the French annexation of the Netherlands (1810-1813) Deshima was one of only two places in the world where the Dutch flag continued to fly (the other was Elmina on the Gold Coast in West Africa). When the English took possession of the Dutch colony of Java in 1811 during the Napoleonic wars, the lieutenant-governor of the East Indies, Thomas Stafford Raffles (founder of Singapore) made attempts to take over Deshima as well, sending out ships that year and the following to persuade Doeff to strike the flag in favor of the English. Whatever offers they made, he adamantly refused and the English left empty-handed: "it was easy to say, but not so easily done, as the governor of Java found out", Doeff later noted in his memoirs Herinneringen uit Japan (Haarlem 1833, p. 225*). On 6 December 1817, Doeff turned over control of the post to his successor Jan Cock Blomhoff and said farewell to "Japan, where I had spent half my life" (p. 254).

Scholarly pursuits
In addition to his commercial talents, Doeff had a keen scholarly interest in Japan and undertook research into Japanese customs, mores and religion. He learned the language quickly and worked almost daily with the Japanese interpreters to teach them Dutch, which they used as a vehicle to gather knowledge of the West (so-called rangaku "Dutch learning"). These linguistic exchanges resulted in a manuscript for a Dutch-Japanese dictionary, which he hoped to have published in Europe. The Japanese authorities, however, forbade him to take his work with him. He managed to make a copy in secret and smuggled it out of Deshima when he left, but this text and his entire collection of artifacts and scientific papers were all tragically lost in the shipwreck of the Admiral Evertsen during his return voyage to the Netherlands from Batavia in 1819. The ship had gotten into trouble in the Indian Ocean and though for a tense moment all on board "looked death in the eye" (p. 256), they were (continued on reverse) rescued by an American sealer, the Pickering, off Diego Garcia. His pregnant wife survived the wreck, but died soon after on the next leg of the homeward journey.

Activities in the Netherlands
Back home Doeff remained occupied for the rest of his life with the Japanese and East Indies trade, acting as an advisor to the government and various merchants and commercial enterprises. He played a role in the founding of the "Nederlandsche Handel¬maatschappij" (NHM) (Netherlands Trading Society) in 1824 under the patronage of King William I, which was intended to exploit the East Indies colony and develop trade with it and with Asia more generally. He also pursued his scholarly interests, engaging in a controversy with P.F. Von Siebold over the authorship of the Dutch-Japanese dictionary claimed by the latter. His memoirs of Japan cited above have recently been translated as Recollections of Japan (2003). He died in Amsterdam in 1835.

Contents of the collection
The papers in this collection cover the following subjects:
several episodes during his tenure at Deshima, including the visit to Japan of the Russian ambassador in 1804
his commercial activities and advice in the Japan and Indies trade after his return (1819-1835) including
much incoming and outgoing correspondence with political and commercial figures, firms and organizations
documents concerning the selection and sending of gifts for the Shogun and the governor of Nagasaki
many documents concerning the founding and functioning of the Nederlandsche Handelmaatschappij (NHM) (1824-1835)
documents of a personal nature concerning among others his pension and claims against the English government, is role as curator or manager in various property questions and legacies, and an article and newspapers clippings on his life and work
his scholarly writings and other documentation, including manuscripts of "Herinneringen uit Japan", correspondence concerning his lost dictionary and that compiled by J.F. Overmeer Fisscher, the controversy with Von Siebold, various reviews, notes and comments, and others.

Short biography
Jan Cock Blomhoff was born in Amsterdam on 5 August 1779. As a youth he served as a cadet in the campaign of 1794 against the French in the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). After the French invasion of the northern Netherlands in 1795 he fled with his family to Germany where he took service in the regiment organized by the exiled Prince of Orange. He accompanied this unit to England, but returned to the Netherlands after the peace of Amiens with the French (1802) to devote himself to commerce. In 1805 he traveled from Bremen to Java in the Netherlands East Indies. Under the Dutch governor there, Marshall Daendels, he again entered military service in 1808 and was appointed first lieutenant and staff adjutant. In 1809 he assumed the post of pakhuismeester (lit. warehouse master) at the Dutch trading post in Deshima, the artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki where the Dutch had been permitted to stay since 1641. Hendrik Doeff was opperhoofd (head) at Deshima during this period. When the British took control of Java in 1811, their Lieutenant-governor, Thomas Raffles (founder of Singapore), tried the next year to wrest Deshima from the Dutch as well, but Doeff and Blomhoff adamantly refused to cede the post. On a mission to offer a trade agreement to Raffles in Java in 1813 he was instead made a prisoner of war and transferred to England. Liberated in 1815 he was promoted to opperhoofd of Deshima to succeed Doeff, but the return of Napoleon from exile compelled him to postpone his journey. He then served as chief administrator of a military supply depot in Dordrecht. In 1816 he was able to depart for the Indies, but only succeeded in gaining his post in Japan and relieving Doeff in 1817. Against the prevailing rules in Japan, he was accompanied by his young wife Titia and their infant son Johannes, she thus becoming "the first Western woman in Japan", though not for long (see Bersma below, Literature) . Refused permission to stay at Deshima she returned to the Netherlands in December that same year and died without ever seeing Blomhoff again in 1821.

As head of Deshima, Cock Blomhoff vigorously promoted Dutch commercial interests, twice undertaking the strenuous hofreis (journey to the court of the shogun in Edo, now Tokyo). His account of this voyage in 1818 has recently been republished in an annotated edition (see Literature below). Besides his activities as a merchant, he was an avid collector of Japonica, assembling a significant collection of art and artifacts on behalf of the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities, which he took with him upon leaving Japan in 1823 for Batavia. The collection was later purchased by King William I (1826) and is now divided between the National Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde) in Leiden and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In 1824 he returned to the Netherlands, for good as it turned out. He remarried in 1827 and lived in various places in the Netherlands before building the manor Birkhoven near Amersfoort where he died in 1853.

The archive
This small, but interesting collection of papers includes Dutch translations of dispositions and other official documents issued to him by the Japanese authorities in Nagasaki, more than 100 letters to him in Dutch from Japanese people (inventory number 4), bills and other documents concerning goods handled by the factory and repairs to its buildings and notes concerning customs and mores in Japan and other places (no. 13). Worth noting also are a catalogue of objects sent to Blomhoff by the shogun's chief botanist in Edo (no. 6) and the extensive list of gifts required by the shogun for 1824 (no. 7). An intriguing part of the collection is formed by the letters written to Blomhoff in Japanese (almost completely in hiragana script) (no. 14) by (or for) a woman, presumably his mistress, a woman called Hana, who addressed him as "Captain" ("Kapitan" or "Mr. Ka" (see Legêne below, pp. 244-247) and the illustration on p. 13 below.

This archival collection was acquired by the National Archives of the Netherlands in 1907. An important addition to the original collection is the account made by E.H. Bergsma, Titia's father, for Blomhoff and Titia's son Johannes written around 1827 (no. 15), a photocopy of which was donated to the National Archives in 1996.


Bersma, René P. Titia: The First Western Woman in Japan. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2002.
De hofreis naar de shogun van Japan. Naar een persoonlijk verslag van Jan Cock Blomhoff, bezorgd door F.R. Effert, ingeleid en geannoteerd door Matthi Forrer. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2000.
Legêne, Susan. De bagage van Blomhoff en Bruegel. Japan, Java, Tripoli en Suriname in de negentiende-eeuwse Nederlandse cultuur van het imperialisme. Amsterdam: Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, 1998.
Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek. Vol. I, pp. 374-375. Leiden: A.W. Sijthoff, 1911.

Note on the microfiches
The microfiches were made by Moran Micropublications by first filming on 35 mm microfilms the original documents made available by the National Archives and then reformatting these to 105 mm format (microfiche). The microfiches are numbered consecutively from 1 to 24. The headers are in Dutch and give the inventory numbers found on the fiche, among other information.

A great effort was made to film the documents in the appropriate text direction. For documents in Dutch this is of course left to right; for documents in Japanese right to left. For Japanese documents too long to be filmed in a single exposure (especially in inventory number 14, but also elsewhere), first the right side was filmed and then the left side with a significant overlap between the two shots to avoid loss of text. At times it was necessary to film the reverse of documents to capture small fragments of text. Again, especially in inventory number 14, but also in numbers 11-13, documents contained both Japanese and Dutch texts written in different directions. In these cases the documents were filmed twice, rotating the document as appropriate to achieve easy legibility for both languages. Inevitably perhaps in this complicated process a tiny number of filming errors were made, for which the publisher apologizes.

The publisher wishes to thank Dr. Matthi Forrer, head of the Research Department at the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, for his help and advice with the Japanese texts in this collection. Any errors are of course the responsibility of the publisher.
Brill Academic Publishers
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part 1: 140 fiches, part 2: 24 fiches
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