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Dutch maps and English ships in the Eastern seas.

In 1958, Jan Huygen van Linschoten's Itinerario, the landmark expose of Portuguese Asia, was published in English translation. Thirteen years later, the Eight Voyage of the English East India Company set out on England's first journey by sea to Japan. Richard Pflederer explores the connections between this important book and the beginning of English trade in the Far East.

English commercial and political successes in Asia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been well described in popular literature, and today it may be hard to realise that England began its first tentative efforts in Asia about a hundred years behind the Portuguese and Spanish. In an age when navigational information was the primary commercial intelligence and secrecy in such matters was, in most countries, the law, the merchants of England possessed almost no knowledge of the exotic and sought-after trading destinations in Asia. Japan in particular was hardly more than a name or a vague concept in the mind of even the best-educated Englishman of the late sixteenth century.

While Marco Polo had first described Japan to Europeans in a very fanciful, but none too useful, way some three hundred years before, the English merchants needed more reliable information before they could contemplate a trading mission to this island empire of silver mines and other riches. What were the commodities to be found at the major trading centres? What were the prices and qualities? Most important, what were the sailing routes and weather conditions en route, and to what extent could the Portuguese block these routes?

In 1596, when it was first published, Linschoten's book exposed in great detail the secrets of a new and exciting world extending from India to Japan. The English edition two years later became an instant success and for decades served as a major reference for the planning and executing of English voyages to the East. The English East India Company was established two years after the book's publication in 1598, and the directors soon organised a series of trading and exploration voyages. The eighth voyage was organised in 1611 and its commission identified Japan as a specific, if not primary, objective. Before departure, the leader of the expedition, Captain John Saris, received a copy of Linschoten from the directors of the company, and there is good evidence that he considered it a valuable navigational reference. While sailing down the coast of China on the return from Japan, he wrote in his log:

Nota, that wee found lan Huiighen Van

Linschotens booke, verie true, for

thereby wee directed our selves even

from our setting forth from Firando.

The Dutch edition of Linschoten is well respected, even today, for its rich navigational and cartographic content, including several beautifully engraved foldout maps. The most important of these are: a world map in two hemispheres by Petrus Plancius, the Molucca Islands, and the whole of East Asia featuring the unusually shaped Japan. Publication in Amsterdam in 1596 coincided with the expansion of Dutch trade into South and East Asia which was soon to signal the end of Portugal's near monopoly in such key trading centres as India, Malacca, the Moluccas, South China and Japan. The object of the trade initially was spice: cinnamon from Ceylon, cloves from the Moluccas, black pepper from India, nutmeg from Banda. However, as Linschoten documents in Itinerario, there were many more commodities to be had which held promise, among them gems and minerals, textiles, timber and porcelain.

The original Dutch version was an immediate success, and soon after its release, a London publisher, John Wolfe, began working on an English edition. He arranged for a hasty translation, probably by William Phillip, and commissioned William Rogers to make new engravings of the most important maps. He eliminated some maps, substituted others and added a few altogether new maps, for example the map of the continent of Africa by the Italian cartographer, Filippo Pigafetta. The most notable substitution is the world map. in place of the Plancius found in the Dutch editions, Wolfe used an unusual oval world map derived from the great Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius. Outside the oval, it features the decorative cloud pattern of the first edition (1570) Ortelius Atlas. Inside the oval, however, the cartographic content is updated to the later (post-1587) Ortelius, including the correction of the west coast of South America and the addition of the Solomon Islands. Interestingly, this very same world map was used in the first edition of Richard Hakluyt's Principal Navigations (1589). The second edition of this work was another source used by Captain Saris during his voyage.

The English edition is divided into four sections, with most of the text in the first book comprising ~The voyage by sea of the author'. In this section, Linschoten describes his travels beginning in 1576 from his home, Enkhuizen on the Zuider Zee in Holland to Seville where he met his older brother who had left Enkhuizen some years before. Together, they went on to Lisbon where they secured positions in the service of the newly appointed Archbishop of Goa, Don Frey Vincente de Fonseca. On Good Friday, 1583, the archbishop and his retinue, including the young Linschotens, set off for the East in a fleet of five ships. Linschoten describes the voyage to India and the Portuguese system of administering their empire. His position as secretary to the archbishop offered excellent access to information on the details of the trading ports to the east of India, and as a foreigner, we can assume a certain objectivity in his observations which were not very flattering to the Portuguese. (His commentary on the rather decadent and inbred Portuguese colonial life offers some interesting parallels to the British observations of Dutch colonial life in Asia a century later when, under the leadership of Stamford Raffles, the British briefly administered Java.)

The other sections of the Itinerario are:

Booke 2, ~The description of major

parts of Africa'

Booke 3, ~The navigation of the Portuguese

to the East Indies, China,

Japan and to the coast of Brasil and the

West Indies'

Booke 4, ~Summary of all the Taxes,

Rents, etc. of the King of Spain...'

Besides describing the Portuguese system of administration, Linschoten's work also gave the English reader a detailed description of the local people, the key trading posts, and the commodities available. Although he never actually visited many of the places found in his writings, he must have had extensive, immediate contact with the traders, missionaries, soldiers and seamen as they returned to the headquarters of Portuguese Asia in Goa. Possibly included among his contacts was a famous Portuguese cartographer, Fernao Vaz Dourado. Vaz Dourado was a native of Goa, a veteran of the wars of conquest, and the author of a remarkable series of manuscript atlases which were to influence the printed maps in Itinerario.

The reports and descriptions of the entire eastern empire of Portugal contained in Itinerario were quite accurate. The maps of the Moluccas, decorated with depictions of local spices, and the large area map of East Asia set the standard in their day. Together they form the most detailed and accurate picture of these waters and islands that was available in printed form at that time. The one exception to this generally high level of accuracy was the most mysterious and most sought-after trading prize, the island empire of Japan.

Linschoten's prawn-shaped Japan, following the work of Vaz Dourado, was one of several distorted versions of these islands current at the turn of the seventeenth century. One of the more picturesque was the portrayal of Japan in Ortelius' map of northeast Asia, Tartaria. The shape of the island chain and its location midway between California and China presented a fanciful picture, but obviously not something of use to a navigator attempting to chart his course to the elusive Japan. Linschoten's map featured a Japan with a well detailed southern coast and a convex northern coast, following the tradition of the Portuguese manuscript cartographers of the period. This distinctive shape is usually attributed to Vaz Dourado, who drew two colourful and beautifully executed atlases in Goa between 1568 and 1570. However, he was not the first to employ this form for Japan: the Lazaro Luis atlas of 1563 also represented Japan this way. Little is known of him, but it is assumed that he was an associate of Vaz Dourado during this time in Goa. A significant improvement in the form of Japan was achieved by Luis Teixeira, whose Japan was drawn about 1591 and first published by Ortelius in his atlas of 1595.

What accounts for the major shortcomings in the geographic and cartographic information concerning Japan by what were otherwise the top of the class map makers? There appear to have been several contributing factors. Japan was the furthest outpost of the Portuguese empire, a voyage of some 5,000 nautical miles from Goa. In addition, their trading history there went back only a short thirty-five years at the time of Linschoten's arrival in Goa. The combination of remoteness from Goa, the limited access to the islands enjoyed by the Portuguese and their brief experience there, probably explains the distorted shape of Japan, which is the most distinctive cartographic element of Linschoten's entire work.

The Portuguese trade of this period at Nagasaki was largely as an intermediary between China and Japan. These two great Asian countries had been experiencing serious diplomatic strains for several decades, primarily because of persistent Japanese piracy along the China coast and the halfhearted efforts of Japanese authorities to control it. Because of this animosity, direct trade was prohibited, despite the insatiable Japanese demand for Chinese goods. This situation provided an opportunity for a very profitable trade for the Portuguese. It was based on an annual voyage of a single ~Great Ship' sailing from Portuguese Macau to Nagasaki laden with Chinese commodities, mostly silk in various forms, and returning on the north-east monsoon with Japanese silver to pay for the next year's voyage. Linschoten apparently obtained detailed sailing instructions for this voyage from navigators passing through Goa and included them in ~Booke 3'. In many respects, these written ~roteiros' or ~rutters' were more useful for navigation than his maps which were drawn at such a scale as to limit their usefulness at sea.

The captaincy of this annual trade mission was a highly sought after royal appointment. The ~Captain Major' was not only the major investor in the voyage, but he also became the governor of Macau for the year of his voyage. The potential for trading profits was enormous, and so were the risks. Pirates, typhoons, political uncertainty on the Chinese end as well as the Japanese end frequently wiped out all profits while the initial capital outlay, often paid for on credit, was lost. Altogether, these trading missions continued for almost a hundred years, ending in 1640 when the Shogun Iemitsu, after losing patience with their insistence on religious missionary activity, finally severed all relations with the Portuguese.

There is virtually no surviving legacy of printed Portuguese cartography of this intense period of seaborne trading voyages, and so this Dutch ~spy', Linschoten, is one of our best sources of information on how the Portuguese navigated around their vast new Asian empire. Of course, at the time of publication of the Dutch and English editions, this information was worth its weight in gold as a source of commercial intelligence to their readers in Holland and England.

Reading the English edition of 1598 strictly for its value in planning a trading voyage to Asia, we see that it provided very practical and generally accurate information in several areas. These included maps of virtually the entire voyage from Europe to Japan, sea routes and sailing instructions, seasonal weather patterns, availability/pricing of trading commodities, and politics of the trading localities.

The influence of Linschoten's book is difficult to over-estimate, not only in regard to the end of the sixteenth century, but in the decades and centuries to follow. It was translated and republished many times and in many languages in the first half of the seventeenth century. According to Donald F. Lach in Asia in the Making of Europe, ~Linschoten's work had a direct effect upon the Dutch and English merchants of his own day. This is plainly evident from even a cursory survey of the materials relating to their enterprises'.

From today's vantage point, English trade with Japan was not significant prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1868. This is because the first English trade mission arrived only twenty-seven years before the Shogun Iemitsu, disillusioned with European influence in his country, closed the door to the West, save for a token Dutch presence at Deshima island in Nagasaki harbour. However, in these early years of the East India Company neither this future obstacle nor their competitive disadvantages were foreseeable, and its leaders had good reason to hope that The Eighth Voyage would open an era of profitable trade for the English in Japan. Based on the temperate climate of Japan as reported by Linschoten and others, there was good reason to hope for enthusiastic acceptance of manufactured goods such as English cloth.

To see the voyage of the English captain, John Saris, in historical perspective, we must remember that the English had been searching for a route to ~Chipangu' (Japan) for over a hundred years. In 1498, John Cabot secured the backing of Henry VII for his second Atlantic voyage with the objective of finding Chipangu, which he believed to be the source of the spices and jewels of the world. By the early seventeenth century, four possible sea routes to the East were still competing in the minds of the navigators and merchants of London: northwest, above North America; northeast, above Scandinavia; south-west, through the Strait of Magellan; south-east, around the Cape of Good Hope.

Each had its difficulties. For practical navigational purposes, the north-west and north-east did not exist. Thanks to over a hundred years of Portuguese voyaging down the coast of Africa and across the Indian Ocean, the south-east route was monopolised and well protected militarily by them. The south-west proved to be a very long and difficult voyage, and did not become a viable commercial route until the nineteenth century. Still, for decades, the English persisted in their preference for developing the north-west route. The geographical location of England itself, coupled with its desire to sell products more suitable for northern climates, seems to be the principal reason for this unfortunate bias.

The Portuguese and Spanish, not suffering from indecision on routing to the East, enjoyed immense profits from their Asian trade connection. The Portuguese exclusively used the route around the Cape of Good Hope and established a series of bases which served as trading posts in their own right as well as logistic support points for their shipping traffic to the outposts further on. The Spanish, unable to compete with the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean and constrained by the Papal division of the globe in the last years of the fifteenth century, navigated their path to the riches of Asia by exploiting their strengths in the Americas. This meant using the ports on the west coast of Latin America to connect to Asia, most frequently, Acapulco to Manila.

By the end of the sixteenth century, at least two sources of information on the Indies were pointing the English to the south-east route. One was the report of Ralph Fitch, who accompanied John Newberry's overland voyage to Goa in 1584. Fitch's story was published in the second edition of Hakluyt's Principal Navigations (1599). The other was Linschoten. Both sources suggested that the strength of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean was on the wane, and coupled with lack of success in discovering and developing the other routes, this made the south-east route more attractive to the directors of the company. Beginning with the First Voyage of the company under james Lancaster in 1601, the English ships gradually extended their reach from the shores of the Indian Ocean, to Sumatra, Java, the east coast of the Malay peninsula and Siam. Finally, the stage was set for an approach to the most distant and unknown prize of all, the Chipangu of Marco Polo, Japan.

On April 18th, 1611, a small fleet of three ships under the command of Captain John Saris set sail from England bound for the East. Saris was not a captain in the naval sense. Not trained as a sailor, he was a businessman, administratively responsible to London for the voyage. Although he was the senior 'captain' of the expedition, he was instructed to share the decision-making with the masters of the three ships and the commercial representatives of the company, the factors. His commission from the directors of the company did not identify Japan as the principal goal of the voyage, but gave him a clear mandate to make history in the far away islands of Japan:

... to proceede with The Clove, with all

possible speede thatt you may, endevor

your course for Japan ... and being

arrived at Japan, we desier you to use

the best means to search out the most

convenient and safest harbour to trade

in ...

Some twenty-six months later, after extended stop-overs in the Red Sea, Bantam, and the Moluccas, Saris' ship The Clove, dropped anchor near Firando (now called Hirado) on the coast of Kyushu, the major western island of the empire of Japan. Their object was to negotiate trading privileges and possibly to establish a factory. This they did achieve, although not with the permanence of some other outposts the East India Company was to set up in the lands to the south of Japan.

The trip south to the Cape from England had become relatively routine after seven previous voyages, and the same can be said for the trip up the east coast of Africa. Of course, Saris did not have the benefits of the vast experience enjoyed by the Portuguese captains after hundreds of exploratory voyages in these waters, and this made the Linschoten book more important to him. For example, after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, while on route to the Comorro Islands, Saris notes in his log:

We steered NE and NE by E and ENE

for the island of St Laurence Island

(Madagascar) looking out for juan de

Nova (Islands) which Hugh van Linschoten

willeth to beware of and not to

come near it in a smale moone ...

It was also necessary to avoid the strongholds of the Portuguese on these shores. So after spending several months at the south end of the Red Sea, the fleet crossed the Indian Ocean on a course of ESE rounding the cape of southern India, along the southern coast of Sumatra, through the Straits of Sunda, essentially without landfall until reaching Bantam on the north coast of Java. Saris spent about three months in Java trading spices on behalf of the Company before setting off for Japan via the Moluccas.

For the final leg, from the equatorial island of Gilolo to Hirado, Saris selected a route skirting the eastern islands of the Philippines. On June 2nd, The Clove sighted an island of Miyakojima, which Saris indicated in his log as ~Islands dos Reyes Magos' (islands of the Magi Kings) as they were named on the Linschoten map of East Asia. Ten days later, The Clove reached its destination on June 12th, 1613, after a voyage of more than 14,000 miles and two years.

Of course, Captain Saris was not the first Englishman to set foot in Japan. Some thirteen years before, Will Adams landed on the east coast of Kyushu. He was serving as pilot on a Dutch ship, de Leifde, which had taken the route through the Straits of Magellan from Amsterdam. de Leifde had been buffeted by storms and forced to make landfall, probably at Beppo Bay, with the few surviving crew sick and fatigued almost to the point of death. Adams was to stay in Japan for the remainder of his life, learning the difficult language and eventually gaining a position of influence with some of the most important rulers of the empire. He maintained occasional correspondence with the English East India Company through their factory at Bantam, Java, and Saris had obtained a recent letter from Adams before departure from that port.

These first two Englishmen in Japan did not enjoy a very positive relationship with each other. Upon learning of Saris' arrival, Adams delayed his visit to Hirado for almost six weeks, a period of extended anxiety for Saris and his factors which led them to believe that Adams may have had other priorities, or perhaps was trying to put his newly arrived countrymen in their places. However, Adams did assist Saris in the preparations for the official visit to Edo, the new capital (present day Tokyo). Not the least of these preparations was the selection of appropriate gifts for the Shogun. The trip from Hirado was by sea to Osaka, then overland to Tokyo, with a stop at Sunpu. The letters from James I to be presented by Saris were translated by Adams, who embellished the style to conform with Japanese expectations.

The English delegation eventually succeeded in obtaining most of the trading privileges it requested, including a licence to trade, to travel within the country, to leave whenever they wanted, as well as the right to establish a factory. Undoubtedly, Adams had a net positive effect on the English delegation's dealings with the Japanese officials, but it appeared to Saris that maintaining his standing with the Japanese, rather than endearing himself to the visitors, was Adams' main goal. By this time, at least according to Saris, Adams considered himself a naturalised Japanese citizen.

After much debate, Saris decided to locate the English factory at Hirado rather than Uraga, near Edo, as recommended by Adams. There were many arguments for and against, but Saris seems to have made his decision based mostly on the personal persuasiveness of the Daimyo of Hirado, Matsura Hoin. In hindsight, this appears to have been a mistake, but probably not the major reason for the failure of the factory, which suffered from fundamental competitive disadvantages vis-a-vis the Dutch and the Portuguese.

In 1623, some ten years after trade licenses were granted by the emperor, the East India Company voluntarily closed their factory at Hirado, citing lack of profitable trade. But for two isolated events, this withdrawal was to close the book on English trade with Japan until the ~opening' of Japan to the West by the American Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853. The first of these events was an unsuccessful mission by the Company in 1673 under the command of Captain William Lymbry. While initially enjoying a polite reception, this mission was soon rejected and sent away. The decisive fact seemed to be the allegiance between the English and the Portuguese implied by the marriage of Charles 11 to Catherine of Braganza. The second event was the scheme of Stamford Raffles, during his vice-governorship of Java, to send an English ship disguised as the regular Dutch ship from Batavia, then the capital of the Dutch East Indies. The idea was to scout possible future trade for the English as the successors to the Dutch and the new owners of Java. This effort likewise amounted to nothing because Raffles had little support from the Company in Calcutta, and in any case Java was returned to the Dutch a few years later.

But there was another, more durable legacy to arise from the voyage. While Captain Saris' motivations for this voyage were orientated to opening trade, there is no doubt that he did contribute to the English body of knowledge about Asia in general. His log and other records of his experiences in Japan were studied in the years following his return to England in 1614. Other than a few letters from Will Adams, there were virtually no other English sources of information on this rich and exotic country. There was a tangible and useful cartographic product of his voyage as well. During his stay in Bantam, he obtained a map of China from a local source in settlement of a spice trade. This map had been printed originally in China in 1605, with a text describing China and its provinces in Chinese characters. Upon his return to London, he gave it to Richard Hakluyt, and it was eventually published in Purchas His Pilgrims in 1625.

And what of Linschoten? After taking up residence in Holland, he became engaged in an effort to find a north-east route to Japan and Cathay. While this project proved futile, his book has earned him a place in history as one of the most influential and credible travel writers of his time. In Holland to this day, his name is associated with the golden age of Dutch discovery. To scholars of the Portuguese period in Asia, his work remains one of the most objective and complete sources available in the English language, and of course his maps are among the most sought after examples of decorative Dutch engraved cartography.

Today at the end of the twentieth century, travel and communication may be well advanced compared to the time of Saris and Linschoten, but the attraction and promise of bilateral trade between the two great island nations of Japan and Britain are undiminished. The wide range of Japanese goods available in London and British goods in Tokyo owe their heritage in a small way to the provocative book of Jan Huyghen van Linschoten and the courageous voyage of Captain John Saris.


Charles R Boxer, The Great Ship from Amacon, (Lisbon, 1959); Hugh Cortazzi, Isles of Gold, (Tokyo, 1983); Grant K Goodman, Japan: the Dutch Experience, (London, 1986); Donald F Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, (Chicago, 1965); Jan Huygen van Linschoten, The Voyage to the East Indies, (London, 1598); Derek Massarella, A World Elsewhere, (London, 1990); Capt John Saris: The First Voyage of the English to the Islands of Japan, manuscript log, 1617 (facsimile published by the Toyo Bunko, Tokyo, 1940); Sir Ernest M Satow, The Voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan, 1613, (London, 1900).

Richard Pflederer is an American businessman who bas spent many years in South America and Asia. His avocation is studying the European contact with indigenous people in the Age of Discovery, with a particular interest in the cartographic aspects.
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Author:Pflederer, Richard
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Date:Jan 1, 1994
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