Thursday, 5 May 2011

Johann Nieuhoff, 1658

Johann Nieuhoff

Johann Nieuhoff 1618-1672 was a Dutch traveler who wrote about his journeys to Brazil. China and India.  The most famous of these was a trip of 2,400 km from Canton to Peking in 1655-1657, which enabled him to become an authoritative western writer on China.  He left for Brazil in 1640 as a reserve officer-candidate and from then on, barring two short family visits in 1658 and 1671, he spent all the rest of his life abroad.  After a career in the service of the Dutch East India Company between 1660 and 1667 he occupied posts in India and on Ceylon and then lived in Batavia (Jakarta) until 1670 disappearing on Madagascar in October 1672.  At his homecoming in 1658, he had entrusted his notes and annotations to his brother Hendrik, who first published “An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperour of China.” in 1665.  John Ogilby's English translation of this book was first published in 1669 and in 1704 Awnsham and John Churchill published a four volume “Collection of Travels and Voyages” which included Nieuhoff’s description of his visit to St. Helena in 1658 and from which the following has been transcribed.

On December 22nd 1657 Nieuhoff left Batavia on the Pearl, the 700 ton flagship of a fleet of eight Dutch East Indiamen, bound for Amsterdam. . On the last day of March 1658 the fleet arrived safely without any remarkable accident at the Isle of St Helens (sic).  The Isle of St Helens is situate under 16 deg. 15 min of Southern Latitude at a great distance from the Continent.  It is very surprising to conceive so small an island at so vast a distance at sea, round about which there is scare any Anchorage, by reason of the vast depth of the Seas.  It is about 7 leagues in Circumfrence, covered all over with rocky Hills, which in a clear day may be seen 14 leagues at sea.  It has many fine Valleys, among which the Church-Valley and the Apple-Valley are the most remarkable.  In the Church-Valley, you see to this day the ruins of a Chappel, formerly belonging to the Portugueses; the whole Valleys are plante with lemons, oranges and Pomegranate trees.  At that time the island was destitute of Inhabitants, but since the English have made a settlement here.  (Though Captain Dutton didn’t arrive until May the following year, 1658)

The Church Valley.  From Mr John Nieuhoff's Voyages and Travels to the East Indies.
Published in A Collection of Travels and Voyages, 1704, p. 193

After the Portugueses had left it, a certain hermit, under the pretence of devotion, used to kill great numbers of wild goats here, and sell their skins, which the Portugueses having got notice of it, they removed him from thence.  At another time certain Negroes with two Female Slaves were got into the Mountains, where they increased to the number 20, till they at last were likewise forc’d from thence.  The Valleys are excessive hot, but on the hill it is cool enough; Tho’ the heat is much tempered by the Winds and frequent Rain showers which fall sometimes several times in a day; which, with the heat of the Sun-beams, renders the soil very fruitful.

He describes the island as abounding in fine and cool springs and that most of the fruits and beasts which are produced here in great plenty have been first brought hither by the Portugueses.  Neither is this island destitute of trees but such as are not fit for timber, but only for fuel.  Wild goats are here in vast numbers but very difficult to be taken by reason of the many rocks.  Tame hogs have multiplied to admiration; but are degenerated into wild ones, and are not easy to be killed.  Thus it is with the Partridges, wild pigeons and Peacocks which are here in vast plenty but are so shy that so soon as they see any one approach they fly from one Hill to another cross the valleys, so that you must be an hour before you can come to them again.
After we had sufficiently refreshed ourselves here, and provided what necessaries we thought fit, or could get, we left this island the last day of May.  We continued our former course and without any remarkable accident on the 6th July 1658 arrived happily in Amsterdam.

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