RGSSA Library Catalogue

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Pirates of the Collection

Fascination with pirates has inspired classic fiction and continues to provide contemporary popular culture with inspiration for movie scripts and video games. Among the subjects you would expect to find in the Library's geographical catalogue are nontraditional subjects including books on pirates. For academic research and general reading, they provide primary sources of biographical information on real-life pirates and deal with historical events of piracy.

    Pirates became infamous after being captured and brought to trial.  The court proceedings of these trials were published to an enthusiastic readership in newspapers, journals, and books and into legend.  An historical reference volume in the Library's catalogue on real-life pirates is by Captain Charles Johnson: A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, originally published in 1724. In gruesome detail, the volume depicts the lives and exploits of murderous pirates of the day. Many historians suggest that Johnson was actually Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719.

    For those interested in reading about real-life adventure some of the Library's books tell of expeditions in the hunt for actual pirate treasure.  An excellent example was written by a remarkable British Army officer who reveals the facts about pirates are indeed stranger than fiction.

De Montmorency, Hervey Guy Francis Edward, 1868-1942.
On the track of a treasure: the story of an adventurous expedition to the Pacific island of Cocos in search of treasure of untold value hidden by pirates
London : Hurst and Blackett, 1904.

Portrait of Major H.G.F.E. de Montmorency,
published in his memoir, Sword and Stirrup, 1936.

After serving with the Royal Artillery in the Second Boer War (1899-1900), Major H.G.F.E. de Montmorency, resigned his commission in the British Army for the second time. In 1903, between his wartime engagements, he organised a 'treasure-hunting syndicate' to locate the legendary 'Treasure of Lima'. He records this adventure to Cocos Island in, On the Track of a Treasure, which begins:
"The heavy war-clouds which for a quarter of a century had hung over Europe were swept, by the final abdication of Napoleon, from the Old to the New World, and, long before the prisoner of Saint Helena had ceased to be a living terror to European statesmen, all Spanish America was ablaze with wars and revolutions."--Chapter 1. Tells of revolutions in general and a particular mutiny.

In 1820, the fight for independence against Spanish rule in Peru was nearing Lima led by General José de San Martín (1778–1850).  For three hundred years, the Spanish Conquistadors had channelled the riches of the Inca kingdoms through Lima on route to the Pacific coast; destined for Spain.  With Lima's vaults undefended, the Viceroy of Peru, José de la Serna e Hinojosa (1770–1832), and those loyal to the Spanish King, prepared to ship Lima's treasury to allies in Mexico.  Many ships sailed from the Spanish garrison fort at Callao with the 'Treasure of Lima'.

    In October 1820 (dates vary), one ship was consigned with the treasures from the Cathedral of Lima, representing centuries of donations to the church. Amongst the cargo was a life-sized statue of the 'Madonna and Child' in pure gold, encrusted with precious stones. The jewelled Madonna was a small fraction of the total consignment sent to Callao. Entrusted to Captain William Thompson of the British square-sailed brig, the Mary Dear; the treasure was never seen again.

    Reference information regarding pirates is full of inconsistencies and misinformation. For example, sources vary regarding the number of life-sized statues of the Madonna that were pirated from the Cathedral.  Major de Montmorency accounts for only one statue in his book (p. 46). Misinformation regarding the 'Treasure of Lima' isn't confined to dusty old printed texts as a recent internet report claimed the treasure had been found but was revealed to be a hoax.

Also refer:
'Cocos Island quest for treasure.' Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW),
26 July 1939. Retrieved Sep. 2015 from
Treasure hoax report. 10 March, 2015. Retrieved Sep. 2015 from 
Treasure hoax exposed. 17 March, 2015. Retrieved Sep. 2015 from  

In the first chapter of On the Track of a Treasure, Major de Montmorency provides an account of the mutiny aboard the Mary Dear:

View on N.E. Coast of Cocos Island--p. 4.

"To Thompson and his crew, men accustomed to a life of hardship, the presence of twelve million dollars of treasure in the hold was an irresistible temptation. The turmoil of revolution provoked the hope that their crime might escape detection; that some chance, born of revolutionary times, might cover up the traces of their flight. Under the veil of darkness, Thompson and his men cut the throats of the guardians of the treasure, slipped their cable, and put to sea.    
In latitude 5° 33' N. longitude 86° 59' W. (that part of the Pacific where prevailing calms render it difficult of access to sailing ships), there lies a deserted, rocky island known by the name of Cocos; this was the mark of Thompson and his piratical crew."
Cocos Island (Isla del Coco) is often confused with the Cocos-Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean.  The treasure island of Cocos is located about 300 nautical miles off Costa Rica and almost the same distance north of the Galapagos Islands.  It is the tip of an ancient volcanic mountain; long submerged by the Pacific Ocean.  Unique species of plants and animals have evolved in isolation in the dense tropical rainforest that covers the island which has remained uninhabited.

Breakfast Island--p. 151.

"To the north of the island [Cocos] is a detached rock known as Breakfast Island;
seen from the westward, it bears resemblance to the Sphinx."--p. 186.

    The history of Cocos Island abounds with accounts of pirates, treasure and explorers. Spanish and English archives provide historical evidence and inventories of treasure hoards that were reputedly buried on the island by various pirates.  They soon found its isolation was a haven from capture and a hiding place for their treasure.  Among the most infamous pirates known to frequent Cocos include William Thompson, Benito Bonito, Graham Bennett, and William Davis.  In 1822, William Dampier is said to have excavated several sandstone caves and hidden many millions in treasure on Cocos.  Despite hundreds of expeditions to the island; no treasure has ever been found.

    The first documented record of Cocos Island is attributed to the navigator, João Cabezas (various spellings in Portuguese and Spanish), in 1526.  In 1542, Cocos first appeared on a French map of the Americas as Ile de Coques, literally Nutshell or Shell Island.  The name was later transcribed into Spanish as Isla del Coco: 'Island of the Coconuts'.  The island was claimed by the government of Costa Rica as sovereign territory in 1869 but not constitutionally declared until 1949.  In 1898, naturalists Anastasio Alfaro (1865-1951) of Costa Rica and Henri Pittier (1857-1950) visited the island, suggesting it should be a protected area; well before any such concept of conservation.

    Cocos provided fresh water, firewood and coconuts (introduced) for centuries to passing ships. Many famous explorers anchored at its two natural harbours on the north coast including, Captain James Cook, 23 January, 1795. Whaling ships also took on supplies at Cocos until the mid-19th century when whaling collapsed due to overhunting in the region and kerosene replaced whale oil for lighting.

    For decades, Cocos Island was unprotected by the Costa Rican government until 1978 when it was declared a National Park and subsequently a Natural World Heritage Site in 1997. The government now refuses to issue licenses for treasure-hunting and Cocos is a popular recreational diving destination to observe hammerhead and whale sharks. The real treasure on Cocos is its unique biodiversity and a legacy to literature which some say was the inspiration for Treasure Island.  It remains a mystery if there is or ever was treasure buried on Cocos. An old undated tree carving on the island suggests some pirates may have retrieved their plunder, reading, “the bird has flown.”

Also refer:
'The buried treasure at Cocos Island'. Empire (Sydney, NSW), July 17, 1874 reported from San Francisco Bulletin, May 21. Retrieved Sep. 2015 from

'Treasure Island.' The Daily News (Perth, WA),
22 Jan. 1935. Retrieved Sep. 2015 from

'Surely, no pirate ever minded wetting his boots!'--p. 213.

Major de Montmorency also gives a profile of the pirate, Benito 'Bloody Sword' Bonito and his association with Captain Thompson.  References to Benito are often confused with the Spanish pirate, Benito de Soto, who was about at the same time.  'Bloody Sword' was from a good family, born at Pomaron, on the border of Spain and Portugal (p. 14).  He was fluent in French and English; valuable accomplishments for commanding pirate crews of mixed nationalities.  Around 1816, he captured an English slaver, the Lightning; a speedy vessel for pirating and renamed her, the Relampago. Among the crew were Thompson and a Frenchman, Chapelle; the only two crewmen to escape Benito's sword by pledging allegiance to him.

    By some reports, Benito entered Port Phillip Bay sometime in 1821 and is believed to have hidden treasure in a cave at Swan Bay, Victoria.  Reported in the Melbourne Argus, 1937, a party of treasure-hunters descended on the town of Queenscliff on the southern shoreline of the bay. They removed tons of sand to sink a deep shaft on railway property and located a cave.  A diver worked for three weeks in the water-filled cave until it became too dangerous and the venture was abandoned.  The party informed the locals that they were close to finding the treasure they valued at £13,000,000 and included 'two life-sized images of jewel-studded gold'.

    Benito's ultimate fate is shrouded in rumour but according to Major de Montmorency he escaped capture and died of old age. He claims that Benito changed his name to 'McComber' and fled to Samoa and was later heard of in San Francisco about 1841. Interestingly, Robert Louis Stevenson was in San Francisco in 1881 where he chartered a yacht and sailed to Samoa. Some suggest that Stevenson may have been looking for clues to Benito's treasure after hearing stories in San Francisco reasoning that the climate of Samoa was not beneficial to his deteriorating health.

Also refer:
'Pirate hoard : search for £12,000,000.' Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW),
21 Nov. 1931. Retrieved Sep. 2015 from
'Searchers find cave : treasure hunt at Swan Bay.' The Argus,
Melbourne, 11 Nov. 1937.
Retrieved August 27, 2015 from

On the Track of Treasure--frontispiece
[Unidentified members of the 'treasure-hunting syndicate' on Cocos Island.]

In 1889, Major de Montmorency's decision to resign his commission in the Royal Artillery, on the first occasion, was partly influenced by his lawyer in London. For well over a decade, he pursued an inheritance claim through the Irish Chancery Court in Dublin following the death of his grandfather (Hervey Francis de Montmorency, 1793-1883). To win the case; he was advised to be present at the court proceedings in Dublin. He writes in his memoir, Sword and Stirrup, that the War Office's administration; 'gave me a distaste for soldiering and hastened my determination to resign my commission'.

    During the 1890s, Major de Montmorency turned his horsemanship skills into a source of income. He had moderate success with owning and riding steeplechasers in England and France and competed in the several Grand Nationals at Aintree, the last in 1898. The following year, again in the Royal Artillery, he was with the first British troops at the 'Relief of Mafeking' (May, 1900). His diary of The Boer War (1902) is held in the National Archives UK, London.

For reasons not disclosed by Major de Montmorency, Captain Shrapnel of the Royal Navy is the only other member of the syndicate who is named in his book.  In 1896, the Captain was master of H.M.S. Haughty and had heard the stories about Thompson and Benito. He landed a large party of sailors on Cocos Island to search for treasure and blasted the landscape for several days without success. The British Admiralty took a dim view of Shrapnel's break of routine duty, severely reprimanded him, and decreed that no naval vessels were to land at Cocos.

    In 1902, Captain Shrapnel met Major de Montmorency on a leave of absence in England; both Irishmen shared a love of adventure. At the time of their meeting, Major de Montmorency was decommissioned from the British Army after the Boer War, and recruited 'a party of gentlemen' prepared to finance a venture to Cocos Island:
"It is a difficult task to procure subscriptions to a syndicate whose object is of such an abnormal and romantic nature; the promoter has to withstand a heavy bombardment of chaff; often denounced as a fool for his pains. … The treasure-searcher should be a man who can be a boy again when he reads Robert Louis Stevenson."--p. 95.
The means to reach Cocos Island needed to be decided:

A breakdown at Perrez, Vera Cruz and Pacific Railway, Mexico--p. 151

"The most exhaustive discussions and enquiries revealed the difficulties of procuring a suitable vessel at any port on the Western Coast of Central America, and the untrustworthiness of local crews. A Liverpool firm of shipowners was approached therefore, and an agreement was sketched out, which finally crystallised into the following arrangement with them:—the firm had entered into a contract with Messrs. Pearsons to carry cement to Salina Cruz in the Bay of Tehauntepec, where a harbour is being constructed at the western terminus of the new Trans-Mexican railway."--p. 98.
The syndicate purchased the Liverpool steamship, Scotia, at Salina Cruz on the Pacific coast of southern Mexico and rechristened it, the Lytton, for the westward journey to Cocos Island. On 1st May, 1903, the syndicate had sealed an agreement with the Republic of Costa Rica at their Legation in Paris for access to Cocos Island. The Costa Rican Minister assisted them with verifying the tales of the hidden treasure and sent several cables to San José to hasten the process. Permission was obtained to search for treasure excluding all rival expeditions for one year in exchange for half of any profit from salvaged treasure.

For many reasons, the expedition was a covert mission and; 'the most ingenious schemes were devised to prevent the whole affair becoming known to the Press':
"With a view to preserving the secrecy of our venture, it was decided that we should meet in the City of Mexico during the second week of July [1903], by which date, it was anticipated, the Lytton, would be at Salina Cruz ready to receive us on board. Some of our party took the route via New York, while others determined to start from St. Nazaire [France] in the Transatlantique Company's steamer, La Normandie."--p. 102.

Chart of Cocos Island published
in On Track of a Treasure

It is clear that Major de Montmorency thoroughly researched and analysed the historical evidence of pirated Spanish treasure to be found on Cocos Island. In the archives of the National Library at Lima, he found reference to Thompson, in the records of the trial and execution of seventeen mutineers from the Mary Dear, which may still be there today. No previous expedition to Cocos had been so well supplied with clues from previous fortune hunters who had provided directions to the exact location of the treasure:
"It will be observed that if lines be traced, in accordance with these instructions, upon the chart of Chatham Bay, they will converge to almost the same spot; and when it is remembered that the three sources of our information were independent of one another, the sanguine hopes of the adventurers may be excused."--p. 182.
First camp on the beach--p. 220.

August Gissler
'A modern Robinson Crusoe'--p. 229.

In 1888, a German national, August Gissler (died 1935, New York), obtained a concession and grant of land on Cocos Island from the Costa Rican government and officially became the Governor of the island. He had been a sugar planter in the Sandwich Islands when he first heard of treasure on Cocos from 'Old Mack' who claimed to have been a pirate. With Old Mack's son-in-law, Gissler sold up everything to reach Costa Rica. When Major de Montmorency arrived on Cocos, 9th August 1903, Gissler had been on the island for sixteen years. No-one could legally search for treasure without his sanction or possibly find treasure without his knowledge of the island. When the syndicate waded ashore at Wafer Bay, Gissler met them with: 'I suppose you've come to look for treasure!'

    Fortune had not favoured previous treasure hunters and on 23rd August, 1903, Major de Montmorency's expedition was no exception and abandoned for reasons he explains in the book. Gissler and his wife decided to leave Cocos and sailed to Panama with them. He writes:
"There must be a subtle attraction in this solitary home; for, as the lofty peak of Mount Iglesias became lost to view in the mists of sunset, the tears welled up into the eyes of the Governor's wife."

Also refer:
'Searching for buried treasure.' Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), 11 Feb. 1908. Retrieved Sep. 2015 from

References for this post:
De Montmorency, Hervey Guy Francis Edward. Sword and Stirrup,
London : G. Bell and Sons Ltd, 1936.

Major H. de Montmorency, The Boer War. War Office Correspondence
and Papers, South African War. (ref: WO 108/185)
Retrieved August 27, 2015 from

by Sandra Thompson
Distance Cataloguer/ Sydney, Australia
Please view the RGSSA catalogue by using the search box at:

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Discovering Asia: Discovering Japan

The final entry in the “Discovering Asia” series on the early travel narratives in the collection of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia—

Discovering Japan

The existence of Japan had been known for some time to Europeans but real contact with the West did not begin until the Portuguese established trade relations in the mid-16th century and began sending out their Christian missionaries. This contact lasted for nearly a century, and then Japan instituted a policy of isolationism, closing its borders to foreign influences. Not surprisingly, in the isolationist years few works on Japan were published in the West. After contact was re-established in the 19th century, European travellers began heading eagerly for Japan, and things Japanese became intensely fashionable in Europe, influencing art in particular.


1543: The First Portuguese Black Ships

Japan’s contact with the West began in 1543, when Portuguese traders arrived. They set up a trade route linking Nagasaki to Goa, on the western coast of India, where they were already established.
“A Portuguese Nanban carrack, 17th century.” (Wikipedia}

The large Portuguese carracks had their hulls painted black with pitch, and the term “black ships” came to represent all western vessels.

The Japanese gained modern firearms, with refined sugar, optics and other inventions. Later, silver from Japan was exchanged with silk from China via Macao.

1549: St Francis Xavier Arrives in Kyushu

The first Christian mission to Japan began in 1549 with the arrival of the Jesuit Francis Xavier. Christianity spread along with the spread of trade, with eventually about 300,000 converts, mostly peasants but, significantly at a time of great internal conflict in Japan, some daimyo (warlords).

1609: the Dutch Arrive; 1613: the English Follow
In 1609 a Dutch mission finally arrived and an English trade expedition four years later, in 1613. Both companies received shuinjo from the shogun, permitting them to trade in Japan, the Dutch in 1611, the English in 1613. On both occasions the expatriate Englishman William Adams played a part in securing the trade privileges, but he exaggerated his rôle.

1637: East-West Relations Deteriorate
The Shimabara Rebellion, suppressed in 1637, was blamed on the Christian influence. Tighter and tighter restrictions were placed on the Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries.

1639: The Shogun Tokugawa Closes Japan
In 1639 all foreigners were expelled from the Japanese mainland by the shogun Tokugawa. The Portuguese traders were confined to Dejima island at Nagasaki. Isolationism became the policy. Japan remained cut off from Western influences until 1853.


The RGSSA holds a mixture of early texts and later editions or translations which relate to the period of early European contact with Japan. They include two accounts of extraordinary lives: those of the Portuguese Fernão Mendes Pinto and the Englishman William Adams.

An Early Account of Portuguese Jesuit Missions

“The Jesuits in Japan and China (1542-1618)” (Volume III, page 316-412), In:

PURCHAS, Samuel, 1577?-1626.
    Haklvytvs posthumus, or, Pvrchas his Pilgrimes.
London, 1625. 4 vols.
    (York Gate Library 2071-2076)

Pinto in Asia: Facilitator or Adventurer?
Pinto claimed in his autobiography (Peregrinação) to have been the first to introduce modern firearms (“arquebuses” or “harquebuses”) to the Japanese, when he landed at Funai (modern Oita) around 1452 or 1543.

PINTO, Fernão Mendes, -1583
    [Peregrinaçam. English]
    The voyages and adventures of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, the Portuguese, done into English by Henry Cogan; with an introduction by Arminius Vambery. An abridged and illustrated edition. London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1891.


His book was published posthumously in 1614, with an English translation appearing in 1663. Scholars disagree about its historical accuracy, including the firearms story, but some aspects have been verified. Pinto was from a poor family, and first went to sea as a ship’s boy. During his extensive travels he underwent amazing vicissitudes, with several episodes of imprisonment and enslavement. He went first to India, from 1537 to 1538, then through Ethiopia, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf (circa 1538). His second, much longer, series of Asian adventures took place from 1539 to 1558. In the East Indies he was based in Malacca (then under the Portuguese), establishing diplomatic alliances with local rulers against the sultanates of northern Sumatra.

Pinto in Japan
After his initial landing in 1542 or 1543 (accounts vary) Pinto was back and forth to Japan for about fourteen years, facilitating Portuguese trade. At one point he was shipwrecked on the Ryukyu Islands. Having earlier left Japan with a Japanese fugitive, he returned in 1549 with Saint Francis Xavier’s Jesuit mission. Pinto himself joined the Society of Jesus in 1554, donating a large sum from his trading to it. He left Japan again after Francis Xavier’s death, but was back there with the Jesuit leader’s successor from 1554 to 1556. He became viceroy to Portuguese India’s ambassador to the daimyo of Bungo, on Kyushu. However, he left the Jesuits in 1557, and finally departed from Japan.

    After this he went back to Portuguese Malacca, was sent briefly to Burma (Myanmar), and then Banten, in Java, after pepper, a trip from which he did return but only after shipwreck and enslavement. Finally, via Siam (Thailand), he returned to Portugal.
A Portuguese Jesuit Missionary & Linguist:
    João Rodrigues in Japan, 1576-1610
Rodrigues, who went to Japan as a boy of 15, arrived just in time to experience Japanese society before the country was closed. His works provide an insight into this significant early phase of the “East-meets-West” drama.
Rodrigues, João, 1558-1633.
    [História da Igreja do Japão. Part 1, books 1-2. English]
    João Rodrigues's account of sixteenth-century Japan. London, Hakluyt Society, 2001. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society; 3rd. ser., no. 7)

Having entered the Jesuit Society in Japan in 1576, Rodrigues began missionary work there in 1583. His early studies and complete mastery of the Japanese language impressed Toyotomi Hideyoshi (or “Emperor Taicosama”, 1536?-1598), who made him a favourite and his personal interpreter. Rodrigues’s early works were issued in Japan: a comprehensive work on the Japanese language, Arte da lingoa de Iapam (“Japanese Language Art”, Nagasaki, 1604), and a Japanese-Portuguese dictionary (Nagasaki, 1603), translated centuries later into French by Pagès (Paris, 1862).

    The troubles which would lead to the installation of the shogunate and the closing of Japan were increasing during this period, and some of them involved foreigners. In 1610 Rodrigues was forced to leave Japan as the result of an incident in which Japanese sailors were killed. He then based himself in Macao, where he would die in 1633. There he worked on his history of the Jesuits in Japan, Histôria da Igreja do Japão (“History of the Japanese Church”), published in 1634.

    It is extraordinary that at this time, with the Spanish Inquisition at its height, and Catholics and Protestants at one another’s throats in Europe, Rodrigues provides an open-minded account of aspects of Japanese culture, even to the extent of praising the holiness of the Buddhist monks. Well-versed in both Western and Eastern cultures, he was a sympathetic and knowledgeable bridge between the two. His personal practice of taking tea served to advance him within Japanese society at a time when aesthetic interests and intellectual sophistication were greatly valued. Three full chapters of his História are devoted to the tea ceremony, chanoyu. His work gives us a fascinating and unique picture of Japanese life at the turn of the 16th century as viewed by a foreigner who was able to experience it as an insider. With Japan closed to the Western world, we may look in vain for another such sympathetic attempt to bridge the gap between the Western and Japanese cultures in the following two and half centuries.

    Hubert Cieslik. “Early Missionaries in Japan 7. Father Joao Rodriguez (1561-1632): ‘The Interpreter’”, Japanese Christian History, Sophia University Tokyo, Japan.
The Japanese “Boys’ Delegation to the West”: 1582-1586
In 1582 Alessandro Valignano, the Visitor to the Jesuit Mission in the East Indies, organised a trip to Europe for four teenage Japanese boys, two of whom represented important Christian daimyo (the Tensho Era Boys’ Embassy, 1582-1590)

Gualtieri, Guido, active 16th century
   Relationi della venuta degli ambasciatori Giaponesi a Roma sino alla partiti di Lisbona: raccolte da Guido Gualtieri. Roma, per Francesco Zannetti, 1586.

Sande, Duarte de, 1531-1600.
    Japanese travellers in sixteenth-century Europe: a dialogue concerning the mission of the Japanese ambassadors to the Roman Curia (1590). London, Hakluyt Society, 2012. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society; 3rd ser., no. 25)

The boys left Japan on 20 February 1582 and disembarked in Lisbon on 11 August 1584. They then travelled through Portugal, Spain and Italy as far as Rome, the highpoint of their journey, before returning to Lisbon to begin the long voyage home in April 1586. They reached Nagasaki on 21 July 1590, amidst great rejoicing, more than eight years after their departure. During their travels in Europe they had audiences with Philip II, King of Spain and Portugal, and with Popes Gregory XIII and Sixtus V, and were received by many of the most important persons in the places they visited.

    Guido Gualtieri, a contemporary Italian scholar and writer, recounts the visit of the young Japanese to Rome and traces the history of the relations maintained by the Vatican, through the Jesuit Order, with the Far East. Although his picture has been seen as a slightly idealised one it nevertheless manages to present more than just the Western point of view. Until the boys’ arrival the Euro-Japanese encounter had been almost exclusively one way: Europeans going to Japan. The Embassy was an integral part of Valignano’s strategy for advancing the Jesuit mission in Japan and raising further support in Europe.

    As part of the plan, a book consisting of thirty-four colloquia detailing the boys’ travels was compiled and translated into Latin by “Eduardo de Sande” (i.e., Duarte de Sande, 1547-1600), under Valignano’s supervision. It was published in Macao in 1590 with the title De missione legatorvm Iaponensium ad Romanum curiam. The Hakluyt edition is the first complete version of this rich, complex and impressive work to appear in English, and includes maps and illustrations of the mission, and an introduction discussing the context and the subsequent reception of the book.

The First Englishman Arrives: William Adams in Japan, 1600-1620
William Adams (1564-1620) was the first Englishman to reach Japan. He shipped aboard the Dutch ship Liefde in 1598 as pilot, in a fleet of five ships heading for the Spice Islands via the Strait of Magellan and the Pacific Ocean. The fleet was scattered as it sailed into the Pacific and the men on the Liefde, having only heavy broadcloth to trade, which they knew was not wanted in the Spice Islands, headed for Japan, of which they knew nothing. They reached Japan on 12 April 1600 with only twenty-four men alive.

“Voyage by the Magellan Streights to Japon, 1598-1611” (Vol. I, page 125-[131]), In:

PURCHAS, Samuel, 1577?-1626.
    Haklvytvs posthumus, or, Pvrchas his Pilgrimes. London, 1625. 4 vols.
    (York Gate Library 2071-2076)

“The letters of William Adams, 1611-1617”, In:

Rundall, Thomas (editor)
    Memorials of the Empire of Japon in the XVI and XVII centuries. London, Hakluyt Society, 1850. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society; no.8)
    (York Gate Library 2120)

Adams did not, surprisingly, vanish without a trace. In 1611 the merchants of the East India Company in England were astounded to receive a letter from Japan, written by Adams several years earlier. He had become an advisor to the ruling shogun, received great favours from him, taken a Japanese name, and was now offering his services as advisor and interpreter. The English sent out a mission which arrived in 1613 in ships under the command of Captain John Saris. Their aim was to set up a trading station (“factory’) at Hirado in the southwest. The trading post was headed by Richard Cocks (or Cockes). Adams’s claims for his influence on the two shoguns under whose reigns he lived are said by modern scholars to have been exaggerated, largely by himself. The English certainly did not establish themselves permanently as traders in Japan. Adams died before Japan was closed to foreigners, living out his life as a “gentleman of Japan” very comfortably. Does his story sound oddly familiar? It was the inspiration for the best-selling novel, Sho-gun.

    After his death in 1820 Adams was largely forgotten. Modern myths about him date from 1872, when an Englishman, James Walters, claimed to have discovered the tombs of Adams and his Japanese wife. There is no historical proof of such an attribution of these and other artefacts.

    (For a modern scholarly view of Adams, see Derek Massarella. “William Adams/Miura Anjin: man/myth”,

In the history of the European discovery of Asia, Adams’s importance is of course that his letter was the encouragement needed for the East India Company to send a party to Japan. The RGSSA Library holds works on the man who captained the expedition, John Saris (d. 1646), and the man who became leading trader at the English “factory”, Richard Cocks (1566-1624).

Saris, John, d. 1646.
   The voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan, 1613, edited from contemporary records by Sir Ernest M. Satow. London, Hakluyt Society, 1900. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society; 2nd series, no. 5)

“Eighth Voyage set forth by the East Indian Societie, wherein were employed three ships, under the command of Capt. John Saris. His course and acts to and in the Red Sea, Java, Moluccas, and Japan (by the inhabitants called Neffoon, where also he first began and settled an English Trade and Factorie)...”, 1611-14, In:

    Haklvytvs posthumus, or, Pvrchas his Pilgrimes. Vol. I, p.334

COCKS, Richard, d. 1624.
    Diary of Richard Cocks: cape-merchant in the English factory in Japan, 1615-1622, with correspondence, edited by Edward Maunde Thompson. London, Hakluyt Society, 1883. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society; no. 66-67). 2 vols.

”Relation of what passed in the General's absence going to the Emperour’s Court. ‘VVhereunto are added divers Letters of his and others, for the better knowledge of Japonian affaires’” [on Richard Cocks], In:

    Haklvytvs posthumus, or, Pvrchas his Pilgrimes. Vol. I, p. 395.
The Last European Witness? François Caron Sees the Closing of Japan

François Caron (1600-1673), born in Brussels to French Huguenot parents, served the Dutch East India Company (VOC) for thirty years, rising from cabin boy to Director-General at Batavia (now Jakarta), only one grade below Governor-General. He was later to become Director-General of the French East Indies Company (1667-1673). He first went to Japan in 1619, and left in 1641, after the 1639 banishment of the VOC’s Dutch traders to Hirado Island.

    The RGSSA has the 1663 English translation of his work on Japan, and a French version in Thévenot’s travel compilation of 1696.

CARON, François, 1600-1673.
    A true description of the mighty Kingdoms of Japan and Siam. Written originally in Dutch by Francis Caron and Joost Schorten: and now rendred into English by Capt. Roger Manley. London, printed by Samuel Brown and John de l’Ecluse, 1663.
    (The section on Siam is a brief account written by Schouten.)

“Relation du Japon par François Caron, avec les Remarques d’Hagenar desavouées par M. Caron...” (Vol. I, 30 & 31), In:

THÉVENOT, Melchisédec, 1620-1692
    Relations de divers voyages curieux...  Nouvelle edition, augmentée de plusieurs relations curieuses.... Paris, chez Thomas Moette, 1696, 2 vols.
    (York Gate Library. 2077)

Caron provides a meticulously organized record of Japanese customs and commerce in the early years of the 17th century, describing many facets of the way of life, covering not only those useful for commerce, but also a mass of background information, including, amongst many more topics:

Geography:   “How great the Countrey of Iapan is & whether it be an Island or no.”

Justice:         “What qualitie & authority the supreame Magistrate hath. His dwelling place, magnificence & Traine.” “Their manner of Justice. What Crimes they punish most severely.”

Religion:       “What Divine Service they use. What Churches they have. What Priests they entertain. What Sects are prevalent among them. The persecution of the Romish Christians.”

Home life      “How this Nation lives in their Houses and Families. How they receive each other, and of their Hospitality. Of their Conjugal State. Of the bringing up of their Children.”