RGSSA Library Catalogue

Saturday 18 April 2015

Discovering Asia: The Stolen East Indian "Rutters"

Discovering Asia: continuing the series on early voyages
from the collection of the Royal Geographical Society
of South Australia

The Stolen East Indian “Rutters”
How the Dutch Broke the Portuguese Trade Monopoly

During most of the 16th century the East Indian trade routes of the Portuguese remained a closely guarded secret. However, the demand for spices in Europe was too strong for their unwieldy supply system, and by the last decade of the century the Dutch, notably Jan van Linschoten, Cornelis de Houtman, and Jacob van Neck, had discovered the routes. The Portuguese were too firmly established on the West Coast of India, where the huge pepper trade was centred, for the Dutch to make much impression there, but the fabled “Spice Islands” were a different story. There they could get the important three spices of cloves, nutmeg and mace. Pepper, which had been grown and traded in Java, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula for centuries, was also available in large quantities.

Typvs orbi terrarvm”: map of the world
from the first English edition of Linschoten’s Itinerario:
Iohn Huighen van Linschoten his Discours of voyages into ye Easte & West Indies.
Printed at London By Iohn Wolfe, [1598]. Library of Congress.

Linschoten is one of the most important names in the history of Dutch exploration—far more important to the Dutch economy than was Abel Tasman. It was due directly to him that the Dutch got to know of the Portuguese routes to the East and were thus able to break the Portuguese monopoly on trade with Asia—in particular, the enormously lucrative spice trade.

Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1563-1611) emigrated from Holland to Seville in Spain when he was still in his teens, joining his brothers who had gone there earlier, and then going to the Portuguese city of Lisbon, one of the most important trading ports of Europe. Having got an appointment as Secretary to the new Archbishop of the Portuguese colony of Goa, on the western coast of India, he sailed there on a Portuguese ship in 1583. There he kept a diary, full of descriptions of people and places he saw, and of stories other people told him of places even further east. More importantly for the history of exploration, he also illicitly copied Portuguese nautical maps.

He left India in 1590 when the archbishop died. The ship was attacked by English pirates and wrecked, and Linschoten was forced to spend two years in the Azores, finally getting back to Lisbon in 1592. The books he wrote when he was back in Holland had a huge impact on Dutch navigation and hence trade. The second, larger work, which incorporated the text of the first, was “an exposé” that “turned out to be a bestseller, not only in Holland but in England and France, too.” (Krondl, The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice, 2008, p.140). Why? Not only because Linschoten was a fascinating and colourful writer, but because he provided a route to the East Indies which would open up the Far East to an onslaught of Dutch mariners and traders.

Sixty-Seven Pirated Route Guides
Linschoten’s astounding achievement was to provide Dutch navigators with the text of sixty-seven Portuguese or Spanish pilots’ roteiros. The contemporary English was “rutters” or “ruters.” If we used the word today it would be “routers.” It means precisely that: guides enabling the navigators to find their bearings from one port to another, in an age when there was no exact method of calculating longitude. Linschoten’s pirated “rutters” gave the Dutch a huge number of routes, covering Portugal to Goa, and thence the Strait of Malacca in the East Indies, the route to Macao, the coasts of Siam (Thailand), “Kambodja” and “Anam” in Southeast Asia, the route from Java to China, the Chinese coast and Japan. Also, crucially, the rutters gave the routes to the Spice Islands, covering the area east of Sumatra to “Bantam”, that is, Banten, near the western end of Java, a strategically important site and a major trading city, with a secure harbour on the Sunda Strait. The Dutch would use this route as a way to the Spice Islands of the Moluccas further east, avoiding the Portuguese-dominated Strait of Malacca.

Linschoten’s first book, containing the rutters and some accounts of eastern voyages, was published in Dutch as Reys-gheschrift van de navigatien der Portugaloysers in Orienten... (Amsterdam, 1595) (“Travel Accounts of Portuguese Navigation in the Orient”). It was then included in the much fuller Itinerario: Voyage ofte schipvaert van Jan Huyghen van Linschoten naer Oost ofte Portugaels Indien, 1579-1592 (1596) (“Travel Account of the Voyage of the Sailor Jan Huyghen van Linschoten to Portuguese East India”), which was translated, reprinted and adapted by other chroniclers many times over the next forty-odd years.

Portrait of Linschoten
(The Voyage..., Hakluyt Society ed., 1885, vol, 1,
frontis., reproduced from the English ed. of 1598)

Linschoten did not stay at home after this: his later life was as exciting as his early years. He sailed on two expeditions with Willem Barentsz, the Dutch cartographer and explorer, in search of a Northeast Passage to the East above Siberia. Linschoten was one of the two crewmembers who published journals on Barentsz’s travels.

Linschoten: Early Texts
The RGSSA Library holds Latin translations of Linschoten’s work on the East and some accounts of other early Dutch ventures to the East Indies in Parts II, III and IV (1599-1601) of the important collection of early travel narratives collated and published by the De Bry brothers, known as “India Orientalis” or “Petits voyages.”

BRY, Johann Theodor de, 1561-1623?
    [India Orientalis. Pt. 2. Latin]
    II. pars Indiae Orientalis, in qva Iohan. Hvgonis Lintscotani nauigatio in Orientem, item regna, littora, portus, flumina, apparentiae, habitus moresque Indorum & Lusitanorum pariter in Oriente degentium: praeterea merces, monetae, mensurae, & pondera, quae quibus in locis, quóve compendio prostent, accurate proponuntur. Ea Lintscotvs ipse spectator atq; autor primùm vernaculo sibi idiomate Belgice in publicum dedit: deinde superioribus Germanis Germanice, & nunc Latinis item auribus Latine vtcunq, reddita enunciauit. Francofordii, ex officina Wolffgangi Richteri, 1599
    (York Gate Library 2044)

BRY, Johann Theodor de, 1561-1623?
    [India Orientalis. Pt. 3. Latin]
    Tertia pars Indiae Orientalis: qua continentur I. Secunda pars nauigationum à Ioanne Hvgone Lintschotano Hollando in Orientem susceptarum ... II. Nauigatio Hollandorum in insulas Orientales, Iavan & Svmatram ... III. Tres nauigationes Hollandorum in modò dictam Indiam per Septentrionalem seu glacialem oceanum ... Fideli stvdio et opera de Germanico in Latinum translata, & bono ordine disposita à Bilibaldo Strobaeo Silesio. Adiectae svnt huic operi multae eaeqve accuratissima tabula seu mappa chorographica. Francofvrti, excudebat Matthaeus Beckerus, 1601.
    (York Gate Library 2045)

BRY, Johann Theodor de, 1561-1623?
    [India Orientalis. Pt. 4. Latin]
    Pars qvarta Indiae Orientalis: qva primvm varij generis animalia, fructus, abores: item, aromata  seu species & materialia: similiter & margarita seu uniones, ac gemmarum species pleraqz, sicut in India tum effodiantur, tum generentur; quo itidem in censu, pretio & appellatione sint, accuratè describuntur. Per Ioannem Hvgonem Lintschotanum, & nonnullos alios. Descriptioni huic adiectae nonnullibi sunt annotationes clariss. Dn. Bernhardi Palvdani ..., apprimè vtiles & eruditae. Secvndo: Nouissima Hollandorum in Indiam Orientalem nauigatio, ad veris Anni 1598 introitum suscepta, & quatuor exinde reducibus nauibus mense Iulio An. 1599 confecta, exponitur. Francofurti, apud Matthaevm Becker, 1601.
    (York Gate Library 2046)

Two early depictions of “Bantam” (Banten):
above, Shipping; below, Foreign merchants
(India Orientalis, Pt. 3)

The De Bry family was responsible for publishing some of the greatest collections of travel narratives of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Theodor de Bry (1528-1598), the father, started off in life as a goldsmith and engraver. When the first accounts of Dutch, Spanish and English explorers in Asia and the Americas began to be published in the 1580s, De Bry became interested in producing illustrated editions of them. He was born in Liège but fled to Strasbourg around 1570 when the Spanish invaded the Low Countries. He travelled to France and England in the 1580s, meeting the English geographer and  historian Richard Hakluyt. It was not until he was in his sixties, by which time he was settled with his family in Frankfurt-am-Main, that he published his first great set of books, America, or Les grands voyages, as they have become
known. This monumental compilation documents the European discoveries of North and South America.

It is the second set, India Orientalis, that deals with the exploration of the East Indies. Theodor de Bry died well before it was completed and it was his sons, Johann Theodor de Bry (1561-1623) and Johann Israel de Bry (d.1611), who followed in his footsteps and issued this large set of volumes, which certainly merits more than the title by which it has become known to bibliophiles: Les petits voyages.

India Orientalis is probably the greatest single collection of material on early voyages to the East Indies, and is unique in its extraordinary wealth of cartographical and visual material on Africa, India, the Spice Islands, and South Asia.

Linschoten: Translations, Reprints & Facsimiles of Early Texts

Linschoten, Jan Huygen van, 1563-1611
    [Itinerário. English]
    The voyage of John Huyghen van Linschoten to the East Indies: from the old English translation of 1598, the first book, containing his description of the East, edited, the first volume by the late Arthur Coke Burnell ; the second volume by P.A. Tiele. London, Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1885. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society; no. 70-71) 2 vols.

This edition of the Itinerario, translated into English in 1598, was published by the Hakluyt Society in 1885 using an edited version of the early translation, supplemented with explanatory notes. It is a rich source of information about Portuguese trade with the East Indies, as well as descriptions of the fauna, flora and indigenous peoples of the regions Linschoten visited or learned about. Small wonder that his book was so popular in so many languages in its day: it is detailed, thorough, and extremely colourful.

Here are Linschoten’s descriptions of mace and cloves from the Hakluyt Society edition’s English translation. They are so vivid you can almost see and smell them!

Of Mace, Folie, or Flowers of Nutmegges, and Nutmegges
... The fruite is altogether like great round Peaches, the inward part whereof is the Nutmegge. This hath about it a hard shell like wood, wherein the Nut lyeth loose: and this wooden shel or huske is covered over with Nutmeg flower, which is called Mace, and over it is the fruite, which without is like the fruite of a Peach. When it is ripe it is a verie costly meate, and of a most pleasant savor. ... When the Nuttes begin to be ripe, then they swell, and the first shell or huske bursteth in peeces, and the Nutmegge flowers doe continue redde, as Scarlet, which is a verie faire sight to behold, if the trees bee full of fruite. Sometimes also the Mace breaketh, which is the cause that the Nutmegges come alltogether without the Mace, and when the Nutmegge drieth, then the Mace falleth off, and the red changeth into Orenge colour, as you see by the Mace that is brought hether. The Ilands where they grow, specially Banda, are very unholesome countries, as also the Ilands of Maluco, many that traffique thether die or are in great perill of their lives, by sicknesse, notwithstanding great gaine maketh men to travel thether.

This is what mace looks like when the outer, peach-like husk is just about to fall off:

Linschoten just nailed it, didn’t he?

And “Of Cloves” he writes:

Cloves are by the Turkes, Persians, Arabians, and most part of the Indians called Calafur, and in the Ilands of Maluco, where they are only found and do grow Chamke. These Ilands are five, lying under the Equinoctiall line, as in the descriptions thereof is declared. They have nothing else but Cloves, which are caried from thence, throughout the world, the trees whereon they grow, are like Bay trees, the blossomes at the first white, then greene, and at the last red and hard which are the Cloves, and when the blossomes are greene, they have the pleasantest smell in all the world.

I’ll end this entry on Linschoten, whom I found to be one of the most fascinating of the early European writers on the “discovery” of Asia, with the sort of meat recipe that would have been eaten in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. This is an English recipe which uses several spices, including cloves. Today in English cookery cloves are almost entirely confined to cakes and desserts.

Bibliophiles, please skip!

(From: A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde: reprinted verbatim from a rare ms. in the Holkham collection, edited by Mrs. Alexander Napier. London: Elliot Stock, 1882.)

“Buknad” or “buknadde,” etc., was just a name for a veal stew thickened with eggs. The modern English spelling would be:

To make buknade, take veal small and veal parboiled, then gather up the flesh and strain the broth through a strainer and put it in to the pot and set it on the fire and put thereto onions minced, powder of pepper, powder of cloves and canelle [cinnamon], and in the boiling put in the flesh; then take raw yolks in a bowl and cast thereto the heated broth and mele [mix] it well together and in the setting down put in the egg and stir it together in the setting down and give it a little colour of saffron and salt it and serve it.

Today we’d probably brown the small veal pieces before stewing them. I think it’d be yummy! No wonder they wanted spices so much in Linschoten’s day.

Note: Early recipes never give you precise quantities. Be careful with the cloves: of all the spices it’s cloves which can very easily dominate and overpower a dish. If you try it, watch how you mix the “het brothe” with the bowl of egg yolks “in the setting down.” I'm not sure exactly what the writer is trying to describe here, but I think it’s the way we’d approach it today, which is to add a little of the hot spiced meat liquid to the egg yolks, stirring well, and then, with the pan off the heat, slowly add the egg mixture to the stew, stirring all the time, until the egg is well mixed in and not curdled. If necessary, you can then reheat it gently on a low heat to thicken it up a little.

This post was researched and created by Kathy Boyes