Arts and Culture
In April 1595 a small fleet of four ships manned with 249 men left the Texel roadsteads bound for Asia. Theirs would be the first Dutch voyage to Asia and though the enterprise would not be commercially successful it would spark a flurry of activity in the Netherlands. As a result, the Portuguese monopoly on trade with Asia would be broken. But what sources could the directors of the so-called ‘Company of faraway lands’ draw upon in preparation of their fleet’s departure? This paper will examine a crucial source for these, and other questions: a document held at the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam assembled by the company’s directors in 1594-1595. Although this document did not travel with the fleet to Asia, it represents the state of the art of available knowledge that the directors could draw upon.
New research methods make it possible to identify the sources which the Dutch compilers of the document drew upon. References to the works by Marco Polo, Jerónimo Osório and Ludovico di Varthema were always clear, but many of the other sources were unclear. This paper will identify the sources behind this unique document, and in so doing will argue that when the small fleet left Texel in 1595, it was sailing to a world imagined based on (in some cases) sixty year old sources. I will focus on the various descriptions given of India’s Eastern Seaboard, showing that the commercial, political and military information available to the Dutch were at points badly outdated.