A Letter from Olivier Van Noort, Circumnavigator: Pertaining to the First Dutch Voyage around the World, 1598-1601

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A Foreword

THE English expression "that beats the Dutch" is believed to have originated in the seventeenth century, when in matters of commerce and navigation the Dutch were well-nigh unbeatable, and to surpass them became an achievement bordering on the incredible.

Because of the prominence of the Netherlands in Europe's commercial expansion in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, the James Ford Bell Collection is acquiring a significant body of materials pertaining to the formation and development of the Dutch commercial empire, and offers here the reproduction and translation of a unique document in the history of Dutch overseas trade.

If such names as Van Noort, Houtman, Usselinx, and Stuyvesant are less familiar to us than their English contemporaries, their exploits as sailors, merchants, and colonists were no less magnificent or important in their time. Through the efforts of such men as these the Dutch made themselves the foremost seafaring nation of Europe in the first half of the seventeenth century.

Olivier Van Noort ranks among the founders of the Dutch East Indian Empire, and the letter he wrote in September 1601 is considered a cornerstone to the subsequent books, pamphlets, and manuscripts relating to the Dutch East Indies in the Bell Collection. In asking Professor Broek to bring the letter into the English language and to enlarge upon the events which prompted Van Noort to write it, we hope to call attention to a significant voyage at the beginning of an era of major importance in the history of East Indian commerce.

Professor Broek has maintained the flavor of the early seventeenth-century Dutch language in his translation, and his commentary reveals much about the position of the United Netherlands at that time. In an attempt to permit the reader to see the geography of the world as Van Noort and his compatriots saw it, we include two maps in this publication.

The covers are an adaptation of the map of southern South America found in Van Noort's Description du penible voyage, Amsterdam, 1602, a recent acquisition to the Bell Collection. This map portrays the passage of Van Noort's fleet through the Straits of Magellan. On pages 6 and 7 Van Noort's route is traced upon a reproduction of Abraham Ortelius' Typus orbis terrarum. The original is in the Bell Collection copy of Theatrum orbis terrarum, London, 1606. Since Van Noort's published account of his voyage contained no map of his route, it is possible that many of his readers followed the route of his ships on this map by Ortelius. It was originally engraved in 1587 and was included in subsequent editions of his great atlas. While Van Noort likely had more up to date charts, it was such mapmakers as Ortelius who made known to the public the lands and seas that were opened to their Dutch countrymen by the seafaring contemporaries of Olivier Van Noort.

John Parker, CURATOR

-v-

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A Letter from Olivier Van Noort, Circumnavigator: Pertaining to the First Dutch Voyage around the World, 1598-1601
Table of contents

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  • A Foreword v
  • The Setting 3
  • The Voyage 5
  • The Letter 11
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