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

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The Voyage

ONTHE 13th of September 1598 the fleet of four ships left Holland: the Mauritius, measuring about 275 tons, was the Admiral's ship; the Hendrick Frederick was somewhat larger, some 350 tons. In addition there were two small ships, so-called yachts, the Eendracht (Union) and the Hope, each of about fifty tons.

These cockle shells, the largest measuring not longer than 130 feet, together carried 248 men. Only one ship, the Mauritius with 45 weary adventurers aboard would return three years later.*

The route led south past West Africa and into the Gulf of Guinea. Here, at the island of Principe occurred the first mishap, a foretaste of the disasters to come. Cornelis Van Noort, brother of the Admiral, went ashore to get water and he and his companions were sprung upon and killed by Portuguese soldiers. One of the victims was Captain Melis, who had accompanied Cavendish on his circumnavigation. The death of this experienced seaman was a severe loss to the expedition. From Cape Lopez, just south of the equator, the ships swung southwest into the equatorial current and then, supported by the trade winds across the Atlantic, reached the coast of Brazil in the latitude of 22° South. This area around Rio de Janeiro was well-guarded by the Portuguese. The Dutch, suffering from scurvy and almost out of drinking water, made several landings along this coast, harassed and occasionally ambushed by Portuguese and Indians.

By the 20th of March 1599 the ships were in the latitude of Rio Grande do Sul (32° South Latitude). It was now autumn in the southern hemisphere, and it became apparent that the perilous passage through the Strait of Magellan would fall in midwinter. This seemed an impossible undertaking. Moreover, many of the crew were sick, and the Union was leaking badly. It was, therefore, decided to go to St. Helena for the winter. Back across the Atlantic went the fleet, but the island could not be found. In despair the cluster of little ships turned west again and reached the coast of Brazil. once more, now at 20° South Latitude, almost four months after their first landfall. Here on a little island the weary and sick adventurers left their cramped quarters for shore. They fell upon whatever fruits and green leaves that seemed edible and enjoyed the fresh water. After two weeks of relaxation and recovery the voyage was resumed, but without the leaky Union, which was abandoned and burnt. The yacht Hope was rebaptized with the name of the discarded vessel. Three months later, on September 20, 1599, sailing along the coast of bleak Patagonia, the fleet reached Port Desire (47° 40' South Latitude), so named after the flagship of Cavendish, at the mouth of the Deseado river. Here they stayed for a month, refitting and repairing the ships, filling the water barrels and putting up "thousands of salted penguins and eggs" in the store rooms.

It is not known how many survivors there were from the Hendrick Frederick, which stranded in the East Indies.


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