1636 The China Venture – Snippet 18

Normally, there were two major convoys of VOC ships to Batavia, the Christmas fleet and the Easter fleet. The Easter fleet arrived in Batavia at a bad time relative to the monsoon season, and even the Christmas fleet could arrive too late to catch the southwest monsoon to China and have to tarry in ague-ridden Batavia for as much as half a year.

Hence, the VOC had experimented in 1626 to 1628 with a fleet after the September fair. This “Fair Fleet” had left in October, and arrived in Batavia in June or July, soon after the southwest monsoon season had begun.

However, Captain Lyell urged that in September, the winds in the English Channel and the North Sea were more likely to be from a favorable direction than in October. Other SEAC captains disagreed. The SEAC directors had authorized him to proceed at his discretion. But they had written into his contract he would get a bonus if he arrived in Batavia in less than seven months and face a penalty if he exceeded nine months, not counting any time spent stopping to resupply at S. Tiago in the Cape Verde Islands, or at the Cape of Good Hope.

Still Lyell’s decision would have consequences for everyone on the ship. If the USE mission to China failed, the up-timers would have to return, tails between their legs, either on the Rode Draak and its consort, or, if those had already sailed home with a return cargo from somewhere in Asia, on the next SEAC flotilla.

According to William Usselincx, the SEAC intended to send out another pair of ships in a year or two. And probably no more, until one of the ships returned with a cargo, or at least a Dutch ship came back with a favorable report. The second pair would seek word of the USE mission in Batavia and Dutch Taiwan. If that failed, it might, depending on European and local politics, try its luck at Portuguese-held Macao or Malacca, Vietnamese Tonkin, or Thai Ayutthaya.

Eric sighed. At least they’d been given an experienced diplomat, this Baron Salvius, to negotiate with the Chinese. That should improve their chances of success. It would be better if he spoke Chinese, but Mike and Eric could translate.

Gustav Adolf, the Emperor of the United States of Europe, had only a mild interest in China, and had deferred to Mike Stearns when it came to framing the instructions for Baron Salvius. Those were, in essence: (1) find out what’s going on, how it differs from what happened in the old time line, and how it might affect the USE over the next decade. (2) establish regular trade regulations or, if that is not possible, at least develop a channel of trade that the Chinese government would tolerate.

On the larger issue whether to warn the Ming of their peril, Mike had decided to leave this to the discretion of the ambassador. Moreover, he was not to reveal that four members of the mission were from the “old” future without their consent.

There had been heated debate as to whether they should sail, not for Ming China, but for the Liaotung Peninsula, where they could open up communications with the Jurchen of Manchuria–the future rulers of China, according to the history books.

But while the Jurchen emperors–the Qing dynasty–had been more willing than the Ming to accept new tributary states, they had restricted foreign maritime trade to Canton. The USE needed the resources of Ming China now, not ten years from now. Hopefully, if the USE embassy did save the Ming dynasty, the Chinese would be sufficiently grateful to provide desirable trade terms.

There was a lot, of course, that the up-timers didn’t like about imperial China, whether Ming or Qing: foot binding, slavery, and the lack of any democratic institutions worth mentioning. When told that the “bandits” were sometimes “rebels,” Mike Stearns had been briefly intrigued. But Eric Garlow and Mike Song had convinced him that they were nothing like the new time line’s Committees of Correspondence or the American revolutionaries in the universe they’d come from. While the bandits did call occasionally for dividing land equally and abolishing grain taxes, this seemed more a ploy than anything else. The bandit armies were infamous for plunder, and for mass rape, arson, and murder. There was no reason to think that even if one of them succeeded in replacing the Ming dynasty that they’d be a better alternative–and they’d probably be worse.

October-November 1634

At Sea

After about another two weeks, at about 5 degrees north and 15 degrees west, with the Gulf of Guinea opening up to the east of the SEAC ships, they abruptly changed course from east-southeast to west-southwest, heading toward Salvador, Brazil.

Jim Saluzzo and Jacob Bartsch, as the mission’s astronomers, were assisting Captain Lyell with navigation; in particular the determination of the ship’s latitude and longitude.

“Why are we heading toward Brazil now, when we need to go east around the Cape and across the Indian Ocean?” Jim asked.

“In your up-time steamships, you wouldn’t have to, but we are at the mercy of the winds. We take the shortest path through the doldrums, and then we must clear the southeast trades. They oppose our southward movement, so we let them take us west to near Brazil, where their southward extent is least, and then turn south.”

Hence, in early November, still shy of the thirty degree west meridian–per Jim’s calculations– they curved south. After they crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, the ship’s heading was gradually altered, until at last they were heading east-southeast. On this maneuver, they made very, very slow progress.

As they crossed 35 South, the wind increased in speed and shifted to a more favorable direction. They entered the westerlies, the Roaring Forties, and the Rode Draak sometimes had to reduce canvas for safety’s sake.

They dipped only slightly below 45 degree South, for fear of ice drifting up from Antarctica, but they traveled in a broad arc around the Cape of Good Hope, passing safely south of it in late November.


Ambassador Salvius was profoundly unhappy. Captain Lyell intended to follow the Brouwer Route to Batavia, the Dutch colony that the up-time maps identified as Jakarta, Indonesia. This route cut through the Roaring Forties and avoided the monsoon-controlled region of the Indian Ocean. A passage that once had taken a year or more could now be accomplished in as little as six months.

But that wasn’t fast enough to suit Ambassador Salvius. It was not that he was enthusiastic about assuming his post, although he did greatly value the opportunity that trading with the Chinese offered for increasing his wealth. But no, it was the fact that the damned Brouwer route avoided all ports-of-call at which women of easy virtue might be found. And after all the stories he had heard of the licentiousness of India!

In 1627, Salvius had married the widow of a goldsmith, a woman thirty years older than himself, and thereby acquired a fortune. In doing so, he had had no intention of denying himself the pleasures of the bedchamber and indeed he had found his appointment in 1631 as Gustavus Adolphus’ general war commissioner in Hamburg to be quite convenient. The whores of Hamburg were notorious among the ports of Europe in both quantity and quality, and the brothel-keepers had make it clear to their girls that it was politically important to keep him happy.

The Portuguese had proven that great profits could be made in the China trade, and the USE Navy’s triumphant descent of the Elbe had made it pellucidly clear that it would be advantageous to attach himself to the Americans in some capacity if he wanted to continue his ascent. And so, when his contacts reported that the USE was contemplating a mission to China, he made sure his name was on the short list.

But he hadn’t thought through the implications of half a year’s nonstop sailing on a ship with more than three hundred men and only three women. One of those, Martina Goss, was a newlywed, and, even if she weren’t all dewy-eyed over her husband, he was not only on board, but a member of one of the more prominent of the American families.

The second was Eva Huber. She was a German commoner, and a refugee at that, but she was accompanied by her brother and that might prove an impediment. Or not, if he could be bought off….

And finally there was Judith Leyster. She was unmarried, and had no relative on board to protect her. According to Pieter Minuit, she was the eighth child of a Haarlem brewer and cloth maker. A bankrupt one. Supposedly the up-timers had books that showed that she was a talented artist, but the siege of Amsterdam had depressed the art market.

He would keep an eye on both Eva and Judith.

Chapter 14

Year of the Dog, Eleventh Month (Dec. 20, 1634-Jan. 18, 1635)

Beijing, Imperial Office of Transmission:

The emperor has reviewed the calendar proposed by the Western Office of the Astronomical Bureau for the Eighth Year of His Reign, the coming Year of the Pig. The emperor decrees that the new calendar meticulously coincides with the motion of the sky; therefore, he promotes its use. The employees of the Supervisor’s Office will have to study it and comply with it forever. The Historian’s Office will print it in order to enlighten institutions and rites. Praise must be given to the respectable and diligent Li Tianjing and his assistant Tang Ruowang.

“This memorial shall be disseminated in a timely manner and the yamen informed of it. All conflicting calendars shall be destroyed and their publishers punished in accordance with the Code.”