1636 The China Venture – Snippet 25


Eric Garlow pushed back his chair slightly. “So, Maarten, please repeat for my colleagues what you have learned about current events.”

Maarten Gerritzoon Vries, Peter Minuit, Captain Lyell and the four up-timers were gathered around the conference table in the Great Cabin of the Rode Draak. The ship was docked, and so, while it still bobbed with the water, the movement was barely perceptible.

“First, we have heard that the Portuguese Japan Fleet of 1633-34 was seized in Nagasaki Harbor,” said Maarten. “Second, the Dutch and Japanese launched a joint surprise assault on Manila, and captured the city, as well as the shipyard at Cavite. Cebu is still in Spanish hands, however. Third, the Japanese offered their Christians a choice: abjure Christianity, go into exile, or die.”

“Exile, where?” asked Jim. “The Philippines?”

“Across the Pacific. America.”

“What the hell!” said Jim. “Where in America? How did they get there? Do the Japanese have a large navy and merchant marine?”

“They don’t,” said Maarten. “Nor do they have much experience in colonization. However, they received much assistance from the Dutch in Nagasaki, in Taiwan, and here in Batavia. And I understand that the Chinese in those places also supplied ships and crews.”

“Grantville is going to want to know more about this,” said Eric. “I guess we’ll have to send some kind of mini-mission to Japan at some point.”

“I could lead such a mission,” Peter Minuit volunteered.

Eric studied Minuit. “I don’t doubt you could. But who would then run the trading venture?”

“Maarten here, with the aid of Aratun the Armenian, can handle the sale of silver for silk and other traditional products. Colonel von Siegroth was to interest the Chinese in our armaments. And your fellow up-timers were to draw attention to our more exotic wares.”

“And you are comfortable that you can represent USE interests in Japan, despite the preexisting Dutch interests there?”

Minuit’s lips thinned. “I am not Dutch. I am a Walloon born in Wesel, Germany. As Maarten or Judith can tell you, I speak Dutch with a German accent.”

“But you were an important official in the Dutch West India Company, the Director of the New Netherlands colony. And you are married to a Dutch woman.”

“True enough. But the WIC treated me most unfairly. Do not your Grantville histories report that in consequence, I entered Swedish service and founded the colony of New Sweden on the Delaware River? Thus greatly affronting the Dutch in New Netherlands?”

Eric looked at his fellow up-timers. They all either nodded or shrugged. Eric looked back at Minuit.

“Okay. I’ll send a coded message to Grantville and Magdeburg with the intelligence that Maarten has provided, and the recommendation that you be given credentials as an envoy to the Shogun. Hopefully, the Dutch will send it back with the next homebound convoy.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” said Martina.

“I’ll tell the governor-general that it’s my report on Salvius’ death. Which will be true, in part. And he wouldn’t be surprised that such a report is long, and in code, either. He may send it on quickly in the hope that Gustav Adolf’s response is to recall us.”

“Even if he does, it could take a couple of years to get a reply,” Minuit complained.

‘That’s true. But for the moment, I need your help. If we aren’t permitted entry at Guangzhou, we’ll be sailing for the Pescadores and Taiwan. And since there’s a Dutch colony on Taiwan that trades with the Chinese, having a Dutchman of stature on board could come in handy.

“However, if and when we get entry to a mainland Chinese port, whether that be Guangzhou or someplace further north, I can spare you. I might be able to let you go to Japan on the Groen Feniks, and if that’s not possible, you can take a Chinese or Dutch ship there.

“But if we haven’t heard from the emperor by then, yours would have to be a pure fact-finding mission.

“Thank you, Ambassador Garlow,” said Peter Minuit. He offered his hand.

Eric took it.


When the meeting came to an end, Eric asked Mike, Jim and Martina to remain behind. After the down-timers had left, Eric told them, “Brouwer’s people have also been asking the crew questions about the death of Ambassador Salvius. What do you think we should do?”

“The only sailors who know anything firsthand are officers,” said Jim. “The captain and the steersman. I don’t think we need to worry about them. There may be rumors among the crew, but instructing them not to talk is probably an exercise of futility.”

“And that cure would probably be worse than the disease,” Eric admitted. “I am actually worried more about Anders Hansson, since he was Salvius’ man.”

“Could you confine him to the ship? As Salvius’ servant, he is part of the mission staff, and under your jurisdiction.”

“I am tempted,” said Eric, “but we could be here for weeks, and he has not committed any crime.”

“What profit is there for Brouwer in inquiring into the incident? Finding an excuse to hold Judith Leyster here, and thus depriving us of her services?”

Eric leaned back in his chair and pondered this. “I don’t think so. He isn’t likely to put much weight on whether a diplomatic mission includes an artist. Perhaps if he could argue that there was foul play involved, he could use it as an excuse to refuse our credentials, and deny us the aid he was instructed to provide.”

“Is Hansson the only possible troublemaker? What about Peter Minuit?”

“I believe I have placated Minuit,” said Eric. “Any other comments or suggestions? Should we say anything to Judith?”

“Definitely not,” said Martina, and the others agreed.

“All right, then,” said Eric. “Thank you for your time.”

As they left the room, Eric murmured to himself, “I hope I have placated Minuit.”

April 1635

Eric Garlow, Captain Lyell and Maarten Vries stood behind the parapet of Batavia Castle, looking down at the shipping below. The captain had a rolled-up map in hand.

“So how soon can we depart, Captain?”

“We can leave once the winds permits.”

Batavia was on the northern coast of eastern Java. To come to Batavia, they had threaded their way northeastward through the Sunda Strait, separating Sumatra from Java, and then turned fully east. In doing so, they had benefited from the wind, which had been from the northwest or more occasionally from the west.

“Ambassador Garlow, trade in east Asia is regulated by the monsoon winds. The proper course for China is north, through the Java Sea, with Sumatra and then the Malayan peninsula to our right, and Borneo to our left. But the wind right now is the northeast monsoon–actually, here and now, it comes mainly from the northwest or the north–and my Rode Draak can’t sail closer than six points to the wind. “

“I thought the northeast monsoon only lasted until March,” said Eric.

“It depends on who you ask, whether it ends in March, April or May. I would say that it ends in March, and that April and May are transitional. April and May are marked by calms and variable winds, with winds from the south half of the compass becoming progressively more common and those from the north half, less so.”

Lyell concluded, “The southwest monsoon will be fully established in June, so if we linger here until then, we will be sailing directly downwind, or on the broad reach, all the way. The Rode Draak was designed to sail well under those conditions. We can probably make it to Guangzhou in a month. If we sail earlier, it will probably take longer. You might not even arrive any earlier than you would have if you had sailed in season.”

“If you just want to get to Guangzhou before the silk fair ends, that’s in June, and a May departure should be sufficient,” said Maarten. “I think winds from the south are reasonably common in the Java Sea and the South China Sea in that month, begging your pardon, Captain Lyell. And you’re more likely to encounter a typhoon in June than in May. Although I concede that September is the most dangerous month.”

“But right now only the Portuguese can legally trade there,” said Eric. “Even under the best of circumstances, we can expect the mandarins to hem and haw before giving us permission. So shouldn’t we give ourselves more of a grace period, by getting there earlier?”

 Maarten smothered a yawn. “My apologies. We Dutch either wait for the Chinese to bring the silks here–admittedly that’s at a higher price–or we go to the little smugglers’ coves outside Guangzhou and trade there. And for the latter, it’s best to arrive close to the silk fair, as then we pay less.”

Eric leaned against the parapet wall. “Presumably because the smugglers have to pay less to the authorities, to look the other way. If all we cared about were silks, we would copy the Dutch. But we want to get a geological survey team up the Pearl to”– Eric suddenly thought better of talking about tungsten deposits with these men, who, after all, weren’t citizens of the USE or in Swedish service–“well, a place we think is of interest. For that we need to go to Guangzhou and speak to the mandarins.”

“In the meantime, we can at least question the Chinese traders that come to Batavia,” Captain Lyell suggested, “and so glean up-to-date information on what’s happening in China, and what spring sailing was like last year. Rather than depending just on what the Dutch tell us, be it accurate or misleading.”

“A good point, Captain,” said Eric, “one I should have thought of. It will be a chance for the mission staff to practice their Chinese, too. We’ll spread the word. I just hope we don’t go stir-crazy while we wait here in Batavia.”


Captain Lyell watched his crew as they loaded the Rode Draak with fresh provisions. He could even hear a cow “moo” as it was led on board. As soon as they had a fair wind to leave Batavia Harbor, they would be on their way.

Acting Ambassador Garlow had requested that the Rode Draak and the Groen Feniks make as early a departure from Batavia as possible. It was not merely that he wanted to start his mission as soon as possible, or to take advantage of the silk fair in Guangzhou in June; the VOC was continuing to try to entice away his staff and the ships’ crews, and Batavia was not the healthiest of ports.

Lyell and Vries had admitted that a skipper could try to get a head start on the ships heading north to China and Japan on the southwest monsoon of summer by making an early departure and taking what opportunities the uncertain spring winds might offer. Indeed, the southwest monsoon started earlier in the more southerly waters, so there was the hope that the ship could move with the changeover, like a car following behind a snow plow after a blizzard.

Back in Europe, there had been some dispute as to what the best rig for a ship sailing the Europe-China route would be. Square sails–that is, sails whose spars’ neutral position was perpendicular to the line of the keel–were ideal when a ship was sailing downwind, as it would be in the Roaring Forties or with a favorable monsoon. But if you needed to claw your way upwind, fore-and-aft sails were needed, the more the better.

Hence, the two ships had come prepared to make it easy for their crews to rerig them as barques. In the nineteenth century nautical parlance brought by the up-timers, a barque was a vessel on which all the sails of the mizzenmast were fore-and-aft rigged. In contrast, on a ship-rigged vessel, only the lowest sail on the mizzen mast, the mizzen course or crossjack, was of the fore-and-aft type.

The crews of the Rode Draak and the Groen Feniks had taken down their mizzen topsail yard and replaced it with a gaff. The captain of the Groen Feniks had in fact considered taking the conversion a step further, and putting fore-and-aft sails on the mainmast as well–a barkentine rig–but decided against indulging in such drastic experimentation in unfamiliar waters.

And so, barque-rigged, off they went.