Jan Janse Weltevree
In the introduction Jan Janse Weltevree is called a mysterious person. Comparison of the texts in which he is mentioned gives us some contradictions, which are difficult to explain. For instance Hamel mentions in his Journael that he
and his mates saw Weltevree for the last time in 1656 at the ferry over the river Han near Seoul and that they never heard anything of him again.
The same is claimed at the interrogation in Nagasaki. To the question of the Japanese if Weltevree is still alive, the Hollanders reply that they don't know, because they didn't see him for ten years. This sounds very implausible. Is it
plausible that Weltevree, who seemed to be able to travel freely throughout the country, in all those ten years never traveled to the south, to see how his country men were doing?
On top of that there was according to the Journael a
certain kind of mail traffic. It was possible to send messages. After
all it was Hamel who mentions that the three mates who were lured
from Seoul under the pretense that they had to function as an interpreter,
informed them by letter that they were captured in the south.
One and the other raises the suspicion that there have been contacts between Weltevree and the other Hollanders, also in the period after 1656. This suspicion is enforced by the fact that according to the daily records of the chief of
the factory in Deshima, Hamel has said on or during the same day that the interrogation took place, to this chief, that Weltevree at their departure was still alive and was about 70 years old. Did Hamel lie to the Japanese or to
Also regarding the circumstances under which Weltevree was captured in 1627 by the Koreans, the several sources are contradicting themselves. In the Journael is written that Weltevree was on board of the jaght the Ouwerkerck
, when it stranded off the coast of Korea. With a number of mates he rowed to the shore to fetch water. While doing this they were surprised by the Koreans who captured Weltevree and two of his mates, while the rest managed to escape. But
what do we read in the above-mentioned daily record of the chief in Deshima ? Here is written that Weltevree was not at all on board of the Ouwerkerck. One day the crew of this ship had privatized a Chinese junk. Weltevree was
put on this ship together with some other Hollanders to take this ship to Taiwan. Because of a storm, this ship ended up on the coast of a Korean island. Here the three Hollanders were overwhelmed by the Chinese and handed over to the Koreans. This
version is confirmed in a letter from the governor of Formosa to the governor-general in Batavia , dated July 22, 1627. In which the governor of Formosa announced that the Ouwerkerck on
July 16 had privatized a Chinese junk, which was on his way to Amoy. 70 of the 150 Chinese were brought from the junk to the Ouwerkerck , while 16 men moved over to the junk to bring them with the rest of the Chinese crew to Taiwan. The
junk however had drifted away by a storm in northeastern direction and is since then without any trace, so it maybe feared that the ship is perished. The Ouwerkerck itself was privatized some months later by a Portuguese ship and burned
in Macao. The jaght has never been in Korean waters. From the above mentioned it is clear that Weltevree belonged to a group of Hollandse privateers, who were captured by their victims and were handed over to the Koreans.
And Hamel knew this. It is understandable that he didn't mention these less honorable events in the Journael. And also that he didn't speak about it during the interrogation by the Japanese. It is less clear however, why he, both in the Journael
and during the interrogation, claims that he hadn't heard from Weltevree during ten years.
There is more by the way, which Hamel doesn't mention concerning Weltevree. In a Korean edition of the Journael, the interpreter Yi Pyong Do cites in a supplement a document of about 1700, in which Weltevree is described as follows:
Yon was tall from stature and rather heavily build. He had blue eyes, a pale face and a blond beard which hangs until his belly. He was married to a Korean woman who gave him two children; a boy and a girl.
The father and the uncle of the writer of the document were both connected as high officials to the court of king of Korea in the time that Weltevree was there too. One may assume that the document is a reliable source. If Weltevree had a wife and
children, it was most unlikely that Hamel didn't know that. It speaks for itself to assume that he and the other Hollanders visited him during their stay in Seoul. In the Journael however Hamel leaves this interesting fact
unnoticed. Possibly he considered that mentioning of the marital state of Weltevree would raise some questions by the readers about the marital state of the other Hollanders, questions who might be painful since most of them had a wife and children
after all in Holland as well. In another Korean document, also cited by Yi Pyong Do, the following is mentioned about Weltevree:
Yon was working at the staff of general Ku In Hu. His sons are mentioned in the military register of the training office.
What is noticeable in this quotation is the word 'sons'. Maybe Jan Janse had more than one son. The in this quote mentioned training office was a government institution which was established to the end of the 16th century for the production of
firearms and for the practice of the use of them. The military register contained the names of the technicians skillful in professions like the manufacturing of canons. Such professions where hereditary in Korea and from another source we know that
Weltevree was in charge of making firearms in Seoul and that he was considered to be an expert in this field. We read this in the Korean document from which the previous quotation is derived. It says the following:
Yon was an expert in the field of the knowledge of arms. He was very skillful in casting canons of which the finishing touch was very beautiful.
Also the shipwreck of the Sperwer is mentioned in this document.
In the fourth year of Hyo Jong (1653) a strange ship was wrecked in the coastal waters of the Chindo-district. On board were 36 men. They were remarkably dressed, and also their stature was remarkable. Their noses were high in their face and their
eyes sunk deep. They didn't understand our language, nor orally nor in writing. The court requested Park Yon to figure out what kind of people they are.
When Yon saw these people he was very moved. His beard was wet of tears. He said they were his countrymen and that they spoke his language. That's why the king decided to use him as an interpreter.
Many years these people lived in our country. They were incorporated in the garrisons which were camped in or around our capital, because they had much knowledge about arms and were also skilled in manufacturing arms.
When they had been with us for fourteen years, eight of them escaped in a fisherman's boat from a place in the south where they were accommodated. They reached Nagasaki. The governor of that city wrote in a letter to the king that they were people
from Haranda (Holland), which is a vassal state of Japan. That's why he requested the king to send the remaining Haranda's who still remained in our country, also to Nagasaki. And so it happened.
That Hamel and his mates had much knowledge about arms and had many skills in manufacturing them, doesn't match with what Hamel tells in his Journael about the way he and his mates had to make a living, begging and all kind of petty jobs.
There was, on board of a VOC-ship usually a man, a blacksmith or an instrument maker, who could do some simple repairs on the arms, like muskets and pistols and 25 to 30 pieces of artillery with which the ships were armed. But in case of dire need,
everyone on board had to be able to do anything. Then the blacksmith baked bread. Everybody on board probably knew how to handle arms and knew how they were put together. Maybe Weltevree had more special knowledge in this field. But he might have
been the one-eyed man in the country of the blind. Because the Koreans didn't have a highly-developed arms industry. It seems that they imported canons from China.
Nicolaes Witsen writes in his Noord en Oost Tartarije:
Snaphaunces are unknown to them; they use rifles with a fuse. Furthermore they use leather pieces of artillery which is fitted on the inside with copper plates, half a finger thick. The leather is 2 till 5 thumbs thick and
consists of several layers on top of each other. These pieces of artillery are transported at the back of an army , on horseback, two on one horse. It is possible to fire relative big cannonballs with these canons.
The Korean author Song Haeng, who lived from 1760 till 1839, describes the Hollanders in a historical essay as follows:
Amongst the survivors of the shipwreck there were some artillery experts. On board their ship there was around 30 canons. These were on wheels, so they were easily maneuverable. When a shot was fired, the canon rolled a distance to the back. Thus the
power of the recoiling was taken and prevented the barrel from splitting open. Their muskets also showed an ingenious design. At firing the powder is ignited by a spark, which origins by hitting a piece of flint against an iron point. This takes
place by means of a spring mechanism, which can be latched and unlatched.
According to experts this description points out that the Hollanders used muskets of the type which is known as the miquelet lock. In The age of fire arms, a Pictorial Study , written by Robert Held and published in 1957 at
Harper, New York, one can read the following about this firearm:
The miquelet, in simplest terms, was a snapping lock like a snaphaunce, but refined by the revolutionary feature of having the battery combined with the flashpan cover in one L-shaped piece hinged at the toe, the upright section being struck by the
flint and the horizontal forming the flashpan cover. To shoot a miquelet lock, the shooter first cocked it in the half-cock position, and no amount of pressure could release the cock to snap. To fire it nothing remained but to cock it in full-cock
and pull the trigger. But at times a worn or defective gun-lock did snap out of half-lock while being carried about, an always unexpected as usually disastrous occurrence commemorated in the saying 'to go half-cocked'.
This type of musket was developed by the Spaniards, at the end of the 16th century, and the Hollanders got to know it when they were shot with it. But in 1600 during the Battle of Nieuwpoort, the soldiers of Prince Maurits already shot back with it.
From the above mentioned it seemed that the Koreans were way behind compared to the Hollanders when it comes to the manufacturing and plying of guns. Gratefully they would have used the knowledge of the Hollanders. It will
be for that reason that they were assigned to the bodyguard of the king. Song Haeung writes that all the guns from the wreck of the Sperwer have been taken to Seoul . There they would have been
investigated by the people from the 'training office'. After that the Hollanders transferred their knowledge. When the incident occurred with the Tartarian envoy, several Koreans proposed to kill the Hollanders.
Instead of that they were exiled to a province in the south of the country. And since that time they had to make a living with all kind of futile jobs and even with begging. They were lucky that some of the governors were kindly disposed to them and
let them go us much as possible.
Hamel probably didn't think it wise to mention during the interrogation the fact that they taught the Koreans in Seoul about the use of modern guns. He also tells that only some of the guns were salvaged from the water, and that these were heavily
affected by the water.
That is of course strange, because they have been in the water only for a short time. From the Korean sources we know that 'all weapons from the wreck' were transported to Seoul.
In the light of what is known now about Weltevree, is the question of the Japanese if the crew of the Sperwer also had the assignment to privatize Chinese junks, intriguing. The answer of Hamel was to be expected: They didn't get that assignment.
Nevertheless there was an order from the Heeren XII, applicable to all skippers that the trade between the different nations had to be obstructed as much as possible, by privatizing their ships and confiscate their cargo. For each
confiscated ship skipper and crew received a reward.
There are some other orders which can't bear the daylight. There is for instance an order concerning the fetching of water. For this the skippers were to choose preferably an uninhabited island. There were fixed points where regularly water was
taken. But by storm and headwind people sailed often in unknown waters. The orders prescribed that the ship had to anchor at a safe distance from the coast and that the crew of the sloop had to be armed sufficiently. Then follows this hair-raising
sentence: "When savages show up, they have to be killed immediately".
The general states of the Seven Provinces had granted the VOC a patent, which gave her the right to declare war and to commit war-actions, like hijacking ships and shooting of savages. They were however only allowed to do so in the area east of Cape
of Good Hope.
Because of the thorough work of Wim Hamel who made the following critical remarks we might ask the following questions:
Where was he born was it really in De Rijp?
1. When Hendrick Hamel met Jan Janse Weltevree,
Jan had problems speaking Dutch, since he didn't speak it for more
then 26 years. A ship called "De Rijp" was sailing in Asian
waters. For instance Nicolaes Coeckebakker was asked to help the shôgun
to suppress a revolt on the peninsula Shimibara. He requested for
the use of the guns of "De Rijp" to bombard the fort from
the shore. The shôgun withdrew at the last minute his request
to avoid the loss of face. Maybe Jan Janse meant that he had been
on that ship?
2. In those days surnames were pretty exceptional and the custom was
to name someone, with his father's name, the profession he had or
the place he came from e.g. Jan Janszoon (Jan son of Jan), Jan de
Boer (Jan the farmer), Jan van der Bilt (coming from de Bilt).
Janszoon was very often abbreviated to Jansz or Janse, depending on
the region where one lived.
3. In the ship's rolls of the "Hollandia"
there is no mentioning of Weltevree, but on the other hand a Jan Jansz
from Vlaardingen is mentioned.
4. In the same year 1626 two ships named "Hollandia" sailed
off, on which one was our Jan Janse?
5. Since he had reasons to keep his existence in Korea secret, he
might have mentioned the name De Rijp, the village where one of his
mates was born, instead of Vlaardingen.
6. Because of the big fire in De Rijp in 1654 all archives are lost.
In the baptism books since 1655 the name Weltevree is not mentioned.
7. His wife, with or without his children, was probably according
the custom in those days, remarried, when Jan did not return. This
however was not confirmed. It would be interesting to find out if
there are still any descendants left in Holland.
The answers to some of these questions are recently known. (As of January 6,
A document showed up that Jan Janse Weltevree was from Vlaardingen.
Another link with the following data:
Married (2) Rijsoord 29-06-1755 (pre-married Rijsoord 13-06-1755) with Lijsbet
Janse Weltevreen jd, from Pernis, buried Ridderkerk 02-09-1791, daughter
of Jan Janse Weltevreen (?) and Lijdia Cornelisse Block (?). Which
is close to Vlaardingen, Lijsbeth's father might be the great-grandson
of Jan Janse Weltevree.