Dutch Trade in Asia, Part 2: Papers of Jan Cock Blomhoff

Dutch Trade in Asia
Part 2: Papers of Jan Cock Blomhoff

Short biography
Jan Cock Blomhoff was born in Amsterdam on 5 August 1779. As a youth he served as a cadet in the campaign of 1794 against the French in the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). After the French invasion of the northern Netherlands in 1795 he fled with his family to Germany where he took service in the regiment organized by the exiled Prince of Orange. He accompanied this unit to England, but returned to the Netherlands after the peace of Amiens with the French (1802) to devote himself to commerce. In 1805 he traveled from Bremen to Java in the Netherlands East Indies. Under the Dutch governor there, Marshall Daendels, he again entered military service in 1808 and was appointed first lieutenant and staff adjutant. In 1809 he assumed the post of pakhuismeester (lit. warehouse master) at the Dutch trading post in Deshima, the artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki where the Dutch had been permitted to stay since 1641. Hendrik Doeff was opperhoofd (head) at Deshima during this period. When the British took control of Java in 1811, their Lieutenant-governor, Thomas Raffles (founder of Singapore), tried the next year to wrest Deshima from the Dutch as well, but Doeff and Blomhoff adamantly refused to cede the post. On a mission to offer a trade agreement to Raffles in Java in 1813 he was instead made a prisoner of war and transferred to England. Liberated in 1815 he was promoted to opperhoofd of Deshima to succeed Doeff, but the return of Napoleon from exile compelled him to postpone his journey. He then served as chief administrator of a military supply depot in Dordrecht. In 1816 he was able to depart for the Indies, but only succeeded in gaining his post in Japan and relieving Doeff in 1817. Against the prevailing rules in Japan, he was accompanied by his young wife Titia and their infant son Johannes, she thus becoming “the first Western woman in Japan”, though not for long (see Bersma below, Literature) . Refused permission to stay at Deshima she returned to the Netherlands in December that same year and died without ever seeing Blomhoff again in 1821.

As head of Deshima, Cock Blomhoff vigorously promoted Dutch commercial interests, twice undertaking the strenuous hofreis (journey to the court of the shogun in Edo, now Tokyo). His account of this voyage in 1818 has recently been republished in an annotated edition (see Literature below). Besides his activities as a merchant, he was an avid collector of Japonica, assembling a significant collection of art and artifacts on behalf of the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities, which he took with him upon leaving Japan in 1823 for Batavia. The collection was later purchased by King William I (1826) and is now divided between the National Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde) in Leiden and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. In 1824 he returned to the Netherlands, for good as it turned out. He remarried in 1827 and lived in various places in the Netherlands before building the manor Birkhoven near Amersfoort where he died in 1853.

The archive
This small, but interesting collection of papers includes Dutch translations of dispositions and other official documents issued to him by the Japanese authorities in Nagasaki, more than 100 letters to him in Dutch from Japanese people (inventory number 4), bills and other documents concerning goods handled by the factory and repairs to its buildings and notes concerning customs and mores in Japan and other places (no. 13). Worth noting also are a catalogue of objects sent to Blomhoff by the shogun’s chief botanist in Edo (no. 6) and the extensive list of gifts required by the shogun for 1824 (no. 7). An intriguing part of the collection is formed by the letters written to Blomhoff in Japanese (almost completely in hiragana script) (no. 14) by (or for) a woman, presumably his mistress, a woman called Hana, who addressed him as “Captain” (“Kapitan” or “Mr. Ka” (see Legêne below, pp. 244-247) and the illustration on p. 13 below.

This archival collection was acquired by the National Archives of the Netherlands in 1907. An important addition to the original collection is the account made by E.H. Bergsma, Titia’s father, for Blomhoff and Titia’s son Johannes written around 1827 (no. 15), a photocopy of which was donated to the National Archives in 1996.


Bersma, René P. Titia: The First Western Woman in Japan. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2002.
De hofreis naar de shogun van Japan. Naar een persoonlijk verslag van Jan Cock Blomhoff, bezorgd door F.R. Effert, ingeleid en geannoteerd door Matthi Forrer. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2000.
Legêne, Susan. De bagage van Blomhoff en Bruegel. Japan, Java, Tripoli en Suriname in de negentiende-eeuwse Nederlandse cultuur van het imperialisme. Amsterdam: Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, 1998.
Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek. Vol. I, pp. 374-375. Leiden: A.W. Sijthoff, 1911.

Note on the microfiches
The microfiches were made by Moran Micropublications by first filming on 35 mm microfilms the original documents made available by the National Archives and then reformatting these to 105 mm format (microfiche). The microfiches are numbered consecutively from 1 to 24. The headers are in Dutch and give the inventory numbers found on the fiche, among other information.

A great effort was made to film the documents in the appropriate text direction. For documents in Dutch this is of course left to right; for documents in Japanese right to left. For Japanese documents too long to be filmed in a single exposure (especially in inventory number 14, but also elsewhere), first the right side was filmed and then the left side with a significant overlap between the two shots to avoid loss of text. At times it was necessary to film the reverse of documents to capture small fragments of text. Again, especially in inventory number 14, but also in numbers 11-13, documents contained both Japanese and Dutch texts written in different directions. In these cases the documents were filmed twice, rotating the document as appropriate to achieve easy legibility for both languages. Inevitably perhaps in this complicated process a tiny number of filming errors were made, for which the publisher apologizes.

The publisher wishes to thank Dr. Matthi Forrer, head of the Research Department at the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, for his help and advice with the Japanese texts in this collection. Any errors are of course the responsibility of the publisher.



Collection Information