Thursday, 27 December 2012

Shogun - An Englishman in Japan

On 16th March 1600 William Adams, Pilot-Major of a Dutch trading fleet to the far East, was brought before Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was preparing to make himself master of Japan. Adams and his companions on the Liefde had been shipwrecked on Japanese shores, in Usuki Bay in Kyushu. The ship’s cargo of matchlocks, cannonballs, chain shot and fire arrows had been confiscated along with the ship.

Adams spoke some Portuguese and spoke to Ieyasu through a Portuguese speaking Japanese interpreter. Having been informed, by the Spaniards and Portuguese, that the ships in the fleet were pirates Ieyasu demanded an explanation from Adams, of the purpose of the fleet. The Dutch were keen to trade; the Spaniards and Portuguese did not want competitors in the highly lucrative markets in the Far East.
Early Life

William Adams was born in Gillingham in Kent on 24th September 1564. He was apprenticed to shipyard owner Nicholas Diggins at Limehouse, in London, at the age of 12 following the death of his father. For the next twelve years he learned the arts of shipbuilding, astronomy and navigation. Diggins, who provided many of the gentlemen adventurers with their ships, taught Adams how to build small, fast caravel built ships; showing him how to shape a ship’s frame and plank it.
The skills of being a sailor were changing dramatically and Adams probably studied the book ‘A Regiment for the Sea’ by William Bourne, teaching pilots how to find their latitude using a cross-staff and a mariner’s ring and attempting to work out longitude. Other books too taught new skills for the mariner.

He later sailed under the command of Sir Francis Drake and captained the supply ship the Richard Duffield, during the attempted Armada invasion of 1588. Adams married his sweetheart Mary Hyn in Stepney, a few months after the trouncing of the Spanish. After this, he worked for the Barbary (or Morocco) Company[i] established by Queen Elizabeth in 1585. The work could be dangerous as the routes were contested by pirates and the Turkish authorities treacherous.
In the spring of 1598 Adams, along with his brother Thomas, signed on as Pilot-Major for a fleet of five Dutch ships; the Liefde, the Hoop, the Geloof, the Trouw and the Blidje Boodschap. The fleet was to sail to South America and exchange their cargo for silver. If this failed they were to sail on to Japan, sell the cargo for silver and then buy spices in the Moluccas. Adams left his wife and daughter, Deliverance, when he signed on; Mary Adams must have been used by now to having her husband absent for much of the time.
The admiral of the fleet Jacques Mahu asked Adams to serve as pilot of his ship, the Hoop, while Thomas served on the Trouw. In June Adams, his brother and eleven other Englishmen boarded the ships. Adams took his world map, brass globe, astrolabe and compass. Thomas Shotten, one of the other Englishmen on board the fleet, had already circumnavigated the globe with Thomas Cavendish in 1586, and was a source of information for Adams.

The fleet set sail on 24th June; the Spanish suspected that one of the unnamed goals of the voyage was to attack Spanish possessions abroad for treasure trove.
‘We set saile with five ships……and departed from the coast of England the fifth of July’[ii]

wrote Adams, who at some point during the voyage transferred to the Liefde.
The provisions had been dished out too open-handedly for the first weeks of the voyage and re-provisioning was necessary before the Straits of Magellan were attempted. The fleet was sailing down the coast of Africa and the Portuguese had a heavily defended presence on the coast. It was decided to attempt a re-provisioning from the Cape Verde islands, but the Portuguese officials refused to deal with Protestant pirates, until the return of the Governor[iii].

The sailors attacked and overran a Portuguese fort, which merely antagonised the Portuguese authorities. The Governor ordered the fleet to sail off without the much needed supplies. On 22nd September the fleet was informed that admiral Jacques Mahu had died of a fever; he was replaced by his deputy Simon de Cordes. The required supplies were still unforthcoming when the fleet landed on the coast of equatorial Africa.
The fleet set sail for the coast of South America on 2nd January 1599; without being able to replenish supplies. The ships had been weakened by the months in tropical waters. Becalmed in the Doldrums, rations were again cut and the crews came down with scurvy. It was not until the end of March that the ships sighted land. It was decided to sail through the Straits of Magellan, to take advantage of the shelter it afforded, in the oncoming southern winter.

To the Pacific
Adams wanted to sail through the Straits as soon as possible to avoid the risk of being frozen in, but the sight of penguins was too much for the hungry crews, who within minutes of landing had clubbed down over 1,400 birds. It was decided that the now freezing waters were too dangerous to sail, although Adams believed he could pilot the fleet through the Straits. Food supplies remained desperately low and the expedition ran short of firewood.
The fleet encountered the distinctly unfriendly natives at the beginning of May; late May five Dutchmen were captured by the ‘wild men’ who tore three of their captives limb from limb[iv]. The temperatures started to climb in August and by early September the fleet again set sail towards the Pacific. Many of the crew had died of hunger; the Geloof lost seventy two men alone. Adams wrote

‘We came into the South Sea…..were, sixe or seven days after, in a greater storme.’[v]
The fleet was dispersed; Cordes had arranged a meeting point in Peru, in the event of such a happening. The Blidje Boodschap was captured by the Spanish; the crew of the Geloof decided to make for home. The crew of the Trouw decided to make for the Spice Islands and were captured by the Portuguese.

After being blown off course the Liefde eventually made landfall at the rendezvous in November 1599. These natives too were unfriendly[vi] but eventually agreed to trade. But when going ashore the Captain and twenty three of the crew (including Thomas Adams) were met by an ambush of more than one thousand Indians. The majority of those going ashore, including Thomas, were killed.
Leaving the benighted place for the island of St Maria the Liefde caught up with the Hoop. The Spanish agreed to re-victual the ships after two of their compliment were taken hostage. At a meeting of the senior officers it was agreed that the two ships would make for Japan, where there was the possibility of trading the broadcloth in the holds of the Liefde. At the end of November the ships departed on what was to be an epic voyage.

En Route to Japan
Mid-ocean on nearing some islands[vii] eight sailors took a pinnace and landed. They were abandoned to their fate as those left on the two ships were too weak to go after the deserters. The weather now turned against the voyagers and a great storm blew up

‘We had a wondrous storme of winde as ever I was in, with much raine.’[viii]
During the storm the Hoop went down in seconds, with the loss of all aboard. The sinking of the Hoop further accentuated the sense of despair held by the men. Food was scarce and scurvy and dysentery rife.

‘Great was the misery we were in, having no more but nine or ten able men to go or creepe upon their knees……our captain and all the rest looking every hour to die.’[ix]

But on 12th April 1600 the Liefde made landfall in Japan.
‘So we, in safety, let fall our anker, about a league from a place called Bungo.’[x]

Samurai William – Giles Milton, Hodder & Stoughton 2002

The Maker of Modern Japan – AL Sadler, Charles E Tuttle Company 1983
Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogun – Conrad Totman, Heian 1983

[i] The company was to enjoy a 12 year monopoly on the trade between England and Morocco
[ii] Samurai William - Milton
[iii] Absent at the time
[iv] The remaining two were rescued by their shipmates under the leadership of de Cordes.
[v] Samurai William - Milton
[vi] The Golden Hind had been met with unfriendly treatment here.
[vii] Possibly Hawaii
[viii] Samurai William - Milton
[ix] Ibid
[x] Ibid

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