Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan

Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan by Giles Milton

Book: Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan by Giles Milton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Giles Milton
take command of the Liefde , then summoned a more general meeting—attended by Adams and Shotten—in order to decide “what we should doe to make our voyage for the best profit of our merchants.” There were several possibilities. The most obvious was to head to the Spice Islands, the “spiceries” of the East Indies, where nutmeg and mace could be had for a song. This would please the financiers of the trip, since there was a huge profit to be reaped from spices, and it had the advantage that many of the
small islands and atolls were as yet uncontrolled by either Portuguese or Spanish. The Philippines was another option, although here they were likely to clash with the forces of Spain. The Liefde ’s cargo finally settled the matter. Her hold was crammed with broadcloth, which was unlikely to find a market in the tropical climes of the Spice Islands. “We gathered … that the Mollucas and the most part of the East Indies were hot countreyes,” wrote Adams, “where woolen cloth would not be much accepted.”
    Such material would be of far greater value to people in more northerly climes, where the weather was colder and the winters were harsh. The more the men pondered their destination, the more they realized that there was an obvious answer. It lay to the northeast of China—a kingdom of fabled riches. “At last it was resolved to go for Japan,” wrote Adams, who added that “woollen cloth was in great estimation in that island.” The proposal was put to the sea-battered crew, who had no desire to return home through the Straits of Magellan, “wherefore we all agreed to go for Japan.”
    The men might have thought twice about such a voyage if they had had any notion of the distances involved. It had taken them more than a year to traverse the Atlantic and their passage had been aided by favorable trade winds. The voyage to Japan involved crossing the world’s largest ocean, whose currents and winds remained a total mystery. When Ferdinand Magellan had crossed the Pacific, he and his crew had survived only by eating stewed mice and sawdust. The chronicler of the voyage had concluded his account with a stark warning: “I do not think that anyone for the future will venture upon a similar voyage.”
    The Liefde and the Hoop set sail into the unknown at the end of November 1599. The weather was kind at first and they made better progress than anyone had dared hope. “[We] passed the line equinoctiall with a faire wind,” wrote Adams, “which continued good for diverse months.” This enabled the two vessels to keep together
until they reached “certaine islands”—lost somewhere in the mid-Pacific—where the inhabitants were said to be “men-eaters.”
    The sight of land proved too much for one group of sea-weary men. Broken by their experiences of the voyage and fearful of the empty ocean, they made a secret vow to chance their luck on this remote island rather than sailing any farther on the rotting Liefde . “Coming neare these islands … eight of our men, being in the pinnesse, ranne from us.” Their flight caught Adams and his crew by surprise. They were too weak to chase after them and so they abandoned the men to their fate. Adams recorded that they were, “as we suppose, … eaten of the wild men.” The place of their landfall has long remained a mystery, for neither Adams nor his captain had any idea of their position, but it is possible that the Liefde had unknowingly reached (and discovered) Hawaii, more than 179 years before Captain Cook. When the English missionary William Ellis landed in Hawaii in 1822, he was told that a boatload of sailors had pitched up at those shores long before Cook’s arrival. These men had been kindly received by the native islanders, had married Hawaiian maidens, and had been made honorary chieftains.
    The loss of eight men was a serious blow to the morale of the Liefde ’s remaining crew. Soon after, the weather grew tempestuous and brought to an end

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