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The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas and Brazil
Francois Pyrard de Laval
1611
translated into English in 1887 from the third French edition of 1619 by Albert Gray assisted by H.C.P. Bell

Vol. 1 Chapter 20

Accidents and casualties to ships at the Maldives. - Arrival of Dutch. - A wandering Jew. - A captain of Mogor and his adventures; and of some ships wrecked there.

Ship from the king of Mangalore
When I was at the Maldives, the king of Mangalore, an idolater (Hindu), once upon a time sent to the king of the Maldives a galley fully laden with rice as a present, and to renew and confirm their ancient friendship through an ambassador who accompanied the gift. The Maldive king received him well, and sent in return a present of the rarest and choicest things to be found in his kingdom.

Dutch intercept ships travelling from Acheh and Java off Galle coast
About the same time, the Dutch were guarding Point de Galle, in the island of Ceylon (of which I shall speak more fully hereafter in its proper place), with two or three ships only, it happened that two large vessels passed there on a voyage from Acheh in Sumatra, and other places in Sunda, laden with the produce of China and other countries, and were on their way to Arabia. The Dutch soon made them lower their sails, but seeing they were not friends of the Portuguese, they received them kindly, and they were for two or three days enjoying good cheer together. The larger of the two ships was going, as they said, to Mogor, Surat, and Cambay, the other was going to the opposite coast. The captain of the large vessel was quite young, and a native of the Mogor country.

The king of Acheh had killed his father in order to acquire his wealth, for he was the richest man in all the Indies, and was called Chamy, (footnote 1887: perhaps Shami, a Syrian or Westerner). He had much property in Sumatra, and that was the cause of his death. His only son, who was of the same name, and resided in his youth with his mother at Surat, was very handsome, fair, and well to do, and may have been then about seventeen or eighteen years of age. The other captain was a Turk, aged twenty-five years. He was the strongest man I ever saw, and was renowned throughout all India for his great valour.

So, when the general of the Dutch heard all this, and that the young captain was going to Cambay or Surat, between which places there is only an intervening river, he called together this captain and all the merchants, numbering about thirty or forty men of wealth and position, along with the ship's officers, and bade them tell the truth and say without fear where they were going; to which they replied as before. But this was out of fear, for their intention was to go to Arabia; but they dare not say so, for the Grand Mogor and the Dutch were good friends, and the Dutch also had factors at Cambay and Surat, which are in the country of the Mogor.

At length the general bade bring him the book of the law and a piece of biscuit, upon which he made them swear, according to their custom, that they were speaking the truth. This they did, whereupon the Dutch requested them to take two of their factors with a quantity of goods to Cambay, with some presents for the Grand Mogor and for the lords of Cambay and Surat. This they promised to do, and the general gave handsome presents to the captain and to the merchants, together with a stock of victuals.

Maldives and Indian Ocean Trade
So, taking the two Dutch and the goods, they departed in great friendship, and the two vessels made straight for the Maldives, which was their course to take, either by the north end of the islands or through them. This is the cause of the prosperity of that country; for the islands are situated halfway between Sunda and the coast of Arabia and Persia, and there are no other islands between whereat provisions can be had.

Every year upwards of twenty-five or thirty ships pass there, of which not two go there of deliberate purpose, on account of the dangers there; and but for the necessity of passing through them, they would not go there at all, and the islanders would be constrained to go elsewhere to purchase their necessary supplies. The passage is feared as well on account of the currents and reefs as of the fever which is peculiar to the islands, the Male' fevers being known everywhere.

Most of the vessels are brought there by the currents, so that they are obliged to sojourn and do some traffic there, by reason of the monsoons, which change from one quarter to the other. These monsoons are winds which change for the summer and winter, every six months. They most frequently cheat the sailors who start too late, for the wind comes on to blow contrarily while they are out; they also cheat them by sometimes blowing for a shorter or a longer period one way than the other; and a favourable wind will sometimes cease too soon, and a contrary wind will continue too long, sometimes a month or six weeks, and even two months, beyond expectation.

This obliges them to stay seven or eight weeks longer than they like, as I have frequently seen happen. I have also known them put to sea at the close of these monsoons, believing that they would last long enough for the voyage, and when they have got within fifty leagues of Arabia, they have been obliged by the contrary wind to return and make the Maldives again, or even the coasts of Sunda. In these return journeys some of them get lost.

On some occasions, when they have passed the northern end of the islands, sailing on the current from the east, and are thinking they have escaped the reefs, one morning the current changes, and the western current carries them away to the islands of the south, where they are wrecked among the reefs. This is what happened to the large vessel in which the queen was, which, as I have related, was lost in the south.

The two ships from Acheh and Java anchor at Maafilaafushi
But to return to the two ships voyaging to Arabia: when they arrived at the islands they were not minded to stay there, yet they were forced to await the other monsoon, which did not come for seven or eight months - for the monsoon which was then blowing was not yet over. They did not come to land at Male', so not much was seen of them, because of the sickness which prevailed there; but, as was usual, they chose another island, thirty or forty leagues to the north, called Maafilaafushi, belonging to the chief queen, because it is the most healthy of all.

The two ships cast anchor and remained there. The custom in such cases was that on their arrival they came to salute the king with presents. The king liked these casual arrivals much, and received the unfortunate men with the kindest face in the world; but his smile was a deceit, and was worth nothing in the long run. For his usual plan was to endeavour to get the vessels to come to his island, which they never would; and when he found them to be too strong, he ceased to importune them, fearing to lose their goods and traffic; but when he saw that they were weak, he made them come, under one pretext or another, pretending to be angry with them, so that at length they fell into his power, if perchance the captain of the vessel came to die; in short, nothing passed through his hands without a part sticking to them.

When a vessel or merchant happened to arrive at his island, he caused a banquesalle, or storehouse, to be assigned to it or him for depositing the goods, and the admiral took an account of everything in writing, and had the sails hauled down and took them and the rudder into his possession. The king was heir to such as died there, whether they left ship or goods behind them, wherefore most ships would not go there, or, as soon as their captain died, they sailed off as soon as possible.

While these two vessels were awaiting the other monsoon, all the chiefs and principal men went to salute the king with fine presents. All were rich men, some of them moslems, and the rest Banians of Cambay. The king received them in great state; and for their entertainment had a large bullock killed, and also gave each a cow or bullock, that being a mark of great goodwill.

He treated the young captain with exceptional honour, saying that he had known his father well, and on that account was glad to see him. The captain replied that this was the first voyage he and his ship were making, and that he had been to the king of Acheh, who had killed his father, to see if he could get from him some recompense; that he had been well received by that king, who had given him many slaves, a ship, and merchandise, and he had promised to return to him.

After the Maldive king had thus given him a cordial reception, surrounded by all his court, in the usual fashion, he bade give them lodging, wherewith they were all well pleased. I went to see them in the evening, and they gave me good cheer, and told me they had on board their ship two Dutch on their way to Surat, at which news I was overjoyed, and had hopes of hearing some news from France; but they told me that the Dutch did not want to come to Male', as much from fear of sickness as that they had nothing to do there; besides that, they had heard tell of the king's humour, concerning which I sent them in writing a few words of advice in French.

Nevertheless, the king was informed that they were there, and what merchandise they were carrying, principally woollen cloth, which they had taken from the Portuguese, elephants' teeth and other things, and some silver. The king sent word that he had great desire to have a fine bit of cloth, and the captain said that he would have to send one of his own people to choose it, which he did; but the chief factor sent his companion to the king to settle the price, and to show him different sorts, so that was a good occasion for me to see him. He brought me the compliments of his companion, who sent me a fine piece of white cotton cloth, there being no white cloth in these islands, but all coloured. He brought to the king as a present an exceedingly beautiful matchlock, with its furniture, and a handsome sword, with which the king was well pleased. In exchange, the king gave some mats, and I did the same, for these are the rarest things manufactured at the island.

This factor was eight days at Male', and the king took two pieces of his cloth, one red and the other violet, for which he paid in silver. The factor then took his departure, and I saw him no more. He could speak French, and I acted as interpreter. The king would never give me leave to go where they were, and they frequently sent us letters, accompanied with some little presents.

The escape of the two Dutchmen
As I am on the subject of the two Dutchmen, I will tell what happened to them. The captain and merchants who had promised to take them to Cambay told them frankly that they were going to Arabia, and that what they had told the general was said through fear of being thwarted in their design. The two factors therefore began to unload all their goods; whereupon the captain of the other vessel, who was a Turk, told them that if they wished he would carry them to Cambay or Surat in all safety. They accepted the offer, and went with him. Since then I have heard that before they got there one of them died. It was good luck for them to have had the opportunity of proceeding, for otherwise they had been forced to remain at the islands, and been lost, both themselves and their goods: for the king would never have let them go, so as at the last he should get possession of their merchandise.

A Jew arrives in Male'
About the same time came to Male' a man who was a Jew in faith and race, and knew a large number of languages; among others, he spoke Arabic and the Indian tongues well. He was a man of Barbary (Morocco/Algiers/Tunis), and the greatest scoundrel in the world. The English had taken him to England, where he had learnt their language well.

About the same time that we left France, four ships also left England, and the general took this fellow as his body-servant; and he was with him in the Indies. He was already at Acheh when our general arrived there, and he it was who informed me that the general had been poisoned by the Portuguese.

As for the English general, when he saw that he could not load with pepper at Acheh, he went to Bantan in Java, where this Jew robbed him of twelve or fifteen hundred pieces of forty sols Spanish, and made his escape. With the English, he was of their religion; with the moslems, of theirs; whereas he was all the while a Jew. He married a wife wherever he happened to be, and thus had four or five wives in India.

He embarked at Acheh in a ship of Surat, which had lately passed by the head of the Maldives, and was so ill-advised as to land with all his goods. He had still left about one hundred and fifty crowns, for he had spent all the rest. After stealing the money he had gone to Surat, where he married. At length, on this last voyage, being arrived at Male', he came to make offer of his services to the king, under the pretext that he was a good gunner; but he knew nothing about it.

He was well received at first, but when it was seen that he was a liar, no further notice was taken of him. Soon after he fell sick, and begged me to get his leave of the king; and I, making the request through the lord with whom I resided, obtained it with great difficulty. He said that he was married in Guzerat, and had a child there, which was partly the cause why his leave was granted; though after he got it, he remained three or four months longer and spent the remainder of his money.

He then embarked with the richest merchant of Cananor, a Malabar moslem, and the greatest man of that place next to the king, Ali Raja. This merchant had a wife at the Maldives, and did a large business there, there not being an atoll whereat he had not factors and merchandise. Some of his ships and barques were always at the island: his name was Poecaca (Foiy Kaka). So the Jew went with him to Cananor.

The fate of the Indian captain and his crew
As for the young captain of whom I have spoken, I will now tell of the adversity which befell him and his crew. He sojourned at the islands some six months, doing much traffic the while. Though this was contrary to their purpose, they were obliged to do it for the need they had of the island commodities: thus, they took in exchange coconut cord, called cairo, (coir) and coconuts themselves. But the merchandise they most eagerly desired was 'kahambu' or tortoise-shell, which comes from these islands. The best are the largest and thickest, a 'gau', or quarter of a pound, being worth a larin at least. But as the commodity is in great request elsewhere, they will only take gold or silver in exchange, whereas for other things they will take merchandise.

They sold me pepper at no more than two sols the pound, and four pounds of silk for a crown, while the natives bought it from me at a higher price; for the strangers used to like me much, and gave me many presents, in order that I should assist them in selling their goods. Our intercourse was in the Portuguese language, and I acted as their factor there. Many a time they have entrusted me with more than two hundred crowns' worth of merchandise on credit; in all cases giving me a quarter of the profit on the sales, so that I made considerable gain through them.

It was the young captain who liked me best, and put the greatest confidence in me, wherefore I the more deeply regretted the misfortune which overtook him; for many of his chief men and richest merchants of his ship died, and the custom there is, as I said, that the king inherits the property of foreigners that die there. The king had prevented the captain and his merchants from proceeding to the island where their ship was, and had taken a quantity of their merchandise on credit, for he never used to pay until ships were on the point of sailing, thus thwarting them in their departure at their own time, and preventing any designs against his government. So they were bereft of all means of getting away; for as soon as a vessel arrives, the miru bahuru, or admiral's sergeant (harbour master), presently has the rudder carried off to the king's palace, whence it cannot be regained without the admiral's permission.

One day the king sent for this captain to get from him by soft speeches and flattery an account of his vessel's cargo, the amount of it, and the names of the owners: all which the other told him in good faith, for he was the best man for a moslem I have ever met, and showed his whole manifest. When the king had looked over this, he told him that he was heir of all that had died, and that the captain had no interest therein, but should have his freight paid for all of it. This was agreed to, as also that the king should send his own people to get out this merchandise, which was of great bulk.

The person sent for this purpose was the lord (Hassan Takuru Kaloge) with whom I had resided so long, seeing that in him the king placed most confidence. He took with him forty or fifty soldiers and mariners in barques; but the party was not as had been intended, for all the merchants of the ships went with this lord; and there remained with the king as hostages only the captain, two of the chief merchants, and the pilot, who was a brave fellow.

When they were all arrived at the island where the ship lay at anchor, it being then late, the natives went ashore, while the merchants went on board to await the morrow; but at night they took counsel together that they would sooner die, every man of them, than let this merchandise be taken; and they resolved that, in order to get back their hostages, they would have to seize this great lord, whom the king loved so well that he would not have lost him for all the world's goods.

So in the morning, when this lord was walking along the strand with two followers, suspecting nothing, the ship's folk of a sudden seized and carried him by force into their boat, wherein they had plenty fire-arms, and so held him prisoner; then they send word to the king that as soon as he shall send back their hostages, his people will be delivered up.

When the news reached Male', it was the most pitiful case in the world to hear every man crying aloud with his neighbour; nor was there any man but did so, and thus displayed, at least in appearance, his sorrow for the king's sake: the which I felt in real earnest, for this lord was the best friend I had in all that land. It was about midnight when the news came, and at once everybody arose in as great hurry and trouble as if the king himself had been seized.

On the other hand, the sad consequence was that the captain and his people were forthwith bound and laid by the feet in irons. This caused me many a heartache, for he was so warm a friend to me that I knew not for which of the two I mourned the most. Everyone pitied this captain, but none dare open his mouth on his behalf, for the king was in the greatest passion that ever was, and was terrified lest they should carry off that lord, insomuch that of a sudden he had three galleys armed and launched for the pursuit; but if he had had twenty, they could have done nothing, for the vessel set sail as if to go. Seeing this, the king's nephew, who commanded the galleys, with all speed sent a boat to parley and to arrange for delivering up the men on each side. This was accordingly effected, and war was thus avoided.

Meanwhile, these poor Dutch who had been witnesses of this disturbance were in great difficulty what they should do; and when the folk of the vessel asked them if they would re-embark in that ship with their merchandise, they replied they would not, nor would have aught more to do with men of such treachery, and preferred to go with the Turk captain, which they did; albeit one of them died on the way.

As for the large vessel, when it came near the Arabian coast it sank to the bottom, and was lost with all on board, as we heard a year after.

Militia attempts to collect debt from Pyrard
Many of the islanders made a large profit out of this quarrel, and I most of all, for I owed more than thirty crowns to the captain and the merchants, and I refused to pay that over to the soldiers, as it would have been for their own advantage, and not for that of the king, because the greatest men in the island owed as much, and they dare not ask it of them. Several times more than two hundred soldiers came to get it, for they had an account of all such as were indebted to the people of the ship; but I held out firmly that I owed nothing, and had paid for all I had taken. At length they sent word to the king (for they never dare speak to him themselves, unless he so orders or himself raises the question), but he replied that there was good security for what I owed, and he would answer for it, but not for all that such and such men owed, naming some of the chief men, as I said just now; that they should themselves pay their debts, if they could, and that I should pay anon. This stopped them short, for they would not have dared to open their mouths against these other lords that owed anything; and I heard nothing more of it.

Death of Hassan Takuru Kaloge
The lord who had been seized by that vessel died a year after his deliverance, and I never saw the king weep as he did then: for three days he attended him and never left his bedside. He had him buried with the like ceremonies as if he had been his own brother or son, and ever after showed affection to his three sons who survived him, taking them to himself and giving them offices in his household.

It is a rule in that country that when such men as he, that have acted as stewards, come to die, the king calls for a statement of his affairs; he then takes all their property, giving to the wife and children as much as he thinks fit. So, two days after the death of this lord, his widow and his four children, three sons and a daughter, came to the palace with all their accounts and papers, and a great array of servants, carrying gold, silver, and other valuables, according to the practice of those that have had the management of the king's affairs; but the king took the accounts and destroyed them without looking at them or taking any of the property, and said aloud and clearly that he gave it all to them, bidding them serve him as faithfully as their father had.

One of the sons, as soon as his father died, brought and hid in my house property of more than five hundred crowns' worth, of which no one knew anything but he and I; and all his secrets he confided to me. The chief queen loved him dearly, wherefore the king prohibited him from coming to the palace; but he ceased not to go in such secrecy that none was aware of it.

By the way, the two Dutchmen who came in the large vessel told me some news of France, and what had happened during the five years since my departure; among other things, the happy birth of Monseigneur the Dauphin, the king that now is, whereat my companions and I were greatly rejoiced; next, of the death of the queen of England (Elizabeth I), and of the Mareschal de Biron.

They told me also what had become of our admiral (chief ship of the fleet) the Croissant, and how our general, Monsieur de la Bardeliere, being at Acheh in Sumatra, was poisoned by the Portuguese, and feeling himself mortally struck, embarked forthwith and set sail, for fear lest the king of Acheh, according to the custom of all Oriental countries, should seize his ship in case he died there. But he died ere he rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

His ship, which was not half laden, got as far as athwart the Cape Finisterre, when the sailors were nearly all dead, and the remainder so ill that they could hardly walk, while the ship was so full of leaks that she was making water on all sides, and was sinking. Then by good fortune they fell in with two Dutch ships, who salved the merchandise and took the remaining men to England, and had the third part of all they salved for their pains.

The men of the Croissant had taken ten Indians at Acheh, at wages, to assist them in the return voyage, but most of them died going or returning. Those who escaped were paid and sent back by the Dutch. There was also an Indian who came to Holland and remained there three years, where he learned to speak Dutch and a little French, for that the mate with whom he lived in Holland was a Frenchman; and on his return to the Indies he recounted to all the Indian kings the marvellous grandeur nnd magnificence of Holland; but he spoke also of the great esteem and regard the Dutch had for the kingdom of France.


Footnotes 1887

Date evidence
The Dutchmen on board the native vessels, told Pyrard of the death of Queen Elizabeth (Queen of England from 1558; died March 1603). It is, therefore, probable that the meeting off the coast of Ceylon took place sometime in 1604. I do not find it mentioned in the Dutch Collection. They had, in 1602, sent a factor to Cambay on board a Turkish vessel from Acheh. And in January 1604, some Turks came to the Dutch at Bantam (port at Sunda, Java), and thanked them for the kindly treatment of their countrymen and their goods by the Dutch cruisers off Ceylon.

English general and the Jew
The English general here alluded to is Captain James Lancaster, who left Tor Bay on the 20th April 1601, with four ships - the Dragon, Hector, Ascension, and the Susan. The journal of the voyage is printed in Lancaster's Voyages. Lancaster arrived at Acheh on the 5th June 1602, and at Bantam on the 16th December 1602. The Jew is mentioned as having been with Lancaster at Acheh. The conferences with the Sultan's ministers were carried on in Arabic, and the chronicler notes, 'Now the general (before his going out of England) intertained a Jew who spake that language perfectly, which stood him in good stead at that time'. There is no mention of his having robbed him at Bantam.

The Jew's character, as drawn by Pyrard, is of a not uncommon type, found a little later at Mocha, where, on the 8th May 1609, some of Captain Sharpeigh's men were lodged in the house of 'a talkative lying Jew who spoke Spanish'.

A hundred years before this, we find Jews playing the same role. In 1510, two Castilian Jews were taken by Simao Martinsz in a vessel going from Mecca to Calicut. 'These Jews turned Christians: to the one was given the name of Francisco Dalboquerque, and to the other Alexandre Dataide. And Afonso Dalboquerque, as long as he lived, employed them as interpreters especially Alexandre Dataide, because he knew many languages, and had a great aptitude for business.

And after the death of Afonso Dalboquerque they went to Portugal, in the time of King Dom Manoel, and from that country returned to India, and from India they proceeded to Cairo, where they again became Jews.

Fate of the Croissant
The Croissant arrived at Acheh, 24th July 1602, and left 20th November of the same year. It was there again met by Spilberg, whose chronicler says that the French had not done much business. The Sieur do la Bardeliere (the General) died as they passed the line (equator), on the 1st December, after an illness of four months, attributed by the French chronicler to the climate and country, and not in any way to his having been poisoned by the Portuguese. Following his last wishes, the Sieur de Ia Villeschar was elected to fill his place.

The Croissant, after a terrible storm, rounded the Cape of Good Hope in January 1603, and reached St. Helena 3rd March. Leaving that island on the 19th, she reached Ascension on the 25th. On the 15th May the wearied remnant of the crew, who were suffering the extremities of hunger, and eating dogs and rats, sighted the Azores, and on the 21st fell in with three Dutch ships coming from Venice.

Estancelin says that eight Indians brought home by the Croissant were still at St. Malo in 1604.




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