Doeff was born in Amsterdam. As a young man, he sailed to Japan as a scribe for the Dutch East India Company. He became chief of the Dejima post in 1803, succeeding Willem Wardenaar, who was Director from 1800 to 1803. Doeff remained in Japan until 1817, when Jan Cock Blomhoff succeeded him. After Britain captured the Dutch colony in Indonesia in 1811, Dejima became the only place in the world flying the Dutch flag. Doeff steadfastly defended against British attempts to take over the Dejima post. The Netherlands was restored in 1815, and Doeff was later decorated for his loyalty and courage.
Doeff wrote a Dutch-Japanese dictionary, and a memoir of his experiences in Japan, titled Recollections of Japan. He was notable for his strong activity in maintaining the Dutch trade monopoly in Japan. He is the first westerner known to have written haiku, two of which have been found in Japanese publications from the period of his stay in Japan. One of his haiku:
- lend me your arms,
- fast as thunderbolts,
- for a pillow on my journey
The Phaeton incident
After the French had annexed the Batavian Republic in 1806 and Napoleon had begun to use its resources against England, Royal Navy ships started to prey on Dutch shipping. In 1808, HMS Phaeton, under the command of Captain Fleetwood Pellew, entered Nagasaki's harbour to ambush a couple of Dutch trading ships that were expected to arrive shortly.
The Phaeton entered the harbour on 14 October surreptitiously under a Dutch flag. Despite the arrival of the "Dutch" ships being later in the season than normal, the Japanese and Dutch representatives didn't seem to suspect anything suspicious. So, as was the custom, Dutch representatives from the Nagasaki trading enclave of Dejima rowed out to welcome the visiting ship, but as they approached, Phaeton lowered a tender to capture the Dutch representatives, while their Japanese escorts jumped into the sea and fled. The Phaeton, threatening to execute the Dutch representatives, demanded that supplies (water, food, fuel) be delivered to her in exchange for their lives. The Phaeton also fired cannons and muskets to press her demands, and threatened to destroy the Japanese and Chinese ships in the harbour. Because the harbor cannon defenses were so old, and most couldn't even fire, the meager Japanese forces in Nagasaki were seriously outgunned and unable to intervene.
At the time, it was the Saga clan's turn to uphold the policy of sakoku and to protect Nagasaki, but they had economized by stationing only 100 troops there, instead of the 1,000 officially required for the station. The Nagasaki Magistrate, Matsudaira Genpei, immediately ordered troops from Kyūshū. The Japanese mobilized a force of 8,000 samurai and 40 ships to confront the Phaeton, but it would take them a few days to arrive. In the meantime, the Nagasaki Magistrate provided supplies to the British.
The Phaeton left two days later on 17 October, before the arrival of Japanese reinforcements, and after she had learned that the Dutch trading ships would not be coming that year. She also left a letter for Doeff. The Nagasaki Magistrate, Matsudaira, took responsibility by committing suicide by seppuku.
Following Phaeton's visit, the Bakufu reinforced coastal defenses and promulgated a law prohibiting foreigners coming ashore, on pain of death (1825-1842, Muninen-uchikowashi-rei). The Bakufu also requested that official interpreters learn English and Russian, departing from their prior focus on Dutch studies. In 1814, the Dutch interpreter Motoki Shozaemon produced the first English-Japanese dictionary (6,000 words).
- Recollections of Japan, Hendrik Doeff, ISBN 1-55395-849-7
In Popular Culture
- The eponymous character in the novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is loosely based on Hendrik Doeff.
- Max Verhart, "Haiku in the Netherlands and Flanders", German Haiku Society website
- Otterspeer, W. Leiden Oriental Connections, 1850-1940, Volume 5 of Studies in the History of Leiden University, Brill, 1989, ISBN 978-90-04-09022-4. p 360
- Samurai Archives Podcast EP09 "Maritime Defense of Nagasaki During the Edo Period". Retrieved August 13, 2013.
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