Pieter van Woensel (doctor)

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Pieter van Woensel
Not to be confused with Pieter van Woensel (politician).

Pieter van Woensel (Haarlem, 1747 – The Hague, 1808) was a physician, adventurer, travel writer, ships doctor, political cartoonist and a colorful author under the pseudonym Amurath-Effendi, Hekim-Bachi in the satirical almanac de Lantaarn (the Lamp). Typical for Van Woensel is his love for the peculiar, dislike for the easy route and inborn tendency towards the paradoxical.


Van Woensel was a student at the Leiden University. In 1771 he left for Saint Petersburg as an army physician. For an appointment at the Hospital of the Petersburg Cadets he had Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen to thank. In 1780, he returned to Amsterdam. In 1781, he published "the Present State of Russia", a book that was also published in Russia itself. In 1782, he translated a French work on the abolition of slavery. Unrest drove him and in 1784, he spent one and a half years in Constantinople and published on Turkish society in 1789, an important reason why his work caused so much interest.

He joined a group travelling to India, but in Bagdad he decided to travel by himself, because the company bored him. Van Woensel went to Erzurum and climbed mount Ararat in wintry conditions. Because Trabzon on the Black Sea had been hit by the plague, diverted to the Crimea, where he served in the Russian fleet. He stayed in Sebastopol and describes the visit of Catharina II of Russia at the newly conquered territory. He published his researches on the plague. In their war against the Russians, the Turks, according to Van Woensel, could benefit from biological warfare, such as deliberately spreading the plague.

Back in Amsterdam, he was appointed naval-physician to the Admiralty of Amsterdam. Van Woensel travelled as a ship doctor with the fleet to Surinam, Demerara and Berbice. In 1797, he travelled again to Russia as a secret agent, seeing the coronation of Paul I of Russia on 5 April.

In his almanac van Woensel wrote in favor of a divorce procedure and, as an atheist himself, tolerance towards Muslims and Jews. He states that the prime function of the state is to provide work for its inhabitants. The almanac was banned because he wrote under a pseudonym, banned since the state regulation of 1798. In 1802, Van Woensel published a translation of Don Quixote. In 1804 his "Rusland beschouwd" (Russia considered...) was published. Van Woensel called a spade a spade and uttered his opinions on slavery and serfdom. He was critical of Russian policies carried out by Grigori Potemkin, a wind bag according to Van Woensel.


  • This article is based entirely or partially on its equivalent on Dutch Wikipedia.
  • Waegemans, E. Pieter van Woensel: een Nederlands criticaster in Russische dienst. In: Noord- en Zuid-Nederlanders in Rusland 1703-2003. Baltic Studies (2004), edited by E. Waegemans & H. van Koningsbrugge.
  • Wesselo, J.J. (1969) Pieter van Woensel. Alias Aurath-Effendi, Hekim-Bachi. In: Tirade, p. 446-71.

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