Daniel Engel: a maritime career reconstructed

Daniel Engel was a young man from ‘Dantsig’ (modern-day Gdańsk in Poland) who travelled to the Dutch Republic in the mid-18th century to apply for a job with the Dutch East India Company (VOC). We’ve written about him before (in this blog post, where we introduced the Company’s pay ledgers, one of our main data sources) and now come back to him once more. Not that Engel is so special–on the contrary, there were thousands of men like him in the ranks of the VOC–but because his story is a good case in point for illustrating our work on reconstructing maritime careers.

1766: first journey to the East Indies
Entry Daniel Engel in VOC pay ledger (1766)
Entry of Daniel Engel in the pay ledger of Dutch East Indiaman Vrouwe Anthoinetta Koenrardina (1766)

A clerk of the Delft chamber of the VOC recorded Engel’s name and birthplace in the pay ledger of a brand new ship called Vrouwe Anthoinetta Koenrardina, that would set sail for the East Indies on 1 October 1766. The VOC hired Engel as a common sailor, on a wage of seven guilders per month. This is all we can infer about the life of Daniel Engel from his employment record, but we do know more about the environment in which he would work en route to Asia. There were 300 men on board, mostly Dutchmen, as can be seen from the map below, but also quite a few men from the German lands and the Southern Netherlands, as well as a number of individuals from the coastal areas of southern Scandinavia, Malta and Batavia (modern-day Jakarta).

Birthplaces of the crew members of the 1766 journey to the East Indies of VOC ship Vrouwe Anthoinetta Koenrardina. Blue markers: sailors and maritime officers. Green markers: military personnel. Visualisation: Triply

This is an interactive map; clicking on a marker reveals employment details of a crew member. By default, the map only shows one marker per geographic location, and the Gdańsk marker is not linked to Daniel Engel. By clicking on the expand button (^) located just above the map, and changing the map setting to ‘Grouped’, it becomes visible that Engel was joined on board by one other man from his home town: Christiaan Cornelis Gerlach, who was employed as a soldier. While Engel returned to Europe on the same ship in 1768, Gerlach stayed behind in Asia, where he died on 3 August 1770.

Interrogated by the English

More than ten years later, in 1781, shortly after the beginning of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, a Daniel Engel from ‘Dantzick’ was taken to the Fountain Tavern in Plymouth to be interrogated after his ship had been captured by the English privateer ship Defiance (see this blog post for more on privateering during wartime). He told his questioners that he was 28 years old, worked as a boatswain on a vessel called De Keyser Josephus, and that he had lived in Rotterdam for the past thirteen years. It is likely that this Daniel Engel is the same person as the one who sailed to Asia in 1766, even though he would have been only thirteen or fourteen years old back then. He had switched to the merchant marine: De Keyser Josephus was en route from Curacao to Rotterdam, carrying a cargo of wood, hides, sugar, tobacco, cocoa, coffee and tea.

Report of interrogation of Daniel Engel. National Archives, HCA 32/383-1. Courtesy Brill.
To Asia again

It seems Daniel Engel switched back to the ranks of the VOC in the late 1780s: there are mentions of a Daniel Engel from Dantzig in VOC pay ledgers from 1788 and 1792. While he worked as a boatswain’s mate on his second voyage to the East Indies and back (he returned in the Dutch Republic in 1791), he was an able seamen on his third, from which he did not come back: Engel died in Asia, on 2 October 1798, when the VOC was already in a state of bankruptcy.

Daniel Engel did not rise high through the ranks of the VOC and the merchant marine–he died as an able seamen. By zooming out from Engel, and reconstructing careers of many more sailors, our future research will point out whether it is likely that he lacked the skills to get promoted or changing labour market conditions were to blame.

Newspaper article

Daniel Engel also featured in an article on the Dutch Prize Papers project in Dutch national newspaper Trouw!

Walking through the Prize Paper Dataset

This video provides a tour through the Prize Paper dataset using Kepler. Kepler is an amazing open source geospatial analysis tool for large-scale data sets.

Here I’ve used it get an impression of the geographical scope of the Prize Paper Dataset – focusing on the shipping connections. Every line represents the journey of an 18th century merchant ship. As you can see the main connections are intra-European and Transatlantic. We’ll make the dataset available (hopefully) sometime early next year. Please look at my twitter feed for any updates and other visualisation (maps in particular), using this dataset.

Data: Prize Papers

One of the best early-modern maritime sources is the Prize Paper Archive, an archive held at the National Archives in Kew (London). In a project that started at the University of Oxford in 2011 and later moved to Birmingham, we’ve collected data from this amazing archive to get an insight in maritime migration in the 18th century. But what are the Prize Papers, and how can we use this source to reconstruct early-modern migration patterns?

Archival box with Prize Paper documents
A box full of evidence
Lawful loot

When a Royal Navy vessel or a private man-of-war captured an enemy ship, a court needed to establish whether the vessel was in fact a lawful prize: in other words whether the ship, crew or cargo belonged to an enemy state. To determine this they collected all documents aboard a ship, as they could serve as evidence. But they also cross-examined crew members (if necessary with the help of a sworn-in interpreter) about all matters relating to the ownership of the ship and its cargo. Commonly, three crew members were questioned, usually a cross section of the ranks aboard. Furthermore, because it involved a court case, supporting material, such as the ship’s papers and other administration is also present in the same file as the corresponding interrogation (see above for a collection of documents belonging to one ship).

The captured ships and sailors

From these interrogations (the picture below shows an example), we have created a relational database, containing all the information required by the interrogation rubric and therefore consistently present in the interrogations. The database comprises two tables, one of which deals with information about the ship, such as geographical markers of its ports of origin and destination, its tonnage, the number of nationalities aboard and information about its owner. This is linked to information about the crew, since there was normally more than one crew member interrogated per vessel. The crew table includes demographic information about the individual interrogated (including place of birth, residence and location of the employer, which allows one to determine if the person in question was a migrant or not), an indicator of his literacy, his rank and the length and nature of his relationship with the master of the vessel.

Picture of the report of an interrogation of a crew member
An example of an interrogation
Insights from the crew interrogations

The interrogations exist from the end of the seventeenth up until the beginning of the nineteenth century, and are clustered around the various wars during this time frame, but such conflicts were regularly spread across the period, meaning that we can analyse change over time by looking at similar variables and comparable numbers of vessels in three clusters of years. The first cluster runs from c. 1702 to 1712, the second between 1776 an 1783, and the last between 1793 and 1803. As a consequence of this, our data on migration and mobility in the early-modern period ideally captures the growth in international trade and the increased integration of European labour markets during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

We hope to publish to dataset in 2019, but in the meantime will show some visualisations based on it! Watch this space, or follow Jelle’s twitter feed!