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Johann's Letters
Johann's Letters

Neubronners' in the Far East

Johann Anton kept a diary of his journey to Malacca and wrote letters home from Cape Town and Malacca giving a vivid discription of his experiences. These letters were translated by Gerd Neubronner and are included below.


Letter dated 25 May 1789 from Valsch Bay near Cape of Good Hope


Our Captain (de Eerth), ordered the good ship Doggerbank to sea from Texel on 12 February 1789 at ten o clock in the morning, when the desired eastern wind began to blow. At first we presumed to reach the mouth of Channel (English Channel) the next day as the wind blowing stiffly. But by six o clock that evening we encountered an unfavourable western wind which brought a storm at ten o clock in the night. This wind increased next day and forced us to lower all sails. We drifted along the perilous North Sea to the coast of Norway.


On 24 February the wind changed. The next day, at five o clock we saw Dover and the English coast. After having passed the French coast our Captain ordered to sails to be lowered. The Constable-Major got the order to shoot five times, each at five-minutes intervals. Then the pilot of another ship came to board and collected the mail destined for the Netherlands. Until 8 March it was very cloudy.


Today, 9 March, for the first time, I saw the sun appearing through the clouds. What a godly sight! How majestically the grey clouds were driven away - how mightily the sun breaks through like a flash of lightning! At eleven o clock we met a French ship, going to West India. Both captains spoke and wished each other a good trip. On 12 March we passed Medora, a Portuguese island.


Now the day of bad luck approaches - the 17 March! At eleven o clock the patrolman, one of Saxonia-Meiningen origin, came up the stairs, continuously crying: O Jesus! Everyone became excited. Then the captain appeared crying: "People, people, throw down all beddings, we have fire in the small room!"  The Botellier and all others in our quarters took our beds and threw them down. At last we realised the seriousness of the fire! It was caused by (vitriol oil) or brandy as the Dutch doctor, van Santen (onboard) called it. We needed sand or fresh lime to combat it. This stupid fellow (van Santen) took the brandy into the chamber of the Constables-Major without informing him. There it lay on 230 packets (300 pounds) of inflammable powder. The doctor knew nothing of this as he lay sleeping in his hut. The smoke was very thick and everyone feared that the powder would become enflamed by the burning oil. To prevent this, all officers agreed to throw away the powder. Look at the damage! Our ship was loaded with a rich cargo of fifteen tons of gold. So it was that we nearly lost our lives through carelessness. I will remember this day forever! Everybody is rueing life. The fire caused such misery as I have never seen before. Throughout the ordeal, the captain proved himself to be one of the most timid, unlike Captain-Lieutenant Hanc and Sous-Lieutenant Schoene who were very brave. They encouraged the others and worked like horses during the fire.


Route J.A. took to Malacca


At the end of March we pass the Canary Islands and approach nearer to the Equator each day. On 1 April we saw many flying fish, flying in the air until they were dry. We also saw a fish named farmer with its piglets. It was a huge fish chasing a lot of little ones and devouring some of them. Finally we saw the so-called hay-fish, as long as the greatest salmons, but round as a pig. It possess four rows of teeth in each jaw. All of these accompanied us until we reached the Equator on 6 April. Because of the fresh winds, we would not have noticed it except for the brandy given to everybody in celebration. On 27 April, Joseph Wonderlich, a carpenter, expired and was committed to the sea as was a sailor on 3 March. Both died of weakness.


The 28 April was a curious day, and why?  A child was born to a fine maid whose father was to be Council of Finance in Batavia. The parents of the maid and all other passengers had not mentioned the pregnancy. The child was named Ambrosius, after an island we had passed during the confinement. A Dutch Domini master baptised the child. I do not know if the baptism is as valid as that performed by a preacher with the grace of the Holy Ghost.


From 29 April to 3 May, nothing happened. But 4 May was a terrible day! Without any breeze, the sky became overcast with dull and thick clouds. Darkness lay over the surface of the ocean and announced a heavy storm approaching. All seamen had to be ready at the sails, to strike and fasten them. Suddenly a furious storm broke out. You could hear the voice of the Captain-Lieutenant: "Strike the march-sail", "strike the big sail", "fix the vock", "prepare the storm-vock", "put on the sea-devil", "the broom". Nothing but sails, could lessen rolling in heavy seas. You could see mountains of waves. One side of the ship lay constantly under water, but there was no danger as we were not afraid of rocks or sandbanks like in the North Sea. This weather continued until 10 May when the sky cleared and gave us a good wind again.


On 19 May we heard: "Land voruyt" or "Land ahead!" But because of fog that lasted until 22 May, most of us saw nothing. At ten o clock the sky cleared up and the fog vanished slowly. Now we saw mountains in distance. We sailed up and down the coast until we found the mouth of Tafel-Bay. There we dropped anchor - not in the best place. On 25 May the wind changed to south-south-east! The Captain-Lieutenant did not dare weigh the anchor but instead decided to cut it. In this way, we reached the safely of Valsch Bay. Here we were situated calm as in Abrahams lap. To our great astonishment we found two Dutch ships there, namely Schagen-Maria-Cornelia and the war-ship Zaphir. They had started their journey (from Amsterdam), fourteen and twenty-four days respectively - after us. The reason: we had lost time in the North Sea. We heard, that, in Amsterdam, they had considered our ship Doggerbank as lost because of the terrible storm. Here four another ships dropped anchor. They were mainly French ships on their way to India. Eight days before our arrival, a Swedish ship was stranded at the hidden cliffs with all onboard. We will stay here for perhaps ten to fourteen days, then start for Batavia. May God give us a good and happy journey! In Batavia you have nine months of summer and three months of winter or rain nothing compared to cold we had to endure in the Niuwe Digs at the beginning of 1789! Here I am a seaman but in Batavia I shall again be a landlubber for perhaps five years. From Valsh Bay I have nothing more to write to you.


Each day I recommend   you to the almighty creator, enclose you in my prayers and ever shall be your faithful son and brother.


Johann Anton Neubronner.


Letter dated 6 June 6 from Cape of Good Hope (Some parts were damaged)


Admired parents, much-loved sister and brothers,


Next week we will start the journey to Batavia. I know it, my spirit says it to me, I often feel it, that you would like to receive news from me. Now you will get it by this letter! You will be glad to hear that after my departure from my native country never once was I indisposed or ill, always lively, always cheerfully! That is a great grace from the Almighty, to whom I thank each hour for the gift of health.


Original postage address from J.A. to his family reads:

Mr. W.T. (Wolfgang Thomas) Neubronner - familie (family)

in Nassau-Usingen by Frank-

furt a/m in Germany

by way of London

from Malacca


Letter dated 18 February 1791 from Malacca (Some parts were damaged)


Deeply respected parents, brothers and sister and sincere friends,


On 24 December 1789, not long after I arrived here, I wrote to you my third letter. I hope you received at least one of them. We started on 14 June 1789 (from Cape of Good Hope) with the best wind and beautiful weather. On the evening of 17 June the sky became overcast with black and terrible clouds accompanied by a dead silence. This is in the so-called Zud Sea, a sad location. At about midnight we ran into the most terrible storm with hail and bitter cold. While sailing with the storm-vock for the next fourteen days, we advanced well often through high waves. Our ship arrived near the island of Paulus van Amsterdam, or so we believed. We had sought it for one week, but in vain. Strong winds and currents pushed us much too far westwards in the vicinity of Sumatra. We therefore decided to seek the route to Malacca which we reached safely but with 104 sick persons. It was the first time a European (Dutch) ship arrived in Malacca (directly from Holland) after the Dutch took the Malayan coast from the Portuguese.


On the advice of a good man I introduced myself to the local governor, Abraham Couperus van Oot Vries, and asked to be employed by the (comptoir) of the East India Company. He agreed on condition that the good-ship Doggerbank would have left the harbour and that he would declare me too ill to travel. Otherwise he had no permission from the main (comptoir) in Batavia to engage someone.

In the house of a Swede, I got to know a German from Rostock named Johann Christian Gene. He saw me, asked me, where from I came and invited me to his house. I followed him because of his frank and friendly face. There, for the first time I was given a good lunch and bed. This man is married and has three beautiful children. We become inseparable and I live in his house like a friend and brother.

Since 1 January 1790, I have been employed as an assistant by the East India Company. In the first four weeks I only looked after commercial works. However, my hard work and diligence has earned the high regard of the bookkeeper. I work harder than others who have been here for at least five years but are only talented in drinking. Here I received my first foundation of bookkeeping and commerce. In Malacca there are many Chinese traders and craftsmen. I do not comprehend their religion or their language. However, they also speak the Malayan language which I have learnt quickly and to the required standard. Presently I have been here for sixteen months and possess more money than I could have earned at home in five years. It is a pity that no comptoir-assistant is allowed to remit money to Europe for the first three years.


Letter dated 15 November 1791 from Malacca (Some parts were damaged)


The greatest trouble for me is that there is no preacher here to whom I could be in accordance with. I often recall our good Superintendent Groote, especially on Sundays when I read one to three sections in a French New Testament. For the decent people here, such a man, who could inspire repentance through his sermon, is sadly missed. How is George Junior, his wife and my cousin? All of them have been friendly to me.


Letter dated 20 February 1800 from Malacca (Some parts were damaged)


Dear parents,


Since your letter dated August 1792, I have not received any news. I have married Catharina, born Koek, and have five children, named Johann Anton, Johann Christian, Frederik Joseph, Louisa and Henriette. If not for the terrible European war, I would have returned to Europe long ago with my family. In 1795, I became the bookkeeper and commissioner of the companys magazine.


Part of a letter by J.A. dated 20 September 1803 was too damaged to translate.


Letter dated 1808 from Malacca (Some parts were damaged)


The time passes slow but steady. It has been nineteen years since I reached land after a toilsome journey. Since then many of my friends have died or have grown silent. Man is like an actor playing his role on-stage. So too it is that we play our role in the world, one well, the other bad. How is my brother Wolfgang Thomas, does he succeed in his craft? How is my brother Christian? I hope he is well. I am sure that both are doing their best to support our parents. If I knew of a safe way, nothing would have stopped my contribution as well - I assure you. I and my wife and her mother recommend ourselves to you. By the way, we all enclose you in the protection of the most Highest and the supervision of his holy persons.

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