Feb 012018

Today is the birthday (1659) of Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutch explorer who set out to find Terra Australis, but instead came across Rapa Nui (which he called Easter Island because he landed there on Easter Day). He also encountered Bora Bora and Maupiti of the Society Islands and Samoa. He planned the expedition along with his brother Jan Roggeveen, who stayed in the Netherlands. It always amazes me that Roggeveen, who was a skilled navigator, could find Rapa Nui which is a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific miles from anywhere, yet could fail to find Australia which you’d think explorers would just bump into if they kept sailing west. It seems hard to miss, but they did for centuries.

I have posted about Rapa Nui several times before: https://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-tourism-day/ and https://www.bookofdaystales.com/easter-island/ . It is, after all, a fascinating place, full of anthropological and archeological intrigue. My visit to the island in 2013 was very special. Today I will talk a little more about Rapa Nui, but my prime focus is Jacob Roggeveen, because he was the first European to encounter the island and its people. Regrettably he arrived after the classic cultures of Rapa Nui had already decayed due to overpopulation, overcropping, warfare, and famine. Even so, his journals provide insight into a previously unknown people.

Roggeveen was born in Middelburg, the capital of the province of Zeeland. Jacob’s father, Arend Roggeveen, was a mathematician with an interest in astronomy, geography, rhetoric, philosophy and the theory of navigation as well. He occupied himself with study of the legendary Terra Australis, and even got a patent for an exploratory excursion. But it was to be Jacob who, at the age of 62, eventually equipped three ships and made the expedition.

Roggeveen became notary of Middelburg, and on 12 August 1690 he obtained a doctor of the law at University of Harderwijk. He married Marija Margaerita Vincentius, but she died in October 1694. In 1706 he joined the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), and between 1707 and 1714 was a Raadsheer van Justitie (“Council Lord of Justice”) at Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta). He married Anna Adriana Clement there, but she died soon afterward. In 1714, he returned to Middelburg by himself.

Roggeveen got himself involved in religious controversies, supporting the liberal preacher Pontiaan van Hattem by publishing his leaflet De val van ‘s werelds afgod (The fall of the world’s idol). The first part appeared in 1718, in Middelburg, and was subsequently confiscated by the city council and burned. Roggeveen left Middelburg for nearby Flushing. Thereafter he established himself in the small town of Arnemuiden, and published parts 2 and 3 of the series, again raising a controversy. The followers of van Hattem were known as Hattemites. Their beliefs can be summarized in his own words:

Everything is necessary: ​​sin is not in the actions of man, but in his disposition. Therefore he becomes neither evil nor good by the first, but he can not be changed, so his sins also give no cause for displeasure to God. Christ has made us free from death, to make us different from what we already were: but to make us know how we were before: His death makes known to us that we are justified by God, and as a result of that no man can act against God’s will, so man may be as he ought to be, and may even be said never to have committed any sins, so the chosen one does not sin anymore and needs nothing to worry about because he is being judged before God. The will of God is not fulfilled by action, but by suffering, and faith is nothing but accepting that which Christ has revealed to us through his death.

In short, Christ’s death on the cross has redeemed all humans, and, therefore, humans are incapable of sin any more. Everything, including human suffering, is God’s will. This is a rather unusual, and heretical, theology, even by liberal Protestant standards, and you can see that it was not likely to sit well with the 18th century Dutch, given that it condones all behavior, no matter how hedonistic or libertine, as God’s will. Some historians have suggested that one impulse behind Roggeveen’s search for Terra Australis was to find a territory to set up a Hattemite colony.    

On 1 August 1721 he headed an expedition sponsored by the Dutch West India Company, the rivals of the VOC, to seek Terra Australis and to open a western trade route to the “Spice islands.” The “southern continent” of Terra Australis had been theorized as existing since the time of Aristotle, followed by Ptolemy. The reason given for the existence of such a land mass was pure symmetry. The northern hemisphere had large land masses on it, so the southern hemisphere must also have large land masses. Some early 16th century geographers hypothesized that South America and/or Africa were joined to Terra Australis, but the discoveries of southern passages around those continents ended those speculations. The Flemish geographer and cartographer, Cornelius Wytfliet, wrote concerning the Terra Australis in his 1597 book, Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum,

The terra Australis is therefore the southernmost of all other lands, directly beneath the antarctic circle; extending beyond the tropic of Capricorn to the West, it ends almost at the equator itself, and separated by a narrow strait lies on the East opposite to New Guinea, only known so far by a few shores because after one voyage and another that route has been given up and unless sailors are forced and driven by stress of winds it is seldom visited. The terra Australis begins at two or three degrees below the equator and it is said by some to be of such magnitude that if at any time it is fully discovered they think it will be the fifth part of the world. Adjoining Guinea on the right are the numerous and vast Solomon Islands which lately became famous by the voyage of Alvarus Mendanius.

Roggeveen’s fleet consisted of three ships, the Arend, the Thienhoven, and Afrikaansche Galey and had 223 men as crew. Roggeveen first sailed down to the Malvinas (what Brits call the Falkland Islands), which he named “Belgia Australis,” passed through the Strait of Le Maire and continued south to beyond 60 degrees south to enter the Pacific Ocean. He made landfall near Valdivia, now in Chile. He visited the Juan Fernández Islands, where he spent 24th February to 17th March. The expedition later arrived at Rapa Nui on Easter Sunday, 5 April 1722. Roggeveen’s account of his stay on Rapa Nui, which lasted a week, can be found here, https://www.easterisland.travel/easter-island-facts-and-info/history/ship-logs-and-journals/jacob-roggeveen-1722/

Here is a sample concerning the famed moai:

What the form of worship of these people comprises we were not able to gather any full knowledge of, owing to the shortness of our stay among them; we noticed only that they kindle fire in front of certain remarkably tall stone figures they set up; and, thereafter squatting on their heels with heads bowed down, they bring the palms of their hands together and alternately raise and lower them. At first, these stone figures caused us to be filled with wonder, for we could not understand how it was possible that people who are destitute of heavy or thick timber, and also of stout cordage, out of which to construct gear, had been able to erect them; nevertheless some of these statues were a good 30 feet in height and broad in proportion.

Their visit, peaceful at first, was marred by the killing of 10 to 12 local men in a skirmish that is rather vaguely described. When the fleet first anchored, local men swam out to their ships, and later came in canoes. They were intrigued by the ships, and were given gifts. They also very quickly took to stealing items from the ships. When an expedition went ashore, they traveled in gunboats, and went ashore in close quarters, fully armed. One group of men, not observed by Roggeveen, opened fire on locals when they felt threatened. Seemingly the problem was smoothed over, and the Dutchmen were regaled with chickens and tropical fruits.

Subsequently, Roggeveen continued west and charted the location of six islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago, two islands in the Society Islands, and four islands in Samoa, losing his flagship, Afrikaansche Galey at Takapoto atoll. At Makatea, he opened fire on a crowded beach in retaliation for a violent encounter with the inhabitants, and in return the Makateans ambushed a shore party, killing ten of his crewmen. The remaining two vessels sailed past New Guinea to reach Batavia in 1722, where he was arrested for violating the monopoly of the VOC and had his ships confiscated. After a lengthy lawsuit in the Netherlands, the VOC was later forced to compensate him for his losses and to pay his crew.

After his return to the Netherlands, Roggeveen published part 4 of De val van ‘s werelds afgod, to continued controversy. He died in Middelburg one day before his 70th birthday on January 31st 1729.

Zeeland, Roggeveen’s homeland, has a number of culinary specialties. These two are biscuits that are a bit out of the ordinary, dûmkes and tarwe diamanten (wheat diamonds).



150 gm flour
150 gm butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
150 gm sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp aniseed
50 gm hazelnuts, chopped
½ tsp ginger powder


Preheat the oven to 320˚F/160˚C.

Grease one or more baking sheets.

Cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and mix. Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well to form a firm dough. Pinch off pieces of the dough to form rolls about ½ inch in diameter and 2 inches long. Flatten to form oblong biscuits.

Place on greased cookie sheets and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Tarwe Diamanten


200 gm wholewheat flour
100 gm brown sugar
75 gm butter, cold cut in small cubes
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp rolled oats


Preheat the oven to 320˚F/160˚C.

Grease one or more baking sheets.

Pulse the flour, sugar, and butter together in a food processor until the mix resembles wet sand. Place the mixture in a bowl, add the egg and beat together. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well to form a dough, and knead.

Roll out the dough into flat sheets, and cut into diamond shapes.

Place on greased cookie sheets and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks.