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On November 8, 1639, Willem Leyel left Denmark as commander of the ship Christianshavn bound for the Danish colony of Tranquebar with its fortress Dansborg, where he was to take charge of all trading operations of the first Danish East India Company. The voyage, however, became a seemingly endless nightmare of difficulties and disasters.
When Leyel finally reached Tranquebar almost four years later, he found the fortress in a state of complete disrepair – with the former governor having run off with everything of value. But despite having only a few men in his service, barely any capital and almost no possibility of communicating with the managers of the Company in Copenhagen, Leyel managed to turn things around – befriending local princes and establishing a profitable trade with their kingdoms, at times even resorting to piracy in order to preserve Tranquebar on Danish hands.
Drawing on Leyel’s own letters and papers located in The National Archives in Copenhagen, Asta Bredsdorff ingeniously weaves together the rich narrative strains in order to produce a moving and memorable account of Leyel’s exploits in the East Indies. The source material even allows for a reconstruction of several dramatic episodes down to the last detail.
The Trials and Travels of Willem Leyel offers a fascinating account of personal fortitude, courage and determination as well as a unique and fantastic glimpse of the conditions in Tranquebar at the time, of life at sea during the dangerous voyages and of Danish history in general.
Asta Bredsdorff, MA, was born in South India in 1925 and has, among other things, studied at the University of Columbia in New York. Her writings up to now include three books on English maritime history.
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