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Pieter Nuyts (1598–1655)

by Nic Klaassen

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Pieter Nuyts (1598-1655), company official and mariner, was born in 1598 at Middelburg, the Netherlands, son of Laurens Nuyts (Nuijts), textile merchant, and his wife Elisabeth. Educated at the University of Leiden from 1613, Pieter became well versed in the classics, the Bible and law. He returned to Middelburg and his father's business, married Cornelia Jacot on 26 April 1620 and had two sons. Nuyts invested heavily in land, hoping for profits and status and to see the world. He also secured a position with the Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (Dutch East India Co.), where his education and practical experience gained him rapid promotion. He decided to move to Batavia, Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), the company's main centre.

Leaving his pregnant wife and his son Pieter to follow later, Nuyts and his son Laurens left Vlissingen in the Gulden Seepaert (Golden Seahorse), captained by Francois Thijssen, on 22 May 1626. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, they sighted the Australian coast near Cape Leeuwin (Western Australia) on 26 January 1627. In 1622 Jan Pieterszoon Coen, governor-general of the East Indies, had ordered a thorough investigation of the South Land. Sailing east along the southern coast for more than 800 nautical miles (1482 km), Thijssen mapped and named the region 't Land van Pieter Nuyts, after the highest ranking officer on board, and the islands of St Francis and St Pieter (Peter). This voyage resulted in the first definite chart of the southern coast (from what was to be Albany to Ceduna) and the first European knowledge of what became South Australia. Later French and English explorers praised the accuracy of the Dutch map.

Turning back and then heading north, on 10 April 1627 Nuyts reached Batavia, where the V.O.C. directors were so impressed by his connexions that on 30 April he was appointed ambassador to Japan. He left with Laurens on 12 May, instructed to restore and improve relations between the V.O.C. and Japan, but failed and settled at Formosa (Taiwan), where on 28 June he became governor. His wife and son Pieter having died after arriving in Batavia, Nuyts married a Formosan and had numerous affairs (requiring an interpreter under his bed to translate amorous conversation). Arrogant, haughty and dedicated to his own financial interests, he was recalled, leaving his son Laurens imprisoned in Japan, where he died on 29 December 1630. Having reached Batavia on 11 October 1629, Pieter Nuyts was heavily fined and after several inquiries suspended and arrested on 9 May 1630.

Released on 5 July 1636, Nuyts left for the Netherlands in December 1637. There he married Anna van Driel on 1 January 1640 but she died nine months later while giving birth to a son. A landowner near the city of Hulst, Nuyts became a member of its council. He was thrice mayor of Hulster Ambacht and twice of Hulst. On 26 April 1649 he married Agnes Granier. He died on 11 December 1655, survived by his wife and by the son, also named Pieter, of his previous marriage. After the funeral Nuyts was found to have collected more taxes than was shown in the council's books. His son repaid them.

In 1717 Jean Pierre Purry, who had been working for the V.O.C., proposed the establishment of a Dutch colony in Nuytsland, but it did not eventuate. Jonathan Swift may have chosen the islands of St Francis and St Peter as models for Lilliput and Blefescu in Gulliver's Travels (1726). In 1802 Matthew Flinders named Nuyts's Reef, Cape Nuyts and Nuyts Archipelago. Later still, the Western Australian Christmas Tree was named Nuytsia floribunda.

Select Bibliography

  • P. A. Leupe, Stukken Betrekkelijk Pieter Nuyts, Gouverneur van Taqueran 1631-1634 (Holland, 1853)
  • C. Fenner, The First Discoverers of South Australia (Adel, 1926?)
  • W. P. Coolhaas, Jan Pietersz Coen, vol 7 (Holland, 1953)
  • J. Fletcher, Pieter Nuyts and his ‘Album Amicorum’ (Melb, 1974)
  • Bijdragen en Mededelingen van het Historisch Genootschap, vol 66, 1955, p 27
  • Zeews Tijdschrift, no 6, 1993, p 234, no 3, 2000, p 15.

Citation details

Nic Klaassen, 'Nuyts, Pieter (1598–1655)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Middelburg, Netherlands


11 December, 1655 (aged ~ 57)

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