Carel Hartsinck

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Carel Hartsinck was an agent of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) who was active in Japan from 1633 until 1641.

Born in the Rhineland, Hartsinck arrived in Japan as a VOC employee in 1633. He developed relationships with merchants of the Nihonmachi (Japantown) in Tonkin (northern Vietnam), and traveled there from time to time up until 1641.

Hartsinck married a Japanese woman, and had two sons: Pieter (b. 1637) and William Carel (b. 1638). They were for some reason allowed to remain in Hirado, and then in Nagasaki, after the Dutch were restricted to Dejima in 1641. Later that year, though, they moved to Fort Zeelandia (Taiwan), where Hartsinck briefly served as assistant director, and then to Batavia, where his wife died in 1642. Hartsinck then traveled to Holland the following year with his two sons, where he married a Dutch woman.

He returned to the East in 1651 with his new wife, leaving the two boys behind for their schooling. Neither boy was formally recognized as Hartsinck’s legitimate offspring until 1662, but once they finally were, they were able to receive inheritance, and so forth.

Pieter attended the University of Leiden, where he helped Frans van Schooten (1615-1660) prepare a Latin translation of Descartes’ Geometry (pub. 1659). In the second edition of the book, van Schooten praises Pieter as a Japanese and as his most apt student in mathematics. Pieter graduated with a degree in medicine in 1669. Three years later, he was hired by Duke Johann Friedrich of Braunschweig-Lunberg in Germany to oversee the mines and mints of his principality. This post was apparently much desired by none other than the famous philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who campaigned to be named to it right up until Pieter’s death in 1680. Pieter had never married and had no children, and so left most of his wealth to his brother, his step-mother, and an endowment for his school in the Netherlands.


  • Gary Leupp, Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900, A&C Black (2003), 63-64.