Francois Caron was one of the heads of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) factory in Nagasaki, serving in that position from 1639 until 1641. He had five children with a Japanese wife, all of whom relocated to Batavia in 1641.
Born to French Huguenot parents in Flanders in 1600, Caron was raised in the United Provinces of the Netherlands. He arrived in Japan on a VOC ship in 1619. He is said to have begun in the galleys, but was promoted due to his skill in Japanese language, and by 1627 he served as interpreter for opperhoofd (factor) Peter Nuyts in an audience with Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu. The following year, Nuyts was placed in charge of Fort Zeelandia, the chief Dutch base on Taiwan, and Caron accompanied him.
Nuyts held some resentments towards Japanese, and used his new position to harass several Japanese ships bound for Southeast Asia. In response, a force of some 500 Japanese “adventurers” attacked the fort and captured Nuyts in 1628, demanding a considerable indemnity. The Tokugawa shogunate, though not in any way involved in this attack or hostage-taking, was nevertheless angered by Nuyts’ actions, and impounded nine Dutch vessels, banned Dutch trade in Japan for three years, and demanded that either Nuyts, or the fort, be turned over to shogunate authorities. Though the VOC was quite hesitant, they eventually gave in and turned Nuyts over in 1632. He was then imprisoned for three and a half years. Most of these negotiations between the VOC and the shogunate were handled, at least in part, by Caron. Historian Gary Leupp suggests that Caron’s gifts to Iemitsu were influential in securing Nuyts’ release in the end.
Caron was resident and active in Japan through all of this. He married a Japanese woman in 1621 or 1622, and by 1639 the couple had five children. Caron also published, in 1636, a volume entitled A True Description of the Mighty Kingdom of Japan, based on his experiences.
Caron then became opperhoofd in early 1639. That year, the shogunate expelled all Dutch wives and Dutch or mixed-race children from Japan; only men in service of the Company were permitted to stay. Yet, Caron, perhaps because of his elite position as opperhoofd, was one of a very few who was granted an exception, and was permitted to have his entire family remain with him, in Hirado, and then in Dejima. During his time as factor, he oversaw the relocation of the VOC factory – relatively newly built – from Hirado to Dejima. Leupp suggests here too that Caron’s diplomatic accommodation of shogunate demands – that is, his willingness to move to Dejima, and to quash other Dutchmen’s protests against it – kept the VOC in the shogunate’s good graces, and kept the Dutchmen from being expelled, or worse, as happened to the Spanish and Portuguese. Caron was succeeded as opperhoofd in 1641, and took a new position in Batavia. He moved there with his entire family, but later the same year departed Batavia for Holland, leaving his wife and children behind.
Caron returned to Batavia in 1643 to find that his wife had died. He then applied to the council of Batavia, petitioning them that though his marriage had never been formally consecrated by the Church, his children should be wiped clean of this stain on their character (i.e. having been born out of wedlock), and should be granted all requisite recognition, including rights of inheritance. The council granted his request.
Meanwhile, Caron had obtained a new wife while gone in Holland. She arrived in Batavia in 1645, and by the time of his death in 1673, they had had seven children together. Caron is said to have been quite conscientious in taking care of his half-Japanese children as well, however. The eldest was born in Hirado in 1622 and was named Daniel. He studied theology at Leiden, beginning in 1643, but then had a change of heart and signed up as a VOC soldier. He came to Batavia in 1649 as a soldier, but changed his mind again and by 1650 was doing missionary work in Taiwan. He is believed to have been killed in Zheng Chenggong’s seizure of Fort Zeelandia in 1658.
The second son was named Tobias, though little is known of him. Caron’s third son, Francois, graduated from Leiden and arrived in Batavia in 1660. He then became a missionary in Amboyna (in the Moluccas), and became fluent in Malay. He returned to Batavia in 1676, where he formed a family of his own, and died around 1705. Caron’s two daughters, Petronella and Maria, married Dutchmen and remained in Batavia; little is known about them except that both were still living until at least 1670.
- Gary Leupp, Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900, A&C Black (2003), 8, 61-63.