Les Voyages de Jean Struys

Among the learned volumes in the Cathedral Library nestles a book, published in Amsterdam in 1681, full of adventure stories. It tells of long journeys on the high seas, of wonderous sights in far distant lands, of shipwrecks, robberies, imprisonment and slavery.

“Les Voyages de Jean Struys

En Muscovie, en Tartarie, en Perse, aux Indes et en plusieurs autres païs étrangers

Accompagnés de remarques particulières sur la qualité, la Religion, le gouvernement, les coutumes et le négoce des lieux qu’il a vus; avec quantité de figures en taille douce dessinées par lui-même; et deux lettres qui traitent à fond des malheurs d’Astracan

A quoi l’on a ajouté comme une chose digne d’être suë, la Rélation d’un Nauvrage, dont les suites ont produit des effets extraordinaires”

This is how it is described on its title page. It is one of the Library’s many books written in French and this particular volume must in fact be a translation from the Dutch original. It tells of the adventures of a Dutchman, Jean Struys. He was not a famous man but a Monsieur Glanius, whose name also appears on the title page, thought the story of Jean’s travels round the world worth recounting.

Jean Struys was born in Holland in the 17th century. He longed to travel but his father said that the family could not afford it and insisted that his son should settle down to a steady job in his home town. Jean’s wanderlust remained and he eventually ran away from home and found a job on a boat bound initially for Genoa and so his adventuring life began. This was to be the first of three long journeys which took him to many parts of the world.



                                                                                                        L’île de Pathmos (The Island of Patmos)

                                                                         Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 On the first voyage, he travelled round Africa, to Thailand and Japan. His second voyage took him to the Eastern Mediterranean, the third was to the North, to Russia, then down to Persia. At the end of the third voyage he was captured by the English trying to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, from where he was taken to Ireland and eventually released.

There are detailed descriptions of many of the places he visited, of the inhabitants and of their customs and ways of life. He was interested in the veneration of white elephants in Tibet, over which a war was fought, the sturgeon fisheries on the Volga, aimed even then at the luxury market.


                                                        La Pêche de l’Éturgeon dans la rivière de Wolga (Sturgeon Fishing on the river Volga)

                                                                          Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

He marvelled at the beautiful buildings of Venice and even then, as we worry now, wondered why they had not sunk into the lagoon. He was awe-struck by the magnificence of Persian architecture.



                                                                              Le Tombeau Royal de Persepolis (The Royal Tomb at Persepolis)

                                                                          Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

  He met Japanese women fabulously dressed in the finest fabrics, embroidered in gold and silver. He found himself deep in forests full of wonderful fruit trees, every variety imaginable and more besides.

 His travels were, however, dominated by the scrapes in which he became involved. Shipwrecks were a regular occurrence.



                                                                                                                  Le Naufrage (The Shipwreck)

                                                                        Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 On one occasion, he and his companions were washed onto a distant shore where they found very little to eat and no fresh water and nearly starved. They eventually escaped on a makeshift raft, succeeded in reaching an inhabited land only to be taken captive. He was indeed captured several times and at least twice kept as a slave. He served as a mercenary for the Venetians. He was subjected to robberies and left destitute, far from home. But none one of these mishaps seem to have abated his enthusiasm for exploration and the tales of his travels make interesting reading.

Julia McCreath







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