Marin H. Jansen

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Marin Henri Jansen  (1893) 
by William Jay Youmans
transcribed by William Maury Morris II aka Brother Officer


Rear-Admiral Marin Henri Jansen


(Sept. 10th, 1817 — Sept. 8th, 1893)


Rear-Admiral Marin Henri Jansen.


The Royal Geographic Society lost one of the most active and accomplished of its honorary corresponding members, and one who took a sympathetic and zealous interest in their welfare when Rear-Admiral Marin Henri Jansen, of the Royal Netherlands Navy passed away.

Marin Jansen was born in Antwerp, Belgium on September 10th, 1817. He was bent on becoming a sailor from his earliest years. When the Belgian revolution broke out, being only twelve years of age, nothing could restrain his youthful ardour. He found his way to one of the forts held for the Dutch by the Duke of Saxe Weimar, and thence on board the corvette Proserpine in the Scheldt, commanded by his uncle Captain Van Marin. The patriotic young boy remained on board until November 1831, taking part in the conquest of the left bank of the Scheldt from Fort Marie westward.

Jansen’s parents removed to Delft in Holland, and the young volunteer was sent to the Naval Institute. After four years he was appointed midshipman of the first-class, on board the frigate Bellona, cruising in the North Sea; and in 1836 he sailed for the Netherlands Indies, where he was placed under the orders of Captain Koopman at Soerabaia.

In 1837 he entered the marine surveying service, being appointed to the schooner Crocodile, and for three years he was occupied in surveying the Riouw Archipelago in the Straits of Sunda. He returned to Holland in 1841, on board the frigate Maas, commanded by his uncle Captain Van Marin, and soon afterwards was entrusted with the command of a gun-boat in the Scheldt. But he was not long in Europe, for in October 1842 he was again sent out to the Dutch East Indies on board the frigate Palembang. By that time he had established a position for himself as an able surveyor. He was entrusted with the survey of the navigable water of the Wester, near Soerabaia, and afterwards became a member of the commission for improving the navigation. In 1844 Marin Jansen mapped the east coast of Bintong, and in July 1845 he fixed his head-quarters at Padang, thence correcting the survey of the Sumatra coast.

Marin Jansen was recalled to Batavia for more active service in 1847, and was promoted for the extraordinary rapidity with which he helped to organise an expedition to Bali. For his admirable surveying service he was created a Chevalier of the Order of the Golden Lion, and received a gold watch and chain from the merchants of Java. Returning to Holland in shattered health, he was soon afterwards associated with Captain Bruining in a commission for the defence of the southern frontier, and this led to an appointment in the Colonial Office at the Hague, in 1849. At this time Jansen published two naval pamphlets, and various useful measures connected with the colonies were due to his initiative.

In April 1851 he resumed active service in the navy, as a lieutenant on board the frigate Prins van Oranje, under the command of Captain Bijl De Vroe. Jansen served in this vessel in the Mediterranean, West Indies, and on the coast of Central America. He also visited Washington at a time when Matthew Fontaine Maury was at the height of his fame, forming a lifelong friendship with the illustrious American hydrographer. Jansen learned much from Maury and sought to emulate and further his work.

In June 1852 Jansen was once more in Holland, actively engaged on geographical and other work, always with a view to furthering the interests of his country. He brought the model of a clipper from New York, after which the Kosmopoliet, owned by the brothers Blussé, and other vessels, were built.

In 1853 he was the representative for the Netherlands at the Congress held at Brussels for establishing an international system of observations, and in the following year he was appointed naval assistant to Buys Ballot, in the meteorological observatory at Utrecht.

In 1855 Matthew Fontaine Maury (partly of Dutch descent) of the United States Navy had published the first of several editions of his fascinating book, Physical Geography Of The Sea (1855). Jansen transcribed a copy into Dutch translation of Maury’s book with valuable appendices on land and sea breezes in the tropics, and on ozone, which Maury, in turn, wisely incorporated in subsequent editions, at the same time offering a well-deserved tribute of appreciative praise to his accomplished coadjutor.

“Jansen,” Maury wrote, “has helped me to enrich my work with his fine thoughts. The reader will, I am sure, feel as I do, deeply indebted to him for so much instructive matter set forth in his very delightful and pleasant manner. Among those whose debtor I am, stands first and foremost the clear head and warm heart of this Dutch officer, whom I am proud to call my friend. He is an ornament to his profession, and a more accomplished officer it has never been my good fortune to meet in any service. Jansen has served many years in the East Indies. He observed minutely and well. He has enriched my humble contributions to the ‘Physical Geography of the Sea’ from the store-house of his knowledge, set off and presented in many fine pictures. He has added chapters on land and sea breezes, on the changing of the monsoons, on the south-east trades of the South Atlantic, and on winds and currents generally." (Phys Geo Sea 1855 §544)

Towards the end of 1855 Marin Jansen was sent to England to sail in the trial trip of the Royal Charter to Australia. He went from Melbourne, Torres Strait, to Batavia, returning to Europe in 1857. After a short service in the Dutch Ministry of Marine, he received command of the steamer Djambi to form part of the Dutch squadron in the West Indies from 1861 to 1862. After this tropical service Jansen visited England, France, and Germany to make himself acquainted with the latest phases in naval construction and ornament, and in 1864 he published an important work entitled The Latest Discoveries in Maritime Affairs. In 1865 Jansen was appointed Commodore of the last Dutch sailing squadron; and soon afterwards was entrusted with the responsible duty of superintending the building of the ironclad Prins Hendrik by Messrs Laird at Birkenhead.

In 1867 Captain Jansen took command of the Prins Hendrik, and went on an experimental cruise in the North Sea and English Channel, trying her qualities in all weathers. He put her out of commission at Nieuwediep in 1868, and retired from active service after a distinguished naval career of thirty-five years. On this occasion Jansen was decorated with the Commandery of the Oaken Crown.

Commodore Jansen had become an honorary corresponding member of The Royal Geographic Society in 1865, and always took a deep interest in the proceedings and the society’s welfare. The society had never had a correspondent who was so ready and anxious to assist them by every means in his power. When the question of an Arctic expedition was under discussion, Jansen gave up much time to an examination of the Dutch Archives, with a view to a study of the ice in the Spitzbergen Seas, as reported by the Dutch whalers during the last three centuries. Jansen also examined the archives at Middelburg, assisted by Professor Veth, for information respecting discoveries in Tibet, and collected all that was known of the remarkable journey of [[1]] Samuel Van der Putte from India, through Lhasa, to China. In 1869 Jansen published an important pamphlet, which excited much attention at the time, entitled A Bridge over the Ocean, advocating the establishment of lines of large steamers to America.

In 1873 Marin Jansen was appointed to represent the Netherlands at Constantinople, in the commission for establishing uniformity in ship measurements, when he received from the Sultan the Order of the Osmaniè. In the following year of 1874 Jansen was appointed to the honourable and dignified post of a Councillor of State, which he continued to fill until his death. In 1874 Marin Henry Jansen also attained the rank of Rear-Admiral.

Jansen was the chief promoter of a revival of Arctic exploration in Holland, being ably, and, indeed, enthusiastically, seconded by his young friend, Lieutenant Koolemans Beynen. The veteran sailor always felt the warmest sympathy for the aspirations of his youthful brother officers; and his encouragement of the patriotic ardour of young Beynen led to the formation of an Arctic Committee at the Hague, and to an appeal to the public for funds. On April 6th, 1878, the schooner Willem Barents was launched, and sailed for the Arctic Seas, under the command of Lieutenant A. de Bruyne, with Beynen as his second. Admiral Marin Henry Jansen drew up the instructions.

Barents Sea


He considered that the Barents Sea, between Spitzbergen and Novaya Zemlya, would make an excellent training-ground for Dutch seamen, but that the first voyage should be confined within the limits of what is easily attainable. He thought that, by yearly increasing knowledge and experience, his countrymen might in time be in a position to undertake more hazardous and difficult voyages. The Willem Barents went directly to Amsterdam Island, near the north-west point of Spitzbergen, and then dredged and took deep-sea soundings in the Barents Sea. The first voyage was, in Beynen’s words, “a scientific examination of the sea that bears the name of the greatest of our mariners.”

On the little schooner’s return, the young officer who had been the mainstay of the expedition was ordered to the East Indies. Beynen died of fever at Makassar, and his loss was deeply felt, not only in Holland, but also by many warm friends in the Society; but none mourned for this brave young fellow more deeply than Admiral Jansen, who looked upon him almost as a son. He loved the young lieutenant for his ardent patriotism, for his Arctic enthusiasm, and for his devotion to duty. The aspirations of his own youth seemed to be revived in the career of Beynen. His grief for Beynen’s untimely death was deep and abiding.

Jansen continued to send out the Willem Barents on those summer cruises which have proved so valuable to science. In her second voyage Franz Josef Land was sighted, and a large natural history collection was brought home. In 1880, on her third voyage, the little schooner got on shore on the coast of Novaya Zemlya and was nearly lost, so that little was done; but in 1881, with Captain Broekhuysen in command, much valuable work was achieved. During her fifth voyage, in 1882, the Willem Barents was the first vessel to find and welcome Mr. Leigh Smith’s boats retreating from Franz Josef Land. The sixth and seventh voyages, under Lieutenant Dalen, also brought back valuable collections and hydrographic information; and thus the useful and patriotic enterprise initiated by Maury, Jansen and his young friend Beynen, was steadily persevered in during a course of years.

In his declining days Jansen suffered from rheumatism and defect of vision, but he was surrounded by numerous devoted friends of a younger generation. He was a tall man with very erect carriage, a high forehead, and a very benevolent expression of countenance, full of sympathy for the interests and anxieties of his friends. He was also an admirable raconteur. The events of his long and most useful life sufficiently set forth his higher qualities. The great mass of information on many subjects with which his mind was stored, was lightened by the play of his bright and vivid imagination. A most able and accomplished seaman and a sound geographer, he was also a wise and prudent statesman.