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William Adams

(1564—1620) navigator


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(1564–1620), English navigator, who was apprenticed to a shipwright aged 12, and learned shipbuilding and navigation. He then served for a short time in the English Navy under Sir Francis Drake before joining the Company of Barbary Merchants as a pilot and navigator, during which time he sailed on an exploration by sea in search of the North-East Passage. In 1598, attracted by the Dutch trade to India, he sailed with a small squadron of five ships from the Texel, bound for India via the Straits of Magellan. During the voyage he changed ship and this vessel, the Liefde, was the sole survivor of the expedition which finally reached Kyushu, in Japan, with a crew of sick and dying men. Adams's knowledge of ships and pilotage, as well as shipbuilding, made him a valuable man in the eyes of the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. He used him in various capacities and ordered Adams to build two western-style sailing ships, one of 80 tons, the other of 120 tons, which he did.

Adams became known in Japan as Miura Anjin (Miura Pilot) after the estate he was granted on the Miura Peninsula, for though he had a wife and children in England he was forbidden to return to them. Instead, the shogun arranged for him to marry the daughter of a samurai warrior—by whom he had two children—but before doing so he declared that Adams was dead and that the samurai Miura Anjin was born. This was convenient for everyone as it freed Adams to serve the shogun and to marry, as only a samurai could marry the daughter of a samurai.

In 1612 Adams heard news of an English trading station which had been set up at Bantam (now Banten) on north-west Java, and after managing to communicate with it, was visited a year later by an English ship from there, the Clove. She was commanded by Captain John Saris, and Adams assisted him in obtaining trading concessions from the shogun in favour of the British East India Company. He took a leading part in the company's organization in the Far East and, having now obtained permission to leave Japan, made many voyages to Siam and Cochin China on behalf of the company. However, he always returned to Japan, and died there.

His adventures have been the subject of several books including the novel Shogun (1976) by James Clavell.

From The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Maritime History.


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