Ranald MacDonald’s arrival in Nagasaki on October 11, 1848, was front page news in Dutch newspapers published in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. Hence ‘Holland’ above this page.

This is less surprising than we may now think. The opening of Japan was an important issue in international relations. European powers, Russia and the United States of America all had their own reasons for attempting to gain access to a country that had closed itself to the rest of the world. In 1844 even the Dutch King William II strove for Japan achieving more open international relations by sending a letter to the shogun.

Only the Netherlands and China had footholds in Japan. Since 1641 the Netherlands had had a trading post there that consisted of about 20 people living and working on a small man-made peninsula near Nagasaki called Deshima. Once a year Dutch ships arrived to do business. There had always been a large number of Chinese there who traded more expansively than the Dutch did.

Every movement of each ship in the bay of Nagasaki was monitored closely by the Dutch in Deshima so that the arrival on October 11 of the Tenjinmaru with ‘the American’ Ranald MacDonald aboard did not escape their attention:

‘From Japan we received the report that on 11 October last a foreigner who some time ago had infiltrated the Seso islands, was taken from Matsmai to Nagasaki escorted by a commander of the Japanese army who subsequently locked him up in a temple. To the interpreters, who only understood Dutch, he must have managed to communicate that his name was Ranald MacDonald, that he was born in Oregon and that his last employment was as a fourth helmsman on the New York whaler Plymouth; that, on account of persistent bad relations between himself and the captain and with the latter’s knowledge and permission, he had disembarked on 18 June when sighting the Seso islands, all alone in a boat, bringing with him his luggage, a compass, a sextant etc., with the objective to head for China; but that, having lost his boat’s rudder and his compass, he had to give up this plan and thus ended up in Seso. This peculiar statement had caused the Japanese government to suspect that this foreigner had not come to Japan by accident but as a missionary or a spy. Therefore the Deshima party wanted to know if an investigation with the aid of the superintendant of Dutch trade was to be expected.’