Carel Tenhaeff: unexpected family connections

Having been active in Asia for centuries, it will not surprise the reader that over the years many family and other connections came about which often continued after the Dutch left India, and succesively, after they left Indonesia. Some connections faded away, other connections remained, and, as in our case, some connections were re-established. Our case: Doris Canter Visscher (a family from the Northern province of Friesland), and Carel Tenhaeff (or Ten Haeff), a family from the Southern Province of Zeeland.

History in brief: first journeys to the East-Indies

In the 16th century, Dutch ships started visiting the East Indies. Why? In the 15th century, it was found the Earth was round after all, and lots of other discoveries were made. This phase in our history was called the Renaissance, or rebirth, of our ‘civilization’. Hm. The globe was explored, and countries situated by the sea, not just large countries like Spain, England, and France, but also small countries like Portugal, Holland, and Denmark, took the lead in this. They were moved by a combination of push and pull factors, as always in migration. On the one hand they were attracted by novelty, adventure, and the wealth overseas. On the other hand they were pushed by poverty and raging wars in Europe.

The Ten Haeff story

Allow me to begin with the example of one of my own ancestors, Adriaen Hendricksz Ten Haeff (1560 – 1608). He was born in the Dutch province of Zeeland. This was the time of the Reformation of Christianity; a century of conflict and war between Catholics and Protestants in Europe. The Netherlands, occupied by the Spanish, fought a bloody independence war for 80 years, ending with a treaty in 1648. This war was fought overland and overseas, and the new Dutch king had struck a deal with Dutch pirates to join hands in this war. Zeeland was one of the territories mainly taken over by the Protestants. Adriaen was a protestant, a shipowner in the Dutch province of Zeeland, and married to the heiress of a well-known pirate captain. He became alderman, and later mayor, of Middelburg, the capital of his province. And he founded the Shipping Company of Faraway, sending the first expeditions from Zeeland to Sumatra, in the East Indies, from 1595 to 1604. Fortunately, elaborate reports on these expeditions have been preserved, including etched pictures (1,2).

By 1602, there were seven shipping companies to the Indies in the Netherlands. They decided to merge into the United East-Indies Company or VOC, with their main office at Amsterdam. Adriaen Ten Haeff was one of the founders. Unfortunately, he did not live afterwards (1908). His gravestone still lies in the Remonstrant (or non-orthodox) Christian church of Middelburg.

graf Ten Haeff in de Koorkerk te Middelburg

The Canter Visschers history

The history of the Canter Visscher family in India was quite different. Quite a few family members were active in the VOC, to begin with Jacobus. Jacobus Canter Visscher was born in 1692 at Dokkum (Friesland), studied theology at the local Reformed university, continued studies at Leiden university, then was appointed as a preacher in Malabar. He died at Batavia (now Jakarta) in 1735. His many letters were published in 2008 (3).

Tammerus Canter Visscher was born at Pingjum in Friesland (near Dokkum) in 1729, and buried in Murshidabad (Bengal) in 1778. Although a preacher, he was appointed as upper-sales manager by the VOC. The impressive tomb of his wife was called the Dutch Mandir (temple).

And Adrianus Canter Visscher is of special importance to be mentioned here. Born in 1707 at Harlingen (Friesland), he became fiscal sales manager with the VOC at Masulipatnam, the main harbour at Golkonda; until it was destroyed first by the French and thereafter by the British, in their Carnatic Wars. Adrianus died at Driesum, near Dokkum, in 1787. He left us a precious colletion of Islamic miniatures, as well as the so-called Canter Visscher Manuscript (4). Both were preserved well by his relatives, and were donated to the Rijksmuseum at Amsterdam in 2008 (5). The Manuscript contains a critical appraisal of the economic and political strategies of the VOC Board.

Meeting nowadays

By chance, Doris Canter Visscher and I met in February 2002 in New Delhi, at the Urs (islamic funeral tradition) in honor of Sufi Inayat Khan. Inayat Khan, who introduced Sufism to the West, had expired 75 years before, and was buried in Nizamuddin, New Delhi. Since Doris and I were based in The Hague, Netherlands, we kept in touch, and met every now and then.

Suddenly, in 2021, we found having another connection, via her ancestor Adrianus wo had lived in Masulipatnam, Golconda, and described the economic and political situation there; and where renovation of the Dutch cemetery was taken up in 2020. Amazing! A list of persons buried there, including Alida Keyser, wife of Adrianus Canter Visscher, was given on the internet (6).

August 1, 2021

Carel Tenhaeff


1 Unger, W.S. (1948): De oudste reizen van de Zeeuwen naar Oost-Indië, 1578 – 1604. ‘s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.

2 Mollema, J.C. (1936): De eerste schipvaart der Hollanders naar Oost-Indië. ‘s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.

3 Pol, Bauke van der (2008): Mallabaarse brieven. De brieven van de Friese predikant Jacobus Canter Visscher (1717-1723). Zutphen: Walburg Pers

4 Pol, Bauke van der (2010) : “Van koopman naar Grietman.” Historisch Tijdschrift Noordoost Fryslan. Thank you Bauke!


6 A list of names of the graves found there in 2020 is given on the website Masulipatnam cemetery: Dutch history in stone – Dutch-Indian HeritageDutch-Indian Heritage (