Statue of the boys from the book 'Java ho!' in their home town Hoorn.

The Bontekoe journal

On November 19th 1619, the galley boy on board the ‘Nieuw Hoorn’ is pulling the crew’s daily drop of brandy from the cask. When he has filled up his little vessel, he wants to pick up his candle and go back – but the candle is stuck. He has to exercise quite a bit of force to undo it, and a spark falls from the candle into the brandy, setting it on fire.

All attempts at extinguishing the fire come to an end when it reaches the stock of gunpowder. The ship is blown up into thousands of pieces with her entire crew on board.

Some seventy out of 200 crew members survive. They keep themselves afloat in a few tiny lifeboats, with next to no food and nothing to drink, hoping to reach land in time. They almost sacrifice the cabin boys, but their skipper keeps them from committing such an outrage. And in the end they do find their way back to the inhabited world.

The skipper, Willem Ysbrandtsz. Bontekoe, wanders the globe for several years before he finally returns home. Years later, he notes down his adventures in The Bontekoe Journal. It sells like hot cakes.

Over three centuries later, Johan Fabricius uses the story to create an exciting children’s book with the cabin boys as its main characters. Another bestseller, with lots of reprints in various languages across the globe.


Johan Fabricius

young-adult fiction



Trivia: Illustrated by Dick de Wilde. Inspired by the Bontekoe Journal, first printed in Dutch in 1646. Translated into modern Dutch by Thomas Rosenboom in 2007, with an introduction and glossary. Adapted for the screen by Steven de Jong (2007)



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