Diederik van Vleuten

Diederik van Vleuten: Between two Rivers

Anna Jacoba Holland
Samuel Cornelis van Vleuten

Mijn betovergrootvader Didericus Bernardus van Vleuten (1835-1904) was getrouwd met Anna Jacoba Holland (1843-1939). De 'Stamboom van het Geslacht Holland', die mijn grootvader Samuel Cornelis (1905-1967) vlak na de oorlog samenstelde, leerde mij in een oogopslag dat Anna Jacoba directe familie was van de Nederlandse cartograaf Samuel Johannes Holland (1729-1801), de leermeester van de grote ontdekkingsreiziger James Cook (1728-1779). In het Van Vleuten familiearchief bevinden zich vele oude documenten en parafernalia met betrekking tot de familie Holland, waaronder een lakzegel van Samuel Johannes. Dit is het eerste deel van een artikel dat ik heb geschreven voor Cook's Log, het 'clubblad' van The Captain Cook Society.
Voor Deel II ga naar pagina Teksten of klik HIER

Kaarten, prenten en documenten uit het archief Holland, onderdeel van het Van Vleuten archief


The day after the surrender of Louisbourgh, being at Kennington Cove surveying and making a plan of the place, with its attack and encampments, I observed Capt. Cook (then Master of Capt. Simcoe’s ship the Pembroke, man-of-war) particularly attentive to my operations. And as he expressed an ardent desire to be instructed in the use of the Plane Table (the instrument I was then using) I appointed the next day in order to make him acquainted with the whole process”


Famous lines from a letter of Samuel Holland, Surveyor General of British North America, to Govenor John Graves Simcoe, dated January 11th 1792 and written on personal request of the Govenor, who desired to have a written testimony of the friendship that Holland maintained with his father, Captain John Simcoe. Much has been said about that famous meeting, that would have such far-reaching consequences for James Cook. But who was Samuel Holland? This article has been written to celebrate the 280th anniversary of his baptism.


Early years


‘He was Dutch and born in the same year as Cook’, writes Beaglehole. (1) No doubt he relied on the only and very brief biography (79 pages) that was available to him: The life and times of major Samuel Holland, Surveyor General, 1764-1801, written by Willis Chipman and published in 1924.(2) According to Chipman, ‘Samuel Jan Hollandt was born in 1728 in or near Nymegen’, a town in the Province of Gelderland in the east of the Netherlands. We have good reasons for doubts, since the baptismal register of the Lutharian Church in Deventer, a town in the Province of Overijssel, situated on the borders of the beautiful IJssel river, tells quite another story: 

1729 22nd September. A son baptized Samuel. The father, Johann Holland. The mother Johanna. Witness Elisabeth Weemhoff, grandmother.


Baptismal Register of the Evangelic Lutheran Church showing the name of Samuel Holland in the bottom entry (photograph by author, August 2009, with kind permission of the Deventer Archives)

Samuel’s parents and grandparents lived in Deventer, so I think it is likely that he was born there, and not in Nijmegen. But what about the year 1729? Was he born and baptised in the same year? That seems likely again, although it was not uncommon for a child to be baptised a long time after his birth. The biography, however, adds an interesting note, supporting 1728 again:

Descendants of Major Holland have records to show that he was born in 1717, but they are not confirmed by any evidence. His burial in Quebec in 1801 is recorded at the English Church Cathedral, his age as being given as 73 years. As his widow and several children were then living, there can be little doubt as to the correctness of his age as given.

A reasonable theory, but no undisputable proof. The truth will probably never be known. But perhaps the year and place of birth are details only ardent biographers and an occasional Dutch member of the Captain Cook Society will get excited about.


Evangelic Lutheran Church in the Spinhuissteeg in Deventer where Samuel Holland was baptized. The church was destroyed during Wold War II (postcard from author’s collection)

Samuel’s ancestors were of German origin. Jorg or Georg Hollet, born in 1575 in Eppisburg, near the Danube river, married Catharina Bolich (or Boley) in Strasbourg. Their son Samuel Hollandt (born in 1606) was the great grandfather of our hero. His son, also Samuel, moved to Utrecht in the Netherlands. There he married Elisabeth Weemhoff in 1677. About ten years later they moved to Deventer. Their marriage was blessed with at least twelve children. Johann, their last- born, married Janna or Johanna Buiker. From that marriage Samuel Johannes was born.

So the surname Hollet became Hollandt and then Holland. Whereas Samuel’s Dutch maps and plans show
S.J. Hollandt as the author, “in time he dropped the letter ‘t’ from his surname, although the original spelling persist in British military records throughout his army service”.(3)

Samuel’s parents died young, so he was brought up by two of his aunts. We don’t know what kind of education he had before he entered the army as a cadet in 1745. His name hasn’t been found in any surviving school register. Maybe he had some private education. He must have been a bright and intelligent boy considering his later achievements. Why did he choose the army? Was he looking for adventure? Or did he, like Cook, have a mind to try his fortune that way? He chose the artillery, which included military engineering.

Here Samuel Holland was taught mathematics and other related disciplines necessary for gunnery and the building of fortifications. The latter included construction, attack, defence, and demolition. It was not only the making of precise plans that were important to the training of a military engineer, but also surveying of the ground, and mapping, disciplines in which Samuel Holland came to excel.(4)

He served for nine years in the company of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph August Martfeld. After passing very demanding examinations he was appointed as a vuurwerker (literally, a fire-worker), an expert on explosives. The job required great technical skill and knowledge. In this capacity he worked closely with the brothers Abraham and Johannes Hasse. He married their sister Geertruy Hasse in 1749.

Meantime, the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) raged over Europe. The causes and motifs of that war require almost a life time of study. To summarise: Austria, England and the Dutch Republic found themselves against France and Prussia. When France invaded the Austrian Netherlands, Holland took an active part in the hopeless defence of the fortified cities of Hulst and Bergen op Zoom in 1746. He made accurate plans of both cities, probably the first in his professional career. He also made plans of 's-Hertogenbosch (or Bois-le-Duc) and Nijmegen, the latter in collaboration with the Dutch mapmaker H.J. van Suchtelen.(5) His cartographic skills and other talents (such as speaking fluent French, German and English) were soon noticed. Particularly by the Duke of Richmond,(6) who got acquainted with Holland during his visit to the battlefields of the Low Countries. It was probably Richmond who encouraged him to take service in the British army. He did so in 1754 for good reasons. Dutch engineers were highly valued in the British army where wages were higher. The patronage of Richmond ensured Holland good career opportunities.(7)

Holland may also have been influenced by personal problems. He had been less than faithful to his wife Geertruy. Their marriage was as good as over. To add to the misery, their only child, Johanna Christiana, had died soon after her birth. “He parted amicably from his wife never to return to his homeland” wrote Chipman.


Into The Seven Years War

With the aid of his protector Richmond, Holland obtained a lieutenancy in the Royal American Regiment of Foot (62nd, later 60th Foot) in March 1756. That brought him under the command of John Campbell, the 4th Earl of Loudon, who was also selected as Commander in Chief of the forces in British North America. The Royal Americans were raised to serve across the Atlantic. More than half of the regiment’s drafted men were those rejected by British regiments in Ireland, from German colonists in North America, and from soldiers in Europe, especially from Swiss and Germany.

Among this “unlikely collection of foreigners and cast-offs”(8) in Holland’s regiment was Lieutenant- Colonel Frederick Haldimand, later Governor of the province of Quebec, and lieutenant Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres, the equally talented surveyor. He would work closely with Holland in future years. As he did with James Cook in 1762, for their joint survey of the harbours of Caronnear and Harbour Grace in Newfoundland. Des Barres would become famous for his Atlantic Neptune, a four piece atlas of sea charts and views of the east coast of America, in which many charts of Samuel Holland were incorporated.(9)

The Seven Years War, the military clash between the most important powers within Europe, and England and France in North America, was in full swing. In July 1756 Loudon crossed the Atlantic. His aim was to directly conquer Quebec on the Saint Lawrence river, but William Pitt, the ambitious Secretary of State, overruled Loudon’s plan and ordered the taking of Louisbourg first, as a preliminary to the assault on Quebec itself. Loudon’s expedition was a failure. French forces appeared too strong. Bad weather, including a hurricane that almost destroyed the British fleet, did the rest and put an end to the expedition and Loudon’s command. James Abercrombie took over his place.

Holland did not take part in the first Louisbourg expedition. After being promoted to a captain lieutenancy in May, he was employed on scouting parties. He reconnoitred and made plans of Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga, N.Y). He also prepared a map of the province of New York that was widely used for 20 years.(10)

But Holland was among the troops when, in June 1758, the combined forces of Admiral Boscawen and General Jeffrey Amherst were assembled once again off Louisbourg. And here James Wolfe, one of Amherst’s three brigade officers, entered the stage. Holland was to be detached under him as his technical engineer. It was the beginning of a friendship based on the highest mutual respect.

On June 8th Amherst launched his assault on the beaches west of Louisbourg. His forces, including Holland, were under very heavy French artillery fire and suffered great losses. Wolfe’s men managed to secure a beachhead at a moment when things seemed hopeless. The French retreated to their fortress and the siege began.

Plan of the Siege of Louisbourg by Samuel Holland, 1759. White Point is at the bottom centre. Reproduced with permission of the Library and Archives Canada.

During the siege Holland was engaged in making surveys, preparing plans and taking soundings, very often under very dangerous circumstances. His deeds did not remain unnoticed by Wolfe. When the decisive assault on the fortress began, he entrusted Holland with the attack from the northeast harbour to the west gate.(11)

A Fellowship of Three
Louisbourg fell on the July 26th. Holland was immediately ordered to make a survey of the fortifications, town and environments. A few days later, while making observations, he was spotted by James Cook at Kennington Cove.(12) They agreed to meet the next day on the beach near White Point. Illness prevented Captain Simcoe witnessing Holland’s instructions to Cook. But he invited both men for dinner in the Great Cabin that evening - the birth of a fellowship of three.

Simcoe’s Great Cabin would be their meeting place in the weeks and months to come. In his letter of 1792 (quoted at the beginning of this article) Holland referred to Cook as “a truly scientific gentleman”. And indeed he was. He provided Cook with scientific books from his own library. Holland mentions “Leadbetter’s works”, meaning, most likely, the book Young Mathematician’s Companion and/or the Compleat system of Astronomy.(13) Simcoe assisted Cook by “explaining the difficult passages”. And it was Simcoe who brought Cook’s surveying talents to the attention of the Admiralty. Under his watchful eyes Cook “could not fail to improve”.

Title page of Charles Leadbetter’s The Young Mathematicians’ Companion (author’s collection)

Cook had plenty of time to improve. The winter arrives in the Saint Lawrence in October, so Amherst and Boscawen decided that the assault on Quebec would be postponed until spring of the following year, i.e. 1759. In the meantime expeditions were sent to raid French settlements around the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the mouth of the river itself. Cook took part in one expedition and in made extensive surveys of the Gaspé bay and harbour. His very first chart, Draught of the Bay and Harbour of Gaspe, was the result. Its publication the next year must have filled Holland with pride.

In November Pembroke sailed for Halifax, where the British forces spent the long winter months. In Halifax Holland kept himself busy plotting surveys and making plans. He also supervised the erection of the palisaded fort at the mouth of Saint John’s River (New Brunswick) on the Bay of Fundy. His collaboration with Cook continued. There was a lack of reliable charts of the Saint Lawrence, so vital for a successful assault on Quebec. Holland and Cook, supported by Simcoe, began to work on a compilation of the existing charts, being mostly French charts that had come into British hands. It would be a “work in progress”. The first drafts were made in Halifax, the chart was modified on the way to Quebec and completed. A fair copy was drawn in 1760. Its title was A New Chart of the River Saint Lawrence from the Island of Anticosti to the falls of Richelieu, with all the Islands, Rocks, Shoals and Soundings.(14) It was an early version of this chart that would guide Boscawen’s ships safely through Saint Lawrence’s treacherous waters to Quebec.

Simcoe never saw the chart in its final glory. He died on the way to Quebec on May 14th 1759, at Anticosti Island. His passing was a severe loss. Holland remembered his feelings in a letter to Simcoe’s son, John Graves. “Being on board the Princess Amelia I had the mortification of being present whilst the minute guns were firing on the melancholy occasion of Captain Simcoe’s remains being committed to the deep”. Their days in the Great Cabin, where they had “pursued their fascinating art, that combined penmanship and artistry with the most exacting of measurements”15 were over. But their bond is forever remembered on the most appropriate place imaginable: on a map. When John Graves Simcoe became Governor of Upper Canada, in 1791, he changed the name of Lake Toronto to Lake Simcoe in honour of his father. The southern arm of the Lake is called Cook’s Bay. And into it flows Holland River.

The Heights of Abraham
With their work on the New Chart of the river Saint Lawrence… still in progress, Holland and Cook continued their joint survey as often as circumstances allowed. At some point they went their separated ways. Wolfe, was promoted Major- General and given command of the forces. He highly valued Holland’s advice and opinions on his secret strategic plans. On Wolfe’s recommendation Holland was promoted Captain on 24th August. Wolfe trusted his technical engineer as much as he did his own family. On the eve of the battle on the Heights of Abraham, Wolfe presented Holland with a pair of duelling pistols as a token of his friendship and respect. It bore the inscription “The Gift of General Wolfe to Captain Samuel Holland, 1759”.

“What a scene!” wrote Horace Walpole years after the famous decisive battle on September 13th. “An army in the night dragging itself up a precipice by stumps of trees to assault a town and attack an enemy strongly entrenched and double in numbers!” The Battle on the Heights (or Plains) of Abraham, the culmination of a three months siege, was over well within the hour. Five days later the French garrison surrendered. Both Wolfe and his French opponent Montcalm died in the battle. The death of General Wolfe, painted in 1770 by Benjamin West is beyond doubt this artist’s best known work. But the scene depicted had little to do with reality. There were no mourning officers, there was no artfully draped Union flag, no contemplative “Noble Savage”. There was just a knot of exhausted, bloody, smoke-grimed and grief- stricken soldiers.(16) One of them was Captain Samuel Holland. In a letter from 1784 he wrote:

In the battle of the 13th September I lost my protector whilst holding his wounded hand at the time he expired. For reasons best known to Mister West the painter I was not admitted amongst the group represented by that artist as being attendant on the General in glorious exit, but others are exhibited in that painting who never were in battle.

Holland was not a man to violate the truth. But he was proud enough to be insulted by West’s omission.


The  Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West 1770
The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West 1770

Did master and pupil, Holland and Cook meet again? They might have done. We don’t know. Cook was appointed Master of Northumberland and went aboard ten days later, on September 23rd. By the end of October he was in Nova Scotia again. According to Willis Chipman, Holland stayed in Quebec. “During the succeeding autumn and winter Holland as Engineer was busy in strengthening the outposts”. If they did not meet again in Quebec, they had to wait for seventeen long years to catch up on each other’s news. The two men that embraced each other in London in the early half of 1776 certainly had many “remarkable occurences” to share and discuss. Holland had become Surveyor General of the Province of Quebec and the Northern District of America. Loyal to his king George III, he was forced to flee from the storms of the American Revolution, seeking shelter in England. Cook had become a celebrated discoverer. He had been portrayed by Nathaniel Dance, while holding his chart of the Southern Hemisphere in his hands. He had gone as far it was possible for man to go, and he was preparing for his Third Voyage. But that was seventeen years later.


Captain James Cook, 18th century print after the painting by  Nathaniel Dance   (author’s collection)
Captain James Cook, 18th century print after the painting by Nathaniel Dance (author’s collection)

Now, in the last days of September 1759, Samuel Johannes Holland, 30 years old, stood on the battered walls of the citadel of Quebec. He was making surveys of the area. With territories conquered, new plans and reliable maps were urgently wanted. In the depths below him flowed the restless waters of the mighty Saint Lawrence. Maybe, at the sight of it, his thoughts suddenly led him back to the days of his childhood in the Netherlands, so long ago and so very far away. Maybe, if only for a brief moment, he saw himself running again along the borders of the peaceful IJssel river, the Lebuinus Church gleaming in the distance under a swift sunrise. The next moment he was back again. He took a deep breath. Then he fixed his eyes on the blank paper on his Plane Table and drew a perfect straight line.



The IJssel river near Deventer - picture taken by the author on September 22nd 2009, 280 years after the baptism of Samuel Johannes Holland
Saint Lawrence River at Quebec





1. Beaglehole, J.C. The life of Captain James Cook. Stanford University Press. 1974. p. 33- 34

2. Chipman, Willis. “The life and times of Major Samuel Holland, Surveyor General, 1764 - 1801”, in Papers and Records of the Ontario Historical Society, volume 21, pp 11-90. 1924.

3. Thompson, Don W. Men and Meridians, The History of Surveying and Mapping of Canada, Volume I. 1966. p. 92,

4. Lowensteyn, Janny. Major Samuel Holland, Canada’s First Surveyor General, 1729-1801. Unpublished.

5. Holland’s map of Nijmegen can be viewed at www.noviomagus.nl/Plattegronden/P78a.htm

6. Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond, 1735- 1806 References

7. Lowensteyn.

8. Summers, Jack L. and Chartland, Rene. History and uniform of the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot, 1755-1760 found at www.militaryheritage.com

9. Visit the Neptune on the internet at the website: www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/index.cfm/catagory/90437

10. Thorpe, F.J. “Samuel Johannes Holland” in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

11. Chipman

12. Robson, John. Captain Cook’s War and Peace. Seaforth. 2009. p. 62. It is probable that Holland’s memory wasn’t quite correct. On July 27th Pembroke was not in Gabarus Bay, but outside Louisbourg, waiting to enter the harbour. She was there still on the 29th. Only on the 2nd of August did she anchor in the harbour. Since entering of the harbour was very difficult, it is unlikely that Cook would have been away from his ship. They probably met a few days later than the day after the fall of Louisbourg.

13. Beaglehole. p. 36-37. Robson in Captain Cook’s War and Peace mentions possible titles from Simcoe’s library. See p. 67

14. Skelton, R.A and Tooley, R.V. The Marine Surveys of James Cook in North America, 1757- 1768. Map Collectors’ Series no. 37

15. Suthren, Victor. To go upon Discovery. James Cook and Canada 1758-1779. Dundurn Press. 2000.

16. Brumwell, Stephen. Paths of Glory. The life and death of James Wolfe. Hambledon Continuum. 2006.


© 2009 Diederik van Vleuten