Leendert Hasenbosch: The Gay Soldier Who Was Marooned on a Deserted Island

Jul 25, 2023 0 comments

In January 1726, a British East India Company ship named James and Mary landed on Ascension Island. While exploring the island, the crew stumbled upon a tent containing belongings that suggested the presence of a castaway who had likely survived on the island for some time. Although no body or skeleton was found, the crew speculated that the man had perished due to thirst.

Inside the tent, the sailors made an intriguing discovery— a diary belonging to the castaway, which explained how the castaway had found himself on the island. The diary revealed that he was a Dutch sailor who had been found guilty of sodomy and was marooned on the island as punishment. That same year, the translated diary was published under the title Sodomy Punish'd , of which only a single copy exist in the British Library today. This unique journal offers a rare and firsthand account of the challenges and experiences endured by a gay man during a period when same-sex relationships were punishable by death.

“Marooned” by Howard Pyle.

For nearly three centuries, the identity of the Dutch sailor remained a mystery. In the 1726 edition of the translated diary, he was referred to as “Leondert Hussenlosch”. However, in another version of the diary titled "An Authentick Relation," it was mentioned that the man's name was unknown. It wasn't until 2002 that Dutch historian Michiel Koolbergen positively identified the sailor as Leendert Hasenbosch.

Leendert Hasenbosch was born in The Hague, Holland in 1695. When he was 18, he became a soldier of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and was sent to Batavia, where he was posted to guard duty on the Castle of Batavia. While the life a soldier was tough and tedious, Leendert was lucky because his father and his three sisters were also living in Batavia, having moved there a few years earlier after his mother’s death. His father was a sexton at a small church and his three sisters were married and settled in the town. Leendert frequently visited his family, and was present when the child of his youngest sister, Maria Elizabeth, was baptized.

One year after his arrival in Batavia, Leendert was sent to Fort Cochin in India, to fight the Calicut ruler Zamorin whose forces had launched an attack on Cochin country, an ally of the Dutch. Leendert stayed in Cochin for almost five years, after which he was returned to Batavia where he was promoted to a military clerk, responsible for bookkeeping at the VOC.

In December 1724, a fleet of ships led by Commodore Ewout van Dishoeck began their journey homeward. Among the crew was Leendert, who secured a position as a bookkeeper aboard one of the vessels named Prattenburg. The fleet arrived at Cape Town in March 1725, and after a prolonged stay of several weeks, the Prattenburg resumed its voyage in April. Shortly after departing from port, the commodore and captains of the entire fleet met and found Leendert guilty of sodomy.

During those times, sodomy was considered one of the most severe sins across Christian Europe. All forms of homosexual activities were labeled as sodomy and carried severe penalties, often including death. This was especially true in the Calvinist Netherlands, where punishments were enforced more rigorously than in England. Cape Town's court records for VOC ships indicate that from 1700 to 1794, there were 44 sodomy trials involving 150 individuals, most of whom were thrown overboard after being bound. Leendert managed to escape with banishment to Ascension Island. His partner, on the other hand, likely faced death. During the months Leendert spent on the island, the memories of his lost lover would often come to haunt him during the lonely nights.

Leendert was marooned on Ascension Island on 5 May 1725. “They put ashore with me a Cask of Water, two Buckets, and an Old Frying-Pan, &c. I made my Tent on the Beach near a Rock, wherein I put some of my Clothes,” Leendert wrote in his diary.

Leendert began exploring the island, and immediately fell into a state of despair when he found that the island had little to offer in terms of survival. “I sincerely wished that some accident would befall me, to finish these miserable days,” he wrote. In his diary, he repeatedly described his melancholic state and the death wish that gripped him. He managed to find some slow-moving birds known as boobies and tortoises on the beach, providing him with sustenance. While trying to transport the cask of water to his tent, he accidentally overturned it, resulting in a significant loss of water. This was a devastating setback as the island offered very few sources of water.

The only existing copy of “Sodomy Punish’d”

Leendert kept watch for passing ships hoping for a rescue, but no vessel appeared on the horizon. To cure his loneliness, he attempted to keep a boobie as a pet, but it died within a few days. He also tried planting onions and peas, only to have them devoured by rodents. Throughout his time on the island, Leendert turned to reading his Bible, praying, and grappling with his misfortunes.

Water became a scarce commodity, and by mid-June, he had not a drop left. In desperation, he resorted to digging for water but to no avail. Eventually, he followed some goats to a source of trickling water in another part of the island. However, even that source dried up as the summer reached its peak. By this time, Leendert's mind began to play tricks on him, as he started hallucinating ghostly spirits and apparitions. One night, he saw the apparition of a soldier he had known in Batavia. “He conversed with me like a human creature, and touched me so sensibly of the sins of my past life (of which I have sincere and hearty repentance),” he wrote.

The apparition continued to visit him multiple times in the following days, and despite his disturbance, Leendert grew somewhat accustomed to its presence. To ease his anxiety during the nocturnal visits, he attempted to keep a light burning throughout the night, but it was accidentally knocked over and shattered. He was tormented by a sense of guilt: “I hope this my punishment in this world may suffice for my most heinous crime of making use of my fellow creature to satisfy my lust, whom the Almighty creator had ordained another sex for.”

Leendert kept hoping for rains but none came. By the end of August, he was resorting to drinking blood of turtles and boobies, and even his own urine. On 31 August he wrote: “I was walking, or, more properly speaking, crawling on the sand, for I could not walk three steps together.”

Then he saw a turtle. “I … cut off his head with my razor, and lay all along and sucked his blood as it run out… I got out some of its eggs, and carried them home, and fry’d them, and afterwards drank some boil’d piss mixed with tea; which, though it was so nauseous, revived me much.”

As the days passed, he became weaker still: “I am so much decay’d, that I am a perfect skeleton, and cannot write the particulars, my hand shakes so.” He still kept the diary, but his entries became shorter.

October 7, a brief note appears on his diary: “my wood’s all gone, so that I am forced to eat raw flesh and salted fowls. I cannot live long, and I hope the Lord will have mercy on my soul.”

From October 8 till October 14, his entries consisted of only one word: “ditto”.

Leendert probably died on the same day or the day after. His diary was recovered by the crew of James and Mary three months later. Surprisingly, his body could not be found. Perhaps, using his last bits of strength, he dragged himself to the sea to cleanse himself of his sorrows and perceived sins. There is also a glimmer of hope that he was rescued by a passing ship and survived. We will never know.

# Hell on Ascension, Himal
# Leendert Hasenbosch’s diary: the story of a gay soldier marooned on a desert island, British Library


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