Auke Visser was an assistant steward at the frigate Huis te Warmelo. The steward and his assistants had to supervise the ship’s provisions and were responsible for the daily distribution of food and drink. Auke Visser, who lived with his family in Medemblik, had a background that you might not expect from an assistant of the steward. A notarial deed from 1716 is the starting point for getting to know this crew member.
On 1st February 1716 the estate of the deceased Auke Visser was divided before notary Pieter van der Wolff in Medemblik.(1) The deed contains an indication that the deceased had served aboard the Huis te Warmelo. His estate included a balance of 11 guilders in the name of captain François de Groot, commander of the frigate. The notarial deed does not mention anything about the cause or the time of death. But it is obvious that the Medemblik assistant steward had died six months earlier in the shipping accident in the Gulf of Finland.
Auke Visser left behind a wife and five sons. The deed of division of the estate is signed by his wife Helena Hendriks and the three eldest sons of the family: Dirk, Aris and Theunis. The two youngest sons, Jacob and Cornelis, were teenagers and therefore underage. At the notary, they were represented by their guardian.
The most important part of Auke Visser’s estate was a lighter. This is a small ship that took over cargo from larger seagoing vessels and brought it to the port of destination. They were also used for goods and passenger transport to warships that were moored near the island of Texel. Lighters were an
indispensable link for the port towns on the Zuiderzee because they were hard to reach for large deep-sea ships.
Auke Visser was half owner of the vessel he left behind. The other half was owned by his eldest son Dirk. When dividing the estate it was determined that Dirk took over his father’s share and thus became the full owner of the lighter. This gave him a considerable advantage over the other heirs. Therefore the heirs agreed that Dirk would pay 600 guilders to the common estate as compensation.
As owners Auke and Dirk Visser will have made a living with the vessel. Usually the crew of a lighter consisted of a skipper and his mate. It is quite conceivable that Dirk first sailed as a mate, learned the tricks of the trade and eventually succeeded his father.
Father and son were both members of the Medemblik skippers’ guild. In the years 1709-1710 Auke was even one of the four board members of the guild. He is mentioned in the guild account under his first name and patronymic: Auke Dirksz.(2)
In 1714, the Medemblik skippers’ guild received a sum of money from Dirk Visser for ‘buying in’. Apparently he then became a guild brother. It is possible that he may have also succeeded his father as a skipper in the same year
Auke Visser from Medemblik was familiar with the sea, that much is certain. He was 55 years old when he sailed out with the Huis te Warmelo.(3) A former skipper who signed up as an assistant steward on a warship could probably use the monthly salary of 18 guilders well.
Figure: A lighter approaches its home port of Medemblik. Detail of a stained-glass window in the Bonifacius church donated by the Medemblik skippers’ guild in 1671.
(1) Westfries Archief (WFA), Oud Notarieel Archief Medemblik, no. 3239, deed 47.
(2) WFA, Oud Archief Medemblik, no. 1052.
(3) WFA, DTB Medemblik, no. 1, 15th February 1660.