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Ocean Liner History and Stories from the Sea, Past and Present. With an In Depth focus on Holland America Line

Bijl, Johannes Jacobus.

Captain J.J Bijl. this photo was taken in 1939 after being appointed Commodore. (a)

Captain Bijl was born on  30 July 1880 in Rotterdam (Living at 25 Hofmansplein)

Religion: Roman Catholic.

He was named after his father and the records of the Maritime Academy  note his fathers profession being a Ships Engineer. Hence when he was accepted by the Academy the take-in papers were signed by the mother  Maria Jacoba Retra Bijl as father was at sea..

Thus he joined the Kweekschool voor de Zeevaart in Amsterdam on 12 August 1895 which was a bit peculiar as there was a Navigation School in Rotterdam as well. But if we assume that he wanted to make a career with the HAL then this made sense. HAL was a proud Rotterdam company but if it could, it took the cadets from the strictest navigation school in the country.  He enrolled in the three year class which means that his earlier education was lacking in Mathematics  or Physics or both. He did not disappoint however as his school results were extremely good. Especially in languages. As a result he received on 17 July 1897 a special recognition for exemplary behaviour and scholarship. A year later on 16 July 1898 he obtains the second price for an essay in relation to Electricity.  This was shortly after followed by yet another 2nd price for another essay .

The ss Rotterdam (III) had joined the fleet in 1897. (a)

On 26 July 1898 he was accepted by the Holland America Line and placed on board the ss Rotterdam (III). He commences his first voyage on 09 August 1898 sailing from Rotterdam to New York.  The second half of the cadet year was done on board the ss Spaarndam (I). He returns to the Academy on 28 August 1899 with a very good voyage rapport and passes on 22 November the exam for 3rd mate under Dutch Flag. 3 days later he is dismissed from the Academy with very good reports  and the recognition of his excellent behaviour during his time at the Academy.

With such a track record it was not amazing that the company was more than eager to take him back. And they recognized his potential for the company as from 4th. officer until Captain he hardly sails on any other ships than the passenger ships.

Thus he joined on 08 December 1899 the ss Statendam (I) which ship was barely a year old and the Flagship of the company. From then onwards he rotates over all the express service passenger ships of the company. In 1902 he is accepted as Officer in the Dutch Royal Navy Reserve and is recalled for training and service regularly. It is not yet clear when he retired and in what rank. In his obituary  there is a cryptic note about “his ship” being one of the first to reach the scene of the battle of Jutland” (d). Hence it might be possible that this was with a (shadowing) Dutch Navy ship as he had returned to Holland in 1918 as his own ship, the Zuiderdijk, had been seized by the US Government.

The ss Zuiderdijk docked in an unknown port of call. It must have been summer time as the awnings on the bow and behind the bridge has been brought out to provide shade.

During an newspaper interview in 1938 the Captain led it slip out that one f the few un-usual things in his career was rescuing  eight or nine German survivors of the Battle of Jutland. The ss Zuiderdijk had left Rotterdam on 31 May 1916 for a voyage to the Gulf of Mexico. Due to the German U-boat danger the voyage went North of Scotland and  the ship would then come back on its regular route somewhere in the North Atlantic. During the night and morning the Zuiderdijk sort of skirted the area where the battle was raging while on its ways to Kirkwall in the Orkneys.  Here it must have come across a lifeboat or other floating object with the German Crew. The Zuiderdijk had to stop at Kirkwall for inspection to ensure that the ship was not carrying goods that might benefit Germany. During the week stay the Germans must have been landed and no doubt stayed in the UK as POW’s until the was was over. Captain Bijl must have been an an unhappy man during this stop as the British authorities also confiscated all the mail on board.  Mail meant for the port in the Gulf of Mexico. This later resulted in an extensive exchange between the US Government and the British Government as the Americans, who were still neutral, where not very happy that the British were nosing through their correspondence.

He marries on 23 May 1907 in Rotterdam, Josina Christina Jeanne Hartman. (29 Aug. 1885 – 26 Feb. 1962). The remain officially married until 23 April 1952 according to the Dutch Courts of law but things were not that simple as that.  (d)

Eventually there are 3 children:

Josina: born on 13 March 1910

Petronella Maria: born on 04 December 1912

Johannus Jacobus born on 06 April 1914. (called “Jan” passed away in 1961 due to a car accident)

They remain together until  07 January 1929 when the court in Rotterdam approves the official separation. This is then contested by one of the partners but officially approved on 12 June 1931.

Our Captain remarries on 09 June 1935 in Manhattan with Helen Plansoen Breen. (27 Feb. 1896  – 14 October 1965) This Lady was from Dutch descent born in the town of Yerseke in the Province of Zeeland. She emigrated on 29 March 1913 to the USA and sailed over with the ss Rijndam (I). She followed her brother to the town of Garfield in New York. Eventually her mother and 10 of the 11 children in the family also emigrated. Here she marries a Dutchman who passes away on 28 April 1932.  In the following years she returned on a regular basis to the Netherlands for family visits and it is assumed that during one of those travels to Holland, while on board the ss Statendam (III), she met our Captain Bijl who was in command of that ship from 1932 to 1937.

According to the Manhattan Marriage register they married on 03 June 1935 in New York, the day he arrived with the ss Statendam (III)  in New York (voyage 56). How this whole situation worked for the Captain is unknown but it must have been complicated for him, There his new wife in the USA and there is his not yet fully ex wife in Holland.

There is a letter (dated 10 Nov. 1934) in the HAL archives written by Mrs. Bijl-Hartman asking the company for help. The company’s answer is not known but there is an anecdotal story about  Captain Bijl asking the company to pay for his divorce if they so much wanted to be involved.  The war records indicated that during the war  he paid fl. 75,– a month to a Lawyers Office in Rotterdam for the children.

He continues to live in the Netherlands, first in Rotterdam and later in Hilversum. (South East of Amsterdam) and his new wife joins them there. In September 1939, just after the start of  WWII his wife returns to the USA. When Captain Bijl retires in 1943 he must have joined her there. There is an entry in the Florida divorce records of the county of Dade that full divorce was granted in 1941. (d)

Addresses known, first at 11 Park Place Bloomfield New Jersey (apartment building) and later at 219 Chicago Boulevard  Sea Girt, New Jersey. This house was built in 1935 and still exists = https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/219-Chicago-Blvd-Sea-Girt-NJ-08750/39367554_zpid/

Family records indicate that from May 1946 to October 1958 he lived with his wife in the town of Huis ter Heide in the Netherlands.  It is mentioned in his wife’ obituary (d) that she returned to the USA in 1958 which would tie in with the anecdote by mr. Van der Gaag,  mentioned below.  When he passed away in 1963 his final address was 96 Summit Avenue in Upper Montclair. According to google maps this house is also still there.


A few years after his marriage he is promoted to Captain, on 5th. of January 1910 and he finally leaves the passenger ships. The company had by now a clear pecking order with the youngest captain sailing on the smallest or oldest ship. This did not always work out when the company bought a new ship but the passenger ships were all commanded by the very Sr. Captains and thus also Captain Bijl had to work his way up,

The ss Soestdijk (I). The ship had been launched in 1901 as the First -cargo-only ship for the company (a)

In the company archives there is not much information about Captain Bijl in  early years so most facts come from the newspapers.

06 Jan. 1912 it is reported in the newspapers that his servant (on the ss Maartensdijk) had ran off with his clothes. They were found back at the address of an lady of unknown acquaintance. The news paper did not divulge how the court ruled.

On 20 Feb. 1924 it is announced that he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Society for his weather observations.

In December 1931 it is announced that he will be promoted to Commodore with the coming retirement of the old commodore Captain van den Heuvel. This meant that his new ship will be the ss Statendam (III) where he will remain until 1937.

The Statendam (III) was a peculiar ship as it was in a way a pre world war one construction based along the lines of the Statendam (II) which was never completed for HAL but torpedoed in 1917 while under British flag as troopship. The company ordered a replacement which became the Statendam (III) but she was built very much along the lines of her predecessor. And much of the completed interior for the Statendam II (which had been put in storage) was used for the Statendam (III). Hence the interior was still very much pre war Victoriana. But she was known as the “Queen of the Spotless Fleet” and very beloved by the travelling public, especially by those who were not in a great hurry to get to the other side and preferred down to earth good service.

The ss Statendam (III) seen here docked at  the company’s Hoboken Piers in New York in the early 1930’s. (a)

Then after a fill in on board the ss Volendam (I) he is assigned to the new flagship  under construction the ss Nieuw Amsterdam (II). This assignment was  announced on 19 November 1937,

Commodore Jacob Bijl with his staff on board the ss Nieuw Amsterdam (II). Unconfirmed sources place this photo close to the date of the maiden voyage. (a)

On the 5th. Aug. 1938 he was  (on board the ss Nieuw Amsterdam) appointed Knight in the Order of Orange Nassau. This on the occasion of being 40 years with Holland America.

Commodore Bijl (but showing his regular Captain stripes) receives his Decoration of Knight in the Order of Orange Nassau. (The Dutch honour system is different to the British, hence a Dutch Knight is not at Knighthood but compares with the British OBE) (From contemporary newspaper)

The Dutch Shipping Law strictly enforced the compulsory retirement age of 60 and thus he had to retire on 30 July 1940. However the war had just broken out and everybody was needed, especially as a few of the Sr. Captains who could have relieved him were stuck in Rotterdam.  So he sailed for another 2 years until there was a replacement and the allied forces had a world wide ferry system in place that allowed for War personnel to travel.  On 9 May 1942  he was relieved in Cape town and travelled home on the Dutch freighter ms Kota Baru of the Rotterdam Lloyd. He arrived in Baltimore 0n 01 July 1942 and from there made his way home to Upper New York State. On 16 Aug. 1943 he was placed in the 2nd tier of reserve officers in case  of being needed again. There are no records that he was ever recalled.

The Nieuw Amsterdam (II) as troopship with Captain Bijl, being the commodore of the fleet, in command. (a)

As mentioned before  Captain Bijl was not a man who wanted to be in the spotlights and thus avoid interviews and related as much as possible. However this is a memoir written by a Mr. Eylders who happened to be his captains steward on the Nieuw Amsterdam.  An entry in his memoirs read as follows:

Quote: Captain Bijl was a very particular man. I brought him his morning coffee at 5:45 a.m. If I told him, “Good morning sir, it’s quarter to six,” he would look at his own watch, and if it were, in fact, twelve minutes before six, I would get a stern lecture. “At sea, the difference between twelve minutes to six and a quarter to six could cause an accident. Our ship could run aground or someone could get killed,” he’d say. “When you tell me it’s quarter to six, I want to know that it really is a quarter to six. See my watch here?” Then he would make me set my watch to match his watch and warned me not to make that mistake again.

After fetching his breakfast from the galley that was below and amidships, I would serve it to him in his cabin. When he had finished, he would go to the bridge and I would begin cleaning his quarters. When he returned, every single item had to be exactly where he had left it. A pen on his desk, any paper or book, every possible item had to be returned to the place that it had been when he left. If something were sitting at a different angle I’d hear about it. “I want everything to be as when I last put it,” he’d say, as he’d change the angle of a pen on the desk or a book on the table.” (e)

Commodore Bijl in full concentration while going in port somewhere with the pilot standing in front of him. (a)

Then there is another anecdote told by a Bo’suns Mate (Mr. van der Gaag)  He fell ill on board and Captain Bijl made a special point with the Ships Doctor to ensure that Van der Gaag would get the best treatment possible. The two of them had sailed together for years on both the Statendam (III) and the Nieuw Amsterdam (II). Then 9 years after he retirement, Van der Gaag suddenly received a parcel at his home address in the Netherlands with inside a box of cigars and a card “Mr. & Mrs. Bijl-Plansoen” but without address or anything else.

Captain Bijl passed away on 18 Feb. 1963 in Upper Montclaire, New Jersey  USA.  it assumed that he was buried there as well but no records have found yet which confirm this. His wife was buried in nearby Paterson cemetery under her maiden name but in a plot surrounded by grave stones of the Plansoen family.

Sailing Career: (c)

Date:                     Function:                             Ship:                                      Wages and/or remarks.

09 Aug. 1898       Cadet                                    Rotterdam                          10,–

17 May.1899       Cadet                                    Spaarndam                         15,–

29 Aug.  1899       Temporary dismissed to go to school for 3rd mate license. Passed 20 Nov. 1899

08 Dec. 1899       4th. Officer                           Statendam                          30,–

02 May.  1900       4th. Officer                           Potsdam                              30,–

24 Jul.    1900       4th. Officer                           Amsterdam                        30,–

08 Nov. 1900       4th. Officer                           Potsdam                              30,–

28 Aug.  1901       Act. 3rd officer                    Statendam                          40,–

21 Jan.   1902       3rd. officer                           Statendam                          50,–

01 Mar. 1902       Appointed as Ensign Extraordinary of the Royal Navy reserve,

06 Jan.   1903       Goes for 3 months exercise to the royal navy reserve stationed at Willemsoord.

28 Mar. 1903       Act. 2nd officer    Jr.           Potsdam                              60,–

13 Jan.   1904       Temporary dismissed to go to school for 2nd mates license. Passed on 9 march 1904

12 Mar. 1904       Act. 2nd officer Jr.           Rijndam                               60,–

26 May.1905       Temporary dismissed to go to school for 1st mates license. Passed on 11 Oct. 1905

13 Oct. 1905       Act. 2nd officer Sr.             Statendam                          70,–

15 Nov.  19o5       2nd Officer Jr.                      Statendam                          70,–

23 Dec. 1905       Temporary dismissed

02 Jan.   1906       2nd Officer Sr.                     Potsdam                              70,-

20 Jan.   1906       Act. Chief Officer             Noordam                             90,–

03 Ma.y 1906       2nd Officer Sr.                     Noordam                             70,–

12 May. 1906       Postponed from Navy Reserve  until 1 sept. 1906.

27 Aug. 1906       2nd officer Sr.                      Nieuw Amsterdam          70,-

04 Sep. 1906       postponed from Naval Reserve until mid Dec. 1906.

10 Dec. 1906       Dismissed

15 Dec.  1906      Temporary ashore for the Royal Navy Reserve. Assigned for six months on board HMS trainingship Atjeh.

17 Jun.  1907       2nd officer                            Statendam                          70,–

05 Oct.   1907       2nd officer                            Nieuw Amsterdam          70,-

03 Nov. 1907       Act. Chief Officer             Nieuw Amsterdam          90,–

03 Feb. 1908       Act. Chief Officer             Rijndam                               90,–

15 Apr. 1908       Act. Chief Officer             Sloterdijk                             90,–

06 Apr.  1909       Chief Officer                      Rijndam                               100,–

05 Nov. 1909       Chief Officer                        Rotterdam                          100,–

05 Jan.   1910       Captain                                 Soestdijk                             200,–

26 May.1910       Temporary dismissed for the Royal Navy Reserve

22 Sep.  1910       Chief Officer                      Noordam                             100,–

01 Jan.   1911       due to wage review                                                        200,–

06 Feb.  1911       Chief Officer                      Rotterdam                          200,-

21 Jul.    1911       Captain                                 Maartensdijk                     250,–

With the start of 27 Feb. 1912 relieved from command and temporary stationed ashore awaiting his placement on a new to buy steamship the “Empire Transport”.

28 May.1912       Captain                                 Sommelsdijk                      250,–

04 Feb.  1914       Captain                                 Sloterdijk                             250,–

01 Apr.  1914       Captain                                 Veendijk                              250,–

11 Jul.    1914      Captain                                 Zuiderdijk                            250,-

01 Jan.   1916       Wage increase to                                                             275,–

1918 Due to the confiscation of the Zuiderdijk returns home with the ss Hollandia.

11 Jul. 1918          Temporary ashore

01 Aug.  1918       wage increase                                                                   325,–

05 Mar. 1919       Captain                                 Schiedijk                              325,–

01 Jul. 1919          Wage increase                                                                  675,–

01 Jan.   1920       Wage increase                                                                  700,–

15 Oct.   1921       Wage increase                                                                  725,–

16 Oct.   1921       Wage decrease                                                                 660,–

23 Apr. 1922       Wage decrease                                                                 635,–

13 Jun.  1922       Captain                                 Westerdijk                          635,–

11 Dec. 1922       Captain                                 Blijdendijk                           635,–

16 May.1923       Captain                                 Dinteldijk                             635,–

29 Sep.  1923       Temporary ashore

22 Nov. 1923       Captain                                 Spaarndam                         635,–

01 Apr. 1927       Wage increase                                                                  655,–

05 Apr. 1924       Awarded the gold medal of the Royal Dutch Metrological society

01 Jan.   1929       Wage increase                                                                  675,–

13 Dec. 1929       Captain                                 Nieuw Amsterdam          685,–

01 Jan.   1930       Wage increase to                                                             705,–

24 Apr.  1930       Captain                                 Volendam                           705,–

12 Nov. 1931        Wage decrease                                                                 564,–

19 Mar. 1932       Captain                                 Statendam                          564,–    at New York. As passenger with the NA

21 Oct.   1932       Temporary ashore           at 70%                                564,–

07 Dec. 1932       Captain                                 Statendam                          564,–

28 Jun.  1933       Wage decrease with 5% in accordance with circulaire no 929 dated 27 June 1933

12 Jul.    1933       Temporary ashore                           at 70%                   564,–    Regular leave

03 Aug. 1933       Captain                                 Statendam                          564,–

28 Dec. 1933       Wage decrease with 5% in accordance with circulaire no 929 dated 27 June 1933

01 Oct.   1934       Wage decrease to                                                           487.50

12 May. 1936       Temporary ashore                                                           487,50   ill ear infection.

19 Jun.  1936       Captain                                 Statendam                          487.50

01 Oct.   1937       Wage according to new regulations                         530,–

08 Oct.   1937       Temporary ashore                                                           530,–

22 Nov.  1937       Captain                                 Volendam                           530,–                                                                                             (Fill in)

21 Dec. 1937       Temporary ashore                                                           530,–

23 Apr. 1938        Captain                                 Nieuw Amsterdam

20 Sep. 1939       Captain                                 Nieuw Amsterdam                          Last prewar departure from Rotterdam.

12 Sep. 1940       Captain                                 Nieuw Amsterdam                          departed NY.

09 May. 1942       Relieved in Cape Town and placed in reserve pool.


This photo was captured from a military magazine that was issued on board for the troops on their way at sea. (a)

(a) Authors Collection.

(b) Entry for Kwekeling Bijl, comportement boek 1896 Kweekschool voor de Zeevaart as held by the Municiple Archives of the City of Amsterdam.

(c)  Stamboek en Monster Boeken Holland America Line as held by the Municiple Archives of the City of Rotterdam.

(d) Mr. Bert Zwikker. Family,

(e) The memoirs of a Merhcant Marine during WWII 1939 – 1945  F.L Dutch Eylders. (ringbound manucript)

Last updated: 01 December 2021



  1. Geachte heer,
    Ik doe stamboomonderzoek naar de familie Plansoen en heb informatie over Helen Plansoen en haar huwelijk met Joh. J. Bijl. Ik heb ook nog het een en ander over J.J. Bijl wat ik niet op uw webpagina vind. Ik wil u die informatie best mailen, bijvoorbeeld in ruil voor een betere versie van de foto van J.J. Bijl bovenaan uw pagina? Mijn info +de eventuele foto wordt alleen gepubliceerd in een boek voor enkele Plansoen-nazaten. (print on demand gedrukt, oplage hoogstens 10 stuks). Vriendelijke groet,

  2. Steven Wepster

    March 2, 2022 at 11:03 pm

    Bij de foto met de officieren ten tijde proefvaart Nw Amsterdam (II):
    de 3e stm uiterst links lijkt sprekend op mijn vader Arnout. Uit zijn verhalen weet ik dat hij bij de proefvaart was; hij vertelde graag dat hij toen door Bijl belast werd met het van de brug verwijderen van een aldaar hindelijk aanwezige minister-president…

  3. Thank You for publishing this most interesting account about my great uncle. I am the grandson of his brother Mari Bijl and named after his nephew Prosper Mari. Prosper, his nephew followed his uncle’s footsteps and was also an officer at HAL. However it was not to his liking and parted prior to WWII. He also settled in America. I was born in Amsterdam and immigrated to America with my family in 1956. My Father had gone to the MTS in Amsterdam just like his Father and Grandfather had done.
    Once again, Thank you
    Prosper Bijl

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