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

Swaan, Martinus Eduard.

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Swaan;  Eduard, Martinus

Born:  Padang, Bali, Dutch East Indies; 3 June 1877.

This is a captain whose life is one big mystery, most likely because he passed away before he could reach the passenger ships where he might have stepped a little bit more into the lime light. Born in the Dutch East Indies at Padang, Bali, there is already the first mystery. His father was Wilhelmus Cornelis Swaan (born 17 Aug. 1845 at Bergen op zoom the Netherlands). His mother was  Jeannette Antoinette Auguste Coelen. (Geb. 05.07.1852 at Batavia, Dutch East Indies).  But when he was born, the announcement in the newspaper only gives the name of his mother. Did his father pass away before the birth, or was he away? His father was a Captain in the Dutch East Indies Army. We do not know.

The company records state that he obtained his 3 mate’s certificate in 2 steps in 1896.

Obtained 3rd mates certificate A on 14 Oct, 1896

Obtained 3rd mates certificate B on 11 Dec. 1896

Because he joined the HAL on 29 March 1897 as cadet for a six month period, it can be assumed that he sailed for six months with another company as a cadet as you need 12 months sailing time to sit the full exam. Once he passes the first part of the exam he rejoins the company as 4th. Officer.

The ss Maasdam (II) in service for HAL. This ship was built in 1871 for the White Star Line of Liverpool and then sailed in charter for various company’s. It was bought by the HAL in 1889

and renamed with them until 1902A year later he joins the Royal Navy Reserve and he remains with them as a reserve officer for the remainder of his career. In 19 January 1910 he is given the right to fly the Royal Navy Reserve flag on the ship he is in command of as he is now noted as Luitenant 2nd class, which means he could also be put in command of a (small) Royal Navy Ship.

Even with the time away from the company, he rises quickly through the ranks and is promoted to captain on 08 November 1909. On 10 May 1910 the records indicate that he was put in command of the ss Statendam (!) but this was only for the lay up period between 10 May and 10 June after which he joins the RNR again for the next training session. Upon return he is given command of the ss Soestdijk (I)

The ss Soestdijk (I) was built in  1900 for the service to the East coast of the USA . In 1918 se sailed as an USS cargo ship  and was sold in 1923 to Italy. Note the steam near the bow. This is the safety valve of the anchor windlass blowing off.  Nothing special but it looks quite dramatic.

This ship was employed on the service to the North American East coast ports. Sailing from Rotterdam to Newport News, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston and New York depending on where the cargo was. On 30 Dec. 1911 the ship departs for voyage 66 from Rotterdam for a voyage to New York. Here it stays in port between 16 and 24 January and then returns to Rotterdam.  On 03 February he falls overboard in position 40o North / 23o 38West which is in the middle of the North Atlantic.  It was assumed that he must have fainted and fallen over the railing as there were no witnesses. It did not happen on the bridge. It was 10 am. in the morning but as nobody saw it happen, the body was never retrieved. The Staff Captain L. Rijnink and takes over command and brings the ship back to Rotterdam on 09 Febr. He remains then in command of the ship for one more voyage until 02 April when the regular relieve (Capt. Van Dulken newly promoted to fill the gap) comes on board.

What is of interest, is a note in the Hurman Resources log for the captain. There is an entry about what a good man he was. This is rather unusual as Holland America has never been a company to sing the praises of their captains in the internal files:


If not the best, then still one of the best, capable / skillful, and sympathetic officer. Son of a Captain in the Dutch East Indies Army.  Polite, lucent, reliable, robust man


Captain Swaan was not married and did not leave any direct family behind as far as is known apart from his mother and a brother and a sister. (c)

Sailing List: (b)

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

29 Mar.1897           Cadet                         Maasdam                 10,–

21 Jul.  1897              Temporary dismissed awaiting transfer to ss Rotterdam

13 Aug.1897              Cadet                         Rotterdam                10,–

21 Oct.1997              4th. Officer                Edam                         30,–

01 Sep.1898              4th.Officer                 Spaarndam              30,–

05 Oct.1898              Temporary dismissed to join the Dutch Royal Navy Reserve.

01 Feb.1899              Act. 3rd Officer        Maasdam                 40,–

25 Aug.1899             Act. 3rd Officer        Spaarndam              40,–

05 Nov.1899             Act. 3rd Officer        Maasdam                 40,–

27 Mar.1900             Temporary ashore going to school for examination.

02 May.1900            3rd Officer               Potsdam                   50,–

Passed 2nd Mate’s license 11 Apr. 1900

06 Sep.1900              3rd.Officer                 Statendam               50,–

16 Aug.1901             Promoted to Ensign first class (Adelborst eerste klasse) Royal Navy.

28 Aug.1901             Act. 2nd Officer Jr.  Statendam               60,–

07 May.1902            Act, 2nd Officer Jr.  Statendam               70,–

30 Nov.1902             Temporary dismissed for the Royal Navy.

02 Dec. 1902            For 6 months placed on board HM. Gier per 2 Dec. 1902.

Xx Jun. 1903             Passed first mates license

08 Jul.  1903              2nd Officer Sr.    Rotterdam                70,–

24 Nov.1903             Temporary dismissed for exam 27 Nov. passed study for certificate B1 on 9                                                                      Dec.1903

10 Dec.1903             2nd Officer Sr.     Rotterdam                70,–

23 Mar.1904             2nd Officer Sr.        Rijndam                    70,–

12 Dec. 1904           2nd Officer Sr.        Noordam                  70,–

13 Dec.1905            Temporary dismissed to join the Royal Navy.

30 Dec. 1905          Assigned for a three month exercise  on board HMS Piet Hein.

10 Mar.1906           Act. Chief Officer    Potsdam                   90,–

16 Apr.1906            Promoted to Luitenant 2nd class.

12 Dec. 1906           Act. Chief Officer    Noordam                  90,–

02 Jan.1907            Act. Chief Officer    Sloterdijk                  90,–

01 Sep.1907            Temporary dismissed to join the Royal Navy.

10 Mar.1908           Chief Officer     Potsdam                   100,–

21 Mar.1908            Chief Officer     Soestdijk                   100,-

28 Mar.1908           Chief Officer       Statendam               100,-

24 Mar.1909           Chief Officer       Rotterdam                100,-

08 Nov.1909           Captain                      Sommelsdijk                        200,-

29 Apr.1910            Captain                      Andijk                                    200,-

10 May.1910          Captain                      Statendam               200,-

10 Jun.1910            Temporary dismissed to join the Royal Navy.

05 Sep.1910             Captain                      Soestdijk                   200,-

01 Jan.1911             Wages increase due to review               250,–

03 Feb. 1912           While on the way from Newport to Rotterdam at 10 am. in the morning at 40o 08 N and 23o 38’West fallen overboard and drowned.  The body was not retrieved.


(a) Own Archive

(b) Stamboek Human Resources HAL ARchives Rotterdam

(c) E.A. Kruidhof.


  1. Captain Albert,

    Kapitein M.E. Swaan
    Op 2 februari 1912, onderweg met het ss Soestdyk (1) van New York naar Rotterdam is kapitein E.M. Swaan overboord gevallen en verdronken.

    Bron: http://www.marhisdata.nl/main.php?to_page=schip&id=6033

    John van Kuijk, lid archiefcommissie Vereniging “De Lijn”

    P.S. Bij het aanvullen van gegevens bij de HAL-schepen in de VLOOTLIJST op http://www.verenigingdelijn.nl/ verwijs ik waar mogelijk met een hyperlink naar de Blogpages “captains” en “ships” from the past op uw BLOG. (Empowerment)

    • Goede morgen,

      mijn dank. ik had de informatie van kapitein Swaan ook gevonden in het NRC van 1912, maar ik heb verder nog te wenig informatie om een goede bio van hem op de blog tezetten. D#Nog steeds op zoek naar nazaten van de goede man.

      Leuk telezen dat mijn blog nuttig is.


      Captain Albert

  2. P.S.

    Onderstaande ook te vinden op: http://www.marhisdata.nl/main.php?to_page=schip&id=6033

    Kapitein E.M. Swaan †. — Men schrijft aan de „Nieuwe Rott. Courant.”:
    Het stoomschip SOESTDYK, van de Holland Amerika Lijn, vertrekt morgen, onder commando van kapitein L. Rijnink, wederom naar zee.
    Zoals wij reeds bij binnenkomst van het stoomschip bericht hebben, verloor het schip op de laatste thuisreis haar gezagvoerder, kapitein E.M. Swaan, die in het midden van de oceaan overboord geslagen werd en verdronk. Kapitein Swaan was in maart 1897 als stuurmansleerling bij de Holland Amerika Lijn in dienst getreden, na zijn leerschool aan de Zeevaartschool te Rotterdam te hebben doorgemaakt. Hij diende achtereenvolgens in verschillende rangen op de stoomschepen van de N.A.S.M., verscheidene jaren als eerste officier op de grotere passagiersschepen. In november 1909 werd hij tot kapitein bevorderd en sedert dien voerde hij het bevel over verschillende vrachtschepen van de Maatschappij, die in hem een van haar beste jeugdige krachten verloren heeft. Ook onder zijn vrienden en kennissen in de Marine-Reserve was Swaan algemeen zeer gezien en bemind.

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