Peasant Autonomy
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Story 33

A fishing village, the Netherlands – 1900


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(Photo: Roel Wijnants)


“Yes Ma, I am afraid. May I? May I!” Barend is shouting. “Ashore I am not scared of anything, not even the devil himself. When necessary, I will stab anyone with my knife. But I am terrified of the sea. My father was drowned, when I was just a young boy. I almost cannot remember him. My two brothers are drowned too. And I should not be afraid?! Do you know what Simon (the ship's carpenter) said about 'The Good Hope'? Do you really want to know? He said: 'That ship is rotten through and through. There is no point to patching it up. It is a floating coffin. The only reason for the owner to send it to sea is to get the insurance money.' And I should sign on to that ship? I won't do it. I simply won't do it.”

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(Photo: Arjen Toet)


Mother Kniertje has quietly started weeping during the outburst of her son. “As if I do not know that my husband and my two sons are drowned. As if I could ever forget it. But listen to me, my child. For three years I got some money from the widow relief fund, when the herring boat was lost on which your father and your two brothers were working. After that I had to scrape together a living for nine years.”
Kniertje sighs and goes on, “Look at me, my dear boy. Don't you see that I already have grey hair. I am growing older. What will become of me? You are everything I have in my life. All my hope is placed on you. Please, sign on to 'The Good Hope', then we will have enough money for the time being. Don't be afraid. You are a seaman, a fisherman. What else can you do? You cannot even read and write properly. You didn't learn another trade. You did already sail for several years. You are experienced. You will get a nice salary. Please, do it for me. In six weeks we will see each other again.”

A few weeks later 'The Good Hope' was lost in a violent storm. Barend was one of the twelve seamen who perished. The ship owner cashed in the insurance money.


The play The Good Hope (1900), written by the Dutch author Herman Heijermans, pictures the hard fishermen's life.

Go to:
= the next page: Peasant Nand on his deathbed - Flanders, Belgium – about 1900, story 34.
= the Table of contents, story 33.