May 16, 2015

Windmills that generate twice the power of traditional windmills

Filed under: History,Technology by Branko Collin @ 9:27 pm

windmill-leiden-branko-collinAlthough windmills are an iconic representation of the Netherlands, they haven’t actually been used much for the past two centuries.

The ‘invention’ of the practical steam engine by James Watt in the 18th century made short work of the Dutch reliance on windmills. The use of wind power for pumping water out of polders saw a sharp decline in the 19th century.

Ironically, the abandonment of windmills did not stop the development of these devices in the Netherlands. According to Low Tech Magazine:

In the 1920s and 1930s, however, when windmills had stopped working almost everywhere in Europe, the Dutch started a research program that led to the final development of the classical windmill. In 1923, the “Dutch Windmill Society” was founded, with the mission to improve the performance of windmills generating mechanical energy. Among the members were famous millwright builders like the Dekker Brothers. The results were spectacular.


[While] a traditional windmill could be worked for around 2,671 hours per year in the Netherlands, the new streamlined design could be operated for 4,442 hours per year – more or less doubling the annual energy output.

(Link: Making Light, Photo: regular windmill De Put in Leiden by me)

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January 12, 2014

Alexine Tinne, 19th century explorer, fashion designer and photographer

Filed under: History by Branko Collin @ 10:02 pm

alexine-tinne-pdApart from the Arctics, the interior of Africa was one of the last places left for Europeans to ‘discover’ and finding the source of the Nile was a major goal for 19th century explorers.

One of these explorers was a woman from The Hague, Alexine Tinne (b. 1835 – d. 1869). Growing up as one of the richest heiresses of the Netherlands in a time when European women were expected to ‘know their place’, nobody would have batted an eyelid if Tinne had stayed at home and prepared for marriage. But even at a young age Alexine Tinne shared with her mother Henriëtte (a former lady-in-waiting and daughter of an admiral) a thirst for travel.

In 1855 mother and daughter sailed up the Nile for the first time in order to reach Karthoum, but it would take them several expeditions to succeed. In 1861 they not only reached Karthoum but decided to push through to Gondokoro in Sudan (near present-day Juba) and beyond. Gondokoro was known as the last place where the Nile was navigable but Tinne fell ill there.

During an attempt in 1863 Tinne lost her mother, her aunt and two servants; it would be her last voyage up the Nile. Writer Redmond O’Hanlon told that he believes Tinne and her mother wanted to discover the source of the Nile: “that was their goal, I am sure of it.” But contemporaries did not approve of women explorers and O’Hanlon fears this is why the Tinne expedition kept schtum about its real motives. Samuel Baker, another Nile explorer of the time, wrote of the competition: “There are Dutch ladies travelling without any gentlemen… They must be demented. A young lady alone with the Dinka tribe… they really must be mad. All the natives are naked as the day they were born.”

Tinne, who felt responsible for the death of her mother and aunt, stayed in Africa. In 1869 Alexine Tinne, while living in Tunesia, decided to cross the Sahara. On 2 August of that year her caravan was ambushed by Tuaregs at the wadi of Chergui in what is now Algeria. Tinne was killed with two sword blows and a gun shot.

Although she only reached the age of 33, she accomplished quite a lot during her life. She designed clothes that she wore herself, wrote and drew the source materials for a botanical guide about the plant life in Sudan (the Plantae Tinneanae), started a half-way house for freed slaves and, in between two of her Nile expeditions, experimented with photography.

See also:

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April 4, 2013

Nineteenth century Netherlands plans to reclaim everything

Filed under: Architecture,Technology by Branko Collin @ 10:10 am

This map by Belgian citizen and inventor Jerôme Wenmaekers from 1876 shows his plans to reclaim the entire Zuiderzee, including the Wadden Sea.

According to De Verdieping van Nederland, Wenmaekers plans required the use of his own dike building machines, but the inventor would not release the plans for those until he got the reclamation concession. On the other hand, the minister of public works would not approve the plan as long as he could not see how the machines worked. Both parties remained in that deadlock and in the end it was Cornelis Lely whose plans were used.

Lely’s plan was much less ambitious, but still very ambitious—his Flevoland polder is the largest artificial island in the world by a wide margin.

The green inset in this second map from 1866 shows the area Wenmaekers wanted to reclaim. According to NRC, for 70 years (between 1850 and 1920) the Dutch discussed what to do with the country’s ‘wet heart’, which led to at least 581 publications. One plan even called for the reclamation of the North Sea.

(Source: Nationaal Archief, via Martin Wisse)

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April 11, 2012

Stolen Greek icons found on Dutch website

Filed under: Art,Religion,Technology by Orangemaster @ 1:33 pm

The Greek authorities discovered icons stolen from a church in Greece in 2009 on the website of a Dutch art dealer who claims he didn’t know they were stolen.

The seven Greek icons, with values ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 euro, were seized by the police in April last year, placed in the Rijksmuseum for safe keeping, and handed over to the Greek Ministry of Culture on December 5, 2011. They date from the 18th and 19th centuries and play an important part in the country’s cultural and historical heritage.

The police explain that works of art are usually sold many years after they have been stolen, and so this discrepancy probably makes it sound like the dealer could be telling the truth. I’ve been told there are international sites to check and see if works or art have been stolen and then I would imagine that the dealer was not very knowledgeable in icons or is not telling the truth.

Even Wikipedia has a page of stolen works of art, with a few Dutch ones as well.

(Link:, photo:

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June 17, 2009

Van Deyssel’s beautifully indecent book, or: how to return a compliment

Filed under: Literature by Branko Collin @ 9:30 am

Albert Verwey wrote about Lodewijk van Deyssel’s 1887 novel Een Liefde (A Love), considered pornographic at the time:

Van Deyssel’s novel has two qualities. It is beautiful and it is indecent. Because of its indecency, it is either being ignored or called names—in turn I want to praise it for its beauty. That novel is like a person who knocks at a door, the door of literature. Some pretend they do not hear the knock. Others say: “go away, you are indecent.” Now I am going to say: “Enter, because you are beautiful.”

Van Deyssel knew how to take a compliment, and replied:


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