HAAFNER (Haffner), Jacob Godfried. Halle 1755 — 3.9.1809. Dutch (German born) traveller and precursor of Indology. His father, originally from Alsace, was sent by his catholic parents to monastery, but ran away and studied medicine at Halle, where he also married and adopted Lutheran confession. He brought the boy in 1766 to Amsterdam, where they embarked for East Indies. During the stay at Cape Country the father died, and the poor orphaned boy had to earn his living as a seaman in Eastern seas. This way he learnt several Asian languages, in addition to his earlier German, French and Dutch. At the age of 18 he passed the sailor’s examen, but tired of sea life took a place at Negapatnam factory and served six years there. He learnt book-keeping and finally served as secretary of Schenneman. Quarreled with his boss and quitted Negapatnam in 1779. Now served at Sadras factory and was used in negotiations with the British, but later became their prisoner of war. He lived in Madras in poverty until in 1781 obtained a place as book-keeper of Antonio de Souza, a rich Portuguese merchant. A year later, on 24.11.1782 escaped from the starving city through Trankebar to Ceylon. Later he came to Calcutta, where Joseph Fowke took him in his service. Now he became acquainted, among others, with Sir William Jones, whom he assisted translating a Malayālam MS.
After twenty years in the East JGH arrived at Amsterdam in 1787. Now he married and began literary work. As a widow he remarried in 1808. After his death his son, Christiaan Matthias Haffner (1791 — 4.1.1849) published his manuscripts.
Publications: articles in Algemeene Vaderl. Letteroefening 1801, 1806, 1807.
– Mijne Lotgevallen op eene reize van Madras, over Tranquebar naar het eiland Ceylon. Amsterdam 1806, 2nd ed. 8+268 p. Amst. 1826; Reize in een Palanquin of lotgevallen op eene reize langs de kusten van Oxira en Coromandel. 1-2. Amst. 1808; Reize te voet door het eiland Ceylon. Amst. 1810, 2nd ed. 8+60+263 p. Amst. 1826, new ed. Haarlem 1852; Lotgevallen en vroegere zeereizen. Amst. 1820; Reize naar Bengalen en terugreize naar Europa. Amst. 1822; several travel books also transl. in German and French.
– Proeve van Indische dichtkunde, volgens den Ramayon, naar het oorspronkelyk Sanskriet. Amsterdam 1820/23.
– edited by his son: Gezammelte Werken. 1-4. Amsterdam 1826-27.
Sources: Heeren, Nieuw Nederlandsch Biographisch Woordenboek 3, Leiden 1914, 516f. ; German and Dutch Wikipedia, with portrait and further references.