top of page

Remarkable sampler, remarkable life of Petronella de Timmerman

The Middelburg darning sampler of Petronella de Timmerman was brought to my attention by Mrs Josefien Sjoerds who saw it at a small exhibition in Museum De Koperen Knop in Hardinxveld in Holland. It is always fun to add a new darning sampler to the long list of Middelburg samplers (see in Extra). What is at least for Dutch standards rather unique of these particular samplers is that they carry the names of the girl and her tutor. The same has Petronella's sampler : Door mijn gedaan Petronella Johanna de Timmerman door onderwijs van Lydia Does. Thus, an early example by the relatively less productive teacher Lydia de Does. Just four other samplers are known of which two are kept in the Museum of International Folk Art in Sante Fe, NM.

The sampler itself is rather remarkable with the nice and unconventional elegant lettering and multiple darns, all accurately worked by the 12 year old girl.

Even more remarkable is Petronella's further (academic-) life of poet and physicist.

The article below was taken from the site of the History of Literature in the Netherlands (Literatuurgeschiedenis, National Library and Taalunie) :

TIMMERMAN, Petronella Johanna de (born Middelburg 31-1-1723 or 2-2-1724 - died Utrecht 2-5-1786), poet and physicist. Daughter of Pieter de Timmerman (1698-1753), merchant and director of the Commercial Company, and Susanna van Oordt (1697-1750). Petronella de Timmerman married (1) in September 1749 in Middelburg Abraham Haverkamp (d. 1758), lawyer; (2) on 3-8-1769 in Utrecht with Johann Friedrich Hennert (1733-1813), professor of mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Both marriages remained childless.

Petronella Johanna de Timmerman's childhood took place in Middelburg. Because many archive documents were lost there during bombings during the Second World War, we are dependent on others for her genealogical data. According to Nagtgla, who conducted research at the end of the nineteenth century, Petronella Johanna was born on January 31, 1723. Her parents were married on April 22, 1722. The most frequently mentioned date of birth, February 2, 1724, is taken from the title page of her Nagelaatene poems (1786), published by her second husband, who added a short biography of his wife. Much of what is known about her life is based on this life story.

Petronella Johanna was the eldest child. After her followed Pieter (1728-1791) and Hendrik (born 1733). The first would become a doctor of medicine and law, the second a merchant and ship owner. Petronella and her brothers probably grew up in an environment where science was in the spotlight. Her father immersed himself in mathematics and philosophy, and also involved his daughter. Moreover, Petronella would start writing poems at an early age. Around the age of twenty, in her poem On the Tail Star, which appeared in the years 1743-1744, she demonstrated both her scientific interest and her knowledge of poetry.

Living and working in Middelburg

Petronella de Timmerman's first husband was the lawyer Abraham Haverkamp, recipient of the seal and commissioner to the grand pensionary, successively C. van Citters, J.P. Recxstoot and J. du Bon. The couple went to live in Middelburg. Petronella continued to write poems, sometimes with her husband. At least one joint poem of theirs is known: a wedding song for Jan van Borssele and Anna Margaretha Elizabeth Coninck from 1750. It is not inconceivable that Petronella also knew Lucretia Wilhelmina van Merken: after all, she also wrote a wedding song on that occasion. In 1756 Petronella de Timmerman wrote a poem 'To the spirited lady Elizabeth Bekker', whom she had already met in Middelburg and with whom she was friends until her death. They must have corresponded, but nothing has survived. Elisabeth Wolff-Bekker visited Petronella de Timmerman several times, both in Middelburg and later in Utrecht, sometimes with Agatha Deken.

After Haverkamp's death in 1758, De Timmerman was allowed to collect the seal for another year. During that time she focused on collecting and working with physics instruments and expanding her library. In 1761 she bought a house in Bogaarstraat in Middelburg for 810 guilders, a price that was then in the highest segment of the housing market. In June 1766 she sold it for a thousand guilders. She then bought a house in Utrecht Muntstraat in January 1767 for more than 5,100 guilders. It is unknown why she moved to Utrecht. The question is whether she already knew her future second husband at the time.

Utrecht: science and KSGV

More than two years after her move, Petronella de Timmerman married Johann Friedrich Hennert in the Walloon church in Utrecht. Since 1764 he had been professor of mathematics, astronomy and philosophy at Utrecht University, subjects in which De Timmerman was very interested. Together with her husband she studied physics further. The couple had a country house in Maarssen, where they spent the summers.

In 1774, the Hague poetry society 'Kunstliefde Spaart Geen Vlijt' (KSGV) asked Petronella de Timmerman to join as an honorary member. She wrote back that she had stopped writing poetry for a long time and focused mainly on 'sciences of a completely different nature'. During those years, she said, she studied the works of entomologists such as Jan Swammerdam and Charles Bonnet. According to Hennert, she also read the writings of philosophers such as Leibnitz, Wolff and Mendelsohn and of the physicists Musschenbroek and Nollet. She planned to write a book accessible to women about physics, philosophy and astronomy, following the example of Leonhard Euler's Lettres à une princesse d'Allemagne sur divers sujets de physique et de philosophie (1770). In addition, she spent her time on what she called her obligatory activities, by which she undoubtedly meant the household, which, as Hennert would later write, she conducted with almost mathematical precision. Nevertheless, De Timmerman accepted the society's invitation.

Written by Feike Dietz en Suzanne Voets.

Thank you Josefien for sharing the information. The never ending list of Middelburg Darning Samplers is now extended with the sampler and very interesting lifecycle of Pertronella Johanna de Timmerman.


Recent Posts
bottom of page