History of the Dutch East India Company - The Asian part

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By Henk Rijkeboer.

Nicolaes Visscher - Indiae Orientalis.
(Click on image to go to source.)

A first expedition under the command of Cornelis de Houtman1 and Peter Dirkz Keijzer sailed to "the East" in 1595/1596. Result: the Dutch had their sea route to the Indies. The Indies was everything east of the Indus River. Several companies were started for trade with the east. They competed fiercely with each other. This decreased profits and no one could stand against enemies such as the Portuguese. Therefore under political pressure from Maurits (Stadtholder2) and Oldenbarnevelt (Land's Advocate3) all companies were united to the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.,1602).
This commercial enterprise had the exclusive right (patent) on driving trade from the Netherlands to all land east of the Cape of Good Hope4. The V.O.C. founded factories5 in the east. These are fortified trading settlements with warehouses, administration of justice, law, etc.
Starting from these factories the VOC obtained spheres of influence or even occupied territories. In this way the VOC, which was in the Netherlands only a trade company, had real sovereignty rights in these territories of the “East”. So, the VOC had the right of declaring war and concluding a peace treaty.
All this is dominated by trade, namely to obtain spices for the lowest possible price. For this aim, contracts were signed with native princes. In such a contract was fixed that spices only should be delivered to the VOC. In exchange, the native rulers were military supported by the VOC.

Victory over Kochi on the coast of Malabar.
Victory over Kochi on the coast of Malabar.
(Click on image to go to source.)

By mutual rivalry between two princes the VOC offered aid to one of them, mostly the weakest. Only with the help of the VOC this prince could go on fighting. The VOC didn’t give so much support that he really could win his war. So he was dependent. His opponent also started negotiations with the VOC to get rid of the problems. But every kind of VOC support had his price; exclusive delivery of spices for a low price.
If a prince didn’t fulfill his "obligations" (spices were "smuggled", delivered to a concurrent) than a punitive expedition was organized. Notorious was the punitive expedition to the Banda Islands6 in 1621. Only here you could find nutmeg and mace! An exclusive contract gave the VOC a monopoly on these spices. The Bandanese however sold secretly to the Portuguese and the English. The punitive expedition was severe, the population was largely exterminated! Now old V.O.C. employees got small plantations with slaves on the Banda Islands. The VOC trade of nutmeg and mace was highly profitable.
The VOC sought for more monopolies. Only on the Maluku Islands7 cloves were produced. By the conquest of these islands on the Portuguese the VOC obtained this monopoly, too.

Dutch Empire

Dutch Empire
(Click on image to go to source.)

Beside the Banda and Maluku islands, the V.O.C. controlled the Cape Colony8 (South Africa), Batavia9 on Java (now Djakarta, Indonesia), Ceylon10, parts of the coasts of India11 (Coromandel12) and Malacca13. Large parts of the Indian archipelago belonged to the Dutch sphere of influence.The trading posts in the East Indies had a mixed culture with both European and Asian elements. This was mainly due to Dutch men who started relationships with Indian women (usually the housekeeper, the Njai).
 

View of Dejima.
View of Dejima.
(Click on image to go to source.)

The VOC had the exclusive right of trade on Japan through Dejima14. The Dutch were the only allowed traders with Japan from 1641 until 1853. From the Dutch Japanese learned about western science.
For the VOC the inter-Asian trade was important and gave large profits. From India cotton and from Bengal opium15 was transported to China. Here Porcelain was bought. Tea from Ceylon and China was again brought by the VOC to Dejima. The Japanese paid the VOC in copper and silver. With this metal, spices were bought in the Indonesian Archipelago. Finally these spices were sold with big profit in Europe.
The V.O.C. had almost a world monopoly of spice trade, in the period between1621and 1670. Hereafter the competition increased, especially of the English.
 

Jan Pieterszoon Coen by Jacob Waben.
Jan Pieterszoon Coen by Jacob Waben.
(Click on image to go to source.)

The governing board in East India was centralised in Batavia (the current Jakarta, Indonesia) from 1619. At the head in Batavia, there was a Governor General with his administration. This was in contrast to the decentralised character of the chambers in the Netherlands itself. Batavia was founded by the Governor General Jan Pieterszoon Coen16. He was the same Governor General that organized the punitive expedition to the Banda islands in 1621.
The V.O.C. had increased competition, particularly from the English, in the 18th century. This reduced the revenues from the East Indies. Corruption, underinvestment in combination with high dividend payments (to keep the shareholders satisfied) undermined the position of the VOC, too.
In fact the death blow came from the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War17 (1780 -1784). The English made in this war Dutch trade oversea impossible. Dutch ships out of the Indies were captured by English navy.
Officially the V.O.C. was declared bankrupt in 1798. Her possessions became colonies of the Dutch state.

 
 


Footnotes:

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ImageThis page was written by the Dutch team. Only the Dutch team is responsible for its content.
For further information please contact: Henk Rijkeboer | Horizon College

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