The W.I.C., 1621-1798

Colonial Expansion : the V.O.C. ((Dutch) United East India Company) 1602-1798

In 1580, Portugal was added to the Habsburg Dominions, which now included Spain and Portugal, with their vast colonial possessions, the Empire, the Austrian and Bohemian lands, Hungary, Naples, Milan and the Low Countries. Some Dutchmen, sentenced to the galleys, travelled on board Portuguese ships to India.
Once the Dutch Revolt was going on, the WATERGEUZEN were superior on the seas. Liberated ex-galley slaves showed adventurous Dutch captains the route to India (the Portuguese had treated their maps top secret), and in 1600 the first ship returned, with a cargo of spices. AMSTERDAM immediately became Europe's new center for the trade of colonial products. More ships sailed to and returned from India, and by 1602 competition had resulted in a sharp drop of prices and profits. The RAADSPENSIONARIS OF HOLLAND, JOHAN VAN OLDENBARNEVELD assembled the merchants who were engaged in the East India Trade and had them form a company, the V.O.C. (United East India Company), which was given a charter by the Staten Generael granting it a monopoly for the India trade.
So the V.O.C. was assured profitable sales and a secure income, necessary to establish a lasting position in the India trade, for the loss of cargo (shipwrecks, piracy) were considerable, as were the costs of establishing a network of ports, storage houses and of forts protecting both, along the coasts of Africa and southern Asia.
The V.O.C. began by taking the most important markets and production centers under it's control : in 1605 the V.O.C. claimed sovereignty of AMBON, the most important of the MOLUCCAS (SPICE ISLANDS). In 1609 the V.O.C. established a comptoir (factory) at FIRANDO (Japan), in 1619 the V.O.C. under Governor General JAN PIETERSZOON COEN took possession of JAKATRA on Java, where a fortress was built, called BATAVIA, which was to become the headquarters of the Empire of the V.O.C. in Asia. Soon, further possessions were added : CEYLON (1638/1658), FORMOSA (1624), COCHIN (India, 1663), MALACCA (1641), MAURITIUS, the CAPE COLONY (1652), ELMINA on the Gold Coast, GOREE, an island in front of Senegal.
The V.O.C. was a huge success. It was to dominate the spice trade - the English and Portuguese competition was eliminated, a virtual V.O.C. monopoly established. The V.O.C., from 1641 onward, also enjoyed a monopoly in the trade with Japan, as the competitors (English, Portuguese, Spanish) were expelled. The V.O.C. factory had been moved from Firando to DESHIMA, an artificial island located in the harbour of Nagasaki. The V.O.C. ran other such factories in SIAM, SURAT (India), in MOCHA (Yemen) and in Persia. During the 17th century, the V.O.C. was the most important European company in the Asia trade. Amsterdam became Europe's most important market.
Yet, to run an economic Empire that size was risky and expensive. Formosa was lost to a Ming Chinese, KOXINGA (1662). Attempts by the V.O.C. to recover Formosa (Taiwan) failed.

It took a Dutch ship or fleet three to six months to travel from Holland to Batavia. Sailors were given a cheese, two bags of biscuits and a barrel of water as their food ration for the journey. Due to the lack of vitamins, many suffered from BERI BERI (scurvy). In order to resupply them with fresh vitamins, the colonies of MAURITIUS and later the CAPE COLONY (1652) were established. The descendants of the Dutch farmers settled there are still called BOERS (Dutch for farmers) and their language, Afrikaans, is still easily understood by every Dutchman.

The Dutch colonial expansion stopped in the 1660es, and the V.O.C. pursued a policy of attempting to hold on what they had. The MERCANTILIST policy adopted by Colbert's France and countries which imitated it, as well as the English NAVIGATION ACT of 1651 hurt the V.O.C. by depriving it of considerable markets; the Netherlands is a relatively small country.
Late in the 18th century, the V.O.C. was bankrupt. In 1798, the BATAVIAN REPUBLIC took over both it's debts and assets. The V.O.C. was dissolved, it's territories transferred into colonies of the Netherlands.

Batavia, a virtual factory, an illustrated, multi-facetted history of the V.O.C., bilingual Dutch and English
Dutch Portuguese Colonial History, many detailed subfiles
De Oost-Indische Compagnie, from , in Dutch, on the establishment of the VOC
Online Bibliography, from
National Library of Australia
Geschiedenis van de Thee en de Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, from Rotal Women, in Dutch
V.O.C. Links, Page 1, Page 2, from Londoh
V.O.C. Kenniscentrum
De Verenigde Ooostindische Compagnie, from Cultuurkunde van Nederland at Univ. Vienna, in Dutch
DOCUMENTS Coats of Arms, posted by Filip van Laenen, scroll down (several items)
Links from The V.O.C. and Early Modern Maritime History in Archives and Libraries
Dutch East Indian Coinage : The United East India Company issues, 1644-1799, from the John Madlon Collection
Dutch India Coins, from The Coins and History of Tranquebar
On Line Catalogue of V.O.C. Duits and Half Duits, from Londoh
Paintings of VOC ships, from Amsterdam Historisch Museum
Treaties of the Dutch East Indian Company (links), from psm-data
Letter by the Ruler of Arakan, 1608, to "the King of Holland", posted by Stephan van Galen
A collection of Cape of Good Hope landgrants, slave grants, debentures, etc, posted by Paulus Swaen (commercial site)
V.O.C. documents, from Batavia, a virtual factory
Octrooi V.O.C. 1602 (Charter of the V.O.C.), posted by Herman de Wit, in Dutch
REFERENCE H.P.H. Jansen, Kalendarium. Geschiedenis van de Lage Landen in Jaartallen (History of the Low Countries by Years), Utrecht : Prisma (1971) 4th edition 1979

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2004

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