13 January 2006


Dutch East India Company

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This article is about the trading company. For the record label, see Dutch East India Trading.
Dutch colonial possessions, with the Dutch East India Company possessions marked in a paler green, surrounding the Indian Ocean plus Saint Helena in the mid-Atlantic.
Dutch colonial possessions, with the Dutch East India Company possessions marked in a paler green, surrounding the Indian Ocean plus Saint Helena in the mid-Atlantic.

The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch, literally "United East Indies Company") was established on March 20, 1602, when the Estates-General of the Netherlands granted it a monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. It was the first multinational corporation in the world and it was the first company to issue stocks.

The VOC consisted of 6 Chambers (Kamers) in Amsterdam, Middelburg (for Zeeland), Enkhuizen, Delft, Hoorn and Rotterdam. Delegates of these chambers convened as the Heeren XVII (the Lords Seventeen).

To the counsel of Heeren XVII, eight delegates were from the Chamber of Amsterdam, four from Chamber Zeeland and one from each of the smaller Chambers. Access to the seventeenth seat was rotated among the Chamber of Zeeland or one of the smaller Chambers. Amsterdam had thereby the decisive voice. The Zeelanders were particularly suspicious at the start up of the VOC for this reason. The fear was not unfounded, because in practice it meant that indeed Amsterdam stipulated what happened.

The start up capital of the Dutch East India Company was 6,424,588 Gulden, which was raised by the 8 chambers;

  • The Chamber of Hoorn raised an amount of ƒ 266,868.
  • The Chamber of Delft raised an amount of ƒ 469,400.
  • The Chamber of Zeeland raised an amount of ƒ 1,300,405.
  • The Chamber of Amsterdam raised an amount of ƒ 3,679,915.
  • The Chamber of Rotterdam's capital raising did not go so smoothly. They brought in ƒ 173,000 which satisfied by far, the expectations. A considerable part originated from inhabitants of Dordrecht.
  • The Chamber of Enkhuizen after the Chambers of Amsterdam and Zeeland with ƒ 540,000 had the largest input in the share capital of VOC. Under the first 358 share holders, were many small entrepreneurs, who dared to take the risk.
  • At the registration in the share register of the VOC, immigrants played an important role. Under the 1,143 tenderers were 39 Germans and no less than 301 Zuid-Nederlanders (Belgium); under who, Isaäc le Maire who was the largest subscriber with ƒ 85,000.
The logo of the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC
The logo of the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC

The Heeren XVII met alternately 6 years in Amsterdam and 2 years in Middelburg. They defined the VOC's general policy and divided the tasks among the Chambers. The Chambers carried out all the necessary work, built their own ships and warehouses and traded the merchandise. The Heeren XVII sent the ships' masters off with extensive instructions on the route to be navigated, prevailing winds, currents, shoals and landmarks. The VOC also produced its own sea charts.

The company established its headquarters in Batavia on Java (now Jakarta, Indonesia). Other colonial outposts were also established in the East Indies what later became Indonesia, such as on the Spice Islands (Moluccas), which include the Banda Islands where the VOC forcibly maintained a monopoly over nutmeg and mace. Methods used to maintain the monopoly included the violent suppression of the native population, not stopping short of extortion and mass murder.

The VOC traded throughout Asia. Ships coming into Batavia from the Netherlands carried silver from Spanish mines in Peru and supplies for VOC settlements in Asia. Silver, combined with copper from Japan, was used to trade with India and China for textiles. These products, such as cotton and silk, including ceramics, were either traded within Asia for the coveted spices or brought back to Europe. The VOC was also instrumental in introducing European ideas and technology to Asia. The Company supported Christian missionaries and traded modern technology with China and Japan.

A bond issued by the Dutch East India Company, dating from 7 November 1623, for the amount of 2,400 florins
A bond issued by the Dutch East India Company, dating from 7 November 1623, for the amount of 2,400 florins

A more peaceful VOC trade post on Dejima, an artificial island off the coast of Nagasaki, was for a long time the only place where Europeans could trade with Japan.

In 1640 the VOC captured the port of Galle, in Sri Lanka from the Portuguese and broke the latter's monopoly of the cinnamon trade. In 1658 Gerard Hulft laid siege to Colombo, which was captured with the help of King Rajasinghe II of Kandy. By 1659 the Portuguese had been expelled from the coastal regions, which were occupied by the VOC, which thereby esnusring for it the monopoly over cinnamon.

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck established an outpost at the Cape of Good Hope (the southwestern tip of Africa, currently in South Africa) to re-supply VOC ships on their journey to East Asia. This post later became a fully-fledged colony, the Cape Colony, when more Dutch and other Europeans started to settle there. VOC outposts were also established in Persia (now Iran), Bengal (now Bangladesh and part of India), Malacca (Melaka, now in Malaysia), Siam (now Thailand), mainland China (Canton), Formosa (now Taiwan) and southern India. In 1662, Koxinga expelled the Dutch from Taiwan (see History of Taiwan).

By 1669, the VOC was the richest private company the world had ever seen, with over 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, 50,000 employees, a private army of 10,000 soldiers, and a dividend payment of 40%.

The company was in almost constant conflict with the English; relations were particularly embittered after the Amboyna Massacre in 1623. During the 18th century, its possessions were increasingly focused on the East Indies. After the fourth war between the United Provinces and England (17801784), the VOC got into financial trouble, and in 1798, the company was dissolved, four years after the end of the Estates-General. The East Indies were awarded to the Kingdom of the Netherlands by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

According to some, the history and exploits of the VOC were also an inspiration for the novel Dune.

VOC ships

1990 replica of the 1749 VOC Amsterdam
1990 replica of the 1749 VOC Amsterdam

See also

External links

Former Dutch colonies

Aruba (current) | Berbice | Brazil (part) | Cape Colony | Ceylon | Demerara | Deshima | Dutch East Indies | Dutch Guiana | Essequibo | Dutch West Indies or Netherlands Antilles (current) | Netherlands New Guinea | New Netherland (New Amsterdam, New Sweden) | New Zealand (part) | Smeerenburg | Taiwan | Tobago | Travancore | Virgin Islands (part) See also: Dutch colonisation of the Americas | Dutch East India Company | Dutch West India Company | New Holland