The Dutch in Indonesia – The Dutch East India Company

The saga of the Dutch in Indonesia began in 1596

Then the largest pepper – port in the archipelago. Repeatedly blown off course and racked by disease and dissension, the de Houtman expedition had been a disaster from the start. In Banten, the sea-weary Dutch crew went on a drinking binge and had to be chased back to their ships by order of an angry prince, who then refused to do business with such unruly farang. Hopping from port-to-port down the north coast of Java, de Houtman wisely confined his sailors to their ships and managed to purchase some spices. But upon arriving in Bali, the entire crew jumped ship and it was some months before de Houtman could muster a quorum for the return voyage.

Arriving back in Holland in 1597 after ab absence of two years, with only three lightly laden ships and a third of their crew, the de Houtman voyage was nonetheless hailed as a success. So dear were spices in Europe at this time, that the sale of her meager cargoes sufficed to cover all expenses and even produced a modest profit for the investors!. This touched off a veritable fever of speculation in Dutch commercial circles, and in the following year fivce consortiums dispatched a total of 22 ships to Indies.

The Dutch East India Company: The Netherlands was at this time rapidly becoming the commercial centter of Northern Europe. Since the 15th Century, ports of the two Dutch coastal provinces, Holland and Zeeland, had served as enter pots for goods shipped to Germany and the Baltic states. Many Dutch merchants grew wealthy on this carrying trade, and following the out – break of war with Spain in 1568, they began to expand their shipping fleets rapidly, so that by the 1590s they were trading directly with the Levant and Brazil.

Thus when a Dutchman published his itinerary to the East Indies in 1595 – 96, it occasioned the immediate dispatch of the de Houtman and later expeditions. Indeed, so keen was the interest in direct trade with the Indies, that all Dutch traders soon came to recognize the need for cooperation-to minimize competition and maximize profits. In 1602, therefore, they formed the United Dutch East India Company (known by its Dutch initials – VOC), one of the first joint – stock corporations in history. It was capitalized at more than 6 million guilders and empowered by the states-general to negotioate treaties, raise armies, build fortresses and wage war on behalf of the Netherlands in Asia.

The VOC’s whole purpose and philosophy can be summed up in a single word-monopoly. Like the Portuguese before them, the Dutch dreamed of securing absolute control of the East Indies spice trade, which traditionally had passed through many Muslim and Mediterranean hands. The profits from such a trade were potentially enormous, in the order of several thousand per cent.

In its early years the VOC met with only limited success. Several trading posts were opened, and Ambon was taken from the Portuguese (in 1605), but Spanish and English, not to mention Muslim, competition kept spice prices high in Indonesia and low in Europe. Then in 1614, a young accountant by the name of Jan Pietieszoon Coen convinced the directors that only a more forceful policy would make the company profitable. Coen was given command of VOC operations, and promptly embarked on a series of military adventures that were to set the pattern for Dutch behavior in the region.

–> Read Also : The Dutch in Indonesia – The Founding of Batavia

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