The Dutch in Indonesia – The Dutch in Java

By such nefarious means the Dutch had achieved effective control of the eastern archipelago and its lucrative spice trade by the end of the 17th Century.

In the western half of the archipelago, however, they became increasingly embroiled in fruitless intrigues and wars, particularly on Java. This came about largely because the Dutch presence at Batavia disturbed a delicate balance of power on Java.

As early as 1628, Batavia came under Javanese attack. Sultan Agung (1613 – 46), third and greatest ruler of the Mataram kingdom, was then aggressively expanding his domain and had receltly concluded a successful five – year siege of Surabaya. He now controlled all of central and eastern Java, and next, he intended to take western Java by pushing the Dutch into the sea and then conquering Banten.

He nearly Succeed. A large Javanese expeditionary force momentarily breached Batavia’s defences, but was then driven back outside the walls in a last-ditch effort led by Governor – General Coen. The Javanese were not prepared for such resistance and withdrew for lack of provisions. A year later in 1629, Sultan Agung sent an even larger force, estimated at 10,000 men, provisioned with huge stockpiles of rice for what threatened to be a protracted siege. Coen, however, learned of the location of the rice stockpiles and captured of destroyed them before the Javanese even arrived. Poorly led, starving and sick, the Javanese troops died by the thousands outside the walls of Batavia. Never again did Mataram pose at threat to the city.

Relations between the Dutch and the Javanese improved during the despotic reign of Amangkurat I (1646 – 77), one reason being that they had common enemies -t he pesisir trading kingdoms of the north Java coast.

It was ironic, then, that the Dutch conquest of Makassar later resulted, albeit in directly, in the demise of their “ally”.

The Makassar warsof 1666 – 69, and their aftermath, created a diaspora of Makassarese and Buginese refugees. Many of them fled to eastern Java, where they united under the leadership of a Madurese prince, Trunajaya. Aided and abetted by none other than the Mataram crown prince, Trunajaya succesfully stormed through Central Java and pludered the Mataram capital in 1676 – 7. Amangkurat I died fleeing the enemy forces.

Once in control of Java, Trunajaya renounced his alliance with the young Mataram prince and declared himself king. Having no one else to turn to, the crown prince pleaded for Dutch support, promising to reimburse all military expenses and to award the Dutch valuable trade concessions. The bait was swallowed, and a costly campaign was promptly mounted to capture Trunajaya. This ended, in 1680, with the restoration of the crown prince, now styling himself Amangkurat II, to the throne.

But the new king was then in no position to fulfill his end of the bargain with the Dutch – his treasury had been looted and his kingdom was in ruin. All he had to offer was territory, and although he ceded much of western Java to the VOC, they still suffered a heavy financial loss.

On December 31, 1799, Dutch financiers received stunning news – the VOC was bankrupt!. During the 18th Century, the spice trade had become less profitable, while the military involvement in Java had grown increasingly costly – this at least is the broad outline of events leading to one of the largest commercial collapses in history.

It was a great war in Java (1740 – 55), however, which dealt the death blow to delicate Dutch finances. And once again, through a complex chain of events, it was the Dutch themselves who inadvertently precipitated the conflict. The details of the struggles are too convoluted to follow here, but it began in 1740 with the massacre of the Chinese residents of Batavia, and ended 15 years later, only after many bloody battles broken alliances and kaleidoscopic shifts of fortune had exhausted (or killed) almost everyone on the island. Indeed Java was never the same again, for by the 1755 Treaty of Giyanty, Mataram had been cleft in two, with rival rulers occupying neighboring capitals in Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Nor did the VOC ever recover from this drain on its resources, even though it emerged at this time as the pre-eminent power on Java.

–> Read Also : The Dutch in Indonesia – Daendels and Raffles

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