The Dutch East India Company (VOC) 1602-1799

Overseas expansion

Mauritius, Hollandia and Amsterdam, these were the names of the three merchant ships that set sail from Texel for “the East”, together with the small ship the Duyfken, on 2 April 1595. It proved to be an exciting adventure. Only three of the four vessels returned in August 1597 and only 87 of the 249 man crew. The revenues were modest. But still, this first Dutch sailing expedition to Asia was a success because it opened a trade route to the East.

Other expeditions followed. With their strong and heavily armed trading vessels the merchant traders from Zeeland and Holland out-performed the Portuguese who had used the route for some time, and the English became jealous. The ships returned heavily laden with colonial goods like pepper and nutmeg. To limit internal competition, Johan van Oldenbarneveldt took the initiative of setting up the Dutch East India Company (VOC). On 20 March 1602 the company acquired the Dutch monopoly on all trade in Asian waters from the Cape of Good Hope onwards. The company was empowered to sign treaties in the name of the Republic, to wage war and administer conquered territories.

The VOC developed into a power to be feared. ‘This can lead to something big,’ wrote Jan Pieterszoon Coen to the Heren XVII, the board of the VOC in the distant fatherland. In 1619, he conquered the town of Jayakarta and founded Batavia there. Coen wrote that ‘Jacatra’ would become ‘the most important place in all the Indies’ and that the reputation of the Dutch had increased through their conquests. ‘Everyone will now seek to become our friend’. Parts of Java were occupied, Ambon and Ternate in the Mulluccas were subjugated and the population was forced to cultivate spices. Elsewhere in Asia too the VOC gained ground with either persuasion or violence. Forts were built in South Africa, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Makassar in Indonesia. China was visited and when in 1641 the Shogun of Japan closed his country’s borders to foreigners, the VOC alone received his permission to continue to trade from the island of Decima near Nagasaki.

In this way, the VOC not only stocked Dutch warehouses with colonial goods and filled the houses of the bourgeois with curiosa from foreign lands, but they also played an important trading role within Asia. Textiles, spices, coffee, tea, tobacco, opium, tropical wood, iron, copper, silver, gold, porcelain, dyes, shells – an endless array of goods was transported by the Dutch East India fleet.

In 1799, in the time of the French, the VOC was dissolved. Today, the archives of the VOC are regarded as world heritage, a memory of the world. The daily reports of the merchants who organised trade from the forts, the reports of the travels of VOC officials to royal courts of rulers with whom they traded, ships’ bills of lading … together the documents are an important source of information about two centuries of Asian-European history.

  • circa 3000 BC Megalithic tombs Early farmers  
  • 47 A.D.-circa 400 A.D. The Roman Limes On the frontiers of the Roman world  
  • 658 A.D.-739 A.D. Willibrord The spread of Christianity  
  • 742 A.D. – 814 A.D. Charlemagne Emperor of the Land of the Setting Sun  
  • circa 1100 Hebban olla vogala The Dutch language in writing  
  • 1254-1296 Floris V A Dutch count and disgruntled nobles  
  • 1356-circa 1450 The Hanseatic League Trading towns in the Low Countries  
  • 1469?-1536 Erasmus An international humanist  
  • 1500-1558 Charles V The Low Countries as an administrative unity  
  • 1566 The “Beeldenstorm” (iconoclastic outbreak) Religious conflict  
  • 1533-1584 William of Orange From rebel nobleman to “father of the country”  
  • 1588-1795 The Republic A unique political phenomenon  
  • 1602-1799 The Dutch East India Company (VOC) Overseas expansion  
  • 1612 The Beemster Polder The Netherlands and water  
  • 1613-1662 The canal ring Urban development in the seventeenth century  
  • 1583-1645 Hugo Grotius Pioneer of modern international law  
  • 1637 The Statenbijbel (authorised version of the Bible) The Book of Books  
  • 1606?-1669 Rembrandt The great painters  
  • 1662 Blaeu’s Atlas Major Mapping the world  
  • 1607-1676 Michiel de Ruyter Heroes of the sea and the wide reach of the Republic  
  • 1629-1695 Christiaan Huygens Science in the Golden Age  
  • 1632-1677 Spinoza In search of truth  
  • circa 1637-1863 Slavery Human trafficking and forced labour in the New World  
  • 17th and 18th centuries Country mansions Prosperous living  
  • 1744-1828 Eise Eisinga The Enlightenment in the Netherlands  
  • 1780-1795 The patriots Political conflict about modernising the Republic  
  • 1769-1821 Napoleon Bonaparte The French period  
  • 1772-1843 King William I The kingdom of the Netherlands and Belgium  
  • 1839 The first railway Acceleration  
  • 1848 The Constitution Fundamental rules and principles of government  
  • 1860 Max Havelaar Scandal in the East Indies  
  • 19th century Opposition to child labour Out of the workplace and back to school  
  • 1853-1890 Vincent van Gogh The modern artist  
  • 1854-1929 Aletta Jacobs The emancipation of women  
  • 1914-1918 The First World War War and neutrality  
  • 1917-1931 De Stijl Revolution in design  
  • 1929-1940 The crisis years Society in the depression  
  • 1940-1945 World War II Occupation and liberation  
  • 1929-1945 Anne Frank The persecution of the Jews  
  • 1945-1949 Indonesia A colony fights for freedom  
  • 1886-1988 Willem Drees The welfare state  
  • 1 February 1953 The great flood The danger of water  
  • since 1948 Television The rise of mass media  
  • since circa 1880 The port of Rotterdam Gateway to the world  
  • 1911-1995 Annie M.G. Schmidt Going against the grain of a bourgeois country  
  • since 1945 Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles Decolonisation in the West  
  • 1995 Srebrenica The dilemmas of peacekeeping  
  • since 1945 Diversity in the Netherlands The multicultural society  
  • 1959-2030? The natural gas deposit A finite treasure  
  • since 1945 Europe The Dutch and Europeans  
english version