In 1640 the people of Portugal revolted against Spain. The national revolution spread over all colonial territories and in Brazil naturally directed itself against the Netherlanders. The States General, glad of the Portuguese resistance to Spain, could not very well attack these same Portuguese for their support of the rebels in Brazil. Once peace with Spain was concluded, the Republic declared war on Portugal, but only the East India Company benefited through the conquest of Portuguese strongholds in Ceylon and India. Brazil was irretrievably lost. In 1661 peace was restored. The West India Company ceded all claims in Brazil in exchange for a lump sum of eight million guilders. The great Atlantic enterprise had failed. Not only Brazil but also Angola on the African coast had been reconquered by Portugal. In 1664 King Charles II of Great Britain decided to make good his claims to the eastern seaboard of North America. A British squadron appeared off New Amsterdam and forced the surrender of the colony. Subsequent Dutch-British wars brought a short-lived restoration of Dutch sovereignty on the Hudson in 1673, but the eventual outcome was the restriction of Dutch territory in the New World to the island groups of Curacao and St. Eustachius, and to the coastlands of Guyana where in 1664 an enterprising Zeeland commander had added the territory of Surinam to that of Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice, now forming British Guyana. These small countries and islands, and some slave trading posts on the African Gold Coast, were the meager result of fifty years of warfare and colonization in the Atlantic area. No wonder that the West India Company went into bankruptcy in 1674, with a debt of six million guilders, and no prospects to speak of. A new West India Company with a modest capital of 630,000 guilders took over the Company’s assets and one-third of its debts. Except for the slave trade, the West Indies were thrown open to private commerce.
The Dutch settlements in the Americas left few traces. Only the Netherlanders on the Hudson vigorously maintained their traditions, of which the Dutch Reformed Church was the main support. Of the colony in Brazil nothing but memories remained, but the national revival provoked by the Dutch invaders of that country contributed greatly to Brazilian national consciousness and the territory of Pernambuco became the cradle of Brazilian nationalism. Thus, unwittingly and unwillingly, the Netherlanders may have contributed to the independence of the largest South American republic. The Jewish communities fled from Pernambuco when it was restored to Portuguese sovereignty. Some of their members returned to Europe; some sought a new home under the Dutch flag in the West Indies where many of their descendants may still be found in Curacao and Surinam.
The development of the Asiatic Dutch empire was the exact reverse of that in the West. Here expansion and stabilization were continuous. The
conflict with Portugal, so disastrous to the West India Company, provided its sister institution in the East with a golden opportunity to finish the job interrupted by the Treaty of Muenster. In 1648 the status quo had been accepted as a basis for the demarcation of Dutch and Spanish-Portuguese colonial spheres of influence. This had left the coast of Ceylon divided between the Dutch and the Portuguese, a situation which benefited only the king of Kandi, who ruled the interior and thanks to this divided control was able to play one European power against the other. The southern tip of India was also under divided control. The second war with Portugal resulted in the establishment of the supremacy of the Dutch East India Company in this whole area. Ceylon became the company’s “cinnamon garden,” and the king of Kandi its vassal and royal purveyor of elephants. The only use the gentlemen of Amsterdam had for these interesting animals, was as presents to other Asiatic princes.
Control over the ports of southern India gave the Company a monopoly over Asiatic textiles, and cloth from Malabar was one of the principal objects of trade in the Malay Archipelago. Once in possession of all these trading posts (which nowhere included authority over the interior), the Dutch Company definitely superseded the Portuguese empire in Asia. Only the bravery of their inhabitants saved Goa and Macao, which are Portuguese today, from the same fate as Colombo and Malacca. Some Portuguese commerce was still carried on with the connivance of native princes, who now resented Dutch control of the seas as much as they had formerly detested Portuguese supremacy. The sultans of Macassar in southern Celebes were among the principal supporters of non-Dutch trade. In their capital, Portuguese, Danish, and British traders had factories, and the hardy Buginese and Macassar sailors kept up a brisk smuggling trade in cloves and nutmeg in the strictly monopolized area of the Moluccas. In 1661, tension between the government of Batavia and the king of Macassar resulted in war. In two strenuous campaigns the Company’s troops, commanded by Cornelis Speelman and aided by Aru Palacca, prince of the Buginese, forced Macassar to submit. Foreign traders were driven from the town, which lost all significance once monopoly had stifled its trade. Some Portuguese merchants continued to intrude from the island of Timor, where missionaries of their nation had established native Christian communities. The Company paid no further attention to this remnant of its rival’s empire and eastern Timor has remained Portuguese despite successive Dutch-Australian and Japanese occupation.
THE LOST OF FORMOSA
Against these gains, and the exclusive right to trade with the people of Japan–through a single factory on the small island of Deshima opposite Nagasaki–stood the loss of Formosa, one of the Company’s most promis-
ng settlements. The Company’s dealings with this island just off the Chinese coast present unusual features, which distinguishes its history from that of other Dutch settlements in the East. When the Dutch went to Formosa in 1624, the island was still definitely outside the Chinese cultural and political area. Its inhabitants, racially related to the Philippine tribes, were more open to western influence than those of the south Asiatic regions, where Hinduism and Mohammedanism opposed European cultural influence and the Company could not promote Christianity without impairing its good relations with the natives and consequently its commercial interests. Formosa provided an opportunity for the “Spanish” method of colonization: converting the native people to the religion and the language of the rulers. The results were most encouraging. Within fifteen years a Christian community of five to six thousand people had been formed. Wherever congregations were organized schools were opened, because knowledge of Dutch was necessary for the new Christians, who were supposed to read the Staten Bible. Several hundred children attended school, and the hope seemed well founded that the whole population of Formosa would be won over to Christianity and Netherland civilization. The Netherlanders did not have the opportunity, however, to indoctrinate the people of Formosa for an equal period of time as the Spaniards had to educate the Filipinos. Thousands of Chinese patriots, forced to seek refuge on the sea from the Manchu invasion of their homeland, lurked around Formosa in the hopes of establishing a foothold on the island. In 1661, the Chinese leader Koxinga landed with a strong force and undertook the successful siege of the principal Dutch stronghold. The negligence of the Government at Batavia contributed as much to the loss of the Dutch fortress as the skill and courage of the Chinese partisans. The Netherland settlers were murdered, the natives ruthlessly punished, and the island occupied by Chinese immigrants. Even so, traces of Dutch cultural activity among the natives lingered on into the XIXth century.
The loss of Formosa, deprived the Company of its base for the China trade and was a major setback. It was the only setback, however, that the Batavian merchant-princes suffered in those years of their greatest prosperity and expansion under the able and cautious leadership of GovernorGeneral Johan Maetsuijcker ( 1653-1678). For twenty-five years, without once taking a vacation, this shrewd and stubborn administrator ruled the Dutch Asiatic empire from Batavia’s sultry castle. He knew how to pick his men from among the crowd of naval officers, employees, and native allies with whom he had to work. His legalistic mind was well adapted to the task of keeping everyone, from the boisterous and extravagant admiral Speelman, the conqueror of Macassar, to the ministers of the Church in
Batavia, in his proper place. His firm policy of never allowing any person or interest to disturb the rigid principles of administration laid down by the Company, truly represented in the Far East the political traditions of the Dutch ruling class. Not being himself a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, he vigorously opposed religious intolerance. Strictly interpreted, the ordinances of the Company, permitted only congregations of the Dutch Reformed Church to worship publicly in the Company’s territory. These were not enforced, for the Chinese and Mohammedans continued to practice their own forms of worship. In calling for the suppression of these practices, the Batavian consistory made the mistake of basing its argument on the Law of M oses instead of on an ordinance of the directors, which gave Maetsuijcker an opportunity to rebuke them: “The laws of the ancient Jewish republics have no force in the territory of the East India Company!”
Maetsuijcker was the author of the first code of laws of the Netherlands Indies. Known as the Statutes of Batavia, this code was promulgated in 1642. It is important as the basis of Dutch judicial organization in the East. Dutch law was to be followed in all cases not provided for in the code. Where Dutch law was insufficient, Roman law was to be followed. One important exception was made to this general rule: if a case touching upon a point of Chinese customary law was brought before the court, the court might assign a Chinese judge to sit on the bench and to decide the case according to Chinese law. This was the beginning of the plural judicial system still prevailing in the Netherland Indies.
The directors of the East India Company, whose record as exploiters of native peoples is sufficiently bad, are usually charged with the additional crime of gross cultural negligence. In this respect their reputation is worse than their deeds. It is obvious that they did not promote scientific research or spread knowledge as part of their government in the East. Like modern business concerns, the company showed great interest in discoveries that contributed directly to the financial success of their enterprise. The directors were willing to pay for better methods of combating the diseases that were frequent aboard ship on long voyages; but when asked to submit their ideas on the subject, the professors of medicine found endless subterfuges to avoid answering that they had none. The Company did nothing to discourage the publication of books on the East Indies, their peoples and their natural characteristics, unless they thought some trade “secret” was involved. Abraham Rogerius’s description of Hinduism and Rumphius’s work on botany are monuments of Indology. Herbert De Jager, one of the greatest linguists of his age, was in the service of the Company when he studied the affinity of the Malay-Polynesian language group. The directors
paid for translations of the Bible into Malay and for the education of missionaries, but the results of their endeavors were modest. Like most modern business men the directors did not go out of their way to promote learning or culture, but encouraged it when their help was asked. Business interests predominated. The spread of Christianity usually meant the converting of those already baptized by Portuguese Jesuits from Catholicism to Calvinism. Interference with the internal administration of native princes, allies of the Company, was not tolerated. Wherever Islam ruled (and that was nearly everywhere in the Company’s sphere of direct influence), the conversion of the natives and the spread of western knowledge was not to be looked for. Even the field of education was not completely neglected by the Batavian government, too often described as showing no interest in this field, for it opened schools for slave children in its capital.
Shortly before Maetsuijcker took the reins of government in Batavia, a most important decision was reached by the directors in Amsterdam. To lessen the dangers and discomforts of the long sea voyage to the east, a half-way station was founded on the southern tip of Africa. In 1647, the ship “Haarlem” had been wrecked in Tafelbaai. The crew succeeded in getting ashore and stayed there five months, during which time they grew vegetables and traded with the natives. The climate, the fertility of the soil, the friendliness of the natives, all seemed to invite a settlement; and in 1651 the directors sent Commander Jan van Riebeeck to South Africa, where on April 6, 1652, he went ashore and built his camp on the present site of Capetown. His instructions were to maintain good relations with the native Hottentot tribes, and he was explicitly forbidden to take part in their mutual wars. His arguments that the Dutch settlers by joining with one tribe against another could easily procure herds of cattle for the colony, failed to change this decision.
The problem at the Cape, as in Brazil and New Netherland, was how to recruit settlers. Riebeeck offered a simple solution which if carried through would have changed African history. The “cheapest” and best colonizers, he said, were the Chinese. He had been in the Indies and knew how Jan Pieteerszoon Coen had esteemed the Chinese for their industry and simple way of life. Batavia could never have flourished as it did but for Chinese artisans and trades. The Batavian Government rejected Riebeeck’s idea, and sent out a small number of slaves. Others were brought in from the coast of Guinea, but not in considerable numbers. In 1657 Capetown numbered 134 Europeans and 11 slaves. The new settlement served real needs. In the first seven years of its founding, an average of twenty-five ships a year carrying five thousand men, anchored in the bay. For the crews, the change of diet, from salt fish and biscuit to fresh vegetables and meat, was
a relief that saved thousands of lives. The captains, who liked to increase their income by cutting down on the crews’ rations, naturally complained of Capetown, where they said, the meat was lean and the roadstead dangerous.
In those years four great modern cities came into existence under the Dutch flag: New York, Pernambuco, Capetown, and Batavia. New York, small as it was in 1660, was already a city of many languages and peoples. Pernambuco had a population drawn from all nations and was notorious for its “night-life,” to put it mildly. Capetown was a small hamlet, a street with a church and a fortress, with a tribe of miserable, degenerate Hottentots living beneath its primitive walls. Batavia was the most “magnificent” of the four, with its streets along the canals, just as in Holland, with its Chinese shopkeepers and artisans, its Dutch burghers with their numerous slaves, and its Mardykers, freedmen, descendants of former Portuguese slaves born in India. They were Christians and aped the Europeans, walking the streets, as a contemporary author says, “dressed up like a quack’s monkey at a country fair.” They were so many that Portuguese, with a mixture of Dutch and Malay, was the common language of XVIIth century Batavia, much to the disgust of the directors in Amsterdam, who vainly urged the use of correct Dutch. This was the Netherland empire of the middle of the seventeenth century. It was curious that a small nation should wield greater power in the distant oceans than in the sea washing its home shores.
The European position of the Netherlands underwent considerable change in the second half of the XVIIth century. Netherland trade no longer expanded as it had done in the first four decades of the century. As larger ships were used, the bulk of the merchandise carried increased, but not enough to keep Netherland trade at the same high level in relation to international commerce as a whole. Substantial profits were made in the Baltic, the Spanish and Mediterranean trade; but in France and England the predominance of the Netherlanders was waning rapidly. More and more capital amassed in the hands of’ Dutch merchants. The desire to seek new economic outlets, to exploit every possible opportunity, decreased with the progress of well-being. This accumulation of wealth seemed to ensure to the merchant princes of Amsterdam a firm and permanent hold over a great part of international trade. They did not want to spend all their time and energy acquiring more.
Satisfied with their gains and those of their ancestors, the Dutch merchants were no longer so keen to eliminate competition, especially as they understood the grave risks entailed. The general situation of Europe had changed considerably since 1648. Spain was reduced to a second-class power.