History Group – 24 January 2017 Meeting Notes

Topic: The Dutch East India Company

At our meeting in January we discussed the Dutch East India Company and the Anglo-Dutch Wars. The company ( the VOC ) was set up in 1602 and was the largest and most valuable corporation in history.  It followed a Dutch four ship expedition in 1595 to the main port in the East Indies for pepper. There were clashes with Portuguese and Indonesian forces, and half of the crew were killed, but it made a considerable profit. It was followed by other profitable Dutch  expeditions before the VOC was set up as a monopoly empowered to build forts, maintain armies and conclude treaties with Asian rulers. Their main trading post was Batavia ( now Jakarta)  After 1604 the English East India Company sent expeditions to the area, but there was frequent conflict and after the 1620's the English  concentrated on India and other territories.

The VOC grew cloves and nutmeg in plantations for export. They traded throughout Asia. Silver and copper from Japan were traded for silk and porcelain in China, and they introduced modern technology to these countries. For 200 years an island off Nagasaki owned by the VOC was the only place Europeans were permitted to trade with Japan.  The VOC was  defeated by China in two wars in the 1620's and the VOC then made war against Portugal in Sri Lanka and India in the 1640's and 1650's.  In 1652 Van Riebeeck established an outpost which became the VOC's Cape Colony until seized by Great Britain in the Napoleonic Wars.  By 1669 the VOC had 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, 50 000 employees, an army of 10 000 and paid a dividend of 40% on the original investment.  But after 1670  trade lessened and war with Great Britain interrupted trade with Europe.  Other countries traded with the East. In the 18th century the VOC lost wars in India. Trade increased, but the profit margin decreased.

The link takes you to the BBC Radio 4 programme, "In Our Time" about the Dutch East India Company
(The programme is hosted by Melvin Bragg.)

The link will take you to the dedicated BBC "In Our Time" website.