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Commanders of Dutch East India Ships in the Eighteenth Century

Commanders of Dutch East India Ships in the Eighteenth Century

Jaap R. Bruijn
R. L. Robson-McKillop
R. W. Unger
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Commanders of Dutch East India Ships in the Eighteenth Century
    Book Description:

    'An original and evocative window onto the lives of men who bridged the two worlds of eighteenth century Europe and the Far East.' Professor Nicholas Rodger. This book represents a major contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the East Indian maritime world of the European trading companies. The Dutch East India Company, which ruled large and important parts of what is now Indonesia, and which controlled the highly lucrative trade from the Dutch East Indies to Europe, much of it a monopoly trade in pepper and other spices, was in this period larger and better established than its British counterpart. The book reconstructs and explores the careers of the highly important and influential commanders of the Dutch East Indiamen, the ships which plied the trade routes between the East Indies and the Netherlands. It covers the company's system of examinations, how mates and masters acquired their navigational knowledge, how they lived their lives at sea and on land, and how, making use of the enormous opportunities for private trade, they were able to make substantial fortunes and climb the social ladder. The book contains a wealth of material on the social history of the commanders and those around them, both at home and at sea. JAAP R. BRUIJN is Professor Emeritus of Maritime History at Leiden University. He is one of the leading maritime historians in the Netherlands.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-948-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Preface to the English Edition
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Jaap R. Bruijn
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Around 1600, two companies were set up in early modern Europe expressly to trade with and ship goods to and from Europe and Asia. They were the English East India Company (EIC) in 1600 and the Dutch (United) East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, abbreviated to VOC) two years later in 1602. Both companies eventually grew into enormous businesses. Most of the growth in the English Company was in the eighteenth century. In contrast, the Dutch Company grew exponentially almost immediately after its foundation in the seventeenth century. Both Companies have attracted considerable attention in modern historiography. By and large,...

  7. Part One: Commanders at Home Ashore

    • Introduction to Part One
      (pp. 13-16)

      A VOC commander earned a high income. Back at home after the completion of a voyage to Asia, his earnings could be counted in many hundreds, but more usually in thousands, of guilders, whereas an ordinary seaman in his crew had a monthly wage of 10 or 11 guilders. Obviously, this large discrepancy meant that the commanders lived a very different life ashore than that of their crew members. The research has revealed that the vast majority of commanders lived in towns, especially the six towns in which the Chambers of the Company were established. In order to get some...

    • 1 Enkhuizen
      (pp. 17-39)

      Enkhuizen had once been a busy herring port on the Zuiderzee, but in the eighteenth century it was only the shipping business of the VOC that left an indelible mark on the city. The town was thronged with sailors who lived in the city while they waited for the new crew musters of the Company, and many others left their families behind there when they sailed. Old VOC hands, among them commanders, also lived and worked in the town. Some were still hoping for a new command, while others had settled down and left their maritime careers behind them. Enkhuizen...

    • 2 Hoorn
      (pp. 40-54)

      Like Enkhuizen, the city of Hoorn was situated on the Zuiderzee, just a little further from the entrance to the sea at Texel where ships sailed on their way in to and out from the inland sea. Also like Enkhuizen, Hoorn was one of the four small chambers of the VOC. The starting capital it put up in 1602 was only half as much as that of Enkhuizen, but nevertheless Hoorn provided onesixteenth of the total turnover of the Company’s business. This had been agreed in the charter which the States-General had granted the new company in 1602. The Chamber...

    • 3 Middelburg
      (pp. 55-73)

      Moving southwards, to the province of Zealand, the seat of the Zealand Chamber was in the city of Middelburg. It was a large Chamber which generated a quarter of the turnover of the Company, in fact as much as that of Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Delft and Rotterdam combined. In contrast to both the previous cities, Middelburg was not situated on open water; nevertheless of all the Company harbours it had the shortest and the best connection with the North Sea. The distance from Middelburg to open water was 7 kilometres. Towed by horses, a ship would travel from Middelburg via a...

    • 4 Delft
      (pp. 74-89)

      The Chambers of Delft and Rotterdam were situated in close proximity to one another and the Meuse (Maas) was the home port for the ships of both Chambers. These two Chambers also belonged to what were known as the quartet of smaller chambers. In fact, Delft and Rotterdam were such close neighbours that many sailors switched from one Chamber to the other during their lives. The same can be said of the commanders. Nevertheless, for all their similarities there were differences between the two Chambers, many of which will emerge more clearly in the next chapter about Rotterdam.

      The lifestyle...

    • 5 Rotterdam
      (pp. 90-104)

      The achievements of Jan van Heemstee from Delfshaven in Rotterdam may perhaps raise expectations that more retired commanders developed a spirit of enterprise in the city. However, such expectations are doomed to disappointment, despite the fact that the situation in Rotterdam offered commanders promising opportunities to launch commercial and industrial initiatives. In contrast to the four preceding towns, all mired in difficulties, Rotterdam was a city which was growing. In the other four towns, the population was in steady decline, houses stood empty or were being demolished, and the local economy was contracting at an alarming rate. There was scarcely...

    • 6 Amsterdam
      (pp. 105-126)

      The Amsterdam Chamber was the largest of all of the six Chambers. It was responsible for half of all the commercial and shipping activities of the Company. Each year it fitted out half of all the ships and appointed half the commanders. Certainly, compared to the four small Chambers, the numbers involved were large. Examining the appointments of commanders as a whole, certain aspects of their professions and lives in Amsterdam tend to stand out conspicuously in comparison with the commanders of the other Chambers. For instance, to a far greater extent than elsewhere, the Amsterdam commanders lived outside the...

    • 7 Commanders from Outside the Six Chamber Towns
      (pp. 127-139)

      Invariably there were some commanders without any close links with the town or city in which their Chamber had its headquarters. They had not been born there and they continued to live in their place of birth. This situation was by no means a coincidence in towns such as Flushing, Dordrecht, Leiden or Gouda, for fellow townsmen held appointments as directors on the boards of Chambers and such men were not indifferent to the interests of fellow citizens. Nevertheless, apart from such instances there were also commanders from other parts of the Dutch Republic, from Brielle in Holland to Harlingen...

    • 8 Naval Officers Employed by the Company
      (pp. 140-154)

      Generally speaking, naval officers and the commanders and ship’s officers employed by the VOC came from two different social worlds. Some naval officers were middle-class, but in the eighteenth century they were usually scions of the upper class, even the aristocracy. In contrast, the ship’s officers in the Company were a group of professionally and socially upwardly mobile men. Among the commanders of the Zealand Chamber, an appointment as naval captain in the Admiralty of Zealand betokened greatly sought-after social advancement.¹ Consequently, there was little interest in a move in the opposite direction downward. When the Admiralties were plunged into...

  8. Part Two: Commanders at Sea

    • Introduction to Part Two
      (pp. 157-158)

      Part One of this book gave a picture of the sort of men who were in command of the ships of the six Chambers. This picture contained information about their geographical origins, their family backgrounds, their financial circumstances and their rise in social status in the towns in which they lived. It was also possible to catch a glimpse of their administrative and commercial activities after they had retired from the sea, if they happened to become involved in such matters once they settled on land. This information has helped to produce a multifaceted picture of how eighteenth-century Company commanders...

    • 9 Appointment as Commander
      (pp. 159-171)

      The directors handled the appointment of personnel to the higher ranks on board East Indiamen in accordance with a set procedure. Commanders, ship’s officers and petty officers were usually appointed during a meeting set for a specific date. Announcements were posted on placards stating that candidates for specific positions on certain ships could apply. The privilege of applying was not restricted to commanders and senior ship’s officers. Even third mates were given the opportunity to ‘give a presentation’ of their qualifications in person during the meeting. The same procedure applied to a number of other functions, such as those of...

    • 10 Examinations, Ranks and Training
      (pp. 172-187)

      The average Company commander was a professional seaman and a person bent on improving himself in life. He had gone to sea at a young age and had passed through the ranks in the Company from ship’s boy, deckhand, sailor or petty officer before, somewhere around the age of twenty, he was appointed third mate. Gunner’s mates in particular took this step. Overseas or during a voyage, this promotion to third mate could be an emergency measure passed by the ship’s council. Because of the death of a commander or first mate and the subsequent promotions to fill vacancies, the...

    • 11 Normal Income
      (pp. 188-203)

      For the vast majority of employees, the financial remuneration for their employment in the Company consisted of a wage or stipend, calculated by day, week or month. Everybody who sailed on board one of the Company ships was paid by the month, and the commander was no exception. He also received a monthly stipend, the bulk of which was paid out only after the completion of a voyage. Any extra days over and above a full month were paid proportionally, calculated on the basis of a thirty-day month. The chapter about Enkhuizen showed that a part of the commander’s stipend...

    • 12 Private Income
      (pp. 204-224)

      In the first part of the book, many references were made to the private trade pursued by the commanders and their officers. This sort of commerce was a perfectly normal practice. The official rules and regulations pertaining to this trade, the transfers of money to the Republic, punishment of violations and the earning of considerable amounts of money overseas are the themes of this chapter.

      It was very common indeed for Company commanders and others to have large amounts of porcelain in cabinets in their houses. Commanders of the Enkhuizen and Delft Chambers have been cited as examples of men...

    • 13 On Board
      (pp. 225-248)

      The bulk of the fitting out of a ship and the practical preparations for a voyage were made without the direct involvement of the newly appointed commander. Most of these matters were the responsibility of the Superintendent of the Shipyard and his assistants. When the ship made her way from the port to the roads from which she would depart, the ship’s officers on board took charge of the reception of the crew and the administration and stowage of the cargo. The commander usually only came on board when the ship was ship-shape and ready to sail. As he had...

    • 14 Their Ships
      (pp. 249-263)

      What concerned the directors of the Company most was that a commander sailed his ship and her cargo safely to their intended destination. How he achieved the goal was a minor matter. In each Chamber the appointment of a commander was the result of an allocation system in which each of the directors took his turn. This was not to guarantee that the best available man was appointed, although there were some built-in safety checks which would help to ensure that the choice was a good one. Undoubtedly some conscientious directors did take their duty seriously. In Amsterdam and Zealand...

    • 15 Striking Differences in Personalities
      (pp. 264-281)

      In the previous chapters, a long line of commanders has passed in review. It has been possible to catch some glimpses of their careers, origins, lives ashore and on board, but the personalities of these men often remain unfathomable. Sometimes, to the joy of the historian, a contemporary happened to noted that a certain commander was pleasant, irascible, a tippler or melancholic. Grasping on to these sorts of remarks, the historian can try to use them to fashion a man of flesh and blood, but in this attempted reconstruction of the commander all sorts of other facts have to be...

    • 16 Professionals in a Conservative Company
      (pp. 282-299)

      The discovery of an octant at the beginning of the 1970s in the wreck of the Hollandia, which foundered off the Scilly Isles in 1743, is a tangible reminder of the standard of the art of navigation. The first mention of the octant, an instrument used to measure the altitude of a heavenly body, was in 1731 and this find raises the question of whether the most up-to-date instruments were made available to VOC commanders, and whether in their own day they were among the most modern seafarers. Were the Heren Zeventien aware of the most recent innovations in shipping...

    • 17 The English East India Company and Other Companies: Dutch Commanders in a Broader Perspective
      (pp. 300-309)

      Although there were great similarities, there were great differences as well among the commanders of the five European East India Companies which dominated shipping to Asia for long stretches during the eighteenth century. This comparison concentrates on these five, leaving out a few of the more ephemeral Companies. Whether employed by the English, French, Danish, Swedish or Dutch Company, and whether called commander, captain, capitaine, kaptajn, or capitaine, all of these men formed an elite group in the world of shipping. Sailing to Asia was always imbued with a special atmosphere, compounded of long voyages, priceless cargoes and high earnings....

  9. Conclusion: Commanders in Retrospect
    (pp. 310-316)

    Almost every commander who ever served with the VOC had begun his career as ship’s boy, deckhand, sailor or gunner’s mate. At least this was certainly the picture in the eighteenth century and there is no reason to think it would have been otherwise in the seventeenth. All the clues which can be obtained from studying the careers of commanders around 1700 and from delving into their social origins point in that direction. There is nothing which hints at any drastic changes occurring in the preceding decades. Their parents belonged either to what was called the smalle burgerij (lower middle...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 317-328)
  11. Index of Names
    (pp. 329-334)
  12. Index of Ship Names
    (pp. 335-336)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 337-337)