Dutch East India Company (Indonesia/Batavia)

Batavia castle
Batavia castle

The Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) is better known in English as the Dutch East India Company, a joint stock company formed in 1602 and granted a monopoly for all trade between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan.

The VOC had a twofold purpose: first, to organize and promote Dutch trade in the East Indies, vital because the area produced extremely precious spices; second, to raise revenue for the Dutch War of Independence against Spain.

In East Asia, the VOC was successful in evicting the Portuguese from their holdings and establishing a base at Batavia (modern Jakarta) from which to control the island of Java. In time, the VOC was transformed from a military-trading organization to administrator of a colonial empire. By 1799 the company’s usefulness had been outlived and because of corruption was dissolved by the Dutch government.

From its inception the VOC was premitted by the Dutch government to enter into diplomatic relations with foreign powers and to engage in military actions to further Dutch interests, including seizing land and building forts. In Southeast Asia, Protestant Dutch and English contended for influence with Catholic Portuguese and French.

While Portugal and France were interested in religious conversion of local people as well as trade, Britain and the Netherlands were primarily interested in commerce. Its first Dutch overseas base at Ambon was won from the Portuguese and used as a staging post for the import and reexport of pepper and other spices. It next established a permanent base on Java in order to play a greater role in trade throughout Southeast Asia.

The city hall on Batavia
The city hall on Batavia

They selected a site and named it Batavia, which became their permanent headquarters. The VOC overcame local opposition with their superior weapons and the British decided to focus on India.

The VOC gradually controlled all of Java and spread its influence to other islands. Through a series of naval campaigns, it attempted to create a monopoly of trade in the islands and so fought against local powers and against Indian and Malay states also. It gained control of land and regulated the growth of pepper and other crops. Dutch rule was harsh, forcibly relocating local people and exploiting them.

In 1740, conflict broke out between the Chinese community in Batavia and Dutch officials. It became known as the Chinese War and resulted in 10,000 Chinese deaths.

By the end of the 18th century, the Dutch state had become exhausted by the effects of prolonged warfare in Europe, especially the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War of 1780–81. The VOC was also facing stiff competition from the British. It was dissolved in 1799 by the Dutch government, which decided to assume direct responsibility for overseas possessions. Java and other VOC holdings in the East Indies were transferred to the Dutch government.