Archives created in The Netherlands
3. Incoming Documents from Asia
documents which were received from Asia are the most important
source for the history of Dutch activities in the octrooigebied.
Not only this, they are also a treasure trove of data about
Two extensive series of such
documents have survived: one in the archives of the Amsterdam
Chamber, and a second in the archives of the Zeeland Chamber.
It is advisable to commence an investigation in the archives
of the Amsterdam Chamber. Should some required documents be
missing there, or should one be looking for further data,
then it can be useful to also cast one's eye over the series
in the archives of the Zeeland Chamber. There are no documents
from Asia present in this latter archive from before 1680.
I. AMSTERDAM CHAMBER
the Company launched its operations in Asia, initially it
had no permanent establishments. The documents sent back from
Asia during these years represent a fairly random collection
of papers brought by homeward-bound ships. These are what
are known as stukken betreffende
de vroegste scheepstochten (documents concerning the
earliest voyages), up to about 1614 (inv. nos. 437-655). For
the years 1607-1613, at the beginning of the series of overgekomen
brieven en papieren (letters and papers received) mentioned
below, there are also documents originating from the first
permanent establishments (inv. nos. 1053-1055). From 1614
onwards there is a fixed series of annual collections of reports
|Instructions for merchants
and captains sailing to Asia
(click image to enlarge)
The structure of the records
forwarded from the establishments from 1614 onwards is fairly
complicated. There appear to have been five important categories,
but two of these have been almost entirely lost. These are
the dagregisters (diaries)
of the different establishments and the registers of the accountants
stationed in Asia. To some extent this loss can be compensated
by the other collections: by the archives of the boekhouder-generaal
(chief accountant), which were shipped to the Netherlands
from Batavia in 1863, and by the dagregisters
from Batavia in the Indonesian National Archives, which have
been partially published(1).
The three remaining blocks are a series of kopie-resoluties
from the Governor-General and Council in Batavia, a series
of duplicate documents dispatched by the Governor-General
and Council, and the so-called overgekomen
brieven en papieren uit de vestigingen (letters and
papers received from the establishments), which can be further
subdivided into various sections.
Kopie-resoluties (Duplicate Proceedings)
of the Governor-General and Council
kopie-resoluties of the Governor-General
and Council are the reflection of the administrative activities
of the highest VOC board outside the Dutch Republic, whose
competence extended over the whole of the octrooigebied.
Like the resoluties of the
Heren XVII and the chambers,
they principally provide information about current administrative
affairs affecting trade, appointments, issuing of regulations
and the administration, but say little about the background
to the policy. Only on a rare occasion does one come across
data pertaining to colonial policy. For decisions on political
matters, in the first instance the researcher should seek
recourse to the uitgaande
brievenboeken referred to
From the point of view of form
the Batavian resoluties -
in contrast to the resoluties
of the Heren XVII and the
chambers - are sometimes more like proceedings in the modern
sense: in the event of fundamental administrative differences,
the points of view of the various factions and persons have
been noted. The ordinary resoluties
are fairly complete (inv. nos. 656-827). Before 1636 they
were not always preserved as a separate series, but have been
partly bound into the volumes of overgekomen
brieven en papieren. The inventory notes these exceptions.
The only complete finding aids
to the series of kopie-resoluties
are the chronological tables of contents in each volume. Besides
these there is an alphabetical repertory on personalia
(appointments and similar matters) (inv. nos. 828-834), and
a summary, therefore incomplete, alphabetical repertory of
the realia (subjects) (inv.
nos. 835-839). This latter repertory has also appeared in
print(2). The lack
of a good alphabetical subject index makes the series less
easy to use than might otherwise have been the case.
The separate series of kopie-secrete
resoluties (duplicates of secret proceedings) only
covers the years 1756-1791 (inv. nos. 840-847). Many secret
resoluties have been bound
in with the series of ordinary resoluties,
especially in the years 1704-1727. This is noted in the inventory.
Moreover, secret resoluties
have often been included in the overgekomen
brieven en papieren. To gain access to these one should
consult the typescript tables of contents available for this
series. (The inventory does not indicate the place where the
secret resoluties, which are
dispersed through the series of overgekomen
brieven en papieren, are to be found).
Duplicate Outgoing Documents of the Governor-General
series contains the letters dispatched by the Governor-General
and Council in Batavia, both to the establishments in Asia
and to Asian authorities. The Batavia's
(Batavian letter-book of outgoing documents to subordinate
establishments) is available almost in its entirety in the
archives of the Amsterdam Chamber (inv. nos. 849-1052). The
few parts of the letter-book which can be found in other places
are mentioned in the inventory. These concern the documents
dispatched in the period 1614-1634, which are to be found
in the series overgekomen brieven
To an even greater extent than
the kopie-resoluties of the
Governor-General and Council, the series of kopieboeken
van uitgaande missiven (letter-books of the outgoing
documents) provides a direct source of information about the
administrative dealings of the Governor-General and the Council
in the area outside Batavia and its environs. Here one comes
across the political particulars which one often fails to
trace in the resoluties. It
is recommended that this series be used in combination with
the uitgaande brievenboeken
of the Heren XVII, which contain
policy instructions from the board of directors in the Dutch
Republic to the Hoge Regering
(Supreme Government in Asia i.e. the Governor-General and
Further access is offered in
the tables of contents of the addressees, which are found
in every volume.
Overgekomen Brieven en Papieren (Letters
and Papers Received)
the period up to 1614 the documents are described in detail
in the inventory in the series stukken
betreffende de vroegste scheepstochten (see above).
In the post-1614 period the documents were put together in
a number of annual bundles, initially fairly haphazardly,
but, after 1660, these documents were bound together in a
clearly structured way, which is reproduced below:
Letters and Papers Received by the Heren XVII and the Amsterdam
Chamber from Asia 1607-1794 (inv. nos. 1053-3987)
series is in fact a combination of the letters of the Governor-General
and Council to the Heren XVII
and the Amsterdam Chamber, plus enclosures, as well as the
documents sent from those establishments which corresponded
directly with patria. This series consists of annual batches
comprised of the following components:
missiven (general letters) plus enclosures.
- Documents concerning the conduct
of business in Asia, especially in Batavia, originating
from the departments of the Governor-General and Council.
- Documents, principally from offices
in Persia and several other establishments in the Westerkwartieren
(western part of Asia), which had been sent 'overland'
via Basra and Aleppo to the Dutch Republic. However, such
records are not present for all years, but they exist for
most years up to ca. 1730.
- Documents from the Raad
van Justitie (Court of Justice).
- Documents from a number of large
establishments whose reports were sent directly to the Dutch
Republic, not through Batavia, (Bengal, Coromandel, Ceylon
and Malabar, and occasionally Surat as well): letters, often
accompanied by diaries, resoluties
and documents concerning the administration of these establishments.
Often these collections of documents are so extensive that
in fact a duplicate archive of the establishments was created.
- The Batavia's
ingekomen brievenboek (Batavian letter-book of incoming
documents) which contains copies of all the letters received
in Batavia from the establishments in Asia, often including
comprehensive enclosures (resoluties,
diaries, copies of documents and administrative papers),
which sometimes, as is the case with series e, are so extensive
that they form a sort of duplicate archive of that establishments.
These copies have been bundled according to establishments.
In the eighteenth century the series is followed by one
or more bundles of secret letters.
Series of Letters
and Papers Received by the Heren XVII and the Amsterdam Chamber
from the Cape of Good Hope, 1651-1794 (inv. nos. 3988-4373)
series is similar to series b mentioned above, with the proviso
that there are also volumes containing legal papers included.
This series sometimes also includes papers from subordinate
establishments (Mauritius), and from expeditions (to Madagascar
and Rio Delagoa), as well as from other establishments (Persia
and Surat) which forwarded their papers to the Dutch Republic
via the Cape of Good Hope.
Series of Letters and Papers Received
from China by the Heren XVII and the Amsterdam Chamber, 1729-1794
(inv. nos. 4374-4447)
these documents were handled by a separate committee, they
also form a separate series. In some years they are to be
found intermingled with the general series of letters and
papers received from Asia.
In the generale
missiven, which are often very lengthy, the topics
are usually dealt with according to an established sequence.
First of all they contain a general report on shipping movements
and trade, followed by a discussion of the various establishments,
in a fixed order. The concluding section of the letters deals
with financial and staff matters. In the letters from the
establishments to Batavia the shipping movements, trade in
general (first that of the main establishments and then of
the subordinate establishments), trade per item, political
news about local authorities, news about other European powers
in the region, and personnel and legal affairs are treated
in order of sequence. Moreover, the letters have often been
provided with extensive postscripts referring to particular
From important establishments,
especially those in the Westerkwartieren,
not only the letters to the Heren
XVII, but also those to the Governor-General and Council
in Batavia are present. For instance, among papers from Coromandel,
which were sent directly to the Heren
XVII (series e), can also be found duplicates of letters
to Batavia, while in the Batavia's
ingekomen brievenboek there are copies of both letters
from Coromandel to Batavia as well as of letters to the Heren
XVII. There is a certain difference in tone between
the letters from the establishments to Batavia and those addressed
to the Heren XVII. Batavia
was the immediate superior of the establishments and it was
the place where important decisions were taken and local decrees
were accorded approval. Therefore, letters to Batavia are
usually more detailed, although it has to be admitted that
information not to be found in letters to Batavia, is to be
found in those to the Heren XVII.
Finally, mention should be
made of the treaties and documents with Asian rulers. These
may be found scattered throughout the overgekomen
brieven en papieren. Moreover, there is a separate
series of treaties present in the category afzonderlijk
gehouden stukken (documents kept separately) (inv.
nos. 4777-4787). As treaties and documents with Asian rulers
were only of interest to the management of the VOC in a Dutch
translation, usually only such translations are to be found
in the VOC archives. On only a very rare occasion is there
an example of a treaty in the original language bound into
the volumes of letters and papers received from Asia(3).
There are a number of finding
aids to this confused mixture of papers. The main aid is the
tables of contents of the series of letters and papers received
from Asia, the Cape of Good Hope and China. The typescripts
of the tables of contents can be consulted in the National
Archives of the Netherlands in The Netherlands in a series
consisting respectively of thirty-one, three and one volume.
Most of them have been compiled from the original tables of
contents. These mention each document separately, but their
redaction is not consistent and they usually only provide
a vague indication of the contents. If one knows with some
degree of accuracy for what one is looking (as far as place
and date are concerned) and the amount of material to be investigated
is fairly modest, these tables of contents are a useful means
of selecting material quickly. If the object of research is
less sharply defined chronologically, one can use the publication
of extracts from the general letters, published by W. Ph.
Coolhaas and J. van Goor, as orientation material(4).
This series has been furnished with good indexes on personal
names, geographical names, names of ships, and affairs. Besides
these, the repertories on realia
and personalia in the Batavian
resoluties can offer a survey
of the period within which certain events occurred.
Should one wish to set up a
broadly-based investigation, a recommended procedure is to
begin by reading through general documents which offer a summary
account of events, and only then, possibly on the basis of
the indications found in these, to search for more detailed
documents via the tables of contents. There are various such
series of documents of general contents which come into consideration
here. Brief, but extremely useful, are the summaries of the
documents which were received from Asia, compiled by a committee
of the Heren XVII in The Hague,
and which were used for composing the letters from the XVII
to Asia. This annual abstract can be found in the reports
of the Haags Besogne (inv.
nos. 4455-4506). The ultimate result of the work of the Haags
Besogne is the kopieboek van
uitgaande missiven (letter-book of the outgoing documents)
of the Heren XVII, and this
is especially important for the period for which there are
no reports of the Haags Besogne
available (inv. nos. 312-344). More details are given in the
Batavia's uitgaande brievenboek
(inv. nos. 849-1052), in which local events are often discussed
at great length in letters and instructions to the subordinate
establishments. Another method which may provide a useful
starting point for a broadly-based investigation, is the perusal
of the chronological tables of contents of the kopie-resoluties
of the Governor-General and Council in Batavia (inv. nos.
II ZEELAND CHAMBER
speaking, the documents in the archives of the Zeeland Chamber
which were sent from the octrooigebied
are comprised of the same kind of categories as those in the
archives of the Amsterdam Chamber. However, they have been
arranged on a different basis: in the first place they are
ordered according to the nature of the documents (letters,
resoluties, diaries, etc.),
then geographically and finally chronologically. (In the archives
of the Amsterdam Chamber the documents are arranged firstly
chronologically, then according to their nature and, finally,
geographically). The geographical classification in the archives
of the Zeeland Chamber is fairly slapdash; documents from
a particular establishment can be filed in a bundle from another
establishments. Such instances are fully indicated in the
The series is subdivided into
the following categories of documents:
- A very incomplete series of letters
from the Governor-General and Council to the Heren
XVII and the Zeeland Chamber, 1658-1792 (inv. nos.
7527-7599). This series is therefore partially identical
to series a of letters and papers received from Asia found
in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber.
of the Governor-General and Council (inv. nos. 7600-7609).
This concerns only a few resoluties,
secret resoluties and minutes
for several years during the eighteenth century.
- Duplicate dagregisters
of Batavia. In contrast to the archives of the Amsterdam
Chamber, the Zeeland Chamber possesses an admittedly small
and fragmentary series of duplicate dagregisters
from Batavia Castle of several random years during the period
1647-1766 (inv. nos. 7610-7617).
- Duplicates of the outgoing documents
of the Governor-General and Council (inv. nos. 7618-7657),
corresponding to the series of duplicates of outgoing documents
of the Governor-General and Council in the Amsterdam Chamber.
This series also shows many gaps. The letter-books of the
outgoing documents cover the years 1683-1787, the secret
letters the years 1755-1789.
- A series of kopie-ingekomen
stukken (duplicate incoming documents) to the Governor-General
and Council from the establishments in Asia, which corresponds
to the Batavia's ingekomen brievenboek
(series f) and to series b of the letters and papers received
from Asia in the Amsterdam Chamber, but in this instance
divided up into geographical series, from about 1682 (inv.
nos. 7658-9179). This file does not form a continuous series;
there are a great many lacunae. It is characterized by a
very careless and inconsequential classification. Generally,
establishments by establishments, the series of letters
with enclosures have been included first, followed by a
series of secret letters with enclosures. After this, series
of documents such as resoluties,
dagregisters, letter-books of incoming and outgoing
documents and a few documents to do with book-keeping, which
were originally sent with the letters but later separated,
can be included. In this series it is primarily the geographical
classification that has been very inaccurately observed:
many documents concerning a particular establishment have
been filed with documents from another establishment. In
the drawing up of the inventory, letters from two or more
establishments have been mentioned under the name of the
establishment which sent the bulk of the documents in the
volume. There is always a cross-reference to the other establishments
- A series of documents pertaining
to the book-keeping of the VOC establishments in Asia. It
is mainly composed of the reports of the visitateur-generaal
(the auditor-general) in Batavia from the years 1771-1786
(inv. nos. 9180-9191).
- A series of documents from the
Raad van Justitie (Court
of Justice) in Batavia, which corresponds to the documents
which have been mentioned in the archives of the Amsterdam
Chamber under c. However, the series in the archives of
the Zeeland Chamber is much more extensive (inv. nos. 9192-9540).
Amongst other papers, it includes letters to the directors
at home, civil and criminal legal records, and case-files,
largely from the eighteenth century.
h. Series of documents originating
from the factories in Bengal, Coromandel, Ceylon, Malabar,
Surat, as well as a bundle of documents from Persia which
had been sent home overland (inv. nos. 9541-11024). To a
certain extent, this series is comparable with series d
and e of the letters and papers received from Asia in the
archives of the Amsterdam Chamber.
As is the case of those from
the Amsterdam Chamber, the volumes contain old tables of contents,
but there is no separate typed version of these available.