History of the arrangement of the VOC archives

2. The French Period (1796-1813)

J.C.M. Pennings

Intensive Interest in the VOC Archives

n 1795 the VOC was given a new direction. Along with its debts and its archives, the possessions of the Company passed into the hands of the state. On the orders of the States General, all the papers of the VOC present in Amsterdam were handed over on 30th January 1796 to the Comité tot de Zaken van de Oost-Indische Handel en Bezittingen (Committee for Affairs relating to the East Indian Trade and Possessions), which was shortened to Oostindische Comité.

The Oostindische Comité took its responsibility for the care of the VOC archives very seriously. Through the intervention of B.F. van Liebeherr, one of the committee members, the 'secret' papers were speedily transferred from the former VOC premises in The Hague to Amsterdam(23). At the suggestion of the well known Patriot S.I. Wiselius in 1796 an investigation into the books and papers of the VOC was set in motion and a chartermeester was appointed(24). His instructions made it clear that he was not only to take charge of the archives, but also to write a historical account of the Company. This assignment was entrusted to a former book-keeper from the factory in North Java, Jan La Pro. The fact that in those days people were mainly interested in the political and military history of the VOC is revealed by the documents which La Pro considered to be important for his work and which he had placed in the Oostindisch Huis: the reports of the Haags Besogne, the resoluties of the Heren XVII, of the Amsterdam Chamber and of the Governor-General and Council, the outgoing letters from the Heren XVII to Asia, and so forth. Duplicates of these were transferred to the Buitenhuis on Oostenburg in Amsterdam, where the series referring to financial and economic affairs were also moved. These documents were described as '... a party of superfluous and mostly useless books and papers from the last century...'(25).

Centralization of the Administration and the Archives

n 1800 the Oostindisch Comité was superseded by the Raad der Aziatische Bezittingen en Etablissementen (Council for Asian Possessions and Establishments), or the Aziatische Raad. The goal of the Raad was to concentrate its administration in Amsterdam as far as possible. From this time onwards the chambers outside Amsterdam were known as buitencomptoiren (external offices). In 1802 the buitencomptoiren in Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Delft were liquidated; only outstanding business - mostly salary claims - were still dealt with. The offices in Rotterdam and Middelburg continued to function.

As far as the archives of the former VOC were concerned, the policy of the Aziatische Raad was aimed at transferring as many papers as possible to the generale charterkamer (general records room) in the Oostindisch Binnenhuis in Amsterdam. This applied to the papers that were still kept in other locations in Amsterdam and at the buitencomptoiren. The secretaries or chief accountants of the buitencomptoiren were requested to forward registers of the VOC archivalia in their possession to the chartermeester of the Aziatische Raad within three months(26). None of the buitencomptoiren offered the slightest resistance to this measure. Some did, however, object to such short notice. In due course the offices in Enkhuizen, Delft and Rotterdam submitted lists of their VOC archives(27). Only the inventory from Delft is still extant(28).

Nowhere is there any evidence that on this occasion archival records were actually handed over. This only took place in 1804, when the Aziatische Raad instructed the buitencomptoiren to send their pay ledgers before 1st November to Amsterdam, where a central pay office was to be established(29). The first to respond was J.C. de Blocquery, former chief accountant with the VOC, who was responsible for the business still outstanding in the defunct chambers of Hoorn and Enkhuizen. Besides forwarding 101 chests of pay ledgers, he also sent the so-called liquidatieboeken (settlement books) and the actie- en afgifte boeken (registers of shares and drafts) to Amsterdam(30). A good year later, around about the end of 1805, the Delft office sent muster-rolls and soldijkohieren (pay-ledgers) to Amsterdam(31).

Part of the Delft archives had been sent to Rotterdam in 1803. The remainder followed a few years later, when the Oostindisch Binnenhuis in Delft was handed over to the army medical service in 1807. This meant that a solution had to be found for the considerable amount of books and papers there on the spot. The Ministerie van Koophandel en Koloniën (Ministry for Commerce and Colonies) ordered chief accountant Smits of the Rotterdam office to transfer the charters and papers which had been deposited in the Oostindisch Binnenhuis in Delft to Rotterdam. As an alternative, Smits himself proposed that, should the new owners in Delft not want to use the charterkamer, simply to close this up so that the cost of transportation could be saved. The Aziatische Raad did not adopt his suggestion(32).

In the Delft inventory already mentioned, which had been compiled by the clerk Vallensis, there is an exact record of which documents arrived in Rotterdam on 3rd March 1807. This would appear to have been the bulk of the archives of the Delft Chamber. In Rotterdam the documents were stored at three places: in what was known as the Delftse kamer (Delft Chamber), in the great charterkamer and in the mace loft.

The former Hoorn Chamber continued to occupy its old building until 1809. In this year it had to make way for the Raad en Rentmeester Generaal van de Domeinen in Noord-Holland (Council and Rentmaster General for the Domains in North Holland). On this occasion De Blocquery handed over some of the books and papers of the former Hoorn Chamber to the Aziatische Raad, to wit those pertaining to the commercial department(33).

In Amsterdam the documents from Hoorn and Enkhuizen were placed in the warehouse Batavia (on the Rapenburg). At this juncture in time the remaining VOC documents were to be found in the charterkamer of the Oostindisch Binnenhuis, in the Oostindisch Buitenhuis and in the storehouse the Oude Werf(34). No trace of any system can be discovered in the division of the VOC archives then adopted. For instance, the net-resoluties (fair copies of the proceedings) of the Heren XVII were in the charterkamer, while the minuut-resoluties (draft minutes of the proceedings) were put in the storehouse the Oude Werf and the kopie-resoluties (duplicates of proceedings) were deposited in the warehouse Batavia.

Opposition from Zeeland

he fate of the archives of the Zeeland Chamber is a story in itself. In 1800 the office in Middelburg was also asked to submit registers of any VOC archivalia in its possession and later on, in 1804, to hand over the pay ledgers. The office did not comply with either request. However, in 1804 a number of the registers, charters and papieren tot de negotiatien (commercial papers) asked for by the Aziatische Raad were handed over(35). In the same year and in the years that followed the Middelburg office stoutly resisted any infringement of its competence to the advantage of Amsterdam. Whatever the cost, it wanted to hold onto its share in the East Indian trade and endeavoured to maintain the autonomous position it had occupied during the Company era. Eventually even Middelburg had to bow before the wish to concentrate commercial activities in Amsterdam. Therefore in 1808 the former offices of the VOC in Middelburg were united into one office, with Commissioner-Director N.C. Lambrechtsen at its head. It was he who proposed selling the so-called useless papers of the former East India and West India Companies. He was obliged to do so because the charters and papers had to be moved from the Westindisch Huis to the Oostindisch Huis, which meant that space would be a problem. Lambrechtsen obtained permission for the ministry for his plan, but it is not certain if matters ever progressed as far as an actual sale(36).

Despite repeated insistence from Amsterdam, Middelburg remained firm in its refusal to hand over the former VOC archives. It was only in 1851 that Middelburg finally succumbed. The official P. Pous played a decisive role in this tug-of-war. He had been appointed to the position of deputy-secretary by the Oostindisch Comité in 1797. For more than half a century the Company's papers remained in his care. He guarded them as if they had been his own children. An example of the dedication shown by Pous is the action he took in 1809 to prevent the papers falling into the hands of the English.

The story began in 1809 when the English occupied the island of Walcheren, at which time a sequestration order was placed on the Oostindisch Huis and the papers contained in it. The commissioner-director, Lambrechtsen, was approached by two English prize commissioners with the question '...if I would be inclined to purchase from them all the books, charters and papers which are to be found in the Oostindisch Huis, under the supposition the English government deemed the same useless for the service of the English East India Company and therefore they had another use for the house than had so far been the case...'(37). The Ministerie van Marine en Koloniën (Ministry of the Navy and Colonies) ordered him to reply to the English stating that they, for their part, were not in the least interested. In view of the fact that there were duplicates of almost all the Middelburg archival records in Amsterdam, there was absolutely no reason to enrich the enemy, was the opinion of the Ministry(38). It proposed that, when the archives were sold as waste paper by the English, Lambrechtsen should even at that late stage select the most important documents among them and buy them back. However, this never came to pass. Pous, according to his own account, was able to persuade the English prize-master, General Sontny, who was billeted with Pous' brother-in-law, to leave behind the books and papers from the VOC archives in the charterkamer. The English only took documents relating to Ceylon(39). The bulk of the archives was saved for Middelburg, despite the fact that the English made a huge mess of the great charterkamer. According to Lambrechtsen, the charterkamer '... before the arrival of the English had been a show-piece of neatness and order; a monument to ancestral industry and diligence and to the broad extent of the business and possessions of the former East India Company'(40). It is possible that the loss of a great part of the seventeenth century archives can be laid at the door of the English interference(41).

The English withdrew in December of the year 1809; in May 1810 the French arrived. No lesser a person than Pous himself escorted the Emperor Napoleon around the island of Walcheren, and he took the opportunity to show him the Oostindisch Huis: '... he then also came to the charterkamer, which spacious and clean room he immediately wanted not because of the books to be found there, but in order to make it into a hospital ward...'. Pous advised him against doing so because the charterkamer was located on the third floor and, moreover, was cold in winter. It seemed that danger was averted until January 1814, when six thousand French troops retreated to Walcheren and wanted to sell the archives as waste paper to allay their financial straights. According to Pous, the French did indeed destroy and sell a great deal of them(42).

The Establishment of a Central Archives Depot in Paris

ot only the Zeeland archives, but also those in Amsterdam suffered at the hands of the French. It was Napoleon's wish to institute a central depository for all the archives from the countries he had occupied. This so-called iron palace was to be built in Paris in the Champ de Mars.

In June 1811, the first, and what would later prove to be the only, consignment of colonial archival records from Amsterdam arrived in Paris(43). The French were mainly interested in documents which could be of use for the current service. In the twenty-one chests which were packed for transportation, there were very few VOC documents. Only the Beschryvinge van de Oostindische Compagnie by Pieter van Dam, a number of treaties with Asian rulers and memories van overgave (final reports) were included in the consignment. However, these documents were never actually sent. Only thirteen chests and one iron box ever arrived in Paris(44). The commissioner of the Departement van Koophandel en Koloniën (Departement for Commerce and Colonies), H. Vollenhoven, stated this in 1815. According to him, in total some forty volumes, which did not include the VOC works mentioned, were sent to Paris(45).

A second operation was planned in 1812. This time a great many more documents were involved. The French national archives sent one of its officials, called Tourlet, to the Netherlands. His commission was to select the most interesting documents from the Dutch archives and to send these to Paris. He was informed about the colonial archives by Vollenhoven, who was then Chef der Divisie tot de Liquidatie der Zaken van de Koloniën (Head of the Department for the Settlement of Colonial Affairs). On 2nd June 1812 Tourlet took leave of Vollenhoven, having first signed a declaration about which archival documents from the former Ministerie van Marine en Koloniën had to be transferred to Paris. In total these comprised 3955 volumes about the East. These documents never went any further than the archives depository on the Turfgracht near the Jewish synagogue in Amsterdam. The transportation to Paris was a non-event(46).

In 1813 the Netherlands regained its independence. King William I decided to put Colonel M.J. de Man, the former deputy-director of the Depot-Generaal van Oorlog (General Depot of War), in charge of the retrieval of the Dutch archives in Paris. De Man made sure that, in the winter of 1815/1816, two chests containing archival documents from the Departement van Koophandel en Koloniën were returned to the Netherlands. As was said earlier, these chests, with the exception of a few maps, contained little or no VOC documents(47).

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