History of the arrangement of the VOC archives

4. Archival Management by the National Archives of the Netherlands since 1856

J.C.M. Pennings


his situation was not to last long. Despite opposition from the Minister van Koloniën (Minister of Colonies), Ch.F. Pahud, the VOC archives were handed over to the State Archives in The Hague in 1856. It was high time. In the preceding years, as the result of the public airing of Indies affairs in the Tweede Kamer of the Dutch Parliament, the public had become alerted to the existence of the old colonial archives and people began to take an interest in them. The Batavian clergyman W.R. van Hoëvell, founder of the historically slanted Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch-Indië, played an important role in this. In conjunction with the recently appointed State Archivist, R.C. Bakhuizen van den Brink, he pleaded for accessibility to the VOC archives. They were both firmly convinced that public access would be best guaranteed in the new premises of the State Archives at the Plein in The Hague. In Bakhuizen's view, the accessibility to the colonial documents in the ministry was completely unsatisfactory. For himself personally the transfer of the Company's archives to the State Archives was a sort of test case for the public accessibility of archives. His new archives bill, which was yet to be drafted, would also regulate the handing over of archives still in the hands of departments(66). Here it should be noted that the first Archives Act was only passed in 1918, long after Bakhuizen van den Brink's term of office as State Archivist.

Some documents were excepted from the transfer of the VOC papers to the State Archives in 1856. A number of so-called doubles, including the resoluties of the Heren XVII from the Zeeland Chamber, were loaned to the Municipal Archives of Amsterdam(67). Furthermore, at the request of De Munnick, the pay-ledgers remained at the Departement van Koloniën in Amsterdam, in view of the fact that these were still regularly needed for dealing with claims of descendants of VOC employees. Bakhuizen van den Brink agreed wholeheartedly to this. In his opinion archives should only be preserved if they were of scientific interest. He even suggested the long term destruction of pay-ledgers and similar documents, which in his eyes were completely useless for either historical science or for the interests of the state(68). However, the minister of internal affairs, under whose jurisdiction the State Archives fell, had completely different ideas. On his orders, the pay ledgers then still extant - some had been destroyed in the intervening years(69) - were handed over to the State Archives in 1884. In total this involved some 4,037 volumes, including 3,000 ship's pay ledgers(70).

Not much had survived of the archives of the four smaller chambers. In the old archives of the municipality of Rotterdam and the old archives of the municipality of Hoorn it transpired that there were still a number of documents from the chambers of Rotterdam, Hoorn and Enkhuizen respectively. In 1901 these documents were handed over to the State Archives(71).

Administration of the VOC Archives

hroughout the years many archivists have occupied themselves at the National Archives of the Netherlands with the description and arrangement of the VOC archives. After the transfer in 1856, J.K.J. de Jonge was the first person to take charge of the administration of the VOC archives in the National Archives of the Netherlands. He created a great deal of work for his successors by taking apart the volumes containing the overgekomen brieven en papieren of the Heren XVII and the Amsterdam Chamber up to the year 1690. It was only in this year that it became the rule to make tables of contents of the overgekomen brieven en papieren. In order to facilitate consultation of the pre-1690 documents, De Jonge pulled apart all volumes up to 1659 and the volumes from the Westerkwartieren (Western Quarter) from 1660 to 1690. Having done so he then rearranged the documents according to factory, which meant that the origin of and connection between the documents was not longer readily distinguishable. Around the turn of the century his efforts were rectified by J.E. Heeres and H.T. Colenbrander(72).

The first inventory was compiled in the seventies of last century by the retired naval officer P.A. Leupe. This may not really be called an inventory. It was more a catalogue of documents, not only from the VOC but from other East Indian archives as well. The papers were arbitrarily arranged according to subject. Thus, from the records of the Amsterdam Chamber and the States General, Leupe compiled a collection of journals consisting of descriptions of voyages of discovery, ship's logs, instructions and so forth(73). In some cases he also disturbed the original unity of the volumes by tearing out items and then arranging these according to subject. Later Heeres returned these documents to their original place and restored the original order(74). However, the same was not done with the maps and drawings, which Leupe excised from the overgekomen brieven en papieren. Today these still remain in the collection of foreign maps which Leupe put together at that time in the maps and drawings section of the National Archives of the Netherlands.

After Leupe, Heeres and P.A.N.S. van Meurs worked simultaneously on the VOC archives. Van Meurs was engaged with describing the personnel administration of the Company. He compiled a survey of the series of ship's pay-ledgers, which had swelled considerably in 1884 when the papers from the depository of the Ministerie van Koloniën in Amsterdam were added. While he was doing this he also made a detailed description of the nature and setting out of the ship's pay ledgers(75).

During the 1880s Heeres took upon himself the responsibility for arranging the bulk of the VOC archives. In fact it was impossible to talk about clearly delineated VOC archives, because the documents had become thoroughly mixed up with other colonial archival holdings. Heeres commenced his task of making an inventory by separating documents of private origin from the records of the VOC proper. Then he began by describing the archives of the so-called voorcompagnieën, (pre-companies) after which he attacked the inventorization of the VOC archives. For the limits of the archives he took 1602, the year the VOC was founded, as the beginning and 1795, the year in which its administration passed into the hands of the government, as the closing date. He rounded off the provisional inventorization of the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber in 1891, and two years later he finished those of the Zeeland Chamber. In these archives his principal concern had been the description of the overgekomen brieven en papieren. While he was working on the definitive arrangement of the records which had been kept in the secretarie of the Amsterdam Chamber, he was appointed professor at the Indische Instelling (College of the Indies) in Delft in 1897.

His task was assumed by H.T. Colenbrander, who completed the inventorization of the secretarie archives of the Amsterdam Chamber. In the category of documents received from Asia Colenbrander introduced a break of before and after 1614. The documents from before 1614 were classified according to voyage, in a manner that was identical to the way in which Heeres had compiled the inventory of the archives of the voorcompagnieën. The documents from after 1614, when a more permanent central administration had been established in Asia and the chambers in the Dutch Republic could count on a more regular stream of papers from Batavia, were arranged chronologically(76).

When this had been accomplished, Colenbrander set to work on the archives of the Zeeland Chamber. First of all he classified all the documents received by factory and not by year, as had been the case for the Amsterdam Chamber. Then Colenbrander described the documents originating from the three departments of the Zeeland Chamber: those of the equipage, of koopmanschappen (commerce) and the thesaurie (finance). In this inventory there was as yet no description of the financial documents.

Between the years 1898-1902 Colenbrander and the former State Archivist, Th.H.F. van Riemsdijk, carried out a very regular written discussion about the way in which the inventory of the VOC archives should be compiled. Both believed that the inventory should reflect as much as possible the working of the administration of the VOC, but there were too few documents still extant to really do this justice. The goal remained, completely in the spirit of Heeres, to return the records as far as possible to their place of origin and to weed out the documents that did not belong in the VOC archives. In accordance with this policy, documents from the collections, arbitrarily formed since 1856, of the East Indian section of the colonial archives, which did not belong to the VOC archives proper, were traced by Colenbrander to archives of special VOC committees (77) or to private archives of directors. Furthermore, Colenbrander reunited the enclosures of the generale missiven (general letters) from the Governor-General and Council to the Zeeland Chamber with the VOC archives, from which these enclosures had been separated for quite some time(78).

In 1902 the advisory committee for 's-Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicatiën (National Historical Publications), of which Colenbrander became the secretary, was set up. J. de Hullu took over the description and arrangement of the financial registers of the VOC from Colenbrander. In 1905 De Hullu introduced consecutive numbering, the so called K.A.-numbering, into Colenbrander's inventorization(79). In his own new function Colenbrander worked to restore the original order of the overgekomen brieven en papieren which had been disturbed by De Jonge. He completed this in 1912.

After this a great stillness fell upon the VOC archives. During this time the archives of the voorcompagnieën and of the six chambers were all provided with an inventory in manuscript. Leaving aside some work which was carried out on the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber by R. Bijlsma, this silence was only broken in 1937 by Mrs. M.A.P. Meilink-Roelofsz. She was given the task of compiling a new inventory of the archives of the Zeeland Chamber. As a result of the fact that, when the State Archives were moved from the Plein to Bleijenburg in 1901, the VOC archives were not numbered according to the inventory of Heeres and Colenbrander, any consultation on the basis of the existing inventory, of the Zeeland archives in particular, was rendered extremely difficult. Therefore there was a pressing need for a re-inventorization. Mrs. Meilink-Roelofsz devoted most of her time to the description of the series of documents received from the factories in Asia in the archives of the Zeeland Chamber. Alongside this she reworked the manuscript catalogue of the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber compiled by Heeres and Colenbrander, as well as (re-inventorizing the financial documents and the so called miscellaneous documents of both these chambers. She completed her task of inventorization of the VOC archives in 1963. A hundred years or more after the documents had been transferred to the General States Archives, an integral catalogue of the VOC archives was finally available. A few years later, on the basis of the new inventorization, the archives were numbered consecutively. The inventory - which fills nine typescript volumes - has greatly facilitated access to the VOC archives and has stimulated research into the history of the Dutch overseas, as well as Asian history.

One important component of the VOC archives, the overgekomen brieven en papieren were made even more accessible. In the Amsterdam Chamber at the time of the VOC itself access to these documents had been provided by means of tables of contents. However there were none of these for the volumes dating from before 1690. Mrs. Meilink-Roelofsz had these compiled. She also made sure that the tables of contents of all the overgekomen brieven en papieren in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber were typed out and made available to the public.

Mrs. Meilink-Roelofsz retired from the National Archives of the Netherlands on the 1st January 1971, after she had accepted the position of extraordinary professor in the history of Western European overseas expansion. Although she continued to occupy herself intensely with the history of the early Dutch East Indies, she was not to be able to complete a book about the organization of the VOC and a general introduction to the inventory of the VOC archives. She died in 1988, shortly after work was begun on the publication of her inventory.



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