HISTORY OF THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE VOC ARCHIVES


Contents
1. Archival Management by the VOC (1602-1795)
2. The French Period (1796-1813)
3. Archival Management by the Ministry of Colonies (1814-1856)
4. Archival Management by the National Archives of the Netherlands since 1856

J.C.M. Pennings

1. Archival Management by the VOC (1602-1795)

he activities in the chambers of the Company led to the production of a large quantity of paperwork. In view of the fact that the administration (and most of the other activities) was carried out independently by the six chambers, there was never a central archives depository and there was no uniform archives administration. Each chamber took care of its own papers. Furthermore, papers were yet again divided up among the different departments of the one chamber. The larger and more complex the organization of a chamber, the greater the number of places in the city where one could come across archival documents. For instance, the Amsterdam Chamber was divided into four departments, which themselves were comprised of several comptoiren (offices), each of which managed its own paperwork. The largest proportion of the documents was kept in the secretarie (administration), an office which was part of every chamber however small.

The archives of the various chambers do not only contain documents pertaining to the administration of the Company in the Dutch Republic. All chambers could count upon a growing stream of paperwork from the octrooigebied (the area covered by the charter of the Company). Each year journals, letters, resoluties (proceedings), dagregisters (diaries), muster-rolls and other documents from the Governor-General and Council in Batavia and from the other establishments in Asia and the Cape of Good Hope arrived on the return ships. The Heren XVII (the board of directors) expected the Governor-General and Council to have all documents of importance for the directors copied and sent home in sixfold, one copy for each chamber. However, the copywork in the generale secretarie (central administration) in Batavia mounted up so much that it was impossible to oblige all the chambers at any one time. This was the cause of an incessant stream of complaints from the Heren XVII to the Governor-General and Council, but all in vain. In practice, only the Amsterdam and Zeeland Chambers could count on a regular supply(1). Nonetheless, the Governor-General and Council did make efforts to improve the situation. In 1725 the backlog in the clerical work in the generale secretarie in Batavia had reached such proportions that the Governor-General and Council proposed printing the resolutieboeken (records of proceedings) and the dagregisters. Only a few days later the plan was rejected because of the lack of type font. So things remained as they always had been and transcripts were made only for the chambers of Amsterdam and Zeeland(2).

The Company did indeed do its utmost to keep its administration carefully concealed from the outside world. VOC employees could indeed use them for reference; and directors often had copies made for their own use, which are now found in their private archives. For outsiders the VOC observed stringent secrecy about its activities and its internal administration. In this the VOC was stricter than the West India Company. For example, a work like that of the VOC advocate, Pieter van Dam, the Beschryvinge van de Oostindische Compagnie (1701), which was based entirely on original documents, was intended for internal use only. It was only published in the twentieth century. In contrast, Joannes de Laet, the author of the Jaerlijck Verhael van de West Indische Compagnie, could have his work published in 1644.

The Amsterdam Chamber

mong the six chambers of the VOC, without any doubt that of Amsterdam possessed the largest archives. The main reason for this was the extent of the business of the Amsterdam Company. In fact, in accordance with the stipulations of the charter, the Amsterdam Chamber assumed the responsibility for half of all the work. Besides this, the size of the archives was also affected by the administrative machinery of the Company. The Heren XVII did not have their own administrative apparatus, but made use of the administration of the chamber which held the presidency. For three-quarters of the time this was Amsterdam, and for the remaining quarter Zeeland. Furthermore, the Company advocate was employed not only by the Heren XVII but also by the Amsterdam Chamber. He was domiciled in Amsterdam. In practice this meant that most of the records of the Heren XVII were to be found in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber. For instance, letters addressed to the Heren XVII were bound into the same volume as those to the directors of the Amsterdam Chamber. For several years they also kept a common letter-book of outgoing documents.

Merchant and office of the chamber Amsterdam, built in 1606
(click image to enlarge)

The archives of the Amsterdam Chamber were formed and stored at various locations within the city. The most important of these sites was the schrijf- of klerkenkantoor (clerical administrative office) in the Oostindisch Huis in the Oude Hoogstraat. The oldest known instruction for the clerks of the schrijfkantoor dates from 1663(3). This mentions a chief clerk, under whose authority thirteen other clerks worked. In a regulation dating from 1703, two chief clerks are mentioned(4). All the papers and documents presented by the directors or the Company advocate were copied in the schrijfkantoor. The clerks worked in turns under the supervision of the directors of the departement van de rekenkamer (committee for the audit office) or of one of the advocates.

Among the routine activities in the schrijfkantoor, as these are described in the few extant eighteenth-century notes, were keeping up to date all the letter-books of outgoing documents from the Amsterdam Chamber to the other chambers, the resolutieboeken of the chamber, the duplicate resolutieboeken of the Heren XVII, the indexes on the resoluties and the outgoing letters of the Heren XVII, and the indexes on the resoluties of the chamber. This is only a random selection. The clerks were kept exceedingly busy in March and September when the Heren XVII held their sessions, and in June or July when the Haags Besogne (preparatory session of the Heren XVII held in August) met. Before this latter body assembled it was the responsibility of the clerks to see that the directors of all the chambers were supplied with the relevant documents and, after the session had closed, that documents such as the reports of the Haags Besogne and the letter-books of outgoing letters to the Governor-General and Council were sent to the chambers(5).

As a result of all these activities the size of the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber increased rapidly, all the more so because every year another not insubstantial number of records arrived from the octrooigebied with the return ships. Above all it was the swelling number of what are called the overgekomen brieven en papieren (letters and papers received from Asia) which gave the directors of the Amsterdam Chamber a lot of food for thought as time went by. In 1695 they decided to set up a charterkamer (records room), in view of the fact that '... the books and papers, from time to time, received from Asia, have grown to such quantities, the which will only but increase in the years to come...'(6).

These were the years in which Pieter van Dam also girded up his loins for work. In 1693 he was commanded by the Heren XVII to write a description of the VOC based on the records. It is not certain if the work of Pieter van Dam played a role in the appointment of the first librarian of the charterkamer in 1699. In view of the dates one could assume that this was indeed the case.

This librarian, whose name was Pieter van Rijn, was given the task of looking after and making an inventory of the Company's charters and papers(7). For this he was paid an annual salary of 200 guilders. Pieter van Rijn had worked for the Amsterdam Chamber as a book-keeper in the liquidatiekantoor (clearing office) since 1680. He continued to fulfil this function after his appointment as librarian in 1699. The same applied to his successors: for all of them the office of librarian was a subsidiary position. Pieter van Rijn died in 1726. Only in 1742 was his successor, Dirk ten Brink, who had been employed as permanent clerk to the first advocate of the Company, appointed(8). He, in his turn, was succeeded in 1759 by Cornelis Heyligendorp, who like Ten Brink occupied the position of permanent clerk to the first advocate(9). In 1778 Heyligendorp was appointed supercargo and opperhoofd (head of the establishment) in China. After his departure the chaos in the charterkamer rapidly mounted. This was a thorn in the flesh for the directors of the rekenkamer, who considered the proper organization of the books and papers very important. In the meeting of the directors of the Amsterdam Chamber held on 20th October 1779, they proposed that the Company advocate, Meerman van der Goes, be appointed librarian(10). The meeting supported this motion. Nonetheless, complaints about the state of the charters and papers continued. In the opinion of the directors of the Vijfde Departement (Fifth Department), set up in 1786 and given provisional houseroom in the charterkamer, the documents were treated with the utmost nonchalance. It was quite common for documents not to be replaced after use and then could not be found again(11).

Besides the clerks in the schrijfkantoor of the Oostindisch Huis, other VOC functionaries received and wrote documents. For instance, the chief accountant of the Amsterdam Chamber, with the assistance of clerks, made up the accounts and drew up the balance sheets and, amongst other tasks, he kept the journals, daybooks, ledgers and share registers up to date. In the pay office the Amsterdam chamber employed book-keepers, who recorded the ship's pay-ledgers. When they took office the book-keepers were moreover required to swear a special oath; they swore that they would not let anybody see their books and papers, unless the latter had received permission to be able to do so from the directors. However, at their own express request, the book-keepers were allowed to supply permitted abstracts from papers, provided that these were not injurious to the VOC(12). The compilation of the muster-rolls was the task of a clerk in the equipage department(13). Finally there were book-keepers and clerks employed in the warehouse and the shipyard.

The archives which thus evolved were not kept entirely in the charterkamer in the Oude Hoogstraat. Probably there were also papers from the Amsterdam Chamber in the Zeemagazijn (ships' stores) or Oostindisch Buitenhuis on Oostenburg. Most of the shipyards, warehouses and other buildings of the VOC were situated in the vicinity of this large storehouse(14).

The mapmaker occupied a special position in the business. He provided not only the ships of the Amsterdam Chamber with maps and navigational instruments, but those of the other chambers as well. Only the Zeeland Chamber occasionally commissioned its own maps. The maps were compiled on the basis of the ships' logs which were brought back on the return ships. Upon the arrival of these ships it was the right of the mapmaker to claim these logs. Logs and maps were kept in a special room in the Oostindisch Huis, where they were regularly inventorized by the mapmaker(15).

The Zeeland Chamber

n comparison to the Amsterdam archives, the situation of the archives in the Zeeland Chamber was much better. For instance, Zeeland had a charterkamer committee, who supervised the administration of the archives by the chartermeester (archivist). The first reference to a chartermeester dates from 1737. This was the year in which an instruction was compiled for the chartermeester Thomas Cunnegam (or Cunningham) 't Hooft(16). This included the stipulation that the books and papers from the charterkamer could only be lent to directors and functionaries in return for a receipt. The directors of the Vijfde Departement in Amsterdam were cognizant of this regulation. In 1786 they suggested adopting the Zeeland system in Amsterdam; probably this never got beyond the proposal.

Another stipulation in the instruction of the chartermeester stated that all chests containing letters and papers, which were brought from Asia by the return ships, had to be opened by the chartermeester and their contents had to be recorded. After this had been done, the papers which were required for daily use had to be deposited in the records cupboards in the directors' boardroom. On the basis of these documents the chartermeester kept the 'general register of all the Company's books which were sent home from Asia' up to date. This register is the oldest inventory of the archives of the Zeeland Chamber which has survived. The documents described in it cover the period 1612 to 1794 and are classified alphabetically according to the type of document e.g. acteboeken (registers of title deeds), brieven en papieren ontvangen uit Indië (letters and papers received from Asia), cassaboeken (cashbooks) and so forth(17).

The Chambers of Delft, Rotterdam, Hoorn and Enkhuizen

uch less is known about the care of the archives in the chambers of Delft, Rotterdam, Hoorn and Enkhuizen. On average the smaller chambers had no more than twenty employees(18). In some cases the administration of the archives was the task of one of these officials, for instance the book-keeper, but it was not unknown for the directors themselves to lend a hand with them. This is what happened in Enkhuizen. In 1800, the deputy-secretary of the former Enkhuizen Chamber, Mr. Rant, wrote to the Raad der Aziatische Bezittingen en Etablissementen (Council for Asian Possessions and Establishments), amongst other information, that '... directors at times, had taken charge of the work of the books and charters, themselves, and without employing anyone else therefore...'. In his opinion this was the reason that the archives room in Enkhuizen was in a state of utter chaos and there were no lists of VOC archivalia(19). Such lists of the defunct Company's archives were, however, present in the former chambers of Delft and Hoorn(20) The register of the Delft Chamber, compiled by the clerk David Vallensis, is very extensive and gives some idea of how large the archives must have been during the era of the Company. The archives were stored in three different locations in Delft: in the charterkamer, in the office of the chief accountant, and in the pay office(21). Unfortunately all that we know about the archives of the Rotterdam Chamber is that the Oostindisch Huis in the Boompjes had a charterkamer(22). Although there is no record of this, it is plausible that there were also archive documents to be found in The Hague, in the premises where the Haags Besogne met.


top Continue
 





Search in VOC archives:


Site by Hic et Nunc