VOC Organization

The End of the VOC

F.S. Gaastra

he VOC endured a long drawn-out death agony. As a consequence of the outbreak of the war with England in December 1780, the Company was engulfed by such colossal financial problems that the chambers in Holland had to request suspension of payment. Only the financial situation of the Zeeland Chamber did not yet require such a measure: this chamber did owe the Amsterdam Chamber a large sum of money, but had not borrowed a lot of money from third parties. The moratorium granted the chambers in Holland robbed the VOC of its credit in one fell swoop. The Company could not longer go ahead under its own steam. It was only thanks to the government, who guaranteed repayments and the payment of interest on any financial obligations that the VOC would undertake, that the directors were able to keep the Company afloat.

This dependence on the Government not only led to the bolstering of the management by the Vijfde Department, but - in 1790 - also gave rise to the setting up of the Hollands-Zeeuwse Staatscommissie (Committee from the States of Holland and Zeeland). This committee of political supervision or politique insien consisted of four members from Holland and two from Zeeland, who were appointed by the States of their province. After the French occupation and the fall of the old Dutch Republic, the four members from Holland were replaced by Patriot regents. Later in the same year, another six Patriots were appointed to the committee. Placed under legal restraint, the days of the directors were numbered. In fact this committee proposed replacing the old board of directors by a Comité tot Zaken van de Oost-Indische Handel en Bezittingen. This plan was adopted by the States General and on 1st March 1796 the directors resigned their posts.

However, the charter of the VOC was simultaneously renewed, initially until the end of 1798, later to 31st December 1800. Thus the VOC continued to exist. Nonetheless, the activities of the chambers were reduced to a minimum. Personnel were dismissed and workplaces were dismantled. In 1803 the chambers of Delft, Hoorn and Enkhuizen were abolished. Rotterdam and Middelburg were left with mere sales offices. In the meantime the fact that the charter had not been renewed meant that the Company no longer had a legal basis. In the absence of any new rules, the Comité and its successor, the Raad der Aziatische Bezittingen en Etablissementen (Council for the Asian Possessions and Establishments) (instituted on 15th May 1800), took the old order as its guideline.

Bird's-eye view of the bay of Nagasaki, with left the Chinese factory and on Deshima island the Dutch factory, 1825
(click image to enlarge)

In Asia the many changes undergone by the management of the Company had yet less effect. In 1793 one last attempt was made to halt the rot by sending out two commissioners, S.C. Nederburgh and F. Frijkenius. In 1795, after the outbreak of war, most of the VOC establishments fell into English hands. Java still remained under the Dutch and the Dutch flag still flew over the establishments in Canton and Deshima (Japan). The war had far-reaching consequences for trade and for shipping between Europe and Java; this could not longer continue on the old footing. Institutional changes in Batavia and in Java came later when H.W. Daendels, as Governor-General, thoroughly reorganized the administration. The great break with the past however came in 1811, when Java passed into English hands.


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