VOC - ORGANIZATION
all the trading companies of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, the Dutch United East India Company (Verenigde
Oostindische Compagnie or VOC),
which was created in 1602, was indubitably the most successful.
Soon after its incorporation the VOC succeeded in firmly
forcing back the Portuguese, who had established their commercial
empire in Asia a century earlier, and pretty well eliminating
them as competitors in the trade between Europe and Asia.
The principal competitor of the VOC, the English East India
Company (EIC), which had been founded in London in 1600, initially
lacked the final capacity, the organizational ability and
governmental support toanci offer any real threat to the Dutch
Company. It was only at the end of the seventeenth century
that the EIC developed into a really potent rival, which would
cut the ground from under the feet of the VOC in various regions
in the course of the eighteenth century. Nonetheless,
until the end of its existence as a trading company in 1800,
the VOC remained the largest
of the Asiatic companies(1).
of a clove tree ("kruidnagel");
The VOC captured the monopoly in 1667 by extirpation
of the trees on various islands of the Moluccas
and concentration the crop on Ambon.
(click image to enlarge)
A number of factors which had
a bearing on the rapid growth of the Dutch Company can be
indicated. To begin with the capital affluence available in
the Dutch Republic provided the VOC
with a substantial head start. By means of this the VOC
was able to finance the costly military operations which were
necessary to win the world monopoly on fine spices. The conquest
of the Banda Archipelago in 1622 gave the Company the monopoly
on nutmeg and mace. It took
longer to achieve the monopoly in cloves. By extirpating the
clove trees on various islands
in the Moluccas, the VOC
succeeded in concentrating this crop in Ambon. The capture
of Makassar in 1667 meant that the last harbour where European
and Asian merchants could purchase 'contraband' - that is
to say traded outside the VOC
- cloves had fallen into the hands of the Company. The monopoly
on the trade in cinnamon was obtained by ousting the Portuguese
from Ceylon. This took place in two stages: between 1637 and
1642 and from 1654 to 1658.
The operations of the VOC
were not just confined to the transport of Asian products
to the European markets. In Asia or Indië,
as the whole trading area of the Company was known at that
time, the VOC managed to
accumulate the capital to build up a trade network between
the various establishments. This intra-Asian trade provided
a rich source of income for the Company during the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries.
Between about 1635 and 1690 this income was greater than
the expenditure; thus the Asian business of the VOC
ran at a profit and the enterprise in the Dutch Republic also
profited from this. Furthermore, after 1639 the Dutch Company
was the only European trader with access to Japan. During
the seventeenth century this commercial connection proved
extremely profitable and offered the Company a chance to buy
up silver cheaply. All European merchants in Asia needed silver
to buy textiles in India and pepper in the Indonesian Archipelago.
Because of its 'Japanese connection' the VOC
was able to make do with a fairly limited export of silver
from Europe throughout the seventeenth century.
Branch of the nutmeg tree
("nootmuskaat"); the fleece of the nut
is used to make mace ("foelie"). The
conquest of Banda in 1622 gave the VOC the monopoly
on these products.
image to enlarge)
At the end of the seventeenth
century there was an enormous expansion in trade and shipping
between Europe and Asia. Textiles from India, coffee from
Arabia and later also from Java, and tea from China captured
the European market. This growth in trade was general; other
European companies also profited from it. The VOC
gradually ceded its unique position. The monopoly on fine
spices diminished to relatively limited importance. The income
from the intra-Asia trade no longer compensated for the rising
expenditure which mounted partly under the influence of the
rising administrative costs. The result was that year after
year throughout the eighteenth century the Asian business
of the VOC made a loss. Moreover,
the trade with Japan almost dried up; after 1700 this counted
for only very little. The profits from the sale of Asian wares
at home were still sufficient to cover the pay for the extensive
outfitting of ships for Asia and to cover the annually recurring
losses in Asia, but the financial reserves were shrinking.
The result of these structural
changes was that the VOC
leaned increasingly on sales results in the Dutch Republic.
The financing of the business relied on these sales results
and this put the Company in a vulnerable position: in the
period after the outbreak of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War in
1780, when no return fleets sailed home and no auctions of
any significance could be held, the Company lost its credit
in one fell swoop and found itself deeply in debt. After this
war the Company was plunged into problems on such a scale
that it was only able to remain afloat with governmental support.
The invasion of the French and the collapse of the old Dutch
Republic sealed the fate of the VOC.
At the beginning of 1796, shortly after the founding of the
Batavian Republic, the board of directors had to resign and
the management was handed over to a Comité
tot de zaken van de Oost-Indische handel en bezittingen
(Committee for Affairs relating to East India Trade and Possessions).
The VOC had been nationalized.
On 1st January 1800 the VOC
charter, the legal foundation of the enterprise, was revoked.
Although the state of war in Europe permitted no drastic changes
in course as far as shipping and trade to Asia were concerned,
it meant the end of the Company.
VOC ships near Colombo,
The total figures for the two
centuries of the Company's operations, for trade turnover,
shipping and personnel, are impressive. Despite the dwindling
returns, the business was on a much larger scale in the eighteenth
century than it had been in the seventeenth. For instance,
in total the VOC fitted out
some 4,700 ships, nearly 1,700 in the seventeenth century
and a good 3,000 in the eighteenth. Between 1602 and 1700,
317,000 people sailed from Europe on these ships, while between
1700 and 1795 this total reached 655,000. Trade figures confirm
the growth of the business after 1700. The expenditure on
equipage, that is to say shipbuilding and outfitting as well
as the money and goods that were sent to Asia, reached the
sum of fl. 370 million between 1640 and 1700, and fl. 1,608
million in the years 1700-1795. In these periods the purchase
prices of the return goods shipped home from Asia reached
fl. 205 and fl. 667 million respectively; the sales prices
of these return wares were fl. 577 million in the first period
and fl. 1,633 in the second(2).