September. October 91
N 1602 SEVERAL rival Dutch trading companies
were amalgamated into the Dutch East India
Company, offi cially the United East India Company
or Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC).
The VOC was granted a monopoly on Asian trade
by the Dutch government to end fi erce competi-
tion that had forced up the purchase price of spices
and glutted the market in Europe.
By the mid-1600s, the VOC boasted some
150 merchant ships and 50,000 employees,
a private army of some 10,000 soldiers and trading
posts from the Persian Gulf to the East China Sea.
It was, in eff ect, a “state outside the state”, with
the power to wage war, punish and execute crimi-
nals, create new colonies, and strike its own coins.
The VOC became a trading colossus; it was the
world’s fi rst multinational company and the fi rst
company with a logo. The VOC’s dominance was
such that between 1602 and 1796, it sent nearly
a million Europeans to work in Asia, its ships
making nearly 5000 voyages to various ports in
the region. The rest of Europe combined sent out
only a fraction of that number of people.
The VOC was a trading company – the return
to shareholders was their purpose. They had
no interest in taking land beyond that which
secured their operations. Colonising Australia
was never considered.
Batavia was the VOC’s headquarters in the
East Indies, established in 1619 on the site of the
destroyed city of Jayakarta, on the north-west
coast of Java, in Indonesia. The name derives from
“Batavi”, the name of an ancient Germanic tribe
then believed to have been the ancestors of the
Dutch people. The city’s name was changed to
Jakarta aft er Indonesian independence.
Senior merchants of the VOC such as
Jacob Mathieusen, painted here with
his wife and possibly a slave (left ),
lived in relative luxury in the VOC’s
thriving HQ, Batavia, in the 1600s.
THE DUTCH EAST INDIA COMPANY