stands for "Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie" (United
East India Company). In the 17th and 18th centuries the VOC was
the largest commercial enterprise in the world, with a fleet of
more than a hundred ships, thousands of employees, dozens of offices
in Asia, and six establishments in the Netherlands. These were
the "VOC chambers" in Amsterdam, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Rotterdam,
Delft and Middelburg.
When Dutch merchants were excluded from the lucrative trade
in Asia by the Portuguese around 1590, several Amsterdam merchants
decided to break that monopoly. To that effect they organised
the so-called "First Shipping" to Asia in 1595. This
voyage was inspired by the "Reysbeschrift" bij Jan
Huygen van Linschoten. A year later his complete "Itinerario"
was published: a very interesting travel report.
Other merchants soon followed suit. In the next five years
15 fleets comprising 65 ships sailed to the Far East, resulting
in extensive competition amongst the Dutch themselves. The "Staten
Generaal" (the equivalent of the parliament) decided to
act, and try persuade the merchants to join forces and co-operate
with each other. The councillor for the government, Johan van
Oldenbarnevelt, undertook most of the important preparatory
work. When he finally did succeed to convince the various competing
East India companies to co-operate and form a union, it resulted
in the establishment of the United East India Company (VOC).
The successful alliance was expressed in the letter V for "Vereenigd"(United).
Then on March 20, 1602 the Staten Generaal gave the VOC exclusive
licence, effectively granting them a Dutch monopoly for the
trade in the Far East. It marked the start of a period of intense
economic and cultural growth in the Netherlands.
battle of Bantam
The VOC was governed by the "Heeren Seventien" (Lords
XVII). These were representatives from the six VOC chambers
of Amsterdam, Delft, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Middelburg and Rotterdam.
They decreed general policy and divided the tasks among their
chambers, which carried out the work. They built their own ships
and warehouses, and traded their goods.
In the period between 1595 and 1795 almost 4800 voyages to
the Far East were made. Though the risks were great, less than
4 % of the vessels were lost. The Lords XVII provided the captains
with elaborate information on sea routes, prevailing winds,
sea currents, shallows and orientation points. The VOC made
its own sea charts, and created various navigation instruments
in their own workshops.
Both trade goods and utilities were taken along on the voyages
to the Far East, including textiles, wines, paints, food, water,
tools, spare parts and ammunition. However, the most important
part of the cargo was gold and silver, which were to be used
for purchases. On average a voyage would take eight months.
Batavia, now known as Jakarta, was the main settlement of the
VOC in the Far East, and the centre of an large trade network.
The VOC undertook extensive local and regional trade. For instance,
silk was bought in China and traded in Japan for copper and
gold. This went to India and was exchanged for textiles that
were in turn traded for spices in the Moluccas. Later, coffee,
tea and sugar became important trade goods. From Batavia goods
were shipped back to the Netherlands. On the way, cinnamon was
bought in Ceylon.
This enormous commercial enterprise lasted two centuries. Toward
the end of the 1800s trade was declining. Tough competition
and the war with England were the main reasons for this deterioration.
In 1795 the VOC was disbanded.