01.12.2008 - 09.12.2008
In 1610 the East Indies Company sent a three-boat fleet, its sixth, flagged by the 1,100 ton Trades Increase, under Sir Henry Middleton. Middleton’s party was imprisoned by the Rejib Aga at Aden and Sana’a, but they escaped and blockaded the port. Upon reaching Bantam they found that the flagship was riddled with shipworm and was no longer seaworthy; meanwhile almost all the men died of dysentery, typhoid and malaria. Middleton, too, died in Bantam. One of the few who survived was Nathaniel Courthope, of whom more later. Only one ship of the party managed to return to London, and the commander was immediately arrested for alleged piracy in the Red Sea.
In 1611 the governor of the VOC, Pieter Both, sent a big fleet to Banda. They built Fort Belgica, at vast cost, on the hill above Fort Nassau. (Indeed, Fort Nassau is an eccentric place to build a fort, since it is more or less at sea level, and overlooked by the hill next to it. Belgica still stands, and has been restored. Nassau is in ruins, destroyed by the guns of Belgica.) The fleet sailed to Ternate before launching any attacks. So it was the next governor general, Gerald van Reijnst, who was ordered to complete the control of the islands.
In 1611, encouraged by Hudson’s reports of a fertile land, the first Dutch traders arrived in Manhattan, wedged between the two English colonies in Virginia, in land which King James regarded as belonging to England. They lived in shacks and did not stay long. But in 1623 the Dutch West India Company transported colonists to the area it now called New Holland. Soon the Dutch built a fort, a copy of Fort Belgica in Banda Neira. Its outlines included Beaver Street, Broad Street, Pearl Street, Broadway, Park Row and Fourth Avenue.
By 1611 the East India Company had factors all over the east, looking for markets for English goods. But they rarely stayed long, usually fell sick – the life expectancy for a factor was three years – and the survivors often went bankrupt.
In 1613 John Jourdain sailed to Ambon, where he suggested to the Dutch that he might buy cloves from them, and was denied in strong language. In Seram he met Jan Pieterszoon Coen for the first time (they had a blazing row), and managed to trade a little. In Bantam he found that the English factors had split into two groups that did not talk to each other. He was himself appointed chief factor of Bantam by the commander of the tenth Company expedition. He saw Banda as the future of the spice trade, and tried in vain to get the Company to send more ships there.
In 1614 Jourdain sent two ships with the intention of leaving English factors on the islands. They arrived at a time when the Dutch governor general was there with over a thousand soldiers. Cokayne was told that the Dutch had the right to all the Banda islands. Ball and Cokayne sailed to Ai and the Dutch were unable to follow owing to contrary winds. The islanders immediately consented to the building of a permanent factory. Sophony Cozuke, possibly a Kazakh, was left behind with a few other men.
The new governor general, Gerald van Reijnst, sailed in 1615 with an army of 1000 men. He demanded the entire crop of the islands; the Bandanese demanded that he level the forts. Van Reijnst, unable to tolerate the English presence, ordered the invasion of Ai for the morning of 14 May 1615. A thousand Dutch soldiers and Japanese mercenaries were landed against Ai’s 500 defenders. But the defensive fortifications were designed to be abandoned in modular fashion, so that as the Dutch took each fortification they remained under fire from higher up. The islanders’ marksmanship was far more accurate than expected. (It seems the English had trained the islanders and designed the fortifications.) The Dutch took the island on 14 May, all except for a fort at the top of the hill. The “Bandanezars” counterattacked during the night, and drove the invaders. The Dutch force suffered 36 dead and 200 wounded. What a humiliation. Reijnst died several months later.
So in 1616 the VOC sent Admiral Jan Dirksen ‘t Lam to the Bandas with twelve ships and over a thousand men. His sole instruction: to take Ai. Sophony Cozucke sailed to Bantam with one of the local headmen to plead for English reinforcements. In return he offered an English monopoly on the spice of Ai. Jourdain sent Samuel Castleton with five ships in January 1616.
Lam immediately ordered the invasion of Pulau Ai. At this point Castleton realised that his adversary was the same man who had assisted Castleton in an action against the Portuguese three years earlier. Sensible of his obligation, he offered Lam a deal: he would leave the islands in return for freedom of trade with Ai once the invasion was complete. Deal done, he sailed to Seram to deal in cloves. Castleton must have thought this an honourable solution, but it was a shameful act that sold out the islanders of Ai and went against the interests of his employer and his country.
The islanders of Ai and Run formally surrendered their islands to the last English factor on Ai, Richard Hunt. It was a desperate act. The Dutch invaded anyway and took the island after two days of fighting. Most of the defenders escaped to Run, but many capsized in rough waters and over 400 people drowned.
Lam built a fort on the island, named it Fort Revenge and installed a garrison. Only a part still stands, next to the remains of one of the grand plantation villas. Lam drew up an agreement with the Ai islanders, leaving only Run outside their formal authority. To pick the nutmeg he brought in slaves from Siau, north of Halmahera, and from Solor. But nutmeg has to be picked at precisely the right time, then dried in the sun or in a kiln. The slaves concentrated their energies on trying to escape, so the Dutch received little nutmeg.
Although the two countries were not formally at war, their two Indies companies behaved as if they were. In 1613 representatives met to draw up a peace agreement. Among the Dutch representatives was Hugo Grotius, the great scholar of international law. Grotius argued that a country must erect a some building before it could claim possession of land; the Company said that landing was the key, and it got to Run first (and this was also the basis of the king’s claim to the east coast of North America, which the Cabots had visited in an expedition sponsored by Henry VII).
During the second conference the VOC team proposed a merger, which would have been an early version of Unilever or Royal Dutch Shell. (It was a good idea. The combined monopoly would have driven the Spanish out of the area and bought spices as a monopsonist. Naturally, the English company rejected it.) By 1615 the talks broke down.
In October 1616 Jourdain sent Nathaniel Courthope to Run with two ships. He was to meet the islanders and ask whether they stood by their former surrender of the island to Richard Hunt. They did, and they confirmed it in writing, binding over Run and Ai to King James and promising to sell nutmeg and mace only to England. The flag of St George was raised and a two-day feast was held.
So Courthope set about organising Run’s defences against the inevitable attack. He fortified the islet of Neijalakka, connected to Run at low tide, and built a fort on the cliff above the village of Run. The forts were armed with cannons from the ships.
The Dutch, when they found out about the batteries, did not attack for a long time. It was easier to blockade the island, which was not self-sufficient in food and had no source of fresh water.
One of Courthope’s ships, the Swan, was taken by the Dutch as it sailed back from receiving the formal surrender of the islanders of Rozengain to England. That left Courthope with one ship, and soon none. Some of his own men sailed the Defence to Neira, surrendered, and gave the Dutch information about the defences of Run.
The governor general, Laurens Reael, called Courthope for a meeting. He offered to restore the captured ship and prisoners and to allow Courthope to sail with a full hold of nutmeg, so long as he left and signed away the rights to Run. Courthope said he would sail away if Reael allowed the matter of sovereignty to be settled in Bantam or in Europe. Reael refused and said that he would have to take the island by force.
In 1617 Courthope sent six of his men in a hired boat to Bantam, where Jourdain’s successor (Jourdain had been shot by a Dutch marksman while carrying a flag of truce) refused to despatched any of the six ships available to him to relieve Courthope. Finally, in 1618, three ships were sent to Banda. They were intercepted by a squadron of Dutch ships and, after a fierce fight, they struck.
In 1617 Reael offered the VOC a tactical resignation, which the VOC promptly accepted, appointing Coen in his place. His orders are astonishing:
“The inhabitants of Banda must be subjugated, their leaders must be killed or driven out of the land, and if necessary the country must be turned into a desert by uprooting the trees and shrubs.”
That was always Coen’s plan: to take the islands by force, kill or transport the native population and replace them by slaves.
In January 1619 Courthope received a letter from Sir Thomas Dale, the man who had brought Pocahontas to England in 1616. He was bringing a huge fleet and promised to expel the Dutch from Java and then relieve the men on Run. It was around this time that Coen moved the Dutch headquarters from Bantam to Jakarta. Dale formed a pact with the local sultan to attack the Dutch fort at Jakarta, and Coen withdrew most of his men to the ships. Dale’s fleet attacked Coen’s fleet on 2 January 1619. After a fight that lasted all day, the Dutch fleet retreated the following day, and Dale, eccentrically and disastrously, allowed them to sail away. He then somehow failed to take the Dutch fort and sailed off to Coromandel, abandoning the Run mission. Coen returned to Jakarta from Ambon with reinforcements and burned the entire city to the ground.
At this point Courthope had been on Run for three years and had no chance. He should certainly have surrendered. In October 1620 the people of Banda Besar rebelled against the Dutch. Courthope decided to row to the island to help organise the rebellion. But a Dutchman on Run warned the Dutch forces and Courthope was ambushed at sea and killed. The remaining English forces, sensibly, surrendered. The Dutch landed on Run, pulled down the forts and required the islanders to submit to Holland. They also ‘extirpated’ the nutmeg trees of Run to ensure the English did not return.
In 1619 the English and Dutch companies finally signed a Treaty of Defence, under which captured ships and prisoners were to be returned, and the English company was to contribute one-third of the ships and men in the region in return for one third of the revenues. Coen was appalled, and cleverly caused the English to break the agreement in 1621, by calling for a massive naval expedition just as all the English ships in the region were at sea. He then told the English that he would proceed without them. He sailed to Banda with 1,700 Europeans and 100 Japanese mercenaries, and prepared to invade Banda Besar, which the Dutch had never fully occupied because of its rugged topography. A patrol ship came under accurate fire and the Dutch became convinced that they had spotted numerous English gunners.
On 11 March 1621 the Dutch invaded with 1,655 European soldiers, plus the Banda garrison of 250, plus a hundred Japanese mercenaries, and took the island. The leading orang kaya visited Coen on his ship and sued for peace. They agreed to destroy their fortifications, hand in their weapons, recognise Dutch sovereignty, to present their sons as hostages, and to sell only to the VOC.
Inevitably, they did not abide by these harsh terms, and Dutch soldiers were periodically ambushed. Coen gradually demolished recalcitrant villages and herded refugees out of the hills. In April he sent out parties to Banda Besar to burn the villages. Those who surrendered or were captured were transported to Batavia as slaves. Many islanders chose to jump off the cliffs rather than face capture. The number transported is not known, but of the original population of 15,000 or so, no more than a thousand were left in the archipelago when Coen was finished with them; they became slaves. (Not all of those massacred or enslaved will have been locals. Since the islands were trading posts, there would have been Arabs, Malays and Chinese traders too.) Some refugees made it to Seram, Kai and Aru. There are still Bandanese communities in the Kai islands.
Coen seized 45 prominent orang kaya and kept them in chains on his ship. He had them tried for conspiracy to kill him, submitted them to torture and had 44 of them put to death (one committed suicide). They were herded into a bamboo pen, where Japanese mercenaries beheaded and quartered the eight chief orang kaya and then all the rest. Their heads and quarters were impaled and displayed on bamboo poles. Then they were dropped down a well.
The English factors on Banda Besar were then imprisoned (even though Holland was at peace with England). Three Chinese assistants in the employ of the English factors were beheaded.
Coen then invited applications for grants of land in the Banda Islands. Applicants had to agree to settle permanently and produce spices only for the VOC. The VOC were to buy all spices produced, would provide rice at cost, would transport slaves to work the concessions, and would guarantee security. The slaves came from New Guinea, Seram, Timor and Borneo. The 68 concessions did not include Run. There were 34 on Banda Besar, 31 on Ai and 3 on Neira.
Sixty-eight men were chosen to farm the perken, or concessions, and they became the original perkeniers, whose families lasted on the Bandas until well into the twentieth century. Each perk was given 25 slaves, which turned out not to be enough. The perkeniers were prohibited from buying private slaves. They were also prohibited from fornicating with or marrying the locals; the perkeniers typically converted some (nominally) to Christianity and kept them as mistresses. They had mixed-race children; some were free, some were slaves, some were freed slaves.
And the VOC did not successfully provide security, since they failed twice to prevent the English from occupying the islands. The VOC was to collect ‘a tithe’ of the crop, which turned out to be an eighth. They paid the perkeniers half a stuiver for prime nutmeg that they sold for 61 stuivers in Amsterdam.
Nevertheless many of the perkeniers did well for themselves. They built mansions along the main road of Neira, and maintained smart European fashions. Many of the larger buildings in the islands date from colonial times.
Several hundred of the Bandanese shipped to Jakarta as slaves had to be repatriated later because no-one in the Bandas knew how to pick nutmeg.
[Coen was for a long time a colonial hero in Holland. There is a statue of him in his birthplace, Hoorn. His portrait adorns the banknotes of the Dutch Javanese bank. It was only recently, as European countries began to question the morality of shooting natives, that his reputation declined somewhat.]
The English kept up their claim to Run, and visited it in 1636, 1638, 1648 and 1662. But the English Company’s revenues inevitably declined as trade with the Indies dropped to near zero. Meanwhile the Dutch exported nearly a million pounds of nutmeg and mace a year. In 1657 the Company entered into voluntary liquidation. But Cromwell and the Council of State would not have it, and Parliament duly passed an Act that gave the company a new charter to trade as a joint stock company. Three quarters of a million pounds were raised in new subscriptions in a matter of months, and the Company turned its sights to India.
In 1654 the Anglo-Dutch War was ended by the Treaty of Westminster. A small amount in damages was to be paid to the Company and £4,000 to the families of those massacred in Ambon. Run was restored to England. The Dutch governor in Java refused to allow the transfer, and the English only managed to retake possession in 1665. Great Britain and Holland almost immediately went to war again and the Dutch retook Run, where they again chopped down all the nutmeg. At almost the same time the King’s brother James, the Duke of York, sent a fleet to take Manhattan. Peter Stuyvesant, the governor, plainly acting under duress, signed away the Dutch rights to Manhattan in 1664.
The whole mess was only sorted out by the Treaty of Breda in 1667. The treaty recognised the adverse possession of both islands: England got Manhattan and Holland Run. Theoretical right amounted to nothing.
Milton’s thesis is, it seems to me, flawed. The sub-title of the book is ‘How one man’s courage changed the course of history’. How he changed the course of history is not really expressly stated but the idea seems to be that Nathaniel Courthope, by enduring four years of siege on the island of Run, cemented England’s claim to the island, eventually enabling it to be exchanged for Manhattan. The trouble is that he didn’t change the course of history in any way. The claim arose from a document entered into by the islanders of Run, voluntarily assigning the island to England. They did so in order to avoid the fate of the other islands of the group, which had been occupied and fortified by the Dutch. But Courthope could have confirmed the agreement and withdrawn honourably in the face of far greater numbers, while England maintained the claim.
The English never managed to establish permanent factories anywhere east of India. The Dutch in the East Indies – particularly Jan Pieterszoon Coen and Herman van Speult - behaved with a complete absence of humanity, massacring large numbers of Bandanese and selling the rest into slavery, and torturing and massacring smaller numbers of Englishmen in Ambon and elsewhere (the English in Ambon were subject to waterboarding before they were murdered). However, they achieved their aim of taking over the Spice Islands and cornering the world market.
The English made a lot of money on some of their trading expeditions in the early seventeenth century, but they went to trade. They never sent anything like sufficient ships, men or guns to the East Indies to defend their factories from hostile competitors. They expected their few factors to trade in competition with garrisoned Dutch ports. (The Dutch sent 14 expeditions in the first few years of the seventeenth century alone.) The factors and the occasional expedition coped well in the circumstances, but never had a chance in the long run. Frankly, it seems that the Dutch behaved vilely and the English incompetently. And the English might have been just as vile had they been competent.
Courthope did not succeed in holding the island of Run. The Treaty of Breda ended up recognising Holland’s occupation. And Courthope didn’t prevent Dutch monopoly either. It was another English captain, Captain Cole, who broke the monopoly by taking the Banda Islands one night in August 1810. He handed the islands back to the Dutch seven years later, but in the meantime he had transported nutmeg trees to Singapore, Ceylon, Bencoolen and Penang.