UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Dutch Empire

Ostend 15841604
Dutch Gold Coast 15981871
Príncipe 15981598
São Tomé 15991649

Dutch East Indies

Dutch India [Coromandel] 16081825
Hirado 16091641
Spitsbergen [Svalbard] 16121740
Gorée [Guede Reede] 16171677
Moluccas 16211949

Dutch West Indies

New Amsterdam 16231664
Demerara-Essequibo 16241803
Essequibo 16241803
Tayowan [Taiwan] 16241662
Saint Croix 16251645
New Walcheren [Tobago] 16281677
Fernando de Noronha 16281654
New Holland [Dutch Brazil]16301654
Sint Maarten 16311648
Arguin Island 16331724
Curaçao 1634
Bonaire 1635
Dutch Bengal 16351795
Aruba 1636
Sint Eustatius 1636
Mauritius 16381710
Saba 1640
Malacca 16411826
Deshima [Dejima] 16411860
Dutch West Africa [Angola] 16411648
Chiloe Island 1643
Tortola [British Virgin Islands] 16481672
Cape Colony 16521806
New Netherlands [New York] 16531664
Pomeroon 16571689
Ceylon [Zeylan] 16581796
French Guiana 16601664
Malabar Coast 16631795
Dutch Guiana [Suriname] 16651975
Berbice 16661803
French India 16931699
Delagoa Bay [Mozambique]17211725
Oldenburg 18061807
East Frisia 18071811
Belgium 18151830
Luxembourg 18151890
Dutch New Guinea 18281962

Dutch West Indies


Netherlands Antilles

There seem few less likely spots for the seat of an empire than Holland. An express train can now traverse the kingdom from east to west in three hours; the greater part of the land lies below the level of the sea. Centuries ago the waves broke in upon the northern provinces, and the shallow Zuyder still covers what was once an inhabited country. Elsewhere the soil has been improved by scientific culture into fertile, profitable farms; a complicated system of canals is at once the means of irrigating the land and distributing its produce, and too often of perfuming the immediate neighbourhood. Comfortable farmhouses dot the country, and picturesque towns appear every few miles; the whole aspect is one of quiet prosperity.

There is at first sight little to indicate its ancient greatness, in the Holland which the passing traveller or casual tourist sees to-day. The slowmoving, phlegmatic population give no sign of the heroism which made the Dutch an unconquerable people, albeit the dogged spirit of the northmen still exists behind the placid features of the modern Hollander.

In the sixteenth century, when the protestant Netherlands were ruled by the catholic Hapsburgs, its people were subjected to the tortures of the Inquisition. In 1572 they rebelled; and from that moment the history of the Dutch empire begins. Instead of the political servitude and the religious inquisition that would have resulted from submission, the Dutch founded a new nation, a new culture, and a new empire. Holland was fast becoming a center of culture, as well as of freedom and commerce. The school of artists that has made Dutch painting celebrated throughout the world was beginning its great career. This was the epoch of the greatest of their poets. Splendid editions of the classics were produced by their printers.

Commerce made the empire possible; the seamen made the commerce possible. The hardy Frisians and Zeelanders were men of the same breed as the English sea- The Dutch kings. They attacked and plundered the Span- Empire. iards; they penetrated as far north as Spitzbergen, as far south as Australia. True to the old unconquerable Teutonic stock from which they sprang, they dared everything.

The history of their voyages reads like a romance of the Vikings. In 1595 they made a descent on India, and obtained a footing in Java, from which they were not dislodged. In 1598 they captured Mauritius: and a description by Wytfliet of 'Australis Terra' as 'the most southern of all lands' leads to a belief that they had already reached, or at least seen in the distance, the great southern continent. In 1603 they seized Colombo; a year later their ships visited Macao, where the Chinese, faithful to the policy of isolation which they have ever pursued, refused to trade.

On the conclusion of peace with Spain in 1609, a secret clause in the treaty guaranteed Holland freedom of trade with the Indies. The Dutch now established factories at every available mart in Asia; and, as was inevitable, the commercial tie soon developed into a political one, and they became masters of colonies and protectorates. They practically destroyed the Portuguese power in the East: many of the great islands of which they took possession, such as Java, Sumatra, and Borneo, were prosperous under their rule; and Batavia, which they founded in 1618, was ever since the capital of their Indian dominions. In 1651, they established a settlement in South Africa, founding a port of call at the Cape on the way to and from India. Holland was a world-power a hundred years after it had been but an insignificant corner of Europe.

Thus the shape that the Dutch Empire takes at its height was this: there was a large group of possessions — Java, the Moluccas, the Celebes, Malacca — where the natives were not formidable, where a small garrison could hold each island or group with ease, and where each could come to the help of a neighbour when threatened. This group is strong, as well as compact. It was situated at the farthest extremity of the earth's surface from Europe, and can, consequently, only be attacked by a powerful naval expedition. Such an expedition must be prepared to fight every stage of the voyage, or else be prepared to sail the 12,000 miles without putting in anywhere; for all the ports of call were in Dutch hands, and firmly held—Goree, the Cape, Ceylon. This was a very strongly cemented chain of possessions, and its commercial value was simply what the Dutch chose to make it; for the produce of the Far East was grown nowhere else, and the whole of the Far East was Dutch.

When Henry Hudson, the British navigator who had taken service with Holland when no further opportunities offered in England, discovered the great bay that now bears his name, it was believed that it furnished an open passage to the southern ocean; and that, together with a knowledge of the riches of the West Indies and the profit derived by other nations from America, determined the Dutch to embark on transatlantic enterprise. The formation of the Dutch West India Company was delayed by negotiations with Spain, and the first vessel for that service was not fitted out until 1623; but already in 1609 Hudson had reached Cape Cod, naming the district New Holland.

The States-General of Holland gave a four years' monopoly to those who discovered new countries; and a number of merchants quickly entered into partnership to extend the American trade. It was probably in 1614 that the first fort was erected at Manhattan Island, and in another year there was a station at Albany. But soon the New Netherlands passed into English hands: so ended the Dutch empire in North America. The whole coast from Maine to Florida belonged to England from the year 1664 onwards. When the war broke out in 1673 between England and Holland, the province of New York reverted to the latter without striking a blow. At the peace fifteen months later, all conquests on either side were restored. From that time the provinces of the New York district remained uninterruptedly in British hands.

Although Holland commenced to lay the foundations of a Colonial Empire at one and the same time in North America, in the West India Islands, on the West Coast of Africa, in the continent of India, and in the Far East, she was quickly compelled to give up most of these enterprises by the encroachments of her neighbours. It was not that the individual Dutchman was in any way the inferior of the individual Frenchman or Englishman; it was simply that there were not in the aggregate enough Dutchmen to hold all these posts.

Considering their numbers the Dutch made a wonderful impression of universal empire. This was because they had no desire for conquest for conquest's sake—no ideal loftier than the enrichment of Dutchmen. If they had wasted their strength in attempting the conquest of India or Brazil they would rapidly have sunk to the position of an insignificant European Power, without any external relations worth mentioning. But they attempted no such Quixotic enterprises, and the consequence was that they made such a show of strength that France and England were only too thankful to leave to the Dutch the trade of the Far East, provided that they could acquire some share of the trade of the rest of the world.

The other possessions of Holland, which were snatched from her comparatively early, were posts established by her for the sake of the convenience of her carrying trade. It was in defending these latter outposts that the weakness of Holland, in point of numbers, became so grievously apparent.

On January 27, 1795, the Stadtholderate was declared to be abolished, and the Batavian Republic established. The Prince of Orange fled from Holland, and was accommodated with apartments in Hampton Court Palace. By the middle of April the English withdrew the forces that they opposed in Holland to the advance of the Revolutionary forces. Holland was virtually absorbed into the French Republic, just as one hundred and fifteen years earlier Portugal had been absorbed into Spain. The immense territory over-seas that was known as the Dutch East Indies, together with the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon, fell into French hands, and became the natural prey of those with whom France was at war. Such measure as Holland had meted out to Portugal were now measured to her again by England.

Already in August 1795 the English had conquered Malacca. On February 15, 1796, Ceylon was captured. In the next year the wealthy prize of the Moluccas fell into our hands; three years later we reduced Dutch Guiana, and in the following year Curacao. Nevertheless, at the Peace of Amiens, concluded in the year 1802, the entire area of the conquered Dutch Empire was restored to Holland with the one exception of Ceylon.

Early in the year 1806 Louis Buonaparte was formally proclaimed King of Holland. The entire extent of the Dutch Empire became French soil, and as legitimately open to English attack. The war broke out again then, and the processes of the earlier war were repeated. Surinam was captured in 1804, the Cape of Good Hope in 1806, Curagao in 1807, the Moluccas in 1810, Java in 1811. This time the conquest was complete; not an acre remained to Holland outside Europe. On this occasion not even Java held out; and for the second time the Dutch Empire was in the grasp of England, who restored the entire area to Holland with the exception of the Cape of Good Hope.

The empire of Holland had its distinguishing characteristic — it was a miracle of shopkeeping. In its history are found no principles appealed to or applied that are beyond the range of the humblest linendraper's intelligence. There are few striking figures in Dutch colonial history; the whole nation went as one firm into the business of empire as they might have gone into any other trade. They succeeded, and amassed in that important trade immense wealth. But it is chiefly in their exclusive addiction to earning large returns on the capital embarked, and to their consequent neglect of the natives whom they exploited to their profit.

The Dutch Empire had very little resisting power; it was swallowed up by France as easily as Portugal was swallowed up by Spain. But the Portuguese Empire was exposed by its misfortunes to the assault of a Power flushed with successful rebellion, and just entering on its course of expansion, whereas when the turn of Holland came, she fell into the hands of a Power that was too grand and mighty to care about unsought additions to her possessions.

That Holland should occupy a unique and very favorable position of a small nation ruling a considerable empire, was owing to the fact that she had the good luck to fall into the hands of England. It was not that she had an overflowing population, for she remained to the end a little people. It was not that her stock was more martial than that of her rivals, for her colonies fell at once and almost without a struggle over and over again.

The Lost Empire of Holland included chiefly 'possibilities' — the possibility of a great North American State, expanding from the very early settlement of New Amsterdam; the possibility of a great South African State, expanding from the settlement of the Cape of Good Hope; the possibility of a great Indian Empire, arising from the Dutch settlements on the Ganges and the island of Ceylon. It included also a few important posts, and much ill-defined but once lucrative 'influence' on the West Coast of Africa, where Holland, like most of the European nations, has scrambled for a trade which was variously described as ivory, gum, or gold, but which was always and substantially slaves.

The Dutch Empire commanded attention (not always admiring attention) from the moment of its rise. Its history is a long series of surprises, beginning with its origin, which seemed the most unlikely thing in the world, and continuing for thre centuries and a half down to the date when, in defiance of all accepted conclusions, a very small country no longer occupied such a very large position in the eyes of the world.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 12-07-2017 19:10:33 ZULU